Page images
PDF
EPUB

Paris, in their disgust and despair, had almost broken off all negotiations with the French government; and they even endeavored to open communications with the British ministry. But the British government, elated with the first successes of Burgoyne, refused to listen to any overtures for accommodation. But when the news of Saratoga reached Paris the whole scene was changed. Franklin and his brother commissioners found all their difficulties with the French government vanish. The time seemed to have arrived for the house of Bourbon to take a full revenge for all its humiliations and losses in previous wars. In December a treaty was arranged, and formally signed in the February following, by which France acknowledged the Independent United States of America. This was, of course, tantamount to a declaration of war with England. Spain soon followed France; and, before long, Holland took the same course. Largely aided by French fleets and troops, the Americans vigorously maintained the war against the armies which England, in spite of her European foes, continued to send across the Atlantic. But the struggle was too unequal to be maintained by this country for many years; and when the treaties of 1783 restored peace to the world, the independence of the United States was reluctantly recognized by their ancient parent and recent enemy, England.

GEOFFREY CHAUCER

E

VERYONE wishes to know some2

thing of the first of the really great English writers, the one who has gained and richly deserves the title of Father of English Poetry, but the information we have about him is

vague and unsatisfactory. We know that he was born about the year 1340 in the city of London and lived in comparative ease. As a youth he studied in both Oxford and Cambridge and was a page in the house of one of the royal family. For a while he served with the army in France and was taken prisoner there. He was at one time Comptroller of the Port of London, at another was a member of Parliament, and in the course of his life he held a number of other important offices. He died in the year 1400 and was the first poet honored by burial in the “Poets' Corner” of Westminster Abbey. He was a stout and jovial man, with fine, soft eyes peering out of a bright face, and by his gracious manners he gained the warm friendship of most of the leading men of his time. To quote Lowell, “If character may be divined by works, he was a good man, genial, sincere, hearty, temperate of mind, more wise, perhaps, for this world than the next, but thoroughly human, and friendly with God and man.

His best writing was done between the years 1381 and 1389, during which time he wrote The House of Fame, Legend of Good Women, and the best part of the Canterbury Tales. It is upon this last work that his fame chiefly rests.

The plan of the Canterbury Tales is as follows: Chaucer imagined that there met at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, England, about thirty people representing nearly all classes of society and types of men. Different as these persons were, they were united by one common interest: all were pilgrims to the tomb of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. It was proposed that they should travel together, and to while away the time each person was to tell to the others two stories, one on the journey to the shrine and another while returning. The teller of the best tale was to be feasted by the others. Chaucer did not complete his work, and but two dozen of the stories now exist.

The best part of the Tales is the Prologue, in which Chaucer describes one by one the persons who make up his party. These descriptions are bright and keen and in them Chaucer shows marvelous power of penetration into character and has given us just such types of humanity as exist today. He has drawn them so perfectly that they are for all time. They seem like the people we know around us, for human nature is the same in all ages. The knight would be still a very perfect gentleman, and the manners of the nun would be as faultless now as they were in the fourteenth century. One of the finest characters is the parish priest. A good man was ther of religioun, And was a poure Persoun? of a toun;

1. Parson, the parish priest.

But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
He was also a learned man, a clerka
That Cristes gospel treweley wolde preche;
His parischenso devoutly wolde he teche.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversité ful pacient;
And such he was i-proved ofte sithes.*
Ful loth were him to curse for his tythes,5
But rather wolde he geven out of dowte,
Unto his

poure parischens aboute,
Of his offrynge, and eek of his substaunce.?
He cowde in litel thing han suffisaunce.
Wyd was his parische, and houses fer asоnder,
But he ne lafte not8 for reyne ne thonder,
In siknesse nor in meschief to visite
The ferreste in his parische, moche and lite,10
Uppon his feet, and in his hond a staf.
This noble ensample to his scheep he gaf,
That first he wroughte, and afterward he taughte,
Out of the gospel he the wordes caughte,
And this figure he addede eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what schal yren doo?
For if a prest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed11 man to ruste;
And schame it is, if that a prest take kepe,12
A (foule) schepherde and a clene schepe;
Wel oughte a prest ensample for to give,
By his clennesse, how that his scheep schulde lyve.

2. A scholar educated in the University.
3. Parishioners.
4. Times.

5. It was hateful for him to excommunicate any of his flock because they did not pay their tithes.

6. The voluntary contributions he received from his parishioners. 7. Income. 8. He did not stop. 9. Misfortune. 10. Great and small. 11. Ignorant. 12. Take heed.

[ocr errors]

13

He sette not his benefice to hyre,
And leet his scheep encombred in the myre,
And ran to Londone, unto seynte Poules,
To seeken him a chaunterie for soules,
Or with a bretherhede to ben withholde :14
But dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,
So that the wolf ne made it not myscarye;
He was a schepherde and no mercenarie.
And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful man nought despitous,15
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne, 16
But in his teching discret and benigne.
To draw folk to heven by fairnesse,
By good ensample, this was busynesse;
But if were eny persone obstinat,
What so he were, of high or lowe estat,
Him wolde he snybbe?? scharply for the nones.18
A bettre prest, I trowe, ther nowher non is,
He waytede19 after no pompe and reverence,
Ne makede him a spiced20 conscience,
But Cristis lore, and his apostles twelve,
He taughte, but first he folwede it himselve.

The Canterbury Tales are written in heroic meter; that is, in rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter. But there are many irregularities and inaccuracies in the meter; so many, in fact, that Chaucer has been mercilessly criticised for his careless verse. The better class of critics, however, give

13. He did not let his curacy to a stranger.

14. He did not run to London, to St. Paul's, where he could find a better paying employment in singing masses for souls, and be maintained by a brotherhood.

15. Cruel.
16. Haughty.
17. Snub.
18. Once.
19. Sought.
20. Too particular.

« PreviousContinue »