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SECOND PERIOD. 1373. The Lyf of Seint Cecile.
The Assembly of Foules.
Troilus and Creseide. 1384. The House of Fame.
THIRD PERIOD. 1385. Legend of Good Women.
Canterbury Tales. 1391. Treatise on the Astrolabe. It is unnecessary for our present purpose to insert the conjectured dates of the Minor Poems not here mentioned.
According to Ten Brink, the poems of the First Period were composed before Chaucer set out on his Italian travels, i. e. before December, 1372, and contain no allusions to writings by Italian authors. In them, the influence of French authors is very strongly marked.
The poems of the Second Period (he tells us) were composed after that date. The Life of Seint Cecile already marks the author's acquaintance with Dante's Divina Commedia; lines 36-51 are, in fact, a free translation from the Paradiso, canto xxxiii. ll. 1-21. See my note to this passage, and the remarks on the Second Nun's Tale' in vol. v. The Parlement of Foules contains references to Dante and a long passage translated from Boccaccio's Teseide ; see my notes to that poem in vol. i. The original Palamon and Arcite was also taken from the Teseide; for even the revised version of it (now known as the Knightes Tale, and containing, doubtless, much more of Chaucer's own work) is founded upon that poem, and occasionally presents verbal imitations of it. Troilus is similarly dependent upon Boccaccio's Filostrato. The close connexion between Troilus and the translation of Boethius is seen from several considerations, of which it may suffice here to mention two. The former is the asssociation of these two works in Chaucer's lines to Adam,
* Adam scriveyn, if ever it thee befalle
Minor Poems; see vol. i. p. 379.
stanzas 140–154) a long passage on predestination and free-will, taken from Boethius, book v. proses 2, 3; which he would appear to have still fresh in his mind. It is probable that his Boethius preceded Troilus almost immediately; indeed, it is conceivable that, for a short season, both may have been in hand at the same time.
There is also a close connexion between Troilus and the House of Fame, the latter of which shows the influence of Dante in a high degree ; see p. vii. This connexion will appear from comparing Troil. v. stt. 52-55 with Ho. Fame, 2-54 ; and Troil. i. st. 74 (ll. 517-8) with Ho. Fame, 639, 640. See Ten Brink, Studien, p. 121. It would seem that the House of Fame followed Troilus almost immediately. At the same time, we cannot put the date of the House of Fame later than 1384, because of Chaucer's complaint in it of the hardship of his official duties, from much of which he was released (as we shall see) early in 1385. Further, the roth of December is especially mentioned as being the date on which the House of Fame was commenced (1. 111), the year being probably 1383 (see Note to that line).
It would appear, further, that the Legend was begun soon after the House of Fame was suddenly abandoned, in the very middle of a sentence. That it was written later than Troilus and the House of Fame is obvious, from the mention of these poems in the Prologue; ll. 332, 417, 441. That it was written at no great interval after Troilus appears from the fact that, even while writing Troilus, Chaucer had already been meditating upon the goodness of Alcestis, of which the Prologue to the Legend says so much. Observe the following passages (cited by Ten Brink, Studien, p. 120) from Troilus, bk. v. stt. 219, 254:
"As wel thou mightest lyen on Alceste
Besechinge every lady bright of hewe,
Ye may hir gilt in othere bokes see;
There is also a striking similarity between the argument in Troilus, bk. iv. st. 3, and Il. 369-372 (B-text) of the Prologue to the Legend. The stanza runs thus :
For how Criseyde Troilus forsook,
I will here also note the fact that the first line of the above stanza is quoted, almost unaltered, in the earlier version of the Prologue, viz. at l. 265 of the A-text, on p. 88.
From the above considerations we may already infer that the House of Fame was begun, probably, in December, 1383, and continued in 1384; and that the Legend of Good Women, which almost immediately succeeded it, may be dated about 1384 or 1385; certainly after 1382, when King Richard was first married. But now that we have come so near to the date, it is possible to come still nearer ; for it can hardly be doubted that the extremely grateful way in which Chaucer speaks of the queen may fairly be connected with the stroke of good fortune which happened to him just at this very period. In the House of Fame we find him groaning about the troublesomeness of his official duties; and the one object of his life, just then, was to obtain greater leisure, especially if it could be had without serious loss of income. Now we know that, on the 17th of February, 1385, he obtained the indulgence of being allowed to nominate a permanent deputy for his Controllership of the Customs and Subsidies; see Furnivall's Trial Forewords to the Minor Poems, p. 25. If with our knowledge of this fact we combine these considerations, viz. that Chaucer expresses himself gratefully to the queen, that he says nothing more of his troublesome duties, and that Richard II. is known to have been a patron of letters (as we learn from Gower), we may well conclude that the poet's release from his burden was brought about by the queen's intercession with the king on his behalf. We may here
notice Lydgate's remarks in the following stanza, which occurs in the Prologue to the Fall of Princes':
* This poete wrote, at the request of the quene,
In all this world to fynd so gret a nombre?' Lydgate can hardly be correct in his statement that Chaucer wrote at the request' of the queen : for, had our author done so, he would have let us know it. Still, he has seized the right idea, viz, that the queen was, so to speak, the moving cause which effected the production of the poem.
It is, moreover, much to the point to observe that Chaucer's state of delightful freedom did not last long. Owing to a sudden change in the government we find that, on Dec. 4, 1386, he lost his Controllership of the Customs and Subsidies; and, only ten days later, also lost his Controllership of the Petty Customs. Something certainly went wrong, but we have no proof that Chaucer abused his privilege.
On the whole we may interpret 11. 496, 7 (p. 101), viz.
• And whan this book is maad, yive hit the quene,
as giving us a date but little later than Feb. 17, 1385, and certainly before Dec. 4, 1386. The mention of the month of May in II. 36, 45, 108, 176, is probably conventional; still, the other frequent references to spring-time, as in 11. 40-66, 130147, 171-174, 206, &c., may mean something; and in particular we may note the reference to St. Valentine's day as being past, in 11. 145, 146; seeing that chees (chose) occurs in the past tense. We can hardly resist the conviction that the right date
It is the stanza next following the last one quoted in vol. i. p. 23. I quote it from the Aldine edition of Chaucer, ed. Morris, i. 80.
* Of course Lydgate knew the work was unfinished; so he offers a humorous excuse for its incompleteness. I may here note that Hoccleve refers to the Legend in his poem entitled the Letter of Cupid, where Cupid is made to speak of 'my Legende of Martres '; see Hoccleve's Works, ed. Furnivall, p. 85, 1. 316.
• In December, 1384, Richard II. held his Christmas'at Eltham (Fabyan).
of the Prologue is the spring of 1385, which satisfies every condition.
§ 2. THE TWO FORMS OF THE PROLOGUE. So far, I have kept out of view the important fact, that the Prologue exists in two distinct forms, viz. an earlier and a revised form. The lines in which the queen' is expressly mentioned occur in the later version only, so that some of the above arguments really relate to that alone. But it makes no great difference, as there is no reason to suppose that there was any appreciable lapse of time between the two versions.
In order to save words, I shall call the earlier version the A-text, and the later one the B-text. The manner of printing these texts is explained at p. 65. I print the B-text in full, in the lower half of the page. The A-text appears in the upper half of the same, and is taken from MS. C. (Camb. Univ. Library, Gg. 4. 27), which is the only MS. that contains it, with corrections of the spelling, as recorded in the footnotes.
Lines which appear in one text only are marked with an asterisk (*); those which stand almost exactly the same in both texts are marked with a dagger (t) prefixed to them; whilst the unmarked lines are such as occur in both texts, but with some slight alteration. By way of example, observe that lines B. 496, 497, mentioning the queen, are duly marked with an asterisk, as not being in A. Line 2, standing the same in both texts, is marked with a dagger. And thirdly, line 1 is unmarked, because it is slightly altered. A. has here the older expression 'A thousand sythes,' whilst B. has the more familiar 'A thousand tymes.'
The fact that A. is older than B. cannot perhaps be absolutely proved without a long investigation. But all the conditions point in that direction. In the first place, it occurs in only one MS., viz. MS. C., whilst all the others give the B-text ; and it is more likely that a revised text should be multiplied than that a first draft should be. Next, this MS. C. is of high value and great importance, being quite the best MS., as regards age, of the whole set; and it is a fortunate thing that the A-text has been preserved at all. And lastly, the internal evidence tends, in my opinion, to shew that B. can be more easily evolved from A. than conversely I am not aware that any one has ever doubted this result.
We may easily see that the A-text is, on the whole, more general and vague, whilst the B-text is more particular in its references.