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Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath
Preluded those melodious bursts that fill
With sounds that echo still.- Tennyson. Biography.-Born in London, 1328,—the city of London, that is to me so dear and sweet in which I was forth-grown'; studied at Cambridge, then at Oxford; acquired all branches of scholastic and elegant literature, Latin, Italian, English, and French; was page in the royal household; served in the army, was taken prisoner in France; again at the court of Edward III, the most splendid in Europe, surrounded by the wit, beauty, and gallantry of chivalry; marries the queen’s maid of honor, wondering that Heaven had fashioned such a being
And in so little space
More than be in other creatures!
thus brother-in-law of the heir apparent to the throne, Duke of Lancaster, strengthening their political bond by a family alliance; an ambassador in open or secret missions to Florence, Genoa, Flanders; takes part in pomps of France and Milan; converses with Petrarch, perhaps with Boccaccio and Froissart; is high up and low down,- now a placeholder, now disgraced, now the admired of the Court, now an exile dreading to see the face of a stranger, now incarcerated in the Tower, and again basking in the sunshine of kingly favor; at one time occupied with ceremonies and processions, at another secluded in his lovely retreat at Woodstock; finally, weary of the hurry and turmoil of the varied and brilliant world, retiring to the country quiet of Donnington Castle; then, bowed beneath the weight of years, dying in Palace-yard on the 25th of October, 1400,- his earthly friendship dissolved, - himself the only withered leaf upon a stately branch, He was the first buried in what is now famous as the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.
What an education was that, with its splendor, varieties, contrasts! What a stage for the mind and eyes of an artist !
Appearance.—Of middle stature, late in life inclining to
corpulency,- a point upon which the Tabard host takes occasion
Now ware you, sirs, and let this man have place;
This were a poppet in armes to embrace.'
""What man art thou," quoth he,
Forever on the ground I see thee stare.",
Diction.--As to the ancient accentuation, we are much in the dark. Certainly it was not in all respects like that of our own day. It is slightly different even in Shakespeare and his contemporaries from what it now is. For example, aspect, which in their time was always accented on the last syllable, is now accented on the first. A short composition is now called an essay, but a century ago it was called an essúy. Thus Pope,
*And write next winter móre essays on mán.' At an earlier period, this change was much more active. There was no recognized standard of accidence, and the modes of spelling, as of emphasis, were extremely irregular. It will render the approach to Chaucer's poetry easier, to remember:
1. That the Romance canons of verse, which were adopted as the laws of poetical composition, tended to throw the stress of voice
upon the final syllable, contrary to the Saxon articulation, which inclined to emphasize the initial syllable. Hence the pronunciation would oscillate between the two systems. Thus Chaucer has lángage in one line, langage in another, as the verse may require.
2. The ed at the end of verbs, and the es, when it is the plural or possessive termination of a noun, should generally be sounded as distinct syllables.
3. The presence of their Anglo-Saxon root is often denoted by an n at the end of words; as, “Thou shalt ben quit' (be), 'withouten doubt' (without), 'I shall you tellen' (tell).
4. Not infrequently two negatives are used; as, 'I n'ill nat go' (will not), 'I n'am nat sure' (am not), 'I ne owe hem not a word' (do not owe).
5. Forms of the personal pronouns are exhibited in the following declension:
6. Final e (with us totally inoperative upon the syllabication) is usually pronounced, --silent before h or a vowel; as Aprillë, swootë.
Chaucer's position, so far as we know, has no parallel in literary history. His poems are not in a foreign language - hardly in our own. They present to the eye terms that are familiar, and terms that are uncouth. The use of a glossary wearisome; the intermingling of sunshine and shadow, in which the reader is uncertain how long the clearness will continue, and how soon the obscurity will recur, is vexatious. He is the star of a misty morning.
Versification.-- Chaucer composed several pieces in octosyllabic metre iambic tetrameter; but by far the most considerable
part of his poetry was written in our present heroic measure - iambic pentameter in rhymed couplets or stanzas. tice, spondees ( - - ), trochees ( - u), and anapæsts (uu - ) are often introduced. To vary the position of the accents prevents monotony; to reduce their number, as from five to four, quickens the movement of the line. A line may be catalecticwanting a syllable; or hypercatalectic — lengthened by a syllable or even two, which gives a lifting billowy rhythm. By a little attention to the law of the verse, the difficulties of pronunciation will greatly diminish, and the air of archaism will rather enhance the effect. Thus of the death of Arcite:
And with that word his spéche faíle gán;
Gan fáyle when the hérte félte déth.'
Ve thee mismetre for defaute of tonge.'
""Nay, God forbede a lover shulde channge!"
I wol ben hirs til that the deth me take."'
In rhythmic history, Langland terminates the ancient period, and Chaucer begins the modern. The first presents the Anglo
Saxon type 600, but with the accent at the second time
unit of the bar instead of the first.
me in shroud-es
shop - e
a shep The second presents the same, with the last two of the eighthnotes joined together into a quarter-note; as if in music we should write where the slur unites two sounds in one
precisely equivalent to P. Hence for the predominant form
we have the predominant form 3
Writings. Like all the rest, Chaucer begins as a copyist,
at they mote singen and been light. ...