Page:Life of William Blake 2, Gilchrist.djvu/198

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144
SELECTIONS FROM BLAKE'S WRITINGS.

This Lady is described also as of the first rank, rich and honoured. She has certain peculiarities and little delicate affectations, not unbecoming in her, being accompanied with what is truly grand and really polite; her person and face Chaucer has described with minuteness; it is very elegant, and was the beauty of our ancestors till after Elizabeth's time, when voluptuousness and folly began to be accounted beautiful.

Her companion and her three priests were no doubt all perfectly delineated in those parts of Chaucer's work which are now lost; we ought to suppose them suitable attendants on rank and fashion.

The Monk follows these with the Friar. The Painter has also grouped with these the Pardoner and the Sompnour and the Manciple, and has here also introduced one of the rich citizens of London;—characters likely to ride in company, all being above the common rank in life, or attendants on those who were so.

For the Monk is described, by Chaucer, as a man of the first rank in society, noble, rich, and expensively attended: he is a leader of the age, with certain humorous accompaniments in his character, that do not degrade, but render him an object of dignified mirth, but also with other accompaniments not so respectable.

The Friar is a character also of a mixed kind:

'A friar there was, a wanton and a merry;'

but in his office he is said to be a 'full solemn man:' eloquent, amorous, witty, and satirical; young, handsome, and rich; he is a complete rogue; with constitutional gaiety enough to make him a master of all the pleasures of the world:

'His neck was white as the fleur de lis,
Thereto strong he was as a champioun.'

It is necessary here to speak of Chaucer's own character, that I may set certain mistaken critics right in their conception of the humour and fun that occur on the journey. Chaucer is himself the great poetical observer of men, who in every age is born to record and eternize its acts. This he does as a master, as a father and superior, who looks down on their little follies from the Emperor to the Miller: sometimes with severity, oftener with joke and sport.

Accordingly Chaucer has made his Monk a great tragedian, one who studied poetical art. So much so that the generous Knight is, in the compassionate dictates of his soul, compelled to cry out: