Chaucer, Geoffrey (DNB00)
|←Chatto, William Andrew||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 10
CHAUCER, GEOFFREY (1340?–1400), poet, was born, according to the date accepted until recent years, in 1328. This date, now rejected, seems to have' been first given by Speght, who published an edition of Chaucer's works in 1508. Of Speght;s authority nothing is known; but it is plausibly conjectured that the assertion was merely a guess of his own, founded on the statement, no doubt correct, that Chaucer died in 1400, and on the tradition that he died an old man. But there can be no doubt that in the middle ages and after a man of about sixty was held to be an old man. The date 1328, moreover, makes Chaucer's artistic life most difficult to understand, if not quite unintelligible. If he was born in 1328, then when he wrote the ‘Boke of the Duchesse’ he was forty-one, which is scarcely credible, the comparative crudity of that work considered. Mr. Walter Rye has lately shown that Chaucer’s father was not fourteen years old in December 1324, and so not eighteen at the close of 1328. This appears from the record of certain legal proceedings taken against one Agnes de Westhale and three persons of the name of Stace for carrying of the said young Chaucer (see Academy, 29 Jan. 1881). Some twenty years ago Mr. E. A. Bond discovered the name of Geotlrey Chaucer on two parchment leaves, which proved to be fragments of the household account of the Lady Elizabeth, wife of Prince Lionel, third son of Edward III (see Fortnightly Review, 15 Aug. 1866). In April 1357 ‘an entire suit of clothes, consisting of a paltock or short cloak, a pair of red and blac breeches, with shoes,' is provided for Geoffrey Chaucer. ‘On the 20th of Mayan article of dress. of which the name is lost by a defect in the leaf, is purchased’ for him. ‘In December of the same year (1357) a man receives money for accompanying Philippa Pan’ from a place named Pullesdon to Hatfield (in Yorkshire); ‘and this item is immediately followed by the entry of a donation of three shillings and sixpence to Geoffrey Chaucer “for necessaries."’ These entries seem to suggest that Chaucer was a page in Prince Lionel's household, and his being a page there in 1357 would agree with the hypothesis that he was then about seventeen years of age.
Evidence on this point is furnished by Chaucer himself in tile deposition he made in 1386 in favour of Richard lord Scrope's claim to certain arms which were also claimed by Sir Robert Grosvenor. He is described there, no doubt on his own authority, as ‘Geffray Chaucerr, Esquier, del age de xl ans et plus, armeez par xxvii ans.' In the case of several of the deponents the age is given inaccurately; but the presumption remains in favour of ‘forty years and upwards.’ Moreover, the second statement as to the length of time he had borne arms must be taken well into account. The fact is known from other sources that Chaucer took part in the famous campaign of 1359. If he was born in 1328, he did not bear arms till he was thirty. If about 1340, he first ‘bore arms’ when he was about nineteen. The latter is the more probable age. Again, in the ‘Man of Lawes Prologe’ we are told that ‘in youthe he made of Ceys and Alcioun.’ This refers to the ‘Boke of the Duchesse.’ We may feel contident that he was not more than twentv-eight or twenty-nine at the very most when he wrote it, and therefore, as the date of that work is known and proved by its subject to be 1369, that he was born in 1340 or shortly afterwards.
Much of the obscurity that once involved Chaucer's parentage has been dispelled by the industry of Sir Harris Nicolas, Dr. Furnivall, land others. He was the son of a London |vintner. This has been 'finally settled by a document, in which he releases his right to his father’s house to one Henry Herbury, and describes himself as son of John Chaucer. citizen and vintner of London’ (City Hastings Roll, 110, 5 Rich. II. membrane 2). The house was in Thames Street, by Walbrook, i.e. at or near the foot of Dowgate Hill. This John Chaucer was son of Robert Chaucer, and John’s mother was a certain Maria, who was married, first, to one Heyroun. by whom she had a son Thomas, mentioned in several documents of Chaucerian interest; then to Robert Chaucer of Ipswich and London, by whom she became the mother of John; and lastly to Richard Chaucer, who till lately has commonly been regarded as the poet’s grandfather, but was, it now appears, his step-grandfather. Thus, on his father's side, Chaucer's pedigree seems traceable to Ipswich. His father was married at least twice, first probably to Joan de Esthalle, and later to a lady whose christian name was Agnes, and who was a niece of one Hamo de Copton. It was his second wife who gave birth to Geoffrey (see Academy, 13 Oct. 1877). The date of his second marriage is not ascertained; we know only that Joan was living in 1331, and that Agnes was his wife in 1349. The name Chaucer was not uncommon in London in the fourteenth century (see Riley, Memorials of London and London Life in XIII-XV. Centuries, pp. xxxiii-v). We may fairly suspect that the two Chaucers whom the poet's grandmother married were kinsmcn of one degree or another, and that Henry Chaucer, vintner in 1371 and thereabouts, also belonged to the family—was perhaps the poet’s first cousin.
The one fact of importance respecting John Chaucer is that he was in attendance the king and queen in their expedition to Flanders and Cologne in 1338 (Rymer, Fœdera, vol. ii. pt. iv. p. 23). ‘He may,’ says Nicolas, ‘have been the John Chaucer, deputy to the king's butler, in the part of Southampton in February and November, 22 Edward III, 1348, who seems afterwards to have held the same situation in the port of London.’
It is thus pretty certain that Chaucer was a native of London. Mr. Walter Rye holds that he was born at King’s Lynn (see Academy, 30 Jan. 1886). But undoubtedly the evidence in favour of London preponderates at present. We can associate him and his family with Vintry Ward, Dowgate; with Thames Street; with the church of St. Mary Aldermary; with ‘a newly built house at the corner of Crown Lane;’ with ‘a tenement in the parish of St. Michael's, Paternoster Church.' We may believe him to have been born in Thames Street, his father, a well-to-do wine merchant, keeping also one or more taverns, being both a Vintinarius and a Tabernarius—a person of good position in ‘the city.’
We know nothing of Chaucer’s life before 1357. He was a vigorous student in his later life. ‘The acquaintance he possessed with the classics, with divinity, with astronomy, with so much as was then known of chemistry, and indeed with every other branch of the scholastic learning of the age, proves that his education had been (particuarly attended to’ (Nicolas). London was not without its grammar schools. It is possible that Chaucer may have been sent to Oxford or to Cambridge, but no evidence has been discovered to connect him certainly with either. The ‘Court of Love,' which used to be quoted as definitely proving a Cambridge undergraduateship—
Philogenet I calld am fer and nere,
as not now believed by any competent critic to be Chaucer’s work. The knowledge he shows of Oxford in the ‘Milleres Tale’ is equalled by that of Cambridge shown in the ‘Reeves Tale;’ and in each case he may have been indebted to visits paid to the universities in later life. Certainly in later life he had a friend at Oxford at least, ‘the philosophical Strode,’ ‘one of the most illustrious ornaments of Merton College.'
In 1327 Chaucer appears as occupying the position of a page in the household of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward III’s second son. The prosperity of the vintners at this time and their importance in the city may perhaps account for his appearance in such a place; and possibly his father`s previous connection with the court may have procured the son an introduction. with the assistance of the document mentioned above, so happily discovered by Mr. Bond, we may catch glimpses of Chaucer in London, at Windsor, at ‘the feast of St. George held there with great pomp in connection with the newly founded order of the Garter,’ again in London, then at Woodstock at the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, at Doncaster, at Hatfield in Yorkshire, where he spends Christmas, again at Windsor, in Anglesea (August 1358), at Liverpool, at the funeral of Queen Isabella at the Greyfriars Church, London (27 Nov. 1358), at Reading, again in London visiting the lions in the Tower. In this way Chaucer saw a great deal of the world. Prince Lionel (b. 1338) was some two or three years the older. His wife at this time was Elizabeth, the heiress of William de Burgh [q. v.], third earl of Ulster. She died in l363. In 1368, a few months before his own death, Prince Lionel married Violante, daughter of Galeazzo, duke of Milan; but some years before that second marriage' Chaucer’s immediate connection with him had probablv ceased. It was in 1359, as we have seen, that Chaucer first ‘bore arms.’
Chaucer's life may be divided into periods; and as our chief interest in him s rings from his literary distinction, we shag base our arrangement upon literary considerations. Chaucer was not only singularly original but singularly impressible and receptive. The literary influences of the age were reflected in its rising genius. The influence of the French poetry is visible in Chaucer's first period, and that of Dante and other great Italians—also Florentines—in his second. In the last period the qualities that make him one of the great masters of our literature exhibit. themselves no longer in promise but in fulfilment. If we arrange Chaucer's life according to these suggestions, we shall find that it falls readily into these three periods: (i) 1359-72, (ii) 1372-86, (iii) 1386-1400 (see Ten Bink, Chaucer: Studien zur Geschichte seiner Entwicklung und zur Chronologie seiner Schriften).
1359-72.—In the autumn of 1359 Chaucer took part in the expedition into Firaiice. According to Matteo Villani, the number of the king's army exceeded 100,000 men. The king's four sons embarked with him. Froissart gives us the order of the march: first five hundred men to clear and open the roads; then the constable, the Earl of March; then the ‘battle' of the marshals; then the king’s ‘battle' and some eight thousand cars carrying the baggage; amid, last of all, the ‘battle’ of the Prince of Wales and his brothers, consisting of 2,500 men-at-hrms ‘nobly mounted and richly caparisoned.’ Chaucer was probably in this last body. Scarcity of provisions was soon keenly felt. There was no fighting, the weather was dreadful; the king’s resolution at last gave way, and on 8 May a treaty of peace was signed at Bretigni. Chaucer was
We now lose sight of Chaucer for six or seven years. We know that his father died in 1366 (see Academy, 13 Oct. 1877), and that his widowed mother soon after married one ‘Bartholomew Attechapel.' But of the son we know nothing till, on 20 June 1367, the king, then at Queenborough, grants him a pension ‘de gratis nostra speciali et pro bono servitio quod dilectus valettus noster Galfridus Chaucer nobis impendit et impendet in futurum . . . ad totam vitam ipsius Galfredi vel quousque pro statu sub aliter duxerimus ordinandum;’ and in 1367 occurs the first mention of him in the Issue Rolls of the Exchequer: ‘Die Sabbati vito die Novembris. Gaglrido Chaucer cui dominus Rex xx marcas annuatim ad scaccarium percipiendas,’ &c. His pension, it will be noticed, is given for g od service done. In the following year the recipient is more fully described as ‘ unus Valttorum Cameræ Regis,' that is, as a yeoman of the king's chamber. The pension is separate from his pay as a ‘valettus,’ and must refer to some diéerent service. He is then no longer in Prince Lionel’s household, but in the king’s. Possibly the fact that 16l. towards his ransom was paid by the king and not by Prince Lionel may indicate that this transference had taken place some years before.
The duties and the pay of a valettus may be gathered from ‘Hldusehold Ordinances,' printed for the Society of Antiquaries, 1790, p. 8, 9, ll , 18, and especially the ‘Liber Niger Domus Regis Angliæ, id est Domus Regiæ sive Aulæ Angliæ Regis Edw. IV,’ pp. 15-85. Chaucer would have, like his fellows, ‘to make beds, bear or hold torches, to set boards, to apparel all chambers, land such other service as the chamberlain or ushers of chamber command or assign, to attend the chamber, to watch the k1ng by course, to go messages, taking for’ his ‘wages, as yeomen of the crown do in the Chequer Roll, and clothing like, beside their watching clothing, of the king’s wardrober.’ This position Chaucer seems to have held till 1372, from which time, with one exception—in 1373—he is styled ‘armiger’ or ‘scutifer,’ that is esquire. In December 1368, however, he is an ‘esquier of less degree’ in the order for gifts of robes to the household (see No. 14 of the second series of the Chaucer Society).
In 1369 he seems to have been campaigning again in France. In that year Henry de Wakefield advances 101. to him while in the war in France (see Chaucer Soc. 2nd series, No. 10, p. 129). In that same year, in August died Queen Philippa, and a little later' the Lady Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt. Of Chaucer's poem on Lad Blanche's death we shall spgak resently. In 1370 he was abroad on the king's service, from June to September; at least his ‘letters of protection’ cover the period from 20 June to Michaelmas. But what is business was and where it took him are questions yet unanswered.
Chaucer's marriage belongs to this period, but it is involved in profound obscurity. It is certain that he was married by 1374, for in that year, in June, ‘the Duke oty Lancaster granted him 10l. for life, to be paid to him at the manor of the Savoy, in consideration of the good service which he and his wife Philippa had rendered to the said duke, to his consort, and to his mother, the queen’ (Aldine ed. i. 19). But as early as September 1366 a Philippa Chaucer is mentioned among the ladies of the chamber to the queen. It may be taken as certain that this was the same person who was afterwards his wife, for we know that his wife’s christian name was Philippa, and also that she was in the queen’s service. It is highly probable that she was his wife in 1366. She may have been a namesake, possibly a cousin, but there is some reason for believing her surname was Roet.
In the ‘Assemlilly of Foules,’ ‘Troylus and Cryseyde,’ the ‘House of Fame,” and the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ as well as the ‘Boke of the Duchesse,’ some certainly written after he was married, Chaucer brings himself before us as one never crowned with happiness in love, as an alien from love’s courts, one banished from his favour. The well-known lines in the ‘Boke of the Duchesse’ were quoted long ago by Godwin as portraying some love trouble (see Boke of the Duchesse, verses 30-42). The date of the ‘Boke of the Duchesse’ is, as already giinted out, 1369. ‘The Compleynte of the eth of Pité’ probably belongs to this period—a poem in which he complains of the obduracy of some lady, how pity is dead, buried, and extinct, in her heart. In the ‘Assembly of Foules’ he writes: For al be that I knows not Love in dede, &c.And further on he makes African his guide say to him, as he stands pzxiplexed by the verses written on the gate ore them:
But drede the not to come into this place,
For this writinge ys nothing ment be the,
Ne be noon but he Loves servant be;
For thou of love hast lost thy taste, y geese,
As seke man hath of swete and bitternesse.
The date of this poem is unknown. A recent theory places it as late as 1381. This is, we think, too late. But it is generally agreed that it was not written till after 1373-that it certainly belongs to the italianised period. In the ‘Troylus and Cryseyde’ we also hear the cry of one crossed in love. Even more suggestive of failure and rejection is the picture he so fully draws of himself in the ‘House of Fame] which there is very good reason for believing was written after 1374, and by Professor ten Brink is assigned to 1384. It is the picture of a heavy-laden person who tries to forget his cares in excessive application to ‘business’ and studies, not forgetting the pleasures of the table. He was certainly married when he wrote this. All the passage (Book ii. 1-152) should be carefully read. His dramatic power is so largely developed in his third period that personal allusions are much rarer. and can be much less positively asserted. But the bitter remarks one or two husbands-e.g. the Host and the Merchant make about their wives naturally recur to everyone’s mind in this connection. And the significance of his ‘envoy' to the Clerk’s Tale cannot be ignored. It is written in a spirit of the fiercest sarcasm, which renders it unique in Chaucer's poet-ry. Ile exhorts ‘noble wyves ful of heigh prudence’ not to let humility nail their tongues, to imitate Echo that keeps no silence, to ever ‘clap’ like mills, to make their husbands ‘care and weep and wring and waille.’
It seems impossible to put a pleasant construction on these passages. It is incredible that they have no personal significance. 'The conclusion clearly is that Chaucer was not happy in his matrimonial relations. his a fact. that while Chaucer was domiciled, as we shall see, at Aldgate, his wife was in attendance upon the Lady Constance, John of Gauntfs second wife. Of course such an arrangement does not necessarily prove there was any discord between them, but certainly it.does not discourage the idea. And unless the passage in the ‘Boke of the Duchesse’ refers to his wife and some estrangement between him and her, we must suppose that Chaucer was fbr many years ossessed with a eat passion for some other lady-a p assion not merely conventional-and that w en he was certainly married, he spoke of himself as hopeless of bliss because in that grand passion he had met with no success.
It has been doubted whether Thomas Chaucer [q. v.] was the poet’s son. This question is, as it happens, closely connected with the question whether the maiden name of Chaucer’s wife was Roet. On the tomb of Thomas Chaucer at Ewelme occur repeatedly the arms of Roet -viz. gules three Catherine wheels or. Thomas Chaucer also at one time used the arms Per ale argent and gules, a bend counterchanged. This is proved from a drawing of his seal to be found in the Cottonian MS. Julius C. vii. f. 153 (see an accurate copy of it given by Nicholas in Aldine edition, if 45 n.). and from an impression of it attached to a deed preserved among the ‘Miscellanea of the Qucen`s liemembrancer of the Exchequer’ (see Archæologia, xxxiv. 42). Now these arms are found on the poet's tomb at Westminster. ‘In front,’ writes Nicolas, ‘are three panelled divisions of starred quatrefoils, containing shields with the arms of Chaucer-viz. Per ale argent and gales, a bend counterchanged; and the same arms also occur in an oblong compartment at the back of the recess,” &c. Speght too accepts these as Chaucer`s arms. ‘It may be,’ he says, ‘that it were no absurdity to think (nay, it seemeth likely, Chaucer’s skill in geometry considered) that he took the grounds and reason of these arms out of Euclid, the 27th and 28th proposition of the first book, and some perchance are of that opinion whose skill therein is comparable to the best.’ ‘But Thomas Fuller,' remarks Professor Morley (English Writers, ii. part i. p. 1-14, 1867), ‘left us word that “some more wits have made it the dashing of white and red wine (the parents of our ordinary claret, as nicking his father’s profession.” The truth may have been spoken in that jest. Arms were not granted to merchants till the reign of Henry YI. But long before that time wealthy merchants of the middle ages bore their trade-marks upon their shields’ (Fuller is wrong, however, tbr, strangely enough, it appears that the coat of Chaucer's father was quite different: it was ermine on a chief three birds’ heads issuant-see Mr. Walford D. Selby's communication to the Academy for 13 Oct. l877.) We have then proof of some connection between the Roets and Thomas Chaucer, as he uses the Root arms, and proof of some connection between Thomas Chaucer and Geoffrey, as they use the same arms. It is odd, to be sure, that these latter arms do not occur on the tomb at Ewelme, but Thomas Chaucer did use them elsewhere. These proved connections obviously countenance a belief in what indeed no one used to doubt-viz. that the poet married a Roet, and that Thomas was the first fruit of the union. This relationship is further confirmed by the recently ascer- tained fact that Thomas Chaucer succeeded Geoffrey Chaucer in the ost of forester of North Petherton Park, Somersetshire, an office which the poet held in his latter days (Collinson, Somersetshire, iii. 62 ; Mr. W. D. Selby's letter in Athenæum, 20 Nov. 1886). And there is no countervailing evidence of any importance; what there is is merely negative. Possibly the patronage John of Gaunt extended to Chaucer and his wife may be accounted for by the consideration that that wife was the sister of a lady (Catharine Swynford’s maiden name was Root) to whom he seems to have been greatly attached, who was for some years his mistress, and at last (in l396) his wife. The year of Thomas Chaucer's birth is unknown; Nicolas suggests 1367, we 1361 or thereabouts.
A great many of Chaucer’s writings have been assigned to the first period which a more exact criticism refuses to assign to Chaucer at all. Any anonymous poem of the later fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries was at one time said to be Chaucer’s. Much rubbish has thus been heaped up at. Chaucer's door, and one of the chief results of recent Chaucerian criticism has been to sweep this away. Much meritorious work has also been given to him which is certainly not from his hand. Thanks to Mr. Bradshaw, Professor Skeat, Professor ten Brink, and others, a scrutiny has been instituted that may fairly be described as scientific, with the result that many pieces that used to pass current as Chaucers are now confidently pronounced spurious. ‘The Cuckow and the Nightingale,' accepted by Wordsworth (see WORDSWORTH, Selections from Chaucer modernised); ‘The Flower and the Leaf,’ attributed to him by the donor of the Chaucer window in Westminster Abbey (a poem years and years later in point of date, as its language and grammar show, quite un-Chaucerian in point of metre, and which internal evidence informs us was written by a lady) ; ‘The Court of Love.’ ‘Chaucer’s Dream,' ‘The Complaint of the Black Knight,' and ‘The Romaunt of the Rose,’ have no claim to a place among Chaucer’s works. With the merely seeming exception of the 'Romaunt,’ not one of them is mentioned in any of the four most important lists of Chaucer’s works-the list in the ‘Prologue to the Legende of Good Women,’ that in the ‘Prologue to the Man of Lawes Tale,’ that in the ‘Preces de Chauceres’ at the end of the ‘Persones Tale,’ and that in Lydgate’s ‘Fall of Princes,’ Prol. Nor for any of them is there any other external evidence of any value. In the case of ‘The Complaint of the Black Knight’ there is decisive extemal evidence in favour of Lydgate. And the internal evidence of metre, and grammar, and style cries aloud against their pretensions.
‘The Romaunt of the Rose’ demands a few words. We have already said that the influence that especially acts upon this first period is that of France. The French critic andras has undoubtedly exaggerated this influence (see his Etude sur Chaucer considéré comme un imitateur des Trouvères) ; but no competent judge can deny that it is both marked and considerable. We have Chaucer's own word for it, that he translated the ‘Roman de la Rose, the most. famous poem of niedizeval France. In the ‘Prologue to the Legende of Good Women' the God of Love angrily indicts Chaucer thus:
Thou hast translat the Romaunt of the Rose,
That is an heresie ayenst my lawe,
And makest wise folk fro me withdrawe.
The impeachment is not denied. The contemporary French poet, Deschamps, probably has this work in his mind when he ends every verse of his well-known ‘balade’ with the words:
Grant translateur, noble Geffroy Chaucer
(see Œuvres Complètes de Eustavhe Deschamps, ii. 138-9, published by the Société des Anciens Textes Francais). On the strength of this information, a copy of a translation of the ‘Roman de la Rose’ having been found, it was at once confidently taken to be Chaucer’s, and is always published among his works. But this assumption cannot be justified. It would be a strange thing if Chaucer were the only Englishman who produced a version of so popular a poem as the ‘Rose.’ We can point to at least four versions of the ‘Troy-book,' several of the ‘Story of Alexander,' ‘and so on.' (See Skeat's ‘Why the “Romaunt of the Rose” is not Chaucer's,’ in his Prioress’ Tale, 3rd ed. 1880.) And the internal evidence throughout is conclusive against this particular version being Chaucer’s. It rhymes y with ye; it uses assonant rhymes—e.g. shape, make; it neglects the finale, which is such a noticeable feature in Chaucer’s English. Moreover, the dialect is not Chaucer’s; nor can this difliculty be got over by supposing that we have here a copy of Chaucer’s version put into the transcriber’s dialect, for the signs of a dialect in which Chaucer did not write—a ‘midland dialect exhibiting Northumbrian tendencies’—can be shown to be imeradicable. Lastly, the test of vocabulary points to an un-Chaucerian authorship. So far as is at present known, Chaucer's translation of the ‘Roman de la Rose’ is not; extant any more than his translations of the ‘Book of the Lion,’ of ‘Origenes upon the Maudeleyne,’ and Pope Innocent's treatise ‘De Miseria,’ all three of which we have his own testimony that he executed.
The extant work that best represents his first period is ‘The Boke of the Duchesse.’ There can be no reasonable doubt that it is an elegiac poem written on the death of the Lady Blanche, duchess of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt. That it is Chaucer’s is proved by abundant evidence, both external and internal. That it refers to the Lady Blanche is shown by the words ‘the Duchesse’ in the title (Chaucer himself mentions it by that title) taken in connection with the allusion to the name Blanche in the poem:
And goode faire white she hete,
That was my lady name righte.
It is strange indeed that the widower should be carefully described as of twenty-four years of age, whereas John of Gaunt was twenty-nine at the time. Artistically considered, the work, though not without beauty, is juvenile and crude. It is conventional in form, awkward in arrangement, inadequate in expression. There is scarcely anything specially Chaucerian in it. And indeed the great interest of the poem is that it brings Chaucer before us just at this early stage.
1372-86.—By 1372 France had taught Chaucer what it had to teach. It had made him no mean master of versification, for in metrical skill and finish its poets-both of the north and the south, both troubadours and trouveres-were highly distinguished. He was now to be brought into contact with poets—of a higher order. Public business took Chaucer to Italy. It is possible, perhaps probable, that he may have already known the Italian language and studied Italian literature ; but there is no evidence of any such knowledge. His official visit in 1372 and 1373 may be taken to mark the time at which he was first brought under Italian influence. In November 1372, described now as one of the king’s esquires, he ‘was joined in a commission with James Pronam and John de Mari, citizens of Genoa, to treat with the duke, citizens, and merchants of Genoa for the purpose of choosing some port in England where the Genoese might form a commercial establishment’ (Nicolas). Some time early in December he left England; by 23 Nov. 1373 he was home again, for on that day he received his pension in person. Of the details of his joumey we know nothing; except that he visited Florence as well as enoa. This appears from the note of the 'payment of the expenses incurred by him from the words ‘proiisciendo [sic apud Nicolas] in negociis Regis versus partes Jannue et Florence.’
Dante had been dead some half-century, but Petrarch and Boccacio were still living, and it is possible mer saw them both. With regard to Petrarch, he makes his Clerk of Oxford say in the prologue to his tale in the ‘Canterbury Tales’ that he had learnt the story he was about to tell—the story of Griselda-
At Padowe of a worthy clerk
As proved by his wordcs and his werk.
Ile is now deed and nayled in his chests ;
I pray to God so yive his soule rests!
Fraunces Petrark, the laureat poets,
Highte this clerk whose rethorique swete, &c.
The last years of Petrarch’s life were mainly spent at Arqua, some sixteen miles south of Padua, which is 130 miles from Florence. Ile was certainl there in the first half of 1373, probably till September. There is evidence that just at the time-just at the time when Chaucer might have visited Padua—Petrarch was takin a special interest in the tale of Griselda. He sent a translation of it to Boccaccio, whose version of the sto in the ‘Decamerone’ had specially deligated him, with the date ‘Inter colles Euganeos 6 Idus Junii mccclxxiii.’ (De Sade in his Memoirs of Petrarch gives 1374, ‘on the authority of a manuscript in the Royal Library at Paris; ’ but Nicolas seems to have been unable to verify this reference; see Aldine ed. i. 12.) This circumstance and the fact that the Clerk’s version of the tale is most certainly taken from Petrarch’s translation, give extreme robability to the suggestion that Chaucer did) visit Petrarch, and was permitted to read the touching sto in Petrarch’s rendering. We may, we thidll, very justly ask, from whom did Chaucer get a copy of Petrarch's translation if not from Petrarch himself or from Boccaccio ? It was sent in a letter to Boccaccio, So if he did not get it from Petrarch, surely he got it from Boccaccio ? There may of course, have been copies given to specially favoured friends. But the probability is that he got it from either Petrarch or Boccaccio, probably from Petrarch. But who introduced him to Petrarch ? Likely enough Petrarch’s friend. For many years Boccaccio had been living at Florence or on his paternal domain at Certaldo, only some twenty miles from Florence. When Chaucer was there, Florence must have been ringing with his name, for he was just then appointed to the Dante professorship-to a chair for the exposition of the ‘Divina Commedia.’ It is conceivable Chaucer may have been present at his first lecture on 3 Aug. 1373. Certainly Chaucer became profoundly impressed with Dante’s greatness. He returned to England in the autumn or the late summer of 1373, and soon after received several marks of the royal satisfaction. On 23 A ril 1374 he had granted him for life a daiiiy pitcher of wine, to be received in the port of London from the hands of the king's butler ; this was afterwards commuted into a second pension of twenty marks. On 8 June he was a pointed comptroller of the customs and subsidy of wools, skins, and tanned hides in the port of London during the king's pleasure, taking the same fees as other comptrollers of the customs and subsidy. ‘He was, like his predecessors, to write the rolls of his office with his own hand; he was to be continually present; to perform his duties rsonally ; and the other part of the seal which is called “the coket” was to remaining his custody’ (Nicolas). On 13 June the Duke of Lancaster granted him 10l. a year for life, to be paid him at the manor of Savoy, in consideration of the good service which he and his wife Philippa had rendered to the said duke, to his consort, and to his mother the queen. On 8 Nov. 1375 he obtained a grant of t-he custody of the lands and person of Edmond Staplegate of Kent. This brought him 104l., some l,200l. or l,300l. of our money. On 28 Dec. of the same year he had granted him the custody of five ‘solidates’ of rent in Solys, Kent, during the minority of the heir of John Solys, deceased. On 12 July 1376 the king granted him 71l. 4s. 6d., bein the price of some forfeited wool, one John Rent of London bein fined to that amount for having conveyed the said wool to Dordrecht without having paid the duty. He was also one of the king's esquires (40s, is twice recorded as aid by the keeper of the king's wardrobe liir his half-yearly' robes). But thrift does not seem to have been one of Chaucer’s virtues. At Michaelmas 1376 we find him having an advance made at the exchequer of fifty shillings on account of the current half-year’s allowance.
He lived at this time in the dwelling-house above the gate of Aldgate. It was leased to him in May 1374. Probably though his formal appointment as a comptroller of the customs is dated 8 June—he knew some weeks before that it was coming, and secured in good time convenient accommodation in the city, within an cas walk from his oflice. A translation of the lyease is given by Riley in his ‘Memorials of London,' The tenant was to have ‘the whole of the dwelling-house above the gate of Aldgate with the rooms built over and a certain cellar beneath the same gate on the south side of that gate and the appurtenances thereof’ ‘for the whole life of him, the same Geoffrey.' He is to maintain and repair it, ‘to be ousted if the chamberlain to whom the right. of inspection is reserved finds he is not doing so, not to sublet. And they on their part promise not to make a gaol of it while he is there, nor disturb him except it becomes necessary to arrange for the defence of the city.’ This was his abode for some twelve years; in 1386 one Richard Forster succeeded him (see Academy, 6 Dec. 1879). With it the picture of himself in the ‘House of Fame’ is associated.
The monotony of his life was broken by several diplomatic employments, for the terms of his oath as comptroller were made compatible with absences on the king’s service. Towards the end of 1373 he was appointed with Sir John Burley to discharge some secret service, which is yet a secret. In February 1377 he was sent with Sir Thomas Percy (afterwards Earl of Worcester) on another secret mission into Flanders; a little later in that year he was again abroad, possibly in France. Early in the following year he was in France once more, probably attached to the ambassadors who went over to negotiate Richard II's marriage with a French princess. In May he was despatched again to Italy, this time to Lombardy, along with Sir Edward Berkeley, to treat with Bernardo Visconti, lord of Milan, and the notorious Sir John Hawkwood, ‘pro certis negociis expeditionem guerræ Regis tangentibus,’ probably to support in some way the proposed expedition into Brittany. And he seems to have been abroad again in 1379. One signal interest appertaininglto the second Italian appointment is that Chaucer named one John Gower as one of his two ‘attorneys’ or representatives during his absence, it is fairly certain that this was Gower the poet. He mentions him also in ‘Troylus and Cryseyde,’ which was probably written about this very time, with the epithet ‘moral,’ which has ever since adhered to his name—an epithet probably suggested by his ‘Speculum Meditantis,’ to jud c from what we are told of the contents of that lost work. Gower repaid the compliment. in his ‘Con fessio Amantis.’ But Chaucer and Gower were very different types of men, and their friendship does not seem to have remained unshaken. Chaucer reflects somewhat sharply on Gower in the prologue to the ‘Man of Lawes Tale,’ and cries ‘fie’ on certain ‘cursed stories,' which, as it happened, ‘ the moral Gower’ had carefully related. It has been urged that the point of this reprimand is blunted by the ‘fact’ that the ‘Man of Lawes Tale’ is itself taken from Gower. But the fact is doubtful. The Man of Law implies that Chaucer had ‘of olde time’ written the tale he is about to tell. We are strongly disposed to think that the tale of Constance, like the tale of Griselda, was written some years before its enlistment among the 'Canterbury Tales,' and therefore written before the 'Confessio Amantis.' There can be no doubt either that censure is aimed at Gower in the 'Man of Lawes Prologe,' or that Gower omits his complimentary lines on Chaucer in his second edition in 1393.
In 1380 we come to what seems a dark spot in Chaucer's life. In May of that year one Cecilia Chaumpaigne, daughter of the late William Chaumpaigne and Agnes his wife, remits, releases, and for herself and her heirs for ever 'quit claims' 'Galfrido Chaucer armigero omnimodas acciones tam de raptu meo tarn de aliqua alia re vel causa, cujuscumque condicionis fucrint, quas unquam habui habeo seu habere potero a principio mundi usque in diem confeccionis preflencium.' The witnesses are Sir William de Beauchamp, the king*s chamberlain, Sir John de Clanebow, Sir William de Nevylle, John Phillpott, and Richard Morel (see Chaucer Society's Second Series, No. 10, pp. 131, 130-144). The matter is at present veiy obscure. It may perhaps be that Chaucer' had something to do with the carrying off of Cecilia from her friends in the interest of some other person. Possibly he had 'carried her off' for himself. It may be a mere coincidence that in 1391 Chaucer's son Lewis seems to have been just ten years of age. Whatever this 'release' may mean, it is certain that it brought no discredit on Chaucer in his day. It was after this that the 'moral Gower' made mention of him, and in Mav 1382 he was appointed comptroller of the petty customs in the port of London during pleasure, with the usual wages and permission to execute his duties by a competent deputy. In November 1385 he was also allowed to nominate a permanent deputy to discharge his other comptrollership.
Well to do in a pecuniary way — holding two pensions, one irom the crown and one from John of Gaunt, besides his emolu- ments from the customs' comptrollerships, with probably other additions to his income —he was in 1386 elected a knight of the shire for Kent. But at the end of that year he was deprived of both his offices, Adam Yardley superceding him as comptroller of the customs and subsidies, and a few days after Henry Gisors superseding him as comptroller of the petty customs in the port of London. This sudden collapse has been variously accounted for. The old biographers, misled by the 'Testament of Love' erroneously attributed to Chaucer, connect it with some dispute between the court and the citizens of London respecting the election of John of Northampton to the mayoralty in 1382. They go on to state with groundless assurance that in 1384, when Northampton's arrest was ordered, Chaucer, to avoid a like fate, fled to the island of Zealand ; that after remaining two years in exile there, he returned to England, and was imprisoned in the Tower; that he lay a prisoner in the Tower till 1389, when, through the mediation of Queen Anne of Bohemia, he was released on the condition that he should impeach his former associates, which at last he did. All this romance is at once dispersed by the fact that during these years ne 'regularly received his pension half-yearly at the exchequer with his own hands (Nicolas). Very probably Chaucer's dismissal is connected with the political intrigues which prevailed from 1386 to 1389. John of Gaunt was abroad in Spain (May 1386 to November 1389), and Richard had been glad of any pretext to remove him out of the kingdom ; but another of the king's uncles, the Dukeof Gloucester, presently seized supreme power, and there was much tumult. For over two years the king was virtually suppressed. In November 1386 he was compelled to appoint a commission to inquire into abuses. The commissioners began their work by examining the accounts of the officers employed in the collection of the revenue. There seems to have existed special dissatisfaction with the officers of the customs and their conduct, as is shown by the fact pointed out by Sir Harris Nicolas that in 11 Ric. II, 1387-8, the commons petitioned that no comptroller of the customs and subsidies should in future hold his office for any other term than during good behaviour, to which request the royal assent was given (Rot. Parl. iii. 250). In August 1389, after Richard had assumed the government, the council ordered the enactment to be enforced, and that all appointments of custunier should in future be made, and the existing officers confirmed by the treasurer and privy council' (Proceedings of the Privy Council, 1. 9). It was then a time of vigorous reform for Chaucer's department of the civil service, and he found nimself at the close of 1386 without an income, except what his pensions brought in.
The chief works composed between 1372 and 1386 are : 'The House of Fame;' 'The Assembly of Foules;' 'Troylus and Cryseyde ; ' ' Palamon and Arcite,' an earlier version in stanzas of what is known to us as the ' Knightes Tale;' the stories of Saint Cecilia and of Griselda, afterwards respectively utilised as the 'Secounde Nonnes Tale,' and the ‘Clerkes Tale;’ robably the story of Constance, afterwards the ‘Man of Lawes Tale ;’ the translation of Boethius’s ‘De Consolatione Philosophiæ;’ and, lastly, ‘The Legende of Good Women,’ called in the ‘Man of Lawes Prologe ’ the ‘ Saints’ Legend of Cupid,’ i.e. the ‘Legend of Cupid’s Saints.’
The special mark of this period is the influence of the Italian literature. Chaucer’s introduction to the Italian masterpieces gave him a new conception of literary art, an the effect is quickly perceptible. Ie presently abandons the octosyllabic couplet—the metre of the ‘Roman de la Rose’—for a metre of more weight and dignitv. He uses it in only one more work, in ‘The House of Fame,’ and in that poem he shows dissatisfaction with it. At the beginning of the third book he seems specially conscious of its inadequacy, as when he speaks of the ‘ryme’ as ‘lyght and lewed.’ He is longing for a better ‘art poetical’—a finer ‘craft.' The result is seen in two new metrical developments-in the stanza of seven ‘heroic’ lines, commonl called ‘rime royal,’ because a king, a humble imitator of Chaucer, used it; and secondly in the heroic couplet which has ever since been one of our most polpular measures. He did not adopt these metres ram the Italians, but Italian example and influence led him to adopt them because it inspired him with a desire for richer metrical forms. He did not servilely copy his masters, for he has left us nothing written in terza rima or ottava (the stanza of the ‘Monkes Tale’ is eight-lined, but the rhymes have an order of their own), or in sonnet shape, but by adopting suitable forms which he found elsewhere. Chaucer’s genius could never have worthily expressed itself in the couplet which he found revagning in England when he began to write. he stanza (‘rime royal’) which he developed was a favourite form with him in his second period. It became a great favourite with English poets down to the Elizabethan age. It did not completely answer Chaucer’s needs. Towards the close of his second period we find him transferring his allegiance to the heroic couplet, which in the third period becomes the dominant form. His first wem in this metre is the ‘Legends of Good Women.’
Of the three great Italians, perhaps the one that moved him most deepl was Dante, as it should be. Several times he mentions him by name, as in the ‘Wyf of Bathes Tale’ (comp. Purg. vii. 123 ; the ‘House of Fame,’ i. 450, ‘ Legende of ood Women,’ Prol., the ‘Freres Tale;’ see also ‘the grete get of Itaile, that highte Daunt,’ in the ‘Monkes Tale.’ In other places he is obviously under Dante's full induence. This is particularly noticeable in the ‘Assembly of Foules’ and in the ‘House of Fame,’ In the former poem he pictures himself conducted into a certain park by Africanus just as the great Florentine pictures himself conducted into the infernal regions by Virgil; and the rallel is carried out in several incidents. In the ‘House of Fame’ Chaucer represents himself as borne off into the air to Fame’s house by an eagle, just as Dante represents himself borne up by an eagle to the gates of purgatory (Purg. ix.) Of course, the classical story of Ganymede was familiar to Chaucer as well as to Dante, but a comparison of the two passages will certainly show Chaucer’s familiarity with the lines in which Dante describes his translation. (For further illustrations of Chaucer’s knowledge of the ‘Divine Comedy’ see Ten Brink’s ‘ Studies.’) With Petrarch’s poetry Chaucer does not show a like sympathetic intimacy. Perhaps the most prominent recognition of it is to be found in ‘Troylus and Cryseyde,’ where the ‘Song of Troilus’ in book i. is simply a translation of the sonnet beginning ‘S’ amor non è, che dunque è quel, ch’i’ sento?’ in the ‘Rime in Vita Laura.’
It is from Boccaccio that Chaucer borrows most. ‘Troylus and Cryseyde ’ is to a great extent a translation of Boccaccio’s ‘Iglostrato,’ as may be admirably seen from Mr. W. M. Rossetti’s comparison of the two works published by the Chaucer Society. It is probable that ‘Palamon and Arcite,’ the earlier form of the ‘Knight-es Tale,’ was a rendering, more or less faithful, of the 'Teseide,’ the ‘Knightes Tale’ being a yet freer treatment of that poem. And it has generally been held, and we think rightly, that in designing the ‘Canterbury Tales’ Chaucer was influenced by the design of Boccaccio’s ‘Decamerone.’ Again, the ‘Reeves Tale,’ the ‘Frankeleynes Tale,’ the ‘Schipmannes Tale’ are all to be found in the ‘Decamerone.' The ‘Monkes Tale’ is formed upon the plan of the same author’s ‘De casibus virorum illustrium.' Chaucer never mentions Bocoaccio, unless it be he whom he denominates ‘Eollius.' But, very strangely, Chaucer specially connects with Lollius that sonnet which is turned into Troilus’s song; so that Lollius, by this connection, ought to be Petrarch. Lollius appears again in the ‘ House of F ame,’ where his statue appears side by side with those of ‘Omer,' Dares, ‘Titus’ (Dictvs), Guido ‘de Columpnis,’ and ‘English Calfride.' No writer of the name of Lollius is known, and no satisfactory explanation of its introduction by Chaucer has been given. Chaucer speaks of ‘olde stories’ as his sources; when he does mention a definite authority, it is not Boccaccio, but ‘Stace of Thebes’—Statius’s ‘Thebais.' It would cast a valuable light on the growth of Chaucer's art if we could assign definite dates to the works that fall within this second period. But this is scarcely possible, at least at present. The 'Assembly of Foules' must certainly refer to some actual occurrence. It used to be connected with John of Gaunt's first courtship, because the conclusion of it — that the suitor must wait a year — is just what the 'Man in Black' in the 'Boke of the Duchesse' who is almost certainly John of Gaunt, states to have been his own sentence. That must be allowed to be a curious coincidence, though there is so much conventionality in mediæval poetry that it is of less importance than it might seem. But John of Gaunt's first marriage took place in 1358 ; and it is incredible that a poem so greatly superior to the 'Boke of the Duchesse' should have been written eleven years before it. Also, the 'Assembly of Foules ' abundantly shows the influence of Dante; and there is no reason for supposing that Dante*s great poem influenced Chaucer so early as 1358, or before his first visit to Italy in 1372-3. Others have linked the 'Assembly' with Richard II's first marriage — his marriage with the Princess Anne of Bohemia in January 1382. The poem must then have been written in 1380 or 1381. But, to judge from its style, 1380 seems much too late, just as 1358 is much too early. We are inclined to hold that the 'Assembly of Foules' was written as soon after the 'Boke of the Duchesse' as is compatible with the fact that in the interval the Italian influence had come upon Chaucer. In conventionality of structure and incident the two poems curiously resemble each other. But in metre and style the 'Assembly' shows remarkable progress. We think that it was written in or about 1375, and that the occasion has yet to be discovered.
That the 'House of Fame' belongs to this period is sufficiently proved by the words : —
For when thy labour al doon is
And hast made alle thy reckeninges,
In stcde of rest and newe thinges
Thou goost hoome to thin hous anoon,
And also domb as any stoon, &c.
It is commonly assigned to 1384, or there-abouts. But it was surely written before February 1384, when Chaucer was permitted to appoint a deputy, and, judging from the style, we should leel disposed to place it some years earlier in the second period. The extent of Dante's influence upon it would seem to indicate a recent introduction to Dante. The metrical form, too, encourages the view that it was a comparatively early work.
The glory of this period is certainly 'Troylus and Cryseyde,' one of the most delightful poems in our literature. The genius of Chaucer shines out in it with a wonderful brightness. The date of this poem is about 1380. When Gower produced the first edition of his 'Confessio Amautis' — about 1384, as we maintain (see the Athenæum, 24 Dec. 1881) — it was already well known and popular (see Pauli's Conf. Am. ii. 95).
This noble achievement accomplished, he went on preparing himself for something yet nobler. He gathered fresh stores of knowledge, both of men and of books ; and he again adopted a new metrical form which seemed to secure yet fuller expression of that knowledge. His first choice did not prove a happy one. It was to write
A glorious legende
Of gode women, maidencs and wives,
That weren trewe in loving all hir lives.
And telle of false men that hem betraien,
That al hir life no do nat but assaien
How many women thoy may doon a shame.
But he grew tired of the task he had appointed himself. Of the nineteen heroines, or more, whose tales were to be recounted, he brings only nine before us. The poet's healthy spirit soon rebelled against a long succession of tragedies. He was endowed in a rare degree with the gift of humour. It became clear that this siibject would not serve his purpose. Part of the 'Legende of Good Women' is of great excellence and value. The prologue is to be classed with Chaucer's best writings. And in the legends there are passages of admirable vigour and beauty, such as could come only from the hand of a master. The poem is a noble fragment, but it would not fully have expressed the mature genius of its author. The mention of the queen in one manuscript proves its composition to be subsequent to January 1382.
1386-1400.— Chaucer's third period would seem to have been a time of pecuniary discomfort. His dismissal from his offices at the close of 1386 seriously reduced his income. What remained was his pensions. And in May 1388, probably in great distress, he seems to have sold two of these to a certain John Scalby. There is reason for believing that in 1387 his wife died ; at least there is no trace of her after 18 June of that year, up to which time the pension granted her in 1366 was more or less regularly paid. From 'L'Envoy à Bukton' we gather tiiat Chaucer was a widower at the time of its writing. He says that though he had promised to express
The sorow and wo that is in marriage,
I dar not writ« of it no wickeduesse,
Lest I myself falle efte in sad dotage ;
that is, 'lest I again make a fool of myself by marrying again.' Still he commends the 'Wyf of Bathe' — i.e. the prologue to her tale — to his friends' reading. But these lines 'were written sotfte years after his wife died, and their raillery must not be taken too seriously. However, Chaucer's troubles did ^ not seem to have prostrated him. In or about 1388, in April, the famous pilgrimage to Canterbury took place, for there can be little doubt that in the prologue to the 'Canterbury Tales' he is referring to an actual pilgrimage. If it took place m April 1388, it was just before he sold his pensions, so that he must have spent at the Tabard and on the road to Canterbury some of the last coins he had to spend.
For a while the sky cleared for him in the summer of 1389. It is probably a mistake to connect the improvement in his fortunes, as is commonly done, with the return of John of Gaunt from Spain. In fact, John of Gaunt did not return till November, whereas Chaucer received a new appointment in July. The improvement is really to be connected with the king's reassertion of his authority. In May the king freed himself from the council that for some two and a half years had so closely controlled him, and the party at whose instance Chaucer had been ousted from the customs ceased to have power. But he was not restored to his old places. We presume that those who succeeded him in 1386 were appointed for life ; and there appears to have been a genuine dissatisfaction witli the way in which he had performed the duties of the comptrollerships. He was now appointed clerk of the king's works at the palace of Westminster, Tower of London, castle of Berkhampstead, the king's manors of Kennington, Eltham, Clarendon, Sheen, Byfleet, Childeni Langley, and Feckenham ; also at the royal lodge at Hatherburgh in the New Forest, at the lodges in the parks of Clarendon, Childem Langley, and Feckenham, and at the mews for the king's falcons at Charing Cross. His duties are minutely stated in the patent. Fortunately for the poet, he was permitted to execute them by deputy. In July 1390 he was ordered to procure workmen and materials for the repair of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and also made a member of a commission to repair the Thames banks between Woolwich and Greenwich. In January 1391 he nominated John Elmhurst to be his deputy in the clerkship. Then came trouble again. In September we find one John Gedney holding the place that has been given to Chaucer. Of the cause of this supersession nothing whatever is known. It certainly looks as if Chaucer did not succeed as a man of business. But another place was found for him about the same time. In 14 Richard II (1390-1) Richard Brittle and 'Gefferey' Chaucer were appointed by Roger Mortimer, earl of March, foresters of North Petherton Park, Somersetshire, and in 21 Richard II (1397-8) Alienora, Roger Mortimer's wife, reappointed Chaucer sole forester. Roger Mortimer, it will be remembered, was the grandson of the Duchess of Clarence, to whose husband's household the poet was attached in youth (Collinson, Somersetshire, iii. 62; Mr. Selby, in Athen. 20 Nov. 1886).
One incident of his personal life at this time is preserved. On Tuesday, 9 Sept. 1390, he was 'feloniously despoiled' twice in one day, at Westminster of 10/. by one Richard Brerelay, and at Hatcham of 9l. 3s. 6d. by that same Brerelay, along with three others. Probably enough Chaucer was going from Westminster to Eltham. It was at the 'fowle' oak at 'Hacchesham,' a little to the west of New Cross, that he fell among thieves the second time. The writ, dated Eltham, 6 Jan. 1391, discharging him for repayment, speaks of the whole robbery as perpetrated at 'le fowle ok.' It adds that his horse was also taken from him 'et autres moebles' (see Mr. Walford D. Selby's Robberies of Chaucer, Chaucer Soc. 2nd ser. No. 12).
He had now for some two years and a half to subsist as well as he could on John of Gaunt's pension of 10l., his salary as forester, and whatever wages, if any, he received as the king's esquire. It is not till 1394 that he obtained from King Richard a grant of 20l. for life. That, even with this addition, it went hard with him, may be justly concluded from his frequent anticipation of the pavments due every half-year — at Easter and Michaelmas. Thus: 1 April 1395 he procures an advance of 10l., 25 June 10l., 9 Sept. 1l. 6s. 8d., 27 Nov. 8l. 6s. 8d. So on 1 March 1396 the balance he had to receive was only 1l. 13s. 4d. Yet 30l. would be equivalent to some 400l. of our money. From 1391 to 1399 Chaucer seems to have had much pecuniary difficulty. In 1397, when he was reappointed forester of North Petherton, we find him having 5l. advanced in July, and in August 6l. In May 4388 letters of protection were issued to the effect that whereas the king had appointed his beloved esquire Geotfrey Cliaucer to perform various arduous and urgent duties in divers parts of the realms of England, and the said Geoffrey, fearing that he might be impeded in the execution thereof by certain enemies of his by means of various suits, had prayed the king to assist him therein, therefore the king took the said Geoffrey, his tenants, and property into his special protection, forbidding him for two whole years to be arrested or sued by anybody except on a plea connected with land (see a copy of this document in Godwin, iv. 299, 300). He must have been sorely pinched in this year, 1398, when twice, on 24 July and 31 July, he obtained a loan of 6s. 8d.
In October another grant of wine was made him, this time not a ‘pitcher,’ but a time, to be received in the port of London by the king's chief butler or his deputy. The king's butler at that time was Thomas Chaucer.
He was not more satisfactorily placed till the accession of Henry IV the son of his old patron the Duke of Lancaster (3 Oct. 1399). Four days after Henry came to the throne he granted Chaucer forty marks (23l. 13s. 4d). yearly, in addition to the annuity Richard II had given him, so nearly doubling his previous income. This grant may have been made in answer to the poet's appeal appended to the 'Compleynte to his Purse'—lines which show that his humour did not desert him amidst all his troubles. Perhaps it is worth noting as possibly significant of Chaucer's character that in a few days he managed to lose his copy of this grant, and also his copy of the grant of l394. He was furnished with new copies on 18 Oct. He was now, we may presume, in comfortable circumstances, or some two months later, on Christmas eve, 1399, he took a lease for fifty-three years, at the annual rent of 2l. 13s. 4d., of a house situated in the garden of the Lady Chapel Westminster. This Lady Chapel occupie the ground now covered by Henry VII’s Chapel. Chaucer’s house probably remained till a clearance was made for this latter structure. On 21 Feb. 1400 Chaucer received one of his pensions. The following months he was probably ailing, as he did not claim another payment then due to him; and not till June was any part of this payment claimed, and then it was paid not to himself, but to one Henry Somers. This is our last notice of the the poet. The inscription on his tomb says he died on 25 Oct. 1400. The date of that inscription is long after the event, but it may have been copied from some older stone, and its accuracy is extremely probable. Being not only a tenant of the abbey, but a distinguished courtier and a distinguished poet, he was buried in what came afterwards to be known as the Poets’ Corner in the east aisle of the south transept, Westminster. In Caxton’s time there were some Latin lines in his memory, 'wreten on a table hongyng on a pylere by his sepulture’ composed by one Surigonius, a poet laureat of Milan, beginning:
Galfriduo Chaucer rates et fame poetis
Maternu, bac sacra sum tumulatua homo,
where ‘fame poeis maternæ,' we suppose means the ‘glory of my mother-country's poetry.' In 1555 Nicholis Brigham [q. v.], a special admirer of Chaucer’s works, himself a poet, erected close by his grave the tomb which is now extant. His wife had probably died, as we have seen, in 1387. Of his 'litel son Lewis,' for whom he compiled the ‘Astrolabe' in 1391, we know nothing more. Thomas Chaucer, assumed to be the poet's elder son, is separately noticed.
The great literary work of this third period is the supreme work of Chaucer‘s life—the ‘Canterbury Tales.' He probably finally fixed on his subject about 1387. Had the scheme been carried out, we should have had about 120 tales. There are a hundred in the ‘Decamerone' but they are comparatively slight and brief; many of Chaucer's are long and elaborate. Several of his earlier writings were adapted (not always thoroughly) to form a part of it, viz. ‘Palamon and Arcite,' the ‘Tale of Griselda,’ the ‘Tale of Constance,' the ‘Tale of Saint Cecilia.' Perhaps the earliest allusion to the ‘Canterbury Tales’ is made by Gower in the prologue to the second (the 1393) edition of the ‘Confessio Amantis’—
But for my wittes ben so smale
To tellen every man his tale, &c.
We may well believe that by 1393 a great part of the work as we have it was completed. But no doubt Chaucer was intending to go on with it, at least till near the close of his life, till the time when he could onl take pleasure in ‘the translation of Boes of consolation and other bokes of legendes of Seintes, and of Omelies and moralito and devotion' One would rejoice if this morbid passage, occurring at the close of the ‘Persones Tale,’ could be shown to be the interpolation of some monk; but as it is we must suppose that to Chaucer there came an hour of reaction and weakness. In the ‘Compleynt of Venus,' which is quite a distinct piece from the ‘Compleynt of Mars,' although so commonly printed as a part of it, Chaucer begs that his work may be received with indulgence—
For olde, that in my spirit dulleth me,
Hath of enditing al the sotelle
Welnigh bereft out of my remembrance.
So that he felt his powers decaying. On the other hand, the lines ‘Flee from the prees,' known as the ‘Good Counsil of Chaucer,' are vigorously written, and they are said to have been written on his deathbed; but this cannot be proved. The lines to his Purse sent to Henry IV, as we have seen, in l399, are lively; but it does not follow that they were written in that year. More likely only the 'envoy' was written then. The words 'out of this towne helpe me by your might' seem to point to some special occasion, and 'I am shave as nere as any frere' is in his old manner. Other pieces belonging to this period are the 'Envoy to Scogan — certainly written in the days of distress, and possibly enough in 1393, as the references to excessive rains suggest—the 'Envoy to Bukton,' and a 'Balade de Vilage sanz Peinture.' Credibly enough, the last few years of his life of Chaucer, for one reason or another, wrote little, and his magnum opus was scarcely touched. In the third period we see him mature. Fully as other influences have acted upon him, what strikes us is his extraordinary originality. For what is best in his best work he is debtor to no man. He is the first great figure of modern English literature, the first great humorist of modern Europe, and the first great writerm whom the dramatic spirit, so long vanished and seemingly extinct, reappears. Except Dante, there is no poet of the middle ages of superior faculty and distinction.
As to the manuscripts of Chaucer, see Furnvall's 'Six Text Edition of the Canterbury Tales, &c.,' an invaluable help to Chaucerian study. As to printed editions, we may mention that the 'Chanterbury Tales' were printed by Caxton in 1475, and again from a better manuscript a few years later; by Wynken de Worde in 1495, and again in 1498; by Richard Pynson in 1498, and again in 1526. The first printed collection of the poet's works was made by W. Thynne, and brought out in 1532, and again with the addition of the 'Plowman's Tale' in 1542, and again about 1559, rearranged. Next in 1561 came Stowe's edition; then in 1598 Speght's, which was reissued and revised in 1602, and again in 1687. Later editors are Urry (1721), Singer (1822), Nicolas (1845), Morris (1866), &c. (see Skeat, Astrolabe, p. xxvi). Tyrwhitt's elaborate edition of the 'Canterbury Tales' (1775-8) deserves special mention. All these collections contain several works that are certainly not by Chaucer. On this matter see Aldine ed. vol. i. appendix B. Professor Skeat has edited separate portions of the 'Canterbury Tales.'
[The Chaucer Society publications; Tyrwhitt's Introductory Discourse to the Canterbury Tales, &c., in his edition of the Canterbury Tales, 1775-8; Godwin's Life of Chaucer, 4 vols. 2nd ed. 1804; Nicolas's Life of Chaucer in the Aldine edition; Todd's Illustrations of Gower and Chaucer, 1810; Matthew Browne's 'Chaucer's England', 2 vols. 1869; John Saunders's Cabinet Pictures of English Life; Chaucer, 1846; Bernhard ten Brin's Chaucer Studien, 1870, and his Chaucer's Sprache und Verkunst, 1884; Morris's Chaucer's Prologue, &c.; Skeat's Man of Lawes Tale, &c.; and also the Prioresses Tale, &c., in the Clarendon Press Series; Henry Morley's English Writers; Ward's Chaucer, in the Men of Letters Series; Warton's Hist, of English Poetry; Lowell's My Study Windows.]