Chaucer, Geoffrey

Chaucer, Geoffrey,

the "Father of English Poetry," is believed to have been born about 1340. Nothing is known of his early life or parentage further than that his father was a London vintner. Chaucer was not simply a poet and author, but exhibited decided talent for diplomacy, and his acquaintance with commerce and his ability in that direction secured for him some important positions. He was a contemporary of Wycliffe, and is said to have adopted the opinions of that reformer respecting ecclesiastical polity, although it is not known that he sympathized with him in his religious convictions. His influence, however, was not inconsiderable in preparing the-way for the Reformation in England.

Chaucer first comes into public -notice in 1359, when he went with the army of Edward III into France, and there, during a retreat, was taken prisoner, but was soon ransomed by the king. About 1367 he was valet of the king's chamber, with a salary for life of twenty marks, and in 1369 took part in another expedition against France, which proved to be an inglorious one. It is believed that he married Philippa, a lady in attendance on tithe queen, before 1374, for in that year a pension was granted to him for his own and his wife's services. For several years he was employed on public missions in France, Flanders, and Lombardy, and during one of these he may have met Petrarch in Padua. There are evident traces of the effect of Italian literature on all his writings after this journey. In 1382 he became comptroller of the petty customs of the port of London, and in 1386 was sent to parliament as a Knight of Kent. But in the same year came the downfall of his patron, John of Gaunt, and in consequence he was dismissed from all his offices. In this year occurred the death of his wife. She left him two sons, one of whom was named Lewis. Chaucer was afterwards made clerk of the king's works, and in 1394 obtained an annuity of £20, and: a pension of 40 marks on the accession of Henry IV in 1399. It is believed that he died at his house in Westminster in 1400, and an inscription on his tomb in the abbey fixes the date Oct. 25.

Chaucer's style marks the beginning of the modern period of English literature, and his language and forms of expression were so excellent that few of them have. yet become obsolete. Among all his writings the Canterbury Tales are best known and most admired. In them, as well as in the House of Fame and Legends of Good Women, Chaucer strikes out more positively in a style of his own, and exhibits a maturer power and a more masterly freedom than in his earlier works. His characters are sharply defined, living men and women. His narrative skill is unequalled, his tales gliding on with captivating artistic fluency and unobtrusive felicities of phrase. He unites luxuriant invention and piercing satiric shrewdness with delicate pathos, sunny humor, grave love of truth, and refreshing delight in nature. ' There is little to show the date of his various writings. The Book of the Duchess is supposed to have been written to commemorate the death of the wife of John of Gaunt, which occurred in 1369. Many works formerly attributed to him are now rejected among them the Testament of Love, the Assembly of Ladies, and the Lamentations of Mary Magdalene. In the last twenty years there has been a remarkable revival of interest in Chaucer and an enthusiastic study of his life and works, a society having been formed in England for that purpose. 'The best editions of his works are those of Morris (Lond. 1872, 6 vols. 12mo) and Gilman (Boston, 1879, 3 vols. 8vo).

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