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THE HOUSE OF FAME
§ 1. It is needless to say that this Poem is genuine, as Chaucer himself claims it twice over ; once in his Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, 1. 417, and again by the insertion in the poem itself of the name Geffrey (1. 729).
§ 2. INFLUENCE OF DANTE. The influence of Dante is here very marked, and has been thoroughly discussed by Rambeau in Englische Studien, iii. 209, in an article far too important to be neglected. I can only say here that the author points out both general and particular likenesses between the two poems. In general, both are visions; both are in three books; in both, the authors seek abstraction from surrounding troubles by venturing into the realm of imagination. As Dante is led by Vergil, so Chaucer is upborne by an eagle. Dante begins his third book, Il Paradiso, with an invocation to Apollo, and Chaucer likewise begins his third book with the same; moreover, Chaucer's invocation is little more than a translation of Dante's.
Among the particular resemblances, we may notice the method of commencing each division of the Poem with an invocation ? Again, both poets mark the exact date of commencing their poems ; Dante descended into the Inferno on Good Friday, 1300
1 It is also mentioned as 'the book of Fame' at the end of the Persones Tale, I 1086. I accept this passage as genuine.
• In Dante's Inferno, this invocation begins Canto II. ; for Canto I. forms a general introduction to the whole.
(Inf. xxi. 112); Chaucer began his work on the 10th of December, the year being, probably, 1383 (see note to l. 111).
Chaucer sees the desert of Lybia (1. 488), corresponding to similar waste spaces mentioned by Dante; see note to 482. Chaucer's eagle is also Dante's eagle; see note to l. 500. Chaucer gives an account of Phaethon (1.942) and of Icarus (1. 920), much like those given by Dante (Inf. xvii. 107, 109); both accounts, however, may have been taken from Ovid'. Chaucer's account of the eagle's lecture to him (1. 729) resembles Dante's Paradiso, i. 109-117. Chaucer's steep rock of ice (1. 1130) corresponds to Dante's steep rock (Purg. iii. 47). If Chaucer cannot describe all the beauty of the House of Fame (1. 1168), Dante is equally unable to describe Paradise (Par. i. 6). Chaucer copies from Dante his description of Statius, and follows his mistake in saying that he was born at Toulouse; see note to l. 1460. The description of the house of Rumour is also imitated from Dante; see note to l. 2034. Chaucer's error of making Marsyas a female arose from his misunderstanding the Italian form Marsia in Dante; see note to l. 1229.
These are but some of the points discussed in Rambeau's article ; it is difficult to give, in a summary, a just idea of the careful way in which the resemblances between these two great poets are pointed out. I am quire aware that many of the alleged parallel passages are too trivial to be relied upon, and that the author's case would have been strengthened, rather than weakened, by several judicious omissions; but we may fairly accept the conclusion, that Chaucer is more indebted to Dante in this poem than in any other; perhaps more than in all his other works put together.
It is no longer possible to question Chaucer's knowledge of Italian; and it is useless to search for the original of The House of Fame in Provençal literature, as Warton vaguely suggests that we should do (see note to l. 1928). At the same time, I can see no help to be obtained from a perusal of Petrarch's Trionfo della Fama, to which some refer us.
$ 3. TESTIMONY OF LYDGATE. It is remarkable that Lydgate
Where Chaucer says 'leet the reynes goon' (1. 951), and Dante has 'abbandonò li freni' (Inf. xvii. 107), we find in Ovid'equi ... colla iugo eripiunt, abruptaque lora relinquant' (Met. ii. 315). Chaucer's words seem closer to Dante than to the Latin original.
does not expressly mention The House of Fame by name, in his list of Chaucer's works. I have already discussed this point in the Introduction to vol. i. pp. 23, 24, where I shew that Lydgate, nevertheless, refers to this work at least thrice in the course of the poem in which his list occurs; and, at the same time, he speaks of a poem by Chaucer which he calls 'Dant in English,' to which there is nothing to correspond, unless it can be identified with The House of Fame'. We know, however, that Lydgate's testimony as to this point is wholly immaterial ; so that the discussion as to the true interpretation of his words is a mere matter of curiosity.
$ 4. INFLUENCE OF Ovid. It must, on the other hand, be obvious to all readers, that the general notion of a House of Fame was adopted from a passage in Ovid's Metamorphoses, xii. 39-63. The proof of this appears from the great care with which Chaucer works in all the details occurring in that passage. He also keeps an eye on the celebrated description of Fame in Vergil's Æneid, iv. 173–183 ; even to the unlucky rendering of 'pernicibus alis' by 'partriches winges,' in l. 1392 %.
I here quote the passage from Ovid at length, as it is very useful for frequent reference (cf. Ho. Fame, 711-24, 672-99, 1025-41, 1951-76, 2034-77):
Orbe locus medio est inter terrasque, fretumque,
On which Prof. Lounsbury remarks (Studies in Chaucer, ii. 243)—More extreme indeed than that of any one else is the position of Professor Skeat. He asserts in all seriousness that the “House of Fame” is the translation to which reference is made by Lydgate, when he said that Chaucer wrote “ Dante in English.” Beyond this utterance it is hardly possible to go.' This is mere banter, and entirely misrepresents my view. Lydgate does not say that ' Dant in English 'was a translation; this is a pure assumption, for a strategical purpose in argument. Lydgate was ignorant of Italian, and has used a stupid phrase, the correctness of which I by no means admit. But he certainly meant something; and the prominence which he gives to “ Dant in English,” when he comes to speak of Chaucer's Minor Poems, naturally suggests The House of Fame, which he otherwise omits! My challenge to some competent critic'to tell me what other poem is here referred to, remains unanswered.
? When Chaucer consulted Dante, his thoughts were naturally directed to Vergil. We find, accordingly, that he begins by quoting (in 11. 143-8) the opening lines of the Æneid; and a large portion of Book I (11. 143-467) is entirely taken up with a general sketch of the contents of that poem. It is clear that, at the time of writing, Vergil was, in the main, a new book to him, whilst Ovid was certainly an old acquaintance.
Unde quod est usquam, quamuis regionibus absit,
Et tellure uidet, totamque inquirit in orbem.'
By way of further illustration, I here quote the whole of Golding's translation of the above passage from Ovid : * Amid the world tweene heauen and earth, and sea, there is a place, Set from the bounds of each of them indifferently in space, From whence is seene what-euer thing is practizde any-where, Although the Realme be neere so farre: and roundly to the eare Commes whatsoeuer spoken is; Fame hath his dwelling there, Who in the top of all the house is lodged in a towre. A thousand entries, glades, and holes are framed in this bowre. There are no doores to shut. The doores stand open night and day. The house is all of sounding brasse, and roreth euery way, Reporting double enery word it heareth people say. There is no rest within, there is no silence any-where. Yet is there not a yelling out : but humming, as it were The sound of surges being heard farre off, or like the sound That at the end of thunderclaps long after doth redoand When Ioue doth make the clouds to crack. Within the courts is preace Of common people, which to come and go do neuer ceace. And millions both of troths and lies run gadding euery-where, And wordes confuselie Aie in heapes, of which some fill the eare That heard not of them erst, and some cole-cariers part do play, To spread abroade the things they heard, and euer by the way The thing that was inuented growes much greater than before, And euery one that gets it by the end addes somewhat more.
Light credit dwelleth there, there dwells rash error, there doth dwell
$ 5. DATE OF THE POEM. Ten Brink, in his Chaucer Studien, pp. 120, 121, concludes that The House of Fame was, in all probability, composed shortly after Troilus, as the opening lines reproduce, in effect, a passage concerning dreams which appears in the last Book of Troilus, ll. 358–385. We may also observe the following lines in Troilus, from Book I, 517-8:
• Now, thonked be god, he may goon in the daunce
Of hem that Love list febly for to avaunce.' These lines, jestingly applied to Troilus by Pandarus, are in the House of Fame, 639, 640, applied by Chaucer to himself :
Although thou mayst go in the daunce
Of hem that him list not avaunce.' Again, the House of Fame preceded the Legend of Good Women, because he here complains of the hardship of his official duties (652–660); whereas, in the Prologue to the Legend, he rejoices at obtaining some release from them. We may also note the quotation from Boethius (note to l. 972). As Boethius and Troilus seem to have been written together, somewhere about 1380, and took up a considerable time, and the apparent date of the Legend is 1385, the probable date of the House of Fame is about 1383 or 1384. Ten Brink further remarks that the references to Jupiter suggest to the reader that the roth of December was a Thursday (see note to 111). This would give 1383 for beginning the poem; and perhaps no fitter date than the end of 1383 and the spring of 1384 can be found.
$ 6. METRE. Many of Chaucer's metres were introduced by him from the French; but the four-accent metre, with rime as here employed, was commonly known before Chaucer's time. It was used by Robert of Brunne in 1303, in the Cursor Mundi, and in Havelok. It is, however, of French origin, and occurs in the very lengthy poem of Le Roman de la Rose. Chaucer only employed it thrice: (1) in translating the Roman de la Rose; (2) in the Book of the Duchesse ; and (3) in the present poem.
For normal lines, with masculine rimes, see 7, 8, 13, 14, 29,