Imatges de pàgina
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XXI.

1958.

CHAP. terbury Tales, Mr. Tyrwhit thinks himself

entitled to infer P, “ that the Poem of Palamon and Arcite must have been composed at a later period,” than the Parliament of Birds. This proof however is by no means complete. It would follow indeed that the Parliament of Birds was written prior to the Canterbury Tales ; but to establish that fact no indirect evidence is necessary.

What

passages might have existed in Chaucer's original unsuccessful

poem

of Palamon and Arcite, no trace of which is now to be discovered in his abridgment of it entitled the Knightes Tale, a reader of the present age is

by no means competent to determine. Inequality The most glaring fault imputable to the

poem we are here considering, is that the earlier and the latter half of the composition are by no means of similar substance, or well accord with each other. The first three hundred verses are of lofty port and elevated character. Nothing can be of graver mean

of the work.

i Canterbury Tales, note on ver. 1920,

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ing, more interesting to the fancy, or more CH A P. delicately expressed, than Chaucer's abstract of the Somnium Scipionis. To this succeed the Garden and Temple of Love, which, if they are not subjects of altogether so imposing a nature as the former, are yet fanciful, elevated, and full of poetical representation. The description of these being complete, what remains is that part of the poem which most properly answers to the title; the parliament, or assembly, of birds on St. Valentine's day to choose their mates. Chaucer here quits the Temple, and goes again into the garden, where, in a lawn, seated on a hill of flowers, and overcanopied with halls and bowers composed of the branches of trees, he finds the

quene, the noble goddesse, Nature," with the fowls of every different species assembled round her.

This of the poem is executed with a convocavery active fancy, and the characters of the fowlo. various birds are excellently sustained. Chaucer divides his fowls into four classes; the birds of prey, the water-fowl, those which live

upon insects and reptiles, and those which

part of the

tion of

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CHAP. are nourished with seeds : and each of these

classes has its representative ; the falcon for the birds of prey, the goose for the waterfowl, the cuckow for the worm-eaters, and the turtle for the eaters of seed. The epithets applied to these personages are well chosen,' not discovering the lazy and insignificant character often imputable to the epithets of inferior poets, but being all appropriate and expressive : and there is considerable humour in the vulgarity of the goose, the base selfishness of the cuckow, and the characteristic attributes of various other fowls which are successively introduced.

But, after all, there is something meagre and unnatural in this sort of allegory, where Chaucer introduces the lovers he means to compliment, under the personage of birds. We feel no sympathies for the amours of his male and female eagles. If the poet who attempts a plan of this sort, introduces any refined and animated sentiments, hé violates the propriety of his allegory; and, if he adheres to the decorum of the fiction he has to sustain, he becomes insupportably frigid and

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tedious. There are indeed a ridiculous in. CHAP. equality and unconnectedness conspicuous through the whole of this poem. Scipio Africanus is introduced with no propriety as Chaucer's conductor to the Temple of Love; and it would have been a still greater absurdity if he had been shown among the nightingales and thrushes stung with the passion of the spring on St. Valentine's day. Accordingly he is conveniently dropped. He is just shown in the commencement of the narrative, and is heard of no more. We do not know that he even enters the Garden of Love, at the door of which he serves the poet in the capacity of a gentleman-usher.

The heroine of the poem, according to the heChaucer's arrangement of it, is respresented her suitas a female cagle perched upon the hand of the goddess Nature. Three pretenders to her favour are introduced. Who these are it is impossible for us at this distance of time to determine ; but it is probable that the number, and some other circumstances which are related respecting them, are founded in fact,

roine and ors.

.

CHAP. The first is plainly the earl of Richmond,

who

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presents himself

1358,

With hed enclin'd, and with ful humble chere.

ver. 414.

The second eagle founds his pretensions upon the length of his attachment. The third, like the first, builds his hope of success only upon the fervour of his passion. They are all treated with considerable respect by Chaucer. They are all eagles ; and he adds in summing up their addresses,

Of al my life, syth that day I was borne,
So gentle ople, in love or other thinge,
Ne herden never no man' me beforne.

ver. 484.

The balance however is forcibly made to lean in favour of the first, or royal eagle ; and his suit, though not accepted, is only deferred for a year, with every omen of final success.

• Plea,

* before me, previously to this example,

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