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the laws were administered in French ; the Saxons forgot even their national handwriting ; and the Norman nobility who accompanied or followed the Conqueror, settling in all parts of the country, spread every where their language, their manners, and their arts.
Though the Norman minstrels attached to the court of the Conqueror and his successors enriched the literature of the period with some original productions, and many romances and lays from the minstrelsy of Provence, England could boast of no native poetry till, in the lapse of years, the language of the Normans and the Saxons, having passed through an intermediate jargon called the Norman-Saxon, became intimately blended in that dialect of strangely-mixed origin, which has gathered beauty and strength in repeated crosses of the original Saxon breed, till three centuries afterwards it became nearly the pure classic English of modern times.
The reign of Edward III., which forms a splendid epoch in the annals of England, received its highest glory from the name of Chaucer. The latter half of the fourteenth century was indeed a memorable and brilliant period over all Europe. It was a new birth-period to renovated chivalry and to poetic romance. Edward instituted the Order of the Garter, and “ raised the Table Round again.” Tilts and tournaments were exhibited at several courts. In Italy, Boccaccio and Petrarch composed their immortal works; and Froissart, the romantic
historian of gallantry and chivalry, travelled from one brilliant court to another blazoning the magnificent spectacles which he promoted and witnessed, or at the castle of Gaston de Foix, the flower of modern chivalry, read romances and virelais to his munificent host. Such were some of the picturesque and romantic circumstances of the age of Chaucer. In its learning he was carefully instructed; and though his genius was of the hardy kind that predominates over every obstacle, many events favoured its felicitous development. From an accomplished scholar, he became a man of business and a courtier. He was employed in important foreign embassies, and enjoyed a more liberal intercourse with society than any English poet had hitherto done. He was also the friend of Petrarch, and probably of Boccaccio, the daily witness and sharer in court pageants, the companion of the most polished persons of Edward's court, the favourite poet of that magnificent prince, the kinsman of John of Gaunt, familiar with all modes of life, and with the literature of all Europe. A mind of such original strength had probably never before been sent forth to expatiate in so wide a field of observation.
It is stated by Warton, the historian of English poetry, that at the marriage of Violante, the daughter of the Duke of Milan, with the Duke of Clarence, Chaucer was introduced to Petrarch. Froissart was there ; and Warton says, probably Boccaccio. It is pleasing to believe in the possibility of such an assemblage. When will another princely nuptials be so graced !_When from scenes of this kind we fancy Chaucer proscribed, a fugitive, the inhabitant of a prison, with increasing years and declining fortune, his knowledge of life seems to include all that man can learn from human experi. ence.—But to contemplate at this period the revival of literature in Italy, the predominance of chivalry and gallantry over all Europe, the magnificence of princes, the increase of commerce, and the general progress of the liberal and useful arts which ameliorate society, is to gaze on the brightest points of a picture which has a confused and gloomy ground. Though the manners and condition of middle life were improved, and the ferocity of the preceding reigns was somewhat mitigated, the face of Eng. lish society was still deformed by many a foul blot. A corrupt priesthood, a fierce and dissolute nobi). ity, a puerile philosophy, a superstitious faith, an unequal and partial administration of justice, and an unsettled succession, were evils that more than counterbalanced all the splendours and victories of the Third Edward's reign.
The first productions of Chaucer were allegories ; for such was the taste of the period in which he lived ; and his “ Flower and the Leaf” will survive while the language endures as the fairy dream of a youthful poet. But Chaucer was eminently what the old romances call “a man of middle earth ;” and nature soon reclaimed his genius from the regions of pure fancy to a field better worthy of
his energetic powers. Before the full vigour of his matured and enriched intellect was displayed in the Canterbury Tales, and at a much earlier period of his life, Chaucer wrote the love-story of Troilus and Creseide, for which he had found some meagre materials in the writers of Italy : for, like Shakspeare, he often gleaned the outline of his poems from some furtive and obscure source, which he afterwards moulded into his own impress, and en. riched and adorned with the affluence of his genius. Troilus and Creseide, which Chaucer calls a Litel Tragedy, is said to have been the favourite poem of Sir Philip Sydney; and “ was probably,” says Mr Campbell, “ next to the Canterbury Tales, the most popular poem in England till the reign of Elizabeth.” It contains more true pathos than all the love-stories which were composed for two centuries after its appearance.
Troilus is supposed to have first seen Creseide in a temple ; and in the solitude of his chamber, in ruminating on her charms, he thus deepens their fatal impression :
And when he in his chamber was alone,
(a) Delay; hinderance.
confessing her love amidst a scene of felicity has been pointed out in succession by Warton, and all his followers through the fields of English poetry :
And as the newe abashid nightingale, That stinteth(a) first when she beginneth sing, When that she heareth any herdis tale, Or in the hedges any wight stirring, And after sicker(6) doth her voice outring; Right so Creseidè, when that her dreade stent(c) Opened her herte, and told him her intent. The grief of Troilus, who, in his bed, is lamenting the departure of his mistress, is equally fine, and more impassioned :
Where is mine owne ladie, luf and dere? Where is her white brest-where is it--where? Where been her armès, and her eyen clere, That yesterday this time with me were ? Now may I weepe alone, with many a teare, And graspe about I may ; but in this place, Save a pillowe, I find nought to embrace. Another specimen of Chaucer's power of the simple pathetic is deservedly pointed out by War. ton. Troilus, seeing Creseide in a swoon, imagines her dead, and draws his sword to kill himself, first addressing a farewell to Troy and his family. The whole scene is delicately touched.
And thou, citie, in which I live in wo,
(a) Stops, ceases.
(6) Assurance. (d) Together.