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Tales were written, as we have seen, in 1381, while Wicliffe's translation of the Bible is assigned to 1383. The serious vein of sentiment in Chaucer has not been unobserved by Thomson, who calls him the " laughing sage," but, as if to complete the portrait, almost immediately adds:—
Chaucer, whose native manners'-painting verse,
It has been remarked that we may find religion in the faith of Constance; in the purity and womanly meekness of Grisildis; in the lamentation of Mary Magdalen; in the legend of Hew of Lincoln; and in that most beautiful and affecting story of the Christian Martyr, related by the Prioress. The portrait of Grisildis, in the Clerk's Tale, is drawn with a simplicity and grace that cannot fail to touch the heart and captivate the fancy:—
Among this poure folk there dwelt a man
But for to speke of virtuous beautie,
Than was she on the fairest under sonne:
Ful pourely yfostered up was she:
Full often of the welle than of the tonne
But though this mayden tendre were of age,
Yet in the brest of hire virginitee
Ther was enclosed sad and ripe corage,
And in gret reverence and charitee
Her olde poure fader fostred she;
A few sheep, spinning on the feld, she kept,
She wolde not ben idel till she slept.
* Thorpe, Six., a village.
And when she homward came, she wolde bring
Wortes and other herbes times oft,
The which she shred and sethe for her living,
And made hire bed feel hard, and nothing soft,
And ay she kept her fadre's lif on loft,
With every obeisance and diligence,
That child may don to fadre's reverence.
Dryden compared the melody of Chaucer to the rude sweetness of a Scottish tune, which is natural and pleasing, but not perfect.
Chaucer applied to his friend Gower the epithet by which every true poet would desire to be distinguished: be called him moral Gower, and the character seems to have been confirmed by the general voice of criticism. Painter, in the Pastime of Pleasure, mentions him as the successor of Chaucer in the censorship of public manners :—
As Morall Gower, whose sentencious dewe
Gower wanted the embalming power of genius, yet his gentle fancy and extensive learning contributed to awaken the popular taste. Pope found little worth reading in his works. But though he never delights, he often pleases; and his style is easy, luminous, and equable. He is supposed to have been the fellow-student of Chaucer, who mentions him in Troilus and Creseide, that affecting story which received the praise of Sidney, and kindled the imagination of Shakspeare.
The death of Chaucer, in 1400, overcast the dawn of our poetry with a cloud, which received only a faint brightness from Lydgate and Stephen Hawes. Lydgate has been praised by Gray with a delicacy and refinement of perception not often employed in the criticism of our elder poets; but the Monk of Bury was excelled by the most gifted and affectionate of his followers—Hawes. He was an accomplished and learned person, familiar with the French and Italian poets, and endowed with a prodigious memory. Wood informs us that he could repeat the entire works of Lydgate. His Pastime of Pleasure was printed in 1515, having been probably composed in 1506. He wa& patronized by Henry the Seventh, and his reputation survived in the following reign. He has very beautifully compared the influence of poetry to the rays of a carbuncle in a dark night; and his own poem illuminates one of the dreariest seasons in the long winter of English literature. Warton, who has copiously analyzed the Pastime of Pleasure, commends its romantic fiction; and in the Observations upon the Fairy Queen * he awards to the author the high merit of having revived the light of allegory, embellished the stanza of Chaucer, and decorated invention with harmonious numbers. Southey, who has reprinted the poem, pronounces it the best of its century; and Mr. Hallam, in his latest contribution to the history of learning, not only recognises in Hawes the erudition and philosophy of the school of James the First, but even ventures to institute a parallel between the History of Graunde Amoure and the Pilgrim's Progresst.
Hawes certainly hoped for his production a more lasting reputation than it has obtained. Its perusal was recom
* Observations on Spenser, vol. ii. p. 105.
t If we consider the Historie of Graunde Amoure less as a poem to be read than as a measure of the Author's power, we shall not look down upon so long and well-sustained an allegory. In this style of poetry much was required that no mind ill-stored with reflection, or incapable of novel combination, could supply; a clear conception of abstract modes, a familiarity with the human mind, and with the effects of its qualities on human life, a power of justly perceiving and vividly representing the analogies of sensible and rational objects. Few that preceded Hawes have possessed more of these gifts than himself.—Hallam's Introduction to the Literature of Europe, vol. i, p. 431.
mended to the reader as an excursion into the pleasant island of wisdom and science; and he was assured of finding in the poem, not only the Pastime of Pleasure but of profit. The title embraced "the knowledge of the seven sciences and the course of man's life in this world." The author seems to have designed the complete picture of a gentleman, educated in the chivalrous accomplishments of the age; and in this respect he may be thought to have anticipated the more finished and beautiful portraiture of Spenser. The moral purpose of both poets was openly avowed. Hawes, in the prefatory lines to Henry the Seventh, professed his intention of imitating the poets of antiquity, who were accustomed
a tale to surmise
To cloak the truth;
and he concluded the poem with a prayer that God would give him grace
Bokes to compyle of morall virtue.
But if the allegory of Hawes possessed any of the lineaments of Spenser's, it certainly had not any of its luxuriance of imagery, or floridness of colouring; we cannot read the Pastime of Pleasure without applying to it the observation of Sismondi upon the Troubadours*. His imaginary personages come forward to talk, not to act. Geometry instructs Graunde Amoure in Mathematics; Astronomy reads him a lecture upon the stars; and Music unfolds the mysteries of her art. A story performed by Abstractions soon grows wearisome; and an allegory, not diversified by the changeful hues of a very lively fancy, fades into vapour before the eyes of the reader.
The poem of Hawes cannot be judged by fragments, but the quotation of two stanzas will afford a specimen of
* La Litterature du Midi de I'Europe, vol. i. p. 202.
his style of versification and manner of expression. Graunde Amoure is conducted by Truth before king Melizyus:—
And then the good Knyght Trouthe, incontinent
The walles were hanged with clothe of tissue
Brodied with pearles, and rubyes rubiconde
Mixte with emeraudes, so full of virtue
And brodred about with many a dyamonde,
An heavy hart, it will make joconde
For to beholde, the marveylous riches,
The lordship, wealth, and the great worthinet—
There sat Melizyus, in his hye estate
The reign of Henry the Seventh presents few topics of interest to the historian of our literature; "all things," says Wood, "whether taught or written, seemed trite and inane." The accession of Henry the Eighth, in 1509, was full of golden promise. In the following year Erasmus began to teach Greek at Cambridge; and Colet laid the foundation of St. Paul's School. Italy also unfolded her treasures of poetry; and the music of Petrarch was breathed from the lips of Surrey. Henry ascended the throne at a most auspicious season; and even the evil attending his father's policy may be said to have ultimately promoted the good of the country. The rapid advances of fine literature, at a time when the kingdom rang with religious controversy, were indeed astonishing*. The chivalrous character of the youthful monarch, and the magnificence with which he invested the govern
* Southey's Specimens of the later English Poets, vol. i.