תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

fabulous history. He for some reasons believed Oxford or Berkshire to have given birth to this great man, but has not informed us what those reasons were that induced him to believe so, and at present there appears no other, but that the feats of his family were in those counties. Pitts positively asserts, without producing any authoritv to support it, 'that Woodstock was the place; which opinion Mr. Camden seems to hint at, where he mentions that town; but it may be suspected that Pitts had no other ground for the aftertion, than Chaucer's mentioning Woodstock-park in his works, and having an house there. · But after all these different pretensions, he himself, in the Testament of Love, feems to point out the place of his nativity to be the city of London; and tho' Mr. Camden mentions the claim of Woodstock, he does not give much credit to it; for speaking of Spenser (who was uncontrovertedly born in London) he calls him fellow citizen to Chaucer.

The descent of Chaucer is as uncertain, and unfixed by the critics, as the place of his birth. Speight is of opinion, that one Richard Chaucer was his father, and that one Elizabeth Chaucer, a nun of St. Helen's, in the second year of Richard II. might have been his sister, or of his kindred. But this conjecture, says Urry, feems very improbable; for this Richard was a Vintner, who at his death left his house and stock to the Church of St. Mary Aldermary, which in all probability he would not have done if he had had any sons to possess his fortune; nor is it very likely he could enjoy the family estates mentioned by Leland in Oxfordshire, and at the same time follow such an occupation. Pitts afferts that Chaucer's father was a knight. We find one John Chaucer attending upon Edward Ill, and Queen Philippa, in their expedition to Flanders and Cologn, who had the king's protection to go over sea in the twelfth year of his reign.

It

It is highly probable that this gentleman was father to our Geoffry, and the supposition is strengthend by Chaucer's first application, after leaving the aniversity and inns of law, being to the Court : nor is it unlikely that the service of the father should re. commend the son.

It is universally agreed, that he was born in the fecond year of the reign of King Edward III. A. D. 1328. His first studies were in the university of Cambridge, and when about eighteen years of age, he wrote his Court of Love, but of what college he was is uncertain, there being no account of him in the records of the university. From Cambridge he was removed to Oxford, in order to compleat his ftudies; and after a considerable stay there, he became (says Leland) a ready logician, a smooth “ rhetorician, a pleasant poet, a great philosopher, “ an ingenious mathematician, and a holy divine. “ That he was a great master in astronomy, is

plain by his discourses of the Aftrolabe, 'That si he was versed in hermetic philosophy (which

prevailed much at that time,) appears hy his “ tale of the Chanons Yeoman: His knowledge « in divinity is evident from his Parson's tale, “ and his philosophy from the Testament of Love." Thus qualified to make a figure in the world, he left his learned retirement, and travelled into France, Holland, and other countries, where he spent some of his younger days. Upon his return he entered himself in the Inner Temple, where he studied the municipal laws of the land. But he had not long prosecuted that dry.study, till his fuperior abilities were taken notice of by some persons of distinction, by whose patronage he then approached the fplendor of the court. The reign of Edward III. was glorious and successful, he was a discerning as well as a fortunate monarch; had a taste as well for erudition as for arms; was an encourager of men of B 2

wit

wit and parts, and permitted them to approach him without reserve. At Edward's court nothing but gallantry and a round of pleasure prevailed, and how well qualified our poet was to shine in the foft circles, those who have read his works will be at no loss to determine; but besides the lustre of his wit and learning, he 'poflefied the advantages of person in a very considerable degree. He was then under the age of thirty, of a fine complexion, his size of a juit medium, and his air genteel and graceful; so that he united whatever could claim the approbation of the Great, and charm the eyes of the i air. He had abilities to record the valour of the one, and celebrate the beauty of the other, and being qualified by his polite behaviour to entertain both, he became a finished courtier. His first preferment was that of page to the king, a place of so much honour and efteem at that time, that Richard II. leaves particular legacies to his pages, when few others of his servants are taken notice of. In the forty-first year of Edward III. he received as a reward for his fervices, an annuity of twenty marks per ann. payable out of the exchequer, which in those days was no inconfiderable pension. In a year after he was advanced to be of his Majesty's privy chamber ; and in a very few months to be his shield bearer, a title, at that time (tho' now extin&t) of very great honour, being always next the king's person, and generally, upon signal victories, rewarded with military honours. · Qur poét becoming thus eminent by his places, contracted friendthips with, and procured the efteem of, perfons of the first quality, Queen Philippa, the Duke of Lancaiter, and his Dutchess Blanch, shewed particular honour to him; and lady Margaret the king's daughter, and the counteis of Pembroke gave him their warmest patronage. But in his poem called the Romaunt of the Rose, and Troi

lus

lus and Creseide, he gave offence to some courtladies by the looseness of his descriptions, which the lady Margaret resented, and obliged him to atone for, by his Legend of good Women, a piece as chaste as the others were luxuriously amorous ; under the name of the Daisy, he veils lady Mar. garet, whom of all his patrons he most esteemed.

Thus loyed and honoured, his younger years were dedicated to pleasure and the court. By the recommendation of the Dutchess Blanch, he married one Philippa, fifter to the guardianess of her grace's children, who was a native of Hainault: He was then about thirty years of age, and being fixed by marriage, the king began to employ him in more public and advantageous poits. In the forty-sixth year of this prince's reign, Chaucer was sent into Italy, in commission with others, to treat with the Doge and Senate of Genoa, about affairs of great importance to the Englith ftate. The Duke of Lancaster, whose favourite passion was ambition, which demanded the assistance of learned men, engaged warmly in our poet's intereit: besides, the Duke was remarkably fond of lady Ca. therine Swynford, Chaucer's wife's fifter, who was then guardianess to his children, and whom he afterwards made his wife; thus was he doubly attached to Chaucer, and with the varying fortune of the Duke of Lancaster, we find our roet rise or fall. Much about this time, for his successful negotiations at Genoa, the king granted to him by letters patent, by the title of Armiger Nolter, one pitcher of wine daily in the port of London ; and soon after made him comptroller of the customs, with this particular proviso, that he should personally execute the office, and write the accounts relating to it with his own hand.

But as he was advanced to higher places of truft, so he became . more entangled in the affairs B 3

of

of flate, the consequence of which proved very prejudicial to him. The Duke of Lancaster hav. ing been the chief instrument of raising him to dignity, expected the fruits of those favours in a ready compliance with him in all his designs. That prince was one of the proudeít and most ambitious men of his time, nor could he patiently bear the name of a subject, even to his father ; nothing but absolute power, and the title of king could latis'y him. Upon the death of his elder brother, Edward the black prince, he fixed his eye upon the English crown, and seemed to stretch out an impatient hand to reach it. 'In this view he fought by all means possible, to secure his interest, against the decease of the old king; and being afraid of the opposition of the clergy, who are always ftrenuous against an irregular succession, he embraced the opinions and (fppused the Interests of Wickliff, who now appeared at Oxford, and being a man of very great abilities, and much esteemed at court, drew over to his party great numbers of all ranks. In this confusion, the duke of Lancaster endeavoured all he could to shake the power of the clergy, and to procure votaries amongst the leading popular men; Chaucer had no small hand in promoting these proceedings, both by his public interest and writings.

Towards the close of Edward's reign he was very active in the intrigues of the court-party, and so recommended himself to the Prince successor, that upon his ascending the throne, he confirmed to him by the title of Delectus Armiger Nofter, the grant made by the late king, of twenty marks per annum, and at the same time confirmed the other grant of the late king, for a pitcher of wine to be delivered him daily in the port of London. But in less than two

years after this, we find our poet so reduced in his circum

stances,

« הקודםהמשך »