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CHAUCER AND DON JUAN.
THERE are some books which, how- of the philosophic idealist overcasts the ever excellent, a man may make up his page, which might have been the light account to read but once in his life. And and elegant memorial of the poet. And even that once, more for the sake of instead of dissertation and inquiry conbringing a general idea of their spirit cerning these most frightful of all chapto the contemplation of literature, than ter-heads—the feudal system, and the for any actual pleasure their beauties middle ages--we might have been premay afford. Among this class may be sented with a narrative suitable to the reckoned Chaucer;
the perception of gay and mercurial temper of its subwhose peculiar excellence depends so ject. much on understanding the spirit, as Considering all this, we really are well as the idiom of the age in which surprised to find ourselves turning over he lived, that a re-perusal, after any the pages of Chaucer ; but somehow or intervening length of time, can give but other, we recollected having found in little pleasure, if it be not accompa- his verses that mixed quality of humour nied with an inconvenient portion of and feeling, which has of late become trouble.
so popular. We have been dunned on Notwithstanding all the research all sides by the names of Byron and and acuteness spent upon the writings Juan ; and when the blues had traced of Chaucer, little facility of acquaint- higher, by those of Pulci and Tassoni, ance with him has been afforded to as if banter and fun in rhyme, were the general reader. Tyrwhitt's edition, any thing wonderful or new. besides being expensive, is more an ob- Disgusted by the charlatan exhibiject to the philologist than to the ge- tion of Byron in Don Juan-his tossneral scholar; and, after all, contains ing up his feelings to public view, and but a small portion of the poet's works. catching them as they fell, writhing on Speght and Urry are not to be relied the prongs of ridicule-we treated the on. Warton is judicious and learned, production in a tone which enhanced but a digressive and vexatious guide. its merit a great deal too much. It is Godwin's idea was an excellent one ; admired, and so will any book that sets that of giving a picture of the age, with one half the world laughing at the the poet for its prominent figure. But other. . But to the merit of originating it turned out a most unwieldy and the serio-comic style, or even of introunsatisfactory brace of quartos, con- ducing it first to English literature, the temptible in criticism-absurd and vi- noble author has no claim. sionary in its inferences from facts- sessed it long before the age of either and altogether unworthy of the genius his lordship or Pulci. We have it in of the biographer.* The restless gloom our own old English poet Chaucer, and
* As a specimen of the mode of inference adopted in these volumes, we may mention the proof of Chaucer's father having been a merchant ; which, of course, necessitates an inquiry into the lives and habits of the mercantile people of that age. ' First, Chaucer was born in London, by his own confession. Hence,
“ It renders it extremely probable that London was the abode of his tender years, and the scene of his first education. So much is not unlikely to be implied in his giving it the appellation of the place in which he was forth growen.' Lastly, as he is in this passage assigning a reason why, many years after, (in his 56th year,) he interested himself in the welfare, and took a part in the dissensions of the metropolis, it may, with some plausibility, be inferred, that his father was a merchant; and that he was himself, by the circumstances of his birth, entitled to the privileges of a citizen.”—Vol. 1. p. 4. Again, the following quotation from the conclusion of the Assemblé of Foules,
“ I woke, and other bokes took me to,
To rede upon, and yet I rede alway,” gives rise to the following grandiloquent remarks:
“ This couplet deserved to be quoted as an evidence of the poet's liabits. We have here Chaucer's own testimony, that he was a man of incessant reading, and literary curiosity; and that even at thirty years of age, and amidst the allurements of a triumphant and ostentatious court, one of the first and most insatiable passions of his mind, was the love of books."--Vol. I. p. 415.
in perfection. He knew and practised “ She sobre was, simple, and wise withall, fully the secret of his lordship’s wit, The best inorished, eke, that might be; which amounts simply to this: when And godely of hire speche in generall, he is at a loss for a rhyme, be he ever Charitable, estately, lusty, and fre, so serious, to go into the comic
, Ne never more ne lacked hire pite, rather than remould the line. The But truely I can nat tell hire age.
Tendrehearted and sliding of
corage; Canterbury Tales aboundin specimens,
The reputation of Chaucer has sufas of the Frere.
fered much from having his Canter“ Curteis he was, and lowly of servise, bury Tales put forward, lauded, and. Ther n'as no man nowher so vertuous; edited singly, to the prejudice of his He was the best begger in all his hous." other works. They may be allowed to
be the wittiest body of poetry in our And in the fine and spirited descrip, language unrivalled in comic description of the Temple of Mars, so much tion, observation, and life, but they admired by Warton and other critics, are greatly deficient in sentiment and he could not resist being carried away feeling. In spite of the array of critics by his love of the ludicrous :
against us, from Warton to Godwin, “ Ther saw I first the derke imagining
we will maintain that the love-quarOf felonie, and all the compassing ;
rels of Palamon and Arcite are child. The cruel ire, red as any glede,
ish and frigid in the extreme-its The pikepurse, and eke the pale drede, pathetic “ well-a-waies" more ludiThe smiler, with the knife under the cloke, crous than affecting and the tale iten The sleper, brenning with the blacke smoke, self the very antidote to any thing like The treson of the mordring in the bedde,
sympathy. The far-famed Griseldis, The open warre, with woundes all bebledde, with the exception of a few passages, The sleer of himself yet saw I there,
we cannot help thinking a most pointHis herte-blood hath bathed all his hair, The naile ydriven in the shode anyght,
less and unnatural story; and we reThe colde-deth, with mouth gaping upright, joice, in the very teeth of Warton's laYet saw I brent the shippe's hoppesterres, mentation, that
Canace and her magic The hunt ystrangled with the wilde beres, ring were cut off in the flower of their The sow freting, the child right in the commencement. The poet wrote them, cradle,
it is said, in “ his green old age,” and The coke yscalled for all his long ladel.” we could have conjectured as much.
Wein vain seek in them for the natural Some of these sudden quirks and and warm feelings which abound in his changes terribly afflict the grave spirit earlier
works, particularly in the Troiof Mr Godwin, who laments most pj. lus and Creseide, while we have in their teously that the poet should use such place nothing but pedantry confirman expression as the following to the ed-cold paraphrases from Boethius delicate Creseide,
and Seneca, and bombastic descriptions “ But whether that she children had or from Statius and Ovid. In the Knightes
Tale, he describes his personages as a none, I rede it nat, therefore I let it gone."
dwarf would a giant, or as a cringing
herald would his feudal lord,-at a Through all his works, indeed, this distance, and in due humility-stiff in melodramatic feeling prevails, but es- dialogue, and frigid in soliloquy. In pecially in the Troilus and Creseide, a his Troilus, on the contrary, the poet Poem, which, in its good and its bad is at his ease, and enters into the depth qualities, very much resembles Don and minuteness of feeling, as if he was Juan, besides
being nearly in the same at liberty to choose his heroes from stanza. Of its resemblance with re- among his fellow mortals, and treat spect to the quality we speak of, take them as such. Troilus's first sight of the following random specimens: Creseide, “ in habite blacke,” going
to the temple, " This Diomed, as bokes us declare, Was in his nedes prest and corageous,
". N'as never sene thing to be praised so With stern voice, and mighty limmes Norunder cloude blacke so bright a sterre."
derre, square, Hardy and testife, strong and chevalrous,
And his first entertaining the passion Of dedes, like his father Tydeus.
for her is highly characteristic, and And some men sain he was of tonge large; quite in the easy penetrating style of And heire he was of Calydon and Arge. the Italian octave rhymers :
“ Within the temple wente him forth, “ For he becamen the most frendly wight, playing,
The gentilest, and eke the most fre, This Troilus, with every wight about ; The trustyest, and one the moste knight, On this lady, and now on that loking, That in his time was, or elles might be : Whereso she were of toune or of without, Ded were his japes and his cruilte ; And upon case befell, that through a rout Ded, his high porte, and all his manner His eye yperced, and so depe it went
straunge, Til on Creseide it smote, and there it stent; Andeche of him gan, for a vertue, “And sodainly, for wonder, wext astoned,
chaunge.” And gan her bet* beholde, in thrifty wise ; Mr Godwin's mention of the Troilus O mercy, God ! thought he, where hast is the most unaccountable criticism thou woned, t
we ever read. It accuses the poem, Thou arte so faire and godely to devise ?' that “ It is naked of whatever should Therwith his heart began to sprede and rise, most awaken the imagination, astound And soft he sighed, lest men might him the fancy, or hurry away the soul. It hear,
has the stately march of a Dutch burAnd caught ayen his former playing chear.
gomaster, as he appears in a proces“She n'as not with the leste of her stature; sion, or a French poet as he shews But all her limmes so well answering himself in his works. It reminds one, Werin to womanhode, that creature too, forcibly of a tragedy of Racine." Was never lesse mannishe in seming; This is certainly a most curious comAnd eke the pure wise of hire mening
pliment. Spenser has compared Chau. She shewed well, that men might in her
cer with himself, and Dryden has comguess
pared him with Ovid; but, of all poets, Honour, estate, and womanly noblesse.
Racine, perhaps, was the last we should 66 Tho' Troilus right wonder well withal, think of seeing compared with ChauGan for to like hire mening and hire cer. For a serious and affecting poem, chere,
which the Troilus eminently is, it Which somedele deignous was, for she let
seems to us written in the most light fall Her loke alite aside, in such manere
and airy style; and so far from “ haAscaunces " What! may I nat stonden ying the stately march of a Dutch here?
burgomaster,” its chief fault seems to And after that, her loking gan she light,
be that of ever
slipping down to That never thought him sene so good a prose.”
There is not in our language sight.
verse more easy and free, nor at the 66 And of hir loke, in him there gan to
same time more acute and spirited,
than the conversations between Panquicken So grete desire, and suche affectioun,
dore and Troilus—they are quite in That in his hertes bottom, gan to sticken the dialogic style of Beppo. And for Of her his fixe and depe impressioun.
truth and pathos, we know of no pase And though he erst had pored up and down, sages in the noble author we have al. Then was he glad his hornes in to shrinke; luded to, that can surpass the followUnnethes wist he, how to looke or winke. ing extracts :-it is where Troilus goes “Lo! he that lete him selven so conning, over the haunts of his lost mistress : And scorned hem that loves paines drien, “Fro thennesforth, he rideth up and doune, Was full unware that love had his dwelling And every thing came him to rememWithin the subtil stremes of her eyen,” &c. braunce,
As he rode forth by places of the toune, The description of the change which In whiche he whiloin had all his pleathe “ tender passion” wrought upon saunce ; his character, is exceedingly beautiful Lo! yonder, saw I mine own lady daunce; and just:
And in that temple with her eyen clere 56 But Troilus lay then no longer doun,
Me captive caught first, my right lady dere: But gat anon upon his stedè baie,
And yonder have I herde full lustily And in the felde he played the lioun, My derehert Creseide laugh ; and yonder Wo was that Greke that with him met that
Saw I her once, eke full blissfully ; And in the toune his manner, thenceforth And yonder once, to me gan she saie, aye
Now gode swete! loveth me well, I praye:' So godely was, and gat him so in grace, And yonde, so godely gan she me beholde, That eche him loved that loked in his face. That to the deth mine hert is to her holde. • And at the corner in the yonder house obtain a sight of the Scottish ContinuHerde I mine alderleuest lady dere ation of the Troilus, by Henrysoun. So womanly, with voice melodious
All we do know of it-the incident of Singen so well, so godely and so clere,
the faithless Creseide, afflicted by leThat in my soul, yet methinks I hear The blissful sound : and in that yonderformer lover, is beautifully imagined.
prosy and want, asking alms of her place
It would be an endless affair to disMy lady first me took into her grace.' Then thought he thus, “O blissful Lorde cuss the controversy concerning the Cupide !
origin of this tale. Godwin, we think, When I the processe have in memorie,
has sufficiently disproved Tyrwhitt's How thou me hast weried on every side, supposed discovery of its having been Men might a book make of it, like a sto borrowed from the Philostrato of Bocrie,' &c.
caccio. All the commentators seem to “ And, after this, he to the gates went,
lay too much stress on the poet's own Ther as Creseide out rode, a full gode declaration of its being taken from Lo
lius. It was a common custom with paas ; And up and down then made he many a the old romancers to give an air of vewente,
risimilitude to their legend, by referAnd to himself ful oft he said, “Alas !
ring to the authority of some classic Fro henner rode my bliss and my solas; name, real or pretended. The grave As woulde blissful God, now for his joie,
excuses made by the poet in his CanI might her sene ayen come to Troie !
terbury Tales, that his fictitious per6 « And to the yonder hill I gan hir guide; sonages so said, and consequently that Alas! and there I took of her my leave; he must so relate, might have shewn And yonde, I saw hire to her father ride, to the critics the true value of his de For sorow of whiche mine herte shal to claration about Lolius or Lollius, who, cleave,
if there ever was such a person, must And hither home I came when it was eve, have been some such paraphraser as And here I dwel outcast from alle joie, And shall, till I may sene her efter in Dictys or Dares, from whom the poet Troie !'"
gathered merely the names and local
knowledge necessary for his story. We regret never having been able to
But yesterday, and we were one;
Heart seemed to heart so firm united;
The dream is filed, the prospect blighted !
What truth would fain reveal to smother ;
To share thy bosom with another !
A dream so soft to grief awaken;
So fast forgot, so soon forsaken.
With every passing wind it wavers :
When link'd to bliss—by woman's favours.
THE BATTLE OF ROSLIN.
Dulce est fore patria mori.
Commingling armies shout;
The wreathing standards float!
Of victor, and of vanquish’d, join'd,
And Echo hath combined
To every passing wind.
A proud, but kingless, realm ; ;
To ruin, and o'erwhelm :-
From Freedom's roll to blot a land,
But never on her mountain-strand
Content with fetter'd hand.
The Cumin lets not home
To tell a bloodless tale;
The flower of Teviotdale ;
The voice of war the shepherd hears;
Are thrice ten thousand spears,
May morning smiles through tears.
Their snowy tops on high;
Its Lions to the sky.
Blithe carols hail the matin light;
Are watching, in despite,
Too soon to close in night!
Baffled, and backward borne,
Is England's foremost war:
Remounts his dragon-car: