« AnteriorContinua »
a subject to which he afterwards returns, when he suddenly
‘Garlondes, nought of o colour, Some of the lefe, som of the flour, And some of grete perles were.' After which we are introduced to Tristram and Isolde, Jason and Hercules, Theseus and Phedra, Troilus and Criseide and Diomede, Pyramus, Dido, Phyllis, Adriane, Cleopatra, Tisbe, Progne and Philomene and Tereus, Lucrece, Alcestis; and even Ceyx and Alcyone (cf. Chaucer's youthful poem). The matter is put beyond doubt by Gower's adoption of Chaucer's peculiar account of Cleopatra's death, as already noted above; see p. xxxvii. The conclusion to be drawn from these facts is obvious. We see that, in the year 1385, Gower had almost completed his long poem, and communicated the fact to his friend Chaucer; and Chaucer, in return, told him of the new poem (the Legend) upon which he was then himself engaged, so planned as to contain nineteen tales or sections, and likely to extend to some 6,ooo lines. Moreover, it was written in a new metre, such as no Englishman had ever employed before. Gower was allowed to see the MS. and to read a considerable portion of it. He was so struck with it as to make room for some remarks about it; and even went out of his way to introduce a personal reference to his friend. He makes Venus say to himself (iii. 374):— “And grete wel Chaucer, whan ye mete, As my disciple and my poete . . Forthy now, in his dayes olde",
Thou shalt telle him this message,
* People were soon called ‘old’ in those days. Dante, at 35, was in the ‘middle' of life; after which, all was downhill. Hoccleve was miserably old at 53; Works, ed. Furnivall, p. 119. Jean de Meun, in his Testament, ed. Méon, iv. 9, even goes so far as to say that man flourishes up to the age of 30 or 40, after which he ‘ne fait que langorir.’ Premature age seems to have been rather common in medieval times. Moreover, Gower is speaking comparatively, as of one no longer ‘in the floures of his youthe.'
To sette an ende of alle his werke,
That is to say, Chaucer, being the poet of Venus, is to make his testament of love, or final declaration concerning love, in a form suitable for being recorded in the court of the goddess. This “testament' is, of course, the Legend of Good Women, in which the martyrs of love are duly recorded; and their stories, written at the command of Cupid and by way of penance for what he had missaid against women, were to be placed to the good side of the author's account with Venus and her son. Moreover, they were finally to be sent in to the visible representative of the court of Love, viz. to the queen of England and her COurt.
It is interesting to observe that Gower, like Chaucer himself at the moment, regarded this poem as the crowning effort of Chaucer's poetical career. Neither of them had, at the time, any suspicion that Chaucer would, after all, “sette an ende of alle his werke’ in a very different manner. We may thus confidently date the first edition of Gower's Confessio Amantis in the year 1385, before the Legend of Hypermnestra was abandoned in the middle of a sentence. The date of the second edition of the same is 1393; and it is a great help to have these dates thus settled.
§ 10. METRE. The most interesting point about this poem is that it is the first of the ‘third period’ of Chaucer's literary work. Here, for the first time, he writes a series of tales, to which he prefixes a prologue; he adopts a new style, in which he seeks to delineate characters; and, at the same time, he introduces a new metre, previously unknown to English writers, but now famous as ‘the heroic couplet.” In all these respects, the Legend is evidently the forerunner of the Canterbury Tales, and we see how he was gradually, yet unconsciously, preparing himself for that supreme work. In two notable respects, as Ten Brink remarks, the Legend is inferior to the Tales. The various legends composing it are merely grouped together, not joined by connecting links which afford an agreeable relief. And again, the Prologue to the Legend is mere allegory, whilst the famous Prologue to the Tales is full of real life and dramatic sketches of character.
Chaucer had already introduced the seven-line stanza, unknown to his predecessors—the earliest example being the Compleint unto Pite—as well as the eight-line stanza, employed in his earliest extant poem, the A. B. C. For the hint as to this form of verse, he was doubtless indebted in the first instance to French poets, such as Guillaume de Machault, though he afterwards conformed his lines, as regarded their cadence and general laws, to those of Boccaccio and Dante".
The idea of the heroic couplet was also, I suppose, taken from French; we find it in a Complainte written by Machault about 1356–8 (see below, p. 383); but here, again, Chaucer's melody has rather the Italian than the French character. The lines in Froissart's poem on the Daisy (p. xxxi) are of the same length, but rime together in groups of seven lines at a time, separated by short lines having two accents only. Boccaccio's favourite stanza in the Teseide, known as the ottava rima, ends with two lines that form an heroic couplet”.
§ 1 1. ‘CLIPPED’ LINEs. It ought to be clearly understood that the introduction of the new metre was quite an experiment, for which Chaucer himself offers some apology when he makes the God of Love say expressly: ‘Make the metres of hem as thee leste’ (l. 562). Hence it was that he introduced into the line a variety which is now held to be inadmissible; though we must not forget that even so great a master of melody as Tennyson, after beginning his ‘Vision of Sin’ with lines of normal length, begins the second portion of it with the lines:–
“Then methought I heard a hollow sound
* Ten Brink, Chaucer's Sprache, &c., p. 174.
* The heroic couplet was practically unknown to us till Chaucer introduced it. The rare examples of it before his time are almost accidental. A lyrical poem printed in Böddeker's Altenglische Dichtungen, p. 232, from MS. Harl. 2253, ends with a fair specimen, and is older than Chaucer. The last two
The oldest single line of this form is at the end of Sawles Warde (ab. A. D. 1210); see Spec. of English, pt. i. p. 95:—
It is precisely this variation that Chaucer sometimes allowed himself, and it is easy to see how it came to pass. In lines of a shorter type we constantly find a similar variation. There are a large number of ‘clipped’ lines in the House of Fame. Practically, their first foot consists of a single syllable, and they may be scanned accordingly, by marking off that syllable at the beginning. Thus, ll. 21.17-2120 run thus:– “And leet hem gon. Ther might' I seen Weng |ed wondres faste fleen,
This variation is still admissible, and is, of course, common enough in such poems as Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. It is considered a beauty. The introduction of two more syllables in lines of the above type gives us a similar variation in the longer line. If, for example, after the word thousand in the third of the above lines, we introduce the word freres (dissyllabic), we obtain the line:—
It is a remarkable fact, that this very line actually occurs in the Canterbury Tales (Group D, 1695); as I have pointed out in the note to l. 21 19 of the House of Fame, at p. 286 below. Persistent efforts have often been made to deny this fact, to declare it “impossible,” and to deride me for having pointed it out (as I did in 1866, in Morris's edition of Chaucer, i. 174); but I believe that the fact is now pretty generally admitted. It is none the less necessary to say here, that there is rather a large number of such lines in the Legend of Good Women; precisely as we might expect to find in a metre which was, in fact, a new experiment. As it is advisable to present the evidence rather fully, I here cite several of these lines, marking off the first syllable in the right way:• That of all the flour-es in the med-e’; 41. “Suf fisaunt this flour to preys' aright'; 67. “Of this flour, when that it shuld unclos-e’; 111. “Mad” her lyk a daisie for to sen-e’; 224. “Half hir beautee shulde men nat fynd-e ’; 245. “With the whyt-e coroun, clad in gren-e'; 303. “Mai | dens been y-kept, for Ielosy-e’; 722. ‘For to met in o plac” at o tyd-e’; 783. “With her sac' y-wimpled subtilly’; 797.
It is worth notice that they become scarcer towards the end of the poem. For all that, Chaucer regarded this form of the line as an admissible variety, and Hoccleve and Lydgate followed him in this peculiarity. The practice of Hoccleve and Lydgate is entirely ignored by those to whom it is convenient to ignore it. Perhaps they do not understand it. The usual argument of those who wish to regulate Chaucer's verse according to their own preconceived ideas, is to exclaim against the badness of the MSS. and the stupidity of the scribes. This was tolerably safe before Dr. Furnivall printed his valuable and exact copies of the MSS., but is less safe now. We now have twelve MSS. (some imperfect) in type, besides a copy of Thynne's first edition of the poem in 1532, making thirteen authorities in all. Now, as far as this particular matter is concerned, the chief MSS. shew a wonderful unanimity. In ll. 41, III, 224, 722, 797, 901, 911, Ioj6, 1187, 1996, there is no variation that affects the scansion. And this means a great deal more than it seems to do at first sight. For the scribes of MSS. A. and T. evidently did not like these lines, and sometimes attempted emendations with all the hardihood of modern editors. The fact that the scribes are unwilling witnesses, with a tendency to corrupt the evidence, makes their testimony upon this point all the stronger. Added to which, I here admit that, wherever there seemed to be sufficient evidence, I have so far yielded to popular prejudice as to receive the suggested emendation. I now leave this matter to the consideration of the unprejudiced reader; merely observing, that I believe a considerable