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CHAUCER has been justly called by Dryden the father of modern English poetry, while Spenser speaks of him as “the well of English undefiled.” There were many writers of verse in England in Chaucer's time, but none had sufficient breadth of view or charm of style to become such a national literary figure as Chaucer was.
The poet was born and brought up in London, where his father was a wine merchant. That his father was a man of standing is shown by the fact that he and his wife were in attendance upon Edward III and his queen when they went to Flanders in 1338. It was most likely due to his father's connection at court that Chaucer was made a member of the household of Prince Lionel, in which he probably served as a page. From this time on to the end of his life Chaucer was, with some interruptions, connected with the court. It is known that he went at the king's command on no less than seven diplomatic missions to the Continent. He was also appointed collector of wool customs for the port of London, and many more marks of royal favor were bestowed upon him. His wide acquaintance with men and affairs was increased by his service as a soldier in France, his travels in Italy, and his experience while serving as member of Parliament for Kent.
In spite, however, of all his duties as politician, officeholder, diplomat, and courtier, and in spite of his love of “good compainye,” he spent many of his nights in poring over his books,
until his eyes were “dased,” and until his head ached from the making of “books, songs, and ditties.” He was a wide, but perhaps a desultory, reader, and his pen was ready and fruitful. His best known longer poems are The Boke of the Duchesse, Troylus and Criseyde, The Parlement of Foules, The Hous of Fame, The Legende of Goode Women, and, greatest of all, The Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer's most prominent traits are his humor, his shrewdness, his gentle satire, his wide sympathy with life on all its sides, and his very unusual gifts as a story-teller. He was a successful man of affairs, an affable man of the world, and a poet of unsurpassed power in his own field. “If character may be divined by works," says Lowell, “ he was a good man, genial, sincere, hearty, temperate of mind, more wise, perhaps, for this world than the next, but thoroughly human, and friendly with God and man.”
THE PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY TALES
A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftené,
In listés thryés, and ay slayn his foo.
With him ther was his sone, a yong SQUYÉR,
Wel coude he sitte on hors, and fairé rydé.
A shipman was ther, woning fer by westé:
lond. But of his craft to rekene wel his tydés, His stremés and his daungers him bisydés,
15 His herberwe and his mone, his lodemenagé, Ther nas noon swich from Hullé to Cartagé. Hardy he was, and wys to undertaké; With many a tempest hadde his berd been shaké. He knew wel alle the havenes, as they weré, From Gootlond to the cape of Finisteré, And every cryke in Britayne and in Spayné; His barge y-cleped was the Maudelayné.
20 THE PARSON
A good man was ther of religio'ın,