: "sperately, yet wounded oftener and shar"plier by Ive's arrows than by each
,. -. .
' ..:deadly stroke The, ruthless, boy aloft showers gaily upon them his poisoned.
The and contains;Aureiius.and.Dorigen-that loving wife left on Breton
: .'-hores, who was so nearly caught in the irap she Set for herself. Aurelius
offers her his beart. aflame'. AtI is rrue his attitude is humble, but she is
Stterly in his pbwer-she cannot gt away whilst hb s Ineeliog on her dress.
"The. yd represent the'Snimmoner. led away, but this time either to
S..ofit nor to pleasure, by his hoered companion. .The wicked spirit holds
S: :the reins of both .horses in his hand, and the Summorier already quakes in
anticipation of what is in store for him.
'- .'..':.., .The 4th contains the three rioters. '.The emblem of that Death they,
i': sought..sp waitonLy hangs over their head'; the reward of sin i not far off.
Tle:th Arch is too much conceated- y the lock to.do more than suggest
one of Griselda's babes.&
"'" the i, from which the book takes its name, we trust may unlock the
tirl- ; fe known treasuries of the first'of English poets. The Daisy, symbol
fo:,-: .. r all tniae both'of Chaucer and.df children, and thus curiously fitted to be
I'the connecting link bet wen them, may point the way to lessons fairer than
o. : tigers stories as simple as daisies.
: 4:.: '2, .. ,
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CHAUCER FOR CHILDREN
Demy 8vo, cloth limp, 2s. 6d.
CHAUCER FOR SCHOOLS.
By MRS. HAWEIS, Author of 'CHAUCER FOR CHILDREN.'
This is a copious and judicious selection from Chaucer's Tales, with full notes on the history, manners,
customs, and language of the fourteenth century, with marginal glossary and a literal poetical version
in modern English in parallel columns with the original poetry. Six of the Canterbury Talcs are thus
presented, in sections of from 1o to 200 lines, mingled with prose narrative. Chaucer for Schoo's' is
issued to meet a wide'y-expressed want, and is especially adapted for class instruction. It may be
profitably studied in connection with the maps and illustrations of Chaucer for Children.'
*We hail with pleasure the appearance of Mrs. Haweis's Chaucer for Schools." Her account of Chaucer the Tale-teller"
is certainly the pleasantest, chattiest, and at the same time one of the soundest descriptions of the old master, his life and works and
general surroundings, that have ever been written. The chapter cannot be too highly praised.'-ACADEMY.
The authoress is in such felicitous harmony with her task, that the young student, who in this way first makes acquaintance
with Chaucer, may well through life ever after associate Mrs. Haweis with the rare productions of the father of English poetry.'-
'Unmistakably presents the best means yet provided of introducing young pupils to the study of our first great poet.'-
'In her "Chaucer for Schools" Mrs. Haweis has prepared a great assistance for boys and girls who have to make the
acquaintance of the poet. Even grown people, who like their reading made easy for them, will find the book a pleasant companion.'-
'The subject has been dealt with in such a full and comprehensive way, that the book must be commended to everyone whose
study of early English poetry has been neglected.'-DAILY CHRONICLE.
'We venture to think that this happy idea will attract to the study of Chaucer not a few children of a larger growth, who have
found Chaucer to be very hard reading, even with the help of a glossary and copious notes. Mrs. Ilaweis's book displays throughout
most excellent and patient workmanship, and it cannot fail to induce many to make themselves more fully acquainted with the
writings of the father of English literature.'-Ecno.
'The book is a mine of poetic beauty and most scholarly explanation, which deserves a place on the shelves of every school
'For those who have yet to make the acquaintance of the sweet and quaint singer, there could not well be a better book than
this. Mrs. Haweis is, of course, an enthusiast, and her enthusiasm is contagious. Her volume ought to be included in all lists of
school books-at least, in schools where boys and girls are supposed to be laying the foundations of a liberal education.'-
'Mrs. Haweis has, by her Chaucer for Schools," rendered invaluable assistance to those who are anxious to promote the study
of English literature in our higher and middle-grade schools..... Although this edition of Chaucer has been expressly prepared for
school use, it will be of great service to many adult readers.'-SCHOOL GUARDIAN.
CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY, W.
KIGHT. SQUIRE. BOY. WIFE OF BATH. PRIORESS. CHAUCER (A CLERK). FRIAR. MINE HOST.
MONK. SUMMONER. PARDONER. SECOND NUN. FRANKLIN.
MINE HOST ASSEMBLING THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS.
KNGH. SQIE.BY. WIEOFBTH RIRSS CACE A LRK. RAR IA4IOT
All:UMOE. PRDNR ECN U. RNLN
............N T E AN E BU Y IL RIS
CHAUCER FOR CHILDREN
% 4o0ben tug
By MRS. H. R. HAWEIS
ILLUSTRATED IVITH EIGHT COLOURED PICTURES AND NUMEROUS WOODCUTS
BY THE AUTHOR
"*Doth now your devor, yonge kni-htes proudolI
g tfa Cbition, gCtbiste.
CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
CHIEFLY FOR THE USE AND PLEASURE OF
MY LITTLE LIONEL,
FOR WHOM I FELT THE NEED OF SOME BOOK OF THE KIND,
I HAVE ARRANGED AND ILLUSTRATED THIS
FOREWORDS TO THE SECOND EDITION ix
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER .
CHAUCER'S PILGRIMS 17
CHAUCER'S PROLOGUE .
THE KNIGHT'S TALE 34
THE FRIAR'S TALE . 57
THE CLERK'S TALE. 65
THE FRANKLIN'S TALE 84
THE PARDONER'S TALE 92
COMPLAINT OF CHAUCER TO HIS PURSE . 00
Two RONDEAUX 0II
GOOD COUNSEL OF CHAUCER .. 104
NOTES ON THE PICTURES 107
uist of ltt strationi.
I. PILGRIMS STARTING Frontispiece V. GRISELDA'S MARRIAGE . To fae -69
II. DINNER IN THE OLDEN TIME To/ace 2 VI. GRISELDA'S BEREAVEMENT .,, 72
III. LADY CROSSING THE STREET ,, 6 VII. DORIGEN AND AURELIUS ,, 86
IV. FAIR EMELYE 37 VIII. THE RIOTER ,, 97
CHAUCER'S PORTRAIT, to fact. fag 3
I. TOURNAMENT Titlepage XV. THE FRIAR 25
II. TABLE 2 XVI. THE MERCHANT 26
III. HEAD-DRESSES . 2 XVII. THE CLERK 27
IV. MAPS OF OLD AND MODERN LONDON To face 4 XVIII. THE SERJEANT-OF-LAW 28
V. LADIES' HEAD-DRESSES 5 XIX. THE FRANKLIN 28
VI. SHOE 6 XX. TABLE DORMANT 28
VII. JOHN OF GAUNT. 7 XXI. THE DOCTOR OF PHYSIC 29
VIII. SHIP 8 XXII. THE WIFE OF BATH . 29
IX. STYLUS X IO XXIII. THE PARSON . 30
X. THE KNIGHT 19 XXIV. THE PLOUGHMAN 31
XI. THE SQUIRE 20 XXV. THE SUMMONER 31
XII. THE YEOMAN 21 XXVI. THE PARDONER 31
XIII. THE PRIORESS 22 XXVII. MINE HOST 32
XIV. THE MONK 24 XXVIII., XXIX. KNIGHTS IN ARMOUR . 4
FOREWORDS TO THE SECOND EDITION.
IN revising Chaucer for Childre:z for a New Edition, I have fully
availed myself of the help and counsel of my numerous reviewers
and correspondents, without weighting the book, which is really designed
for children, with a number of new facts, and theories springing from
the new facts, such as I have incorporated in my Book for older readers,
Chaucer for Schools.
Curious discoveries are still being made, and will continue to be,
thanks to the labours of men like Mr. F. J. Furnivall, and many other
able and industrious scholars, encouraged by the steadily increasing public
interest in Chaucer.
I must express my sincere thanks and gratification for the reception
this book has met with from the press generally, and from many eminent
critics in particular; and last, not least, from those to whom I devoted
my pleasant toil, the children of England.
M. E. HAWEIS.
1: the frothtom
CACHAUCER for Children may seem to some an impossible story-book, but it is one which I
have been encouraged to put together by noticing how quickly my own little boy
learned and understood fragments of early English poetry. I believe that if they had
the chance, many other children would do the same.
I think that much of the construction and pronunciation of old English which seems stiff and
obscure to grown up people, appears easy to children, whose crude language is in many ways its
The narrative in early English poetry is almost always very simply and clearly expressed, with
the same kind of repetition of facts and names which, as every mother knows, is what children most
require in story-telling. The emphasis which the final E gives to many words is another thing which
helps to impress the sentences on the memory, the sense being often shorter than the sound.
It seems but natural that every English child should know something of one who left so deep an
impression on his age, and on the English tongue, that he has been called by Occleve the finder of
our fair language." For in his day there was actually no national language, no national literature,
English consisting of so many dialects, each having its own literature intelligible to comparatively few;
and the Court and educated classes still adhering greatly to Norman-French for both speaking and
writing. Chaucer, who wrote for the people, chose the best form of English, which was that spoken at
"* I use the word 'emphasis' in the same sense as one two, being more emphatic than a quaver, to which you
might speak of a crotchet in music, to which you count count one.
Court, at a time when English was regaining supremacy over French; and the form he adopted laid the
foundation of our present National Tongue.
Chaucer is, moreover, a thoroughly religious poet, all his merriest stories having a fair moral;
even those which are too coarse for modern-taste are rather naive than injurious; and his pages
breathe a genuine faith in God, and a passionate sense cf the beauty and harmony of the divine work.
The selections I have made are some of the most beautiful portions of Chaucer's most beautiful tales.
I believe that some knowledge of, or at least interest in, the domestic life and manners of the
13th, 14th, and i5th centuries, would materially help young children in their reading of English
history. The political life would often be interpreted by the domestic life, and much of that time which
to a child's mind forms the dryest portion of history, because so unknown, would then stand out as it
really was, glorious and fascinating in its vigour and vivacity, its enthusiasm, and love of beauty and
bravery. There is no clearer or safer exponent of the life of the i4th century, as far as he describes it,
than Geoffrey Chaucer.
As to the difficulties of understanding Chaucer, they have been greatly overstated. An occasional
reference to a glossary is all that is requisite ; and, with a little attention to a very simple general rule,
anybody with moderate intelligence and an ear for musical rhythm can enjoy the lines.
In the first place, it must be borne in mind that the E at the end of the old English words was
usually a syllable, and must be sounded, as Aprille, swooie, &c.
Note, then, that Chaucer is always rhythmical. Hardly ever is his rhythm a shade wrong, and
therefore, roughly speaking, if you pronounce the words so as to preserve the rhythm all will be well.
When the final e must be sounded in order to make the rhythm right, sound it, but where it is not
needed leave it mute.*
Thus :-in the opening lines-
when, showers, sweet Whan that I April I le with I his schowr I es swoote
pierced, root The drought [ of Marche [ hath per ] cMd to I the roote
such, liquor And bath I ud eve I ry veyne I in swich j licour
flower Of which I vertue I engen [ dried is | the flour. (Prologue.)
You see that in those words which I have put in italics the final E must be sounded slightly,
for the rhythm's sake.
small birds make And sma le fow I les ma I ken me I lodie
sleep, all That sle I pen al [ the night I with o I pen yhe. (Prologue)
Those who wish to study systematically the grammar, It would be superfluous to enter on these matters in the
and construction of the metre, I can only refer to the best present volume.
authorities, Dr. R. Morris and Mr. Skeat, respectively.
Again, to quote at random-
lark, messenger The bu I sy lark e mess I ager I of day,
saluteth, her, morning Salu eth in I hire song I the mor I we gray. (Knighl's Tale.)
legs, lean Ful long I e wern j his leg j gus, and j ful lene;
Al like I a staff I their was I no calf j y-sene. (Prologue-' Reve.')
or in Chaucer's exquisite greeting of the daisy-
always Knelyng I alwey til it I unclo I shd was
small, soft, sweet Upon j the sma \ le, sof j te, swo I le gras. (Legend of Good Women.)
How much of the beauty and natural swing of Chaucer's poetry is lost by translation into modern
English, is but too clear when that beauty is once perceived; but I thought some modernization of the
old lines would help the child to catch the sense of the original more readily : for my own rendering, I
can only make the apology that when I commenced my work I did not know it would be impossible to
procure suitable modernized versions by eminent poets. Finding that unattainable, I merely endeavoured
to render the old version in modern English as closely as was compatible with sense, and the simplicity
needful for a child's mind; and I do not in any degree pretend to have rendered it in poetry.
The beauty of such passages as the death of Arcite is too delicate and evanescent to bear rough
handling. But I may here quote some of the lines as an example of the importance of the final e in
emphasizing certain words with an almost solemn music.
fas, } And with I that word I his speck e fail e gan;
For fro I his feete I up to I his brest j was come
overtaken The cold | of deth j that hadde I him o [ ver nome;
now, arms And yet | more | ver in j his ar I mes twoo
gone The vi I tal strength [ is lost, j and al ] agoo.
without Only 1 the in I tellect, I without I ten more,
heart, sick That dwel I led in I his her I le sik j and sore,
fai, felot Gan fayl I e when [ the her I /e felt e death. night'ss Tale.)
There is hardly anything finer than Chaucer's version of the story of these passionate young men,
up to the touching close of Arcite's accident and the beautiful patience of death. In life nothing would
have reconciled the almost animal fury of the rivals, but at the last such a resignation comes to Arcite
that he gives up Emelye to Palamon with a sublime effort of self-sacrifice. Throughout the whole of
the Knight's Tale sounds as of rich organ music seem to peal from the page; throughout the Clerk's
Tale one seems to hear strains of infinite sadness echoing the strange outrages imposed on patient
Grizel. But without attention to the rhythm half the grace and music is lost, and therefore it is all-
important that the child be properly taught to preserve it.
I have adhered generally to Morris's text (1866), being both good and popular,0 only checking
it by his Clarendon Press edition, and by Tyrwhitt, Skeat, Bell, &c., when I conceive force is gained,
and I have added a running glossary of such words as are not immediately clear, on a level with the
line, to disperse any lingering difficulty.
In the pictures I have been careful to preserve the right costumes, colours, and surroundings, for
which I have resorted to the MSS. of the time, knowing that a child's mind, unaided by the eye, fails to
realize half of what comes through the ear. Children may be encouraged to verify these costumes in
the figures upon many tombs and stalls, &c., in old churches, and in old pictures.
In conclusion I must offer my sincere and hearty thanks to many friends for their advice,
assistance, and encouragement during my work; amongst them, Mr. A. J. Ellis, Mr. F. J. Furnivall,
and Mr. Calderon.
Whatever may be the shortcomings of the book, I cannot but hope that many little ones, while
listening to Chaucer's Tales, will soon begin to be interested in the picturesque life of the middle
ages, and may thus be led to study and appreciate 'The English Homer' t by the pages I have
written for my own little boy.
ACCENT OF CHAUCER.
THE mother should read to the child a fragment of Chaucer with the correct pronunciation of his
day, of which we give an example below, inadequate, of course, but sufficient for the present purpose.
The whole subject is fully investigated in the three first parts of the treatise on 'Early English
Pronunciation, with special reference to Shakespere and Chaucer,' by Alexander J. Ellis, F.R.S.
The a is, as in the above languages, pronounced as in &ne, appeler, &c. E commonly, as in
Icarl, &c. The final e was probably indistinct, as in German now, habe, werde, &c.-not unlike the a
"* "No better MS. of the Canterbury Tales' could be which, notwithstanding its provincial peculiarities, con-
found than the Harleian MS. 7334, which is far more tains many excellent readings, some of which have been
uniform and accurate than any other I have examined ; adopted in preference to the Harleian MS." (Preface to
it has therefore been selected, and faithfully adhered to Morris's Revised Ed. 1866.) This method I have followed
throughout, as the text of the present edition. Many when I have ventured to change a word or sentence, in
clerical errors and corrupt readings have been corrected which case I have, I believe, invariably given my authority.
by collating it, line for line, with the Lansdowne MS. 85 t Roger Ascham.
in China: it was lost before a vowel. The final e is still sounded by the French in singing. In old
French verse, one finds it as indispensable to the rhythm as in Chaucer,-and as graceful,-hence
probably the modern retention of the letter as a syllable in vocal music.
Ou is sounded as the French ou.
I generally as on the Continent, ee: never as we sound it at present.
Ch as in Scotch and German.
I quote the opening lines of the Prologue as the nearest to hand.
Whan that Aprille with his schowres swoote Whan that Aprilla with his shares sohta
The drought of Marche hath perced to the The dr66kht of March hath pairsed to the
And bathud every veyne in swich licour, And bahthed ev'ry vin in sweech lic65r,
Of which vertue engendred is the flour; Of which vairtd enjendrMd is the flor;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breethe Whan Zephir66s aik with his swaita braitha
Enspirud hath in every holte and heethe Enspeered hath in ev'ry holt and haitha
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne The tendra croppes, and the yS6nga si6nna
Hath in the Ram his halfe course i-ronne, Hath in the Ram his halfa cars i-r5onna,
And smale fowles maken melodie, And smahla f6oles mahken melodee-a,
That slepen al the night with open yhe, That slaipen al the nikht with ohpen ee-a,
So priketh hem nature in here corages-&c. So pricketh hem nahtir in heer corahges, &c.
It will thus be seen that many of Chaucer's lines end with a dissyllable, instead of a single syllable.
Sole, role, brelhe, hehle, &c. (having the final e), are words of two syllables; corages is a word of three,
dges rhyming with pilgrimages in the next line. It will also be apparent that some lines are lengthened
with a syllable too much for strict metre-a licence allowed by the best poets,-which, avoiding as it
does any possible approach to a doggrel sound, has a lifting, billowy rhythm, and, in fact, takes the
place of a 'turn' in music. A few instances will suffice :-
'And though that I no wepne have in this place.'
'Have here my troth, tomorwe I nyl not fayle,
Withouten wityng of eny other wight.'
'As any raven fether it schon for-blak.'
'A man mot ben a fool other yong or olde.'
I think that any one reading these lines twice over as I have roughly indicated, will find the accent
one not difficult to practise; and the perfect rhythm and ring of the lines facilitates matters, as the ear
can frequently guide the pronunciation. The lines can scarcely be read too slowly or majestically.
I must not here be understood to imply that difficulties in reading and accentuating Chaucer are
chimerical, but only that it is possible to understand and enjoy him without as much difficulty as is
commonly supposed. In perusing the whole of Chaucer, there must needs be exceptional readings and
accentuation, which in detail only a student of the subject would comprehend or care for.
The rough rule suggested in the preface is a good one, as far as the rhythm goes: as regards the
sound, I have given a rough example.
I will quote a fragment again from the Prologue as a second instance :-
Ther was also a nonne, a prioresse, Ther was ahlsoa a n66n, a preeoressa,
That of hire smylyng was ful symple and coy; That of her smeeling was f61l sim-pland
Hire gretteste ooth nas but by Seynte Loy; Heer graitest ohth nas b66t bee Si-ent Looy,
And sche was cleped Madame Eglentyne. And shay was clepped Mhdam Eglanteena.
Ful wel sche sang the service devyne, F661 well shay sang the service divine,
Entuned in hire nose ful semyly; Entdned in heer nohsa f661 saimaly;
And Frensch sche spak ful faire and fetysly, And French shai spahk f661 fer and faitisly,
Aftur the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, Ahfter the scohl of Strahtford ahtta Bow-a,
For Frensch of Parys was to hire unknowe. For French of Pahrees was toh her U6n-
Observe simpland for simple and: simple being pronounced like a word of one syllable. With
the common English pronunciation the lines would not scan. 'Vernicle,' 'Christofre,' wimplee,'
'chilindre,' comparable,' &c., are further instances of this mute e, and may be read as French words.
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER.
O you like hearing stories? I am going to tell you of some one who lived a very
long time ago, and who was a very wise and good man, and who told more wonderful
stories than I shall be able to tellyou in this little book. But you shall hear some of
them, if you will try and understand them, though they are written in a sort of English different
from what you are accustomed to speak.
But, in order that you really may understand the stories, I must first tell you something about
the man who made them; and also why his language was not the same as yours, although it was
English. His name was Chaucer-Geoffrey Chaucer. You must remember his name, for he was
so great a man that he has been called the Father of English Poetry'-that is, the beginner or
inventor of all the poetry that belongs to our England; and when you are grown up, you will often
hear of Chaucer and his works.
Chaucer lived in England 500 years ago-a longer time than such a little boy as you can
even think of. It is now the year 1876, you know. Well, Chaucer was born about 1340, in the
reign of King Edward III. We should quite have forgotten all Chaucer's stories in such a great
space of time if he had not written them down in a book. But, happily, he did write them down;
and so we can read them just as if he had only told them yesterday.
If you could suddenly spring back into the time when Chaucer lived, what a funny world you
would find I Everybody was dressed differently then from what people are now, and lived in quite
a different way; and you might think they were very uncomfortable, but they were very happy,
because they were accustomed to it all.
People had no carpets in those days in their rooms. Very few people were rich enough to have
2 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
glass windows. There was no paper on the walls, and very seldom any pictures; and as for spring
sofas and arm-chairs, they were unknown. The seats were only benches placed against the wall:
sometimes a chair was brought on grand occasions to do honour to a visitor; but it was a rare
The rooms of most people in those days had blank walls of stone or brick and plaster, painted
white or coloured, and here and there-behind the place of honour, perhaps-hung a sort of curtain,
like a large picture, made of needlework, called tapestry. You may have seen tapestry hanging
in rooms, with men and women and animals worked upon it. That was almost the only
covering for walls in Chaucer's time. Now we have a great many other ornaments on them, besides
The rooms Chaucer lived in were probably like every one's else. They had bare walls, with
a piece of tapestry hung here and there on them-a bare floor, strewn with rushes, which must have
looked more like a stable than a sitting-room. But the rushes were better than nothing. They kept
the feet warm, as our carpets do, though they were very untidy, and not always very clean.
When Chaucer wanted his dinner or breakfast, he did not go to a big table like that you are used
to: the table came to him. A couple of trestles or stands were brought to him, and a board laid
across them, and over the board a cloth, and on the cloth were placed
S. all the curious dishes they ate then. There was no such thing as
Coffee or tea. People had meat, and beer, and wine for breakfast,
and dinner, and supper, all alike. They helped themselves from the
common dish, and ate with their fingers, as dinner-knives and forks were
not invented, and it was thought a sign of special good breeding to
have clean hands and nails. Plates there were none. But large flat cakes of bread were used
instead; and when the meat was eaten off them, they were given to the poor-for, being full of the
gravy that had soaked into them, they were too valuable to throw away. When they had finished
eating, the servants came and lifted up the board, and carried it off.
And now for Chaucer himself I H-ow funny you would think he looked, if you could see him
sitting in his house He wore a hood, of a dark colour, with a long tail
to it, which in-doors hung down his back, and out of doors was twisted
round his head to keep the hood on firm. This tail was called a liripipe.
He did not wear a coat and trousers like your father's, but a sort
/ of gown, called a tunic, or dalmatic, which in one picture of him is grey
and loose, with large sleeves, and bright red stockings and black boots;
but on great occasions he wore a close-fitting tunic, with a splendid
belt and buckle, a dagger, and jewelled garters, and, perhaps, a gold circlet round his hair. How
much prettier to wear such bright colours instead of black! men and women dressed in green,
and red, and yellow then; and when they walked in the streets, they looked as people look in
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER. 3
You may see how good and clever Chaucer was by his face; such a wise, thoughtful, pleasant
face He looks very kind, I think, as if he would never say anything harsh or bitter; but sometimes
he made fun of people in a merry way. Words of his own, late in life, show that he was rather fat,
his face small and fair. In manner he seemed 'elvish,' or shy, with a habit of staring on the ground,
'as if he would find a hair.'
All day he worked hard, and his spare time was given to studying and reading always till his head
ached and his look became dazed. (House of Fame.)
Chaucer lived, like you, in London. Whether he was born there is not known ;* but as his
father, John Chaucer, was a vintner in Thames Street, London, it is probable that he was. Not much
is known about his parents or family, except that his grandfather, Richard Chaucer, was also a vintner;
and his mother had an uncle who was a moneyer; so that he came of respectable and well-to-do people,
though not noble.f Whether he was educated at Oxford or Cambridge, whether he studied for the bar
or for the Church, there is no record to show; but there is no doubt that his education was a good
one, and that he worked very hard at his books and tasks, otherwise he could not have grown to be
the learned and cultivated man he was. We know that he possessed considerable knowledge of the
classics, divinity, philosophy, astronomy, as much as was then known of chemistry, and, indeed, most
of the sciences. French and Latin he knew as a matter of course, for the better classes used these
tongues more than English-Latin for writing, and French for writing and speaking; for, by his
translations,from the French, he earned, early in life, a 'balade' of compliment from Eustache
Deschamps, with the refrain, 'Grant translateur, noble Geoffroi Chaucier.' It is probable, too, that he
knew Italian, for, in his later life, we can see how he has been inspired by the great Italian writers,
Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.
It has recently been discovered that for a time (certainly in 1357) Geoffrey Chaucer, being then
seventeen, was a page" in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, wife of Lionel, second son
of King Edward III.; a position which he could not have held if he had not been a well-born, or at
least well-educated, person. A page in those days was very different from what we call a page now-
therefore we infer that the Chaucer family had interest at Court; for without that, Geoffrey could
never have entered the royal service.
Most gentlemen's sons were educated by becoming pages. They entered the service of
noble ladies, who paid them, or sometimes were even paid for receiving them. Thus young men
learned courtesy of manners, and all the accomplishments of indoor and outdoor life-riding, the use
of arms, &c.-and were very much what an aide-de-camp in the army now is. Chaucer, you see, held a
post which many a nobly-born lad must have coveted.
There is a doubtful tradition that Chaucer was intended for a lawyer, and was a member of the
Middle Temple (a large building in London, where a great many lawyers live stiil), and here, as
they say, he was once fined two shillings for beating a Franciscan friar in Fleet Street.
If this be true, it must have been rather a severe beating; for two shillings was a far larger sum
than it is now-equal to about sixteen shillings of our money. Chaucer was sometimes angry with
*Mr. Furnivall, among some of his recent interesting Duchess of Lancaster, shared with two ladies of rank, be
researches anent Chaucer, has discovered with certainty well as their lifelong interest at Court, prove, I think,
his father's name and profession, that neither of them was of mean parentage, and that they
t The position of Chaucer, and his wife, in the King's occupied a very good social status.
service, and that of the latter in the service of Constance, t See also p. 19, note .
4 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
the friars at later times in life, and deals them some hard hits in his writings with a relish possibly
founded on personal experience of some disagreeable friar.
At any rate, Chaucer never got fond of the friars, and thought they were often bad and mischievous
men, who did not always act up to what they said. This is called hypocrisy, and is so evil a thing that
Chaucer was quite right to be angry with people who were hypocrites.
Fleet Street still exists, though it was much less crowded with people in Chaucer's day than now.
Indeed, the whole of London was very different from cur London; and, oh, so much prettier! The
streets within the London wall were probably thickly populated, and not over-healthy; but outside the
wall, streets such as Fleet Street were more like the streets of some of our suburbs, or rather some
foreign towns-the houses irregular, with curious pointed roofs, here and there divided by little gardens,
and even green fields. I dare say, when Chaucer walked in the streets, the birds sang over his head,
and the hawthorn and primrose bloomed where now the black smoke and dust would soon kill most
green things. Thames Street was where Chaucer long lived in London, but, at one time in his life at
least, it is certain that he occupied a tenement at Aldgate, which formed part of an old prison; and
it is probable that at another he lived in the beautiful Savoy Palace with John of Gaunt, whilst his
wife was maid of honour. In 1393, Chaucer was living at Greenwich, near which he had work in
1390-poor and asking his friend Scogan to intercede for him "where it would fructify;" and at
the end of his life he had a house in Westminster, said to be nearly on the same spot on which
Henry VII.'s Chapel now stands, and close to the Abbey where he is buried.
In those days it was the fashion, when the month of May* arrived, for everybody, rich and poor,
to get up very early in the morning, to gather boughs of hawthorn and laurel, to deck all the doorways
in the street, as a joyful welcoming of the sweet spring time. Chaucer alludes more than once to
this beautiful custom. The streets must have been full of fragrance then. He also tells us how he
loved to rise up at dawn in the morning, and go into the fresh green fields, to see the daisies open.
You have often seen the daisies shut up at night, but I don't suppose you ever saw them opening in
the morning; and I am afraid, however early you got up in London, you could not reach the fields
quick enough to see that. But you may guess from this how much nearer the country was to the town
500 years ago. There were so many fewer houses built then, that within a walk you could get right
into the meadows. You may see that by comparing the two maps I have made for you.
London was also much quieter. There were no railways-such things had never been heard of.
There were not even any cabs or carriages. Sometimes a market cart might roll by, but not very
often, and then everybody would run out to see what the unaccustomed clatter was all about.
People had to walk everywhere, unless they were rich enough to ride on horseback, or lived near
the river. In that case, they used to go in barges or boats on the Thames, as far as they could; for,
strange as it may seem, even the King had no coach then.
I am afraid Geoffrey Chaucer would not recognize that 'dere and swete city of London' in the
great, smoky, noisy, bustling metropolis we are accustomed to, and I am quite sure he would not
recognize the language; and presently I will explain what I meant by saying that though Chaucer spoke
It must not be forgotten, in reading praises of warm coming therefore in the middle of the month, and May
and sunny May, often now a bleak and chilly month, that ending in the middle of June. The change in the almanac
the seasons were a fortnight later at that time, May-day was made in Italy in 1532, in England in 1752.
LONDON IN THE W5! CENTURY.
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CHAUCER TIE TALE-TELLER. 5
and wrote English, it was quite different from what we speak now. You will see, as you go on, how
queerly all the words are spelt, so much so that I have had to put a second version side by side with
Chaucer's lines, which you will understand more readily; and when I read them to you, you will see
how different is the sound. These words were all pronounced slowly, almost with a drawl, while we
nowadays have got to talk so fast, that no one who lived then would follow what we say without great
Chaucer's connection with the Court makes it probable that he lived during the greater part of
his life in London; and it is pleasant to think that this great poet was valued and beloved in his
day by the highest powers in the land. He held, at various times, posts in the King's household, which
brought him more or less money, such as valet of the King's chamber, the King's esquire, &c.; and
he found a fast friend in John of Gaunt, one of the sons of King Edward III.
In 1359 Chaucer became a soldier, and served in the army under this King, in an attack upon
France, and was taken prisoner. It is supposed he was detained there about a year; and, being
ransomed by Edward, when he came back to England, he married a lady named Philippa. She was
probably the younger daughter of Sir Paon de Roet, of Hainault,* who came over to England in the
retinue of Queen Philippa, who was also of Hainault. These two Philippas, coming from the same
place, remained friends during all the Queen's life; for when Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, she
was one of the Queen's maids of honour; and, after her marriage, the Queen gave her an annual
pension of ten marks (50), which was continued to her by the King after Queen Philippa died.
Some people say Chaucer's wife was also the Queen's god-daughter..
If you would like to know what Chaucer's wife looked like, I will
tell you. I do not know what she was like in the face, but I can tell
you the fashion of the garb she wore. I like to believe she had long
yellow hair, which Chaucer describes so often and so prettily. Chaucer's
wife wore one of those funny head-dresses like crowns, or rather like
boxes, over a gold net, with her hair braided in a tress, hanging down
her back. She had a close green dress, with tight sleeves, reaching '
right down over the hand, to protect it from the sun and wind; and a
Dr. Morris writes-" The old supposition that the seal bearing the legend, 'S Ghofrai Chaucer,' seems to
Philippa whom Chaucer married was the daughter of Sir support the tradition.
Paon de Roet (a native of Hainault and King of Arms of t A mark was I3s. 4d. of our money, but the buying
Guienne), and sister to Katherine, widow of Sir Hugh power of money was eight or ten times greater than at
Swynford, successively governess, mistress, and wife of present. So that, although ten marks was only 6 12s.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was founded on of our currency, it was fully equal to 50.
heraldic grounds. The Roet arms were adopted by f There are entries mentioning Philippa Chaucer in
Thomas Chaucer. Then Thomas Chaucer was made 1366, 1372, and 1374. The former names her as one of
(without the slightest evidence) Geoffrey's son, and the ladies of the bedchamber to Queen Philippa, who
Philippa Roet was then made Geoffrey's wife." And conferred the annuity of ten marks in September, 1366.
again, It is possible that Philippa Chaucer was a rela- In 1372 John of Gaunt conferred on Philippa Chaucer an
tive or namesake of Geoffrey, and that he married her in annuity of Io (equal to ioo). Her name is mentioned
the spring or early summer of 1374." It is, however, when the grant to Chaucer of a pitcher of wine daily
much less likely that there were so many Chaucers about is commuted into money payment, June 13, 1374, by
the Court, unconnected with each other, than that the John of Gaunt (again a pension of Zo), for good
common supposition is correct. At any rate, until there services rendered by the Chaucers to the said Duke, his
is any evidence to the contrary, this tradition may be fairly consort, and his mother the Queen.
accepted. The recent discovery, in the Record Office, of Green was the favourite colour of the time.
Thomas Chaucer's deed, by Mr. Hunter, sealed with a
6 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
very long skirt, falling in folds about her feet, sometimes edged with beautiful white fur, ermine, or a
rich grey fur, called vair. The colour of this grey fur was much liked, and when people had light
grey eyes, of somewhat the same colour, it was thought very beautiful. Many songs describe pretty
ladies with 'eyes of vair.'
When noble persons went to Court, they wore dresses far more splendid than any to be seen now-
dresses of all colours, worked in with flowers and branches of gold, sometimes with heraldic devices
and strange figures, and perfectly smothered in jewels. No one has pearls, and emeralds, and diamonds
sewn on their gowns now; but in the fourteenth century, rich people had the seams of their clothes
often covered with gems. The ladies wore close-fitting dresses, with splendid belts, or sein/s, round
their hips, all jewelled; and strings of glittering jewels hung round their necks, and down from the belt,
and on the head-dress. People did not wear short sleeves then, but long ones, made sometimes very
curiously with streamers hanging from the elbow; a long thin gauze veil, shining with silver and gold;
and narrow pointed shoes, much longer than their feet, which, they thought,
\ made the foot look slender. If ladies had not had such long shoes, they
would never have showed beneath their long embroidered skirts, and they
would always have been stumbling when they walked. It was a very graceful
and elegant costume that Chaucer's wife wore; but the laws of England probably
forbade her to wear silk, which was reserved for nobles. When she walked out of doors, she had tall
clogs to save her pretty shoes from the mud of the rough streets; and when she rode on horseback
with the Queen, or her husband Chaucer, she sat on a pillion, and placed her feet on a narrow board
called a planchetle. Many women rode astride, like the "Wife of Bath whom Chaucer speaks of.
Now, perhaps, you would like to know whether Chaucer had any little children. We do not know
much about Chaucer's children. We know he had a little son called Lewis, because Chaucer wrote a
treatise for him when he was ten years old, to teach him how to use an instrument he had given him,
called an astrolabe.* Chaucer must have been very fond of Lewis, since he took so much trouble for
him, and he speaks to him very kindly and lovingly.
As Chaucer was married before 1366, it is likely that he had other children; and some people
say he had an elder son, named Thomas, and a daughter Elizabeth.t
John of Gaunt, who was Chaucer's patron as I told you, was very kind to Thomas Chaucer,
and gave him several posts in the King's household, as he grew up to be a man. And John of Gaunt
heard that Elizabeth Chaucer wished to be a nun; and, in 1381, we find that he paid a large sum of
money for her noviciate (that is, for her to learn to be a nun) in the Abbey of Barking.
A nun is a person who does not care for the amusements and pleasures which other people care
for-playing, and dancing, and seeing sights and many people; but who prefers to go and live in a
house called a nunnery, where she will see hardly any one, and think of nothing but being good, and
helping the poor. And, if people think they can be good best in that way, they ought to become
Astrolabe: a machine used at sea to measure the Moreover, John of Gaunt's interest in both of these per-
distances of stars. The quadrant now in use has super- sons, Thomas Chaucer and Elizabeth Chaucer, gives this
seded the astrolabe. a colour of probability. At the same time Chaucer seems
"t Thomas Chaucer was born in or about 1367, and to have been no uncommon name.
died in 1434. Elizabeth Chaucer's noviciate was paid for Chaucer's exceptional notice of his little son Lewis who
byJohn of Gaunt in 1381. If Elizabeth Chaucer was about must have been born in 1381, the year of Elizabeth's
16 in 1381 she would have been born about 1365 ; and, novitiate, since Chaucer describes him as being ten years
therefore, as far as dates are concerned, either Thomas old in his treatise on the astrolabe in 1391, may have
or Elizabeth may well have been elder children of the been due to the appearance of a 'Benjamin' rather late
poet: the chances being that he married in 1361-64. in life.
.e: .. ... ..
A LAY COSSIG TE STEETIN TE ODEN IME
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER. 7
nuns. But I think people can be just as good living at home with their friends, without shutting
themselves in a nunnery.
Now I must leave off telling you about Chaucer's wife and children, and go on to Chaucer
Chaucer was, as I told you, the friend of one of the sons of the King, Edward III. Not the eldest
son, who was, as you know, Edward the Black Prince, the great warrior, nor Lionel, the third son,
whom he had served when a boy, but the fourth son, John of Gaunt, who had a
great deal of power with the King.
John of Gaunt was the same age as Chaucer.
When John of Gaunt was only 19 (the year that Chaucer went with the
army to France), he married a lady called Blanche of Lancaster, and there
were famous joustings and great festivities of every kind. In this year, it has
been supposed, Chaucer wrote a poem, The Parliament of Birds,' to celebrate
the wedding. Another long poem, called 'The Court of Love,' is said to have
been written by him about this time-at any rate, in very early life.
When Chaucer came back to England, and got married himself, he was
still more constantly at Court, and there are many instances recorded of
John's attachment to both Chaucer and Philippa all his life. Among others
we may notice his gifts to Philippa of certain 'silver-gilt cups with covers,'
on the Ist of January in'I380, 1381, and 1382. John of Gaunt.
It is touching to see how faithful these two friends were to each other, and how long their friend-
ship lasted. The first we hear of it was about 1359, the year when John married Blanche, and for forty
years it remained unbroken. Nay, it grew closer and closer, for in 1394, when John of Gaunt and
Chaucer were both middle-aged men, John married Philippa's sister (Sir Paon Roet's elder daughter),
so that Chaucer became John of Gaunt's brother.*
When John of Gaunt was in power he never forgot Chaucer. When he became unpopular it was
Chaucer's turn to be faithful to him; and faithful he was, whatever he suffered, and he did suffer for
it severely, and became quite poor at times, as you will see. Directly John came into power again up
went Chaucer too, and his circumstances improved. There are few friendships so long and so faithful
on both sides as this was.t
Chaucer was employed by Edward III. for many years as envoy, which is a very important
office. It can only be given to a very wise and shrewd man. This proves the great ability of
Chaucer in other things besides making songs and telling stories. He had to go abroad, to France,
Italy, and elsewhere, on the King's private missions; and the King gave him money for his services,
and promoted him to great honour.
On one occasion (1373) when he was sent to Florence, on an embassy, he is supposed to have seen
SOn the hypothesis, of course, that Chaucer married a Roet
t For many new and curious facts about Chaucer, see my Chaucer for Schools, Chaucer's Court Life and Position.i
8 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
Petrarch, a great Italian poet and patriot, whose name you must not forget. Petrarch was then living
at Arqua, two miles from Padua, a beautiful town in Italy; and though Petrarch was a much older man
than Chaucer-more than twenty years older-it seems only natural that these two great men should
have tried to see each other; for they had much in common. Both were far-famed poets, and both,
in a measure, representatives of the politics, poetry, and culture of their respective countries.
Still, some people think they could never have met, because the journey from Florence to Padua
was a most difficult one. Travelling was hard work, and sometimes dangerous, guides being always
necessary : you could not get a carriage at any price, for carriages were not invented. In some places
there was no means of going direct from city to city at all-not even on horseback-there being
actually no roads. So that people had to go on foot or not at all. If they went, there were rocks and
rivers to cross, which often delayed travellers a long time.
Chaucer, as the King's envoy, must have had attendants, even for safety's sake, with him, and much
luggage, and that would of course make travelling more difficult
and expensive. He most likely went a great part of the way by
sea, in a vessel coasting along the Mediterranean to Genoa and
Leghorn, and so by Pisa to Florence: you may trace his route in
a map. Doubtless, he had neither the means nor the will to go
all the way to Padua on his own account. So you see people hold
different opinions about this journey, and no one can be quite sure
S whether Chaucer did see Petrarch or not.
In 1373 Chaucer wrote his 'Life of St. Cecile;' and about
that time, perhaps earlier, the 'Complaint to Pity.'
I am not going to tell you everything that the King and John of Gaunt did for Chaucer. You
would get tired of hearing about it. I will only say that Chaucer was holden in great credyt,' and
probably had a real influence in England; for, connected as he was with John of Gaunt, I dare say
he gave him advice and counsel, and John showed the King how shrewd and trustworthy Chaucer was,
and persuaded him to give him benefits and money.
John's wife, Blanche of Lancaster, died in I369, and so did his mother, Queen Philippa. Chaucer
wrote a poem called The Death of Blanche the Duchess,' in honour of this dead Blanche. John
married another wife in the next year, and got still more powerful, and was called King of Castile,
in Spain, because his new wife was the daughter of a King of Castile. But all this made no difference
in his affection for Chaucer. He always did what he could for Chaucer.
I will give you some instances of this.
Soon after Chaucer's return from his journey to Florence, he received a grant of 'a pitcher of
wine' every day 'from the hands of the King's butler.' This seems like a mark of personal friend-
ship more than formal royal bounty; but it was worth a good deal of money a year. Less than two
months afterwards he received, through John of Gaunt's goodwill, a place under Government called
'Comptrollership of the Customs' of the Port of London. This was a very important post, and
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER. 9
required much care, shrewdness, and vigilance; and the King made it a condition that all the accounts
of his office were to be entered in Chaucer's own handwriting-which means, of course, that Chaucer
was to be always present, seeing everything done himself, and never leaving the work to be done by
anybody else, except when sent abroad by the King's own royal command. Only three days after this,
John of Gaunt himself made Chaucer a grant of io a year for life, in reward for all the good service
rendered by 'nostre bien ame Geffray Chaucer,' and 'nostre bien ame Philippa sa femme,' to himself,
his duchess, and to his mother, Queen Philippa, who was dead. This sum of money does not sound
much; but it was a great deal in those days, and was fully equal to ioo now.
The very next year the King gave Chaucer the 'custody' of a rich ward (a ward is a person
protected or maintained by another while under age), named Edmond Staplegate, of Kent; and when
this ward married, Chaucer received a large sum of money (r104 =i1,040).o
Then Chaucer's care in the Customs' office detected a dishonest man, who tried to ship wool
abroad without paying the lawful duty; this man was fined for his dishonesty, and the money,
71 4s. 6d., was made a present to Chaucer-a sum equal to 700.
So you see it seemed as if John of Gaunt could never do enough for him; because all these things,
if not done by John himself, were probably due to his influence with the King.
The Black Prince died about that time, and Edward III. did not long survive him. He died in
1377. Then the Black Prince's little son, Richard, who was only eleven years old, became King of
England; but as he was too young to reign over the country, his three uncles governed for him.
These three uncles were John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; the Duke of York; and the Duke of
And all this time Chaucer was very well looked after, you may be sure, for John of Gaunt was
then more powerful than the King. Chaucer was still Comptroller of the Customs; and, before long,
John gave him a second post of a similar kind, called Comptroller of the Petty Customs.'
But all this good luck was not to go on for ever. The people were not so fond of John of Gaunt
as Chaucer was, because, in governing them, he was very ambitious and severe. They got angry with
everything he did, and with everybody who remained his friend. So, of course, they did not like
This was a very troublous time. The Crown (represented by the King's uncles) wanted one
thing, and the great barons wanted another, and the people or lower classes wanted another These
were called the three great opposing parties, and each wanted to have all the power. At last some of
the barons sided with the King's party, and others sided with the people; so there were then Iwo
opposing parties quarrelling and hating each other. John of Gaunt would have liked to be King
himself; but the people were unhappy, and very discontented with his government, and he began to
have much less power in the kingdom.
In these cases, the sum received on the marriage of the ward was legally a fine on the marriage.
IO GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
The people knew that John of Gaunt was obliged to go with an army into Portugal, and they
began to make plans to get their own way when his tack was turned. When he was gone, they said
that John of Gaunt did not govern them well, and had given government posts to men who did not do
their duty, and neglected their work, and Chaucer was one of them.
Then there was what was called a Commission of Inquiry' appointed, which means a body of
men who were free to examine and reform everything they chose in the country. Their power was to
last a whole year; and these men looked into all that Chaucer had done in the Customs' offices.
They did not-find anything wrong, as far as we know, but still they sent away Chaucer in disgrace, just
as if they had. And this made him very poor. It was a harsh thing to do, and unjust, if they were
not certain he had been neglecting his work; and John of Gaunt was out of the country, and could
not help him now. This was in the year 1386.
A great deal has been said and written about this matter. Some people still believe that Chaucer
really did neglect his duties, though the conditions that he should attend to everything himself had
been so very strict;* that he had probably absented himself, and let things go wrong. But such
people forget that these conditions were formally done away with in 1385, when Chaucer was finally
released from personal drudgery at the Customs, and allowed to have a deputy, or person under him
to do his work.
They forget, too, how Chaucer had plunged into political matters directly afterwards, at a time
when party feeling was intensely strong, the people and John of Gaunt being violently opposed to each
other; and how Chaucer took up the part of his friend warmly, and sat in the House of Commons as
representative of Kent, one of the largest counties of England, on purpose to support the ministers
who were on John of Gaunt's side. This alone would be enough to make the opposing party hate
Chaucer, and this doubtless was the reason of their dismissing him from both his offices in the Customs
as soon as ever they were able, to punish him for his attachment to the Duke of Lancaster's (John of
But Chaucer never wavered or changed. And his faithfulness to his friend deserves better than
the unjust suspicion that his disgrace was warranted by neglect of his duties. Chaucer was too good,
and too pious, and too honourable a man to commit any such act. He submitted to his
disgrace and his poverty unmoved; and after the death of his wife Philippa, which
happened in the following summer, nothing is known of him for several years, except that
he was in such distress that he was actually obliged to part with his two pensions for a sum
of money in order to pay his debts.
During all the eventful years that followed Edward III.'s death, up to this time, Chaucer
had been writing busily, in the midst of his weightier affairs. The 'Complaint of Mars,'
Boece,'' Troilus and Cressida,' the House of Fame,' and the Legend of Gocd Women,' all
of which I hope you will read some day, were written in this period; also some reproachful
words to his scrivener, who seems to have written out his poems for him very carelessly.
Some persons think that Chaucer's pathetic 'Good Counsel,' and his short Balade sent to
King Richard,' reflect the disappointment and sadness at his changed tot, which he must
have felt; and that, therefore, these poems were written at about the same time.
See Chambers's Encyclopeddia, 'Chaucer'
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER. II
In I389 there was another great change in the government. The King, being of age, wished to
govern the country without help, and he sent away one of his uncles, who was on the people's side, and
asked John of Gaunt to come back to England. John of Gaunt's son was made one of the new
ministers. Immediately Chaucer was thought of. He was at once appointed Clerk of the King's
Works-an office of some importance-which he was permitted to hold by deputy; and his salary was
two shillings per day-that is 36 Ios. od. a-year, equal to about 370 of our money.
It seems that Chaucer kept this appointment only for two years. Why, we cannot tell.t While
he held this office (viz., Sept. 1390) a misfortune befell him. Some notorious thieves attacked
him, near the foule Ok' (foul Oak), and robbed him of 20 (nearly 2zoo present currency) of the
King's money, his horse, and other movables. This was a mishap likely enough to overtake any
traveller in those days of bad roads and lonely marshes, for there was no great protection by police or
soldiery in ordinary cases. The King's writ, in which he forgives Chaucer this sum of 20, is still
What he did, or how he lived, for some time after his retirement from the King's Works in 1391,
is not known; but in 1394, King Richard granted him a pension of 20 (=200o present currency) per
annum for life. This was the year when John of Gaunt married Chaucer's sister-in-law; but, in spite of this
rich alliance, I fear Chaucer was still in great distress, for we hear of many small loans which he obtained
on this new pension during the next four years, which betray too clearly his difficulties. In 1398, the
King granted him letters to protect him against arrest-that is, he wrote letters forbidding the people
to whom Chaucer owed money to put him in prison, which they would otherwise have done.
It is sad that during these latter years of his life, the great poet who had done so much, and lived
so comfortably, should have grown so poor and harassed. He ought to have been beyond the reach
of want. He had had large sums of money; his wife's sister was Duchess of Lancaster; his son* was
holding grants and offices under John of Gaunt. Perhaps he wasted his money. t But we cannot
know exactly how it all came about at this distance of time. And one thing shows clearly how
much courage and patience Chaucer had; for it was when he was in such want in 1388, two years
after he had been turned out of the Customs, that he was busiest with the greatest work of his life,
called the CANTERBURY TALES. Some men would have been too sad after so much disgrace and
trouble, to be able to write stories and verses; but I think Chaucer must have felt at peace in his
mind-he must have known that he did not deserve all the ill-treatment he got-and had faith that God
would bring him through unstained.
The CANTERBURY TALES are full of cheerfulness and fun; full of love for the beautiful world, and
full of sympathy for all who are in trouble or misery. The beauty of Chaucer's character, and his
I have assumed that Thomas Chaucer was Geoffrey t See Chaucer for Schools, p. 22, for further details.
Chaucer's son, as there is no proof to the contrary, and : See 'Notes by the Way,' p. 103.
a probability in point of dates that he was.
12 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
deep piety, come out very clearly in these tales, as I think you will see. No one could have sung the
' ditties and songs glad' about birds in the medlar trees, and the soft rain on the 'small sweet
grass,' and the lily on her stalk green,' and the sweet winds that blow over the country, whose
mind was clouded by sordid thoughts, and narrow, selfish aims. No one could have sung so blithely
of fresh Emily,' and with such good-humoured lenity even of the vulgar, chattering Wife of Bath,'
whose heart was full of angry feelings towards his fellow-creatures. And no one, who was not in his
heart a religious man, could have breathed the words of patience with which Arcite tries to comfort his
friend, in their gloomy prison-or the greater patience of poor persecuted Griselda-or the fervent
love of truth and honourable dealing, and a good life, which fills so many of his poems-or a hundred
other touching prayers and tender words of warning. There was a large-heartedness and liberality
about Chaucer's mind, as of one who had mixed cheerfully with all classes, and saw good in all. His
tastes were with the noble ranks among whom he had lived; but he had deep sympathy with the poor
and oppressed, and could feel kindly even to the coarse and the wicked. He hated none but hypo-
crites; and he was never tired of praising piety and virtue.
Chaucer wrote a great many short poems, which I have not told you of. Many have been lost or
forgotten. Some may come back to us in the course of time and search. All we know of, you will read
some day, with the rest of the CANTERBURY TALES not in this book: a few of these poems I have placed
at the end of the volume; and among them one To his empty Purse,' written only the year before his
There is only a little more I can tell you about Chaucer's life before we begin the stories. We
got as far as 1398, when the King gave Chaucer letters of protection from his creditors.
About this time another grant of wine was bestowed on him, equal to about 4 a year, or 40
of our money. In the next year, King Richard, who had not gained the love of his subjects, nor tried
to be a good King, was deposed-that is, the people were so angry with him that they said, You shall
not be our King any more;" and they shut him up in a tower, and made his cousin, Henry, King of
England. Now this Henry was the son of John of Gaunt, by his first wife, Blanche, and had been
very badly treated by his cousin, the King. He was a much better man than Richard, and the people
loved him. John of Gaunt did not live to see his son King, for he died while Henry was abroad;
and it must have been a real grief to Chaucer, then an old man of sixty,* when this long and faithful
friend was taken from him.
Still it is pleasant to find that Henry of Lancaster shared his father's friendship for Chaucer.
I dare say he had been rocked on Chaucer's knee when a little child, and had played with Chaucer's
children. He came back from France, after John of Gaunt's death, and the people made him King,
and sent King Richard to the castle of Pomfret (where I am sorry to say he was afterwards
The new King had not been on the throne four days before he helped Chaucer. John of Gaunt
himself could not have done it quicker. He granted him an annuity of 26 13s. 4d. a year, in
addition to the other 20 granted by Richard.
The royal bounty was only just in time, for poor old Chaucer did not long survive his old friend,
Remembering the discussion raised as to the year of at sixty than now. The average duration of life was
Chaucer's birth, coupled with the tradition of his venerable shorter, and the paucity of comforts probably told on
looks, we may suggest that in those days men were older appearance.
t See Chauc erfor Schools.
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER. 13
the Duke of Lancaster. He died about a year after him, when Henry had been King thirteen
John of Gaunt was buried in St. Paul's, by the side of his first and best-loved wife, Blanche;
Geoffrey Chaucer was buried in Westminster Abbey.
So ended the first, and almost the greatest, English writer, of whom no one has spoken an ill word,
and who himself spoke no ill words.
Poet, soldier, statesman, and scholar,' truly his better ne his pere, in school of my rules could I
never find. . In goodness of gentle, manly speech he passeth all other makers.'*
And now for Chaucer's speech.' How shall I show you its goodness,' since it is so difficult
to read this old English ? Wait a bit. You will soon understand it all, if you take pains at the first
beginning. Do not be afraid of the funny spelling, for you must remember that it is not so much
that Chaucer spells differently from us, as that we have begun to spell differently from Chaucer. He
would think our English quite as funny, and not half so pretty as his own; for the old English, when
spoken, sounded very pretty and stately, and not so much like a 'gabble' as ours.
I told you a little while ago, you know, that our talking is much faster than talking was in
Chaucer's time; it seems very curious that a language can be so changed in a few hundred years,
without people really meaning to change it. But it has changed gradually. Little by little new words
have come into use, and others have got 'old-fashioned.' Even the English of one hundred years
ago was very unlike our own. But the English of five hundred years ago was, of course, still
Now, I have put, as I told you, two versions of Chaucer's poetry on the page, side by side. First,
the lines as Chaucer made them, and then the same lines in English such as we speak. You can thus
look at both, and compare them.
I will also read you the verses in the two ways of pronouncing them, Chaucer's way and our way:
but when.you have grown a little used to the old-fashioned English, you will soon see how much
prettier and more musical it sounds than our modern tongue, and I think you will like it very much.
Besides, it is nice to be able to see the words as Chaucer put them, so as to know exactly how
In Chaucer's time a great deal of French was spoken in England, and it was mixed up with
English more than it is now. The sound of old French and old English were something the same,
both spoken very slowly, with a kind of drawl, as much as to say-" I am in no hurry. I have all day
before me, and if you want to hear what I have got to say, you must wait till I get my words out."
So if you wish to hear Chaucer's stories, you must let him tell them in his own way, and try and
understand his funny, pretty language. And if you do not pronounce the words as he meant, you
*Author of the Testament of Love.'
14 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
will find the verses will sound quite ugly-some lines being longer than others, and some not even
rhyming, and altogether in a jumble.
Chaucer himself was very anxious that people should read his words properly, and says in his
-verses, as if he were speaking to a human being-
great iversity And for there is so grete dyversitd
tongue In Englissh,* and in writynge of our tonge,
pray So preye I God that non miswrit6 thee
defect Ne thee mys-metere for defaute of tonge. (Troilus.)
To mis-metre is to read the metre wrong; and the metre is the length of the line. If you read the
length all wrong, it sounds very ugly.
Now, suppose those lines were read in modern English, they would run thus:-
And because there is so great a diversity
In English, and in writing our tongue,
So I pray God that none miswrite thee
Nor mismetre thee through defect of tongue.
How broken and ragged it all sounds! like a gown that is all ragged and jagged, and doesn't fit. It
sounds much better to read it properly.
You will find that when Chaucer's words are rightly pronounced, all his lines are of an even length
and sound pretty. I don't think he ever fails in this. This is called having a musical ear. Chaucer
had a musical ear. Some people who write poetry have not, and their poetry is good for nothing.
They might as well try to play the piano without a musical ear; and a pretty mess they would make of
When you find any very hard word in Chaucer's verses which you cannot understand, look in the
glossary and the modern version beside them; and you will see what is the word for it nowadays. A
few words which cannot be translated within the metre you will find at the bottom of the page; but
think for yourself before you look. There is nothing like thinking for one's self. Many of the words
are like French or German words : so if you have learnt these languages you will be able often to guess
what the word means.
For instance, you know how, in French, when you wish to say, I will not go or I am not sure, two
no's are used, ne and pas: Je n'iraipas, or je ne suispas str. Well, in Chaucer's time two no'swere used
in English. He would have said, I n'ill nat go," and "I n'am nat sure."
Alluding to the numerous dialects in use in England at t The mother should here read to the child some lines
the time. with the proper pronunciation: see Preface, pp. x., xi
CHAUCER THE TALE-TELLER. 15
There are many lines where you will see two no's. "I n'am nat precious." "I ne told no
deintee." I wol not leve no tales." I ne owe hem not a word." "There n'is no more to tell,"
&c. Sometimes, however, ne is used by itself, without not or nat to follow. As "it n'is good," I
n'ill say-or sain," instead of it is not good-I will not say."
And, as in this last word sain (which only means say), you will find often an n at the end of
words, which makes it difficult to understand them; but you will soon cease to think that a very
alarming difficulty if you keep looking at the modern version. As, I shall nat lien" (this means
lie). I wol nat gon (go) : "withouten doubt" (without). "Ther wold I don hem no pleasance"
(do) ; "thou shalt ben quit (be). I shall you tellen (lell).
And I think you will also be able to see how much better some old words are for expressing the
meaning, than our words. For instance, how much nicer 'flittermouse' is than bat.' That is an old
North-country word, and very German (Fledermaus). When you see a little bat flying about, you
know it is a bat because you have been told: but 'flitter-mouse' is better than bat, because it means
'floating mouse.' Now, a bat is like a mouse floating in the air. The word expresses the movement
and the form of the creature.
Again-the old word 'herteles' (heartless), instead of without courage, how well it expresses the
want of courage or spirit : we often say people have no heart for work, or no heart for singing, when
they are sad, or ill, or weak. Heartless does not always mean cowardly; it means that the person
is dejected, or tired, or out of spirits. We have left off using the word heartless in that sense, however,
and we have no word to express it. When we say heartless, we mean cruel or unkind, which is a
perfectly different meaning.
Again, we have no word now for a meeting-time or appointment, as good as the old word
'steven:' we use the French word 'rendezvous' as a noun, which is not very wise. 'Steven' is a
nice, short, and really English word which I should like to hear in use again.
One more instance. The word 'fret' was used for devouring. This just describes what we
call 'nibbling' now. The moth fretting a garment-means the moth devouring or nibbling a garment.
This is a word we have lost sight of now in the sense of eating; we only use it for ':complain-
ing' or 'pining.' But a frelled sky-and thefrets on a guitar-are from the
old Saxon verbfre/e, to eat or devour, and describe a wrinkly uneven
"surface, like the part of a garment fretted by the moth.
So you must not be impatient with the
old words, which are sometimes much
better for their purpose than
the words we use
SOME of Chaucer's best tales are not told by himself. They are put into the mouths of other
people. In those days there were no newspapers-indeed there was not much news-so that
when strangers who had little in common were thrown together, as they often were in inns,
or in long journeys, they had few topics of conversation: and so they used to entertain each other by
singing songs, or quite as often by telling their own adventures, or long stories such as Chaucer has
written down and called the Canterbury Tales.
The reason he called them the Canterbury Tales' was because they were supposed to be told by a
number of travellers who met at an inn, and went together on a pilgrimage to a saint's shrine at
But I shall now let Chaucer tell you about his interesting company in his own way.
He begins with a beautiful description of the spring-the time usually chosen for long journeys, or
for any new undertaking, in those days.
When you go out into the gardens or the fields, and see the fresh green of the hedges and the
white May blossoms and the blue sky, think of Chaucer and his Canterbury Pilgrims I
When, HAN that Aprille with his schowres WhenApril hath his sweetest showers brought
The drought of Marche hath perced To pierce the heart of March and banish
root to the roote, drought,
such liquor And bathud every veyne in swich licour, Then every vein is bathed by his power,
flower Of which vertue engendred is the flour; With fruitful juice engendering the flower;
also, breath Whan Zephirus* eek with his swete breeth When the light zephyr, with its scented breath,
grove Enspirud hath in every holte and heeth Stirs to new life in every holt and heath
young The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne The tender crops, what time the youthful sun
run Hath in the Ram his halfe course i-ronne, Hath in the Ram his course but half-way run;
mrake"ds And smale fowles maken melodie, And when the little birds make melody,
sleep, eye That slepen al the night with open yhe, That sleep the whole night long with open eye,
hemthei So priketh hem nature in here corages :- So Nature rouses instinct into song,-
long, go Thanne longen folk to gon on pilgrimages, Then folk to go as pilgrims greatly long,
seek, shores And palmers t for to seeken strange strondes, And palmers hasten forth to foreign strands
distant saints To ferne halwes, kouthe t in sondry londes; To worship far-off saints in sundry lands;
And specially from every schires ende And specially from every shire's end
go Of Engelond, to Canturbury they wende, Of England, unto Canterbury they wend,
blessed, seek The holy blisful martir for to seeke, Before the blessed martyr there to kneel,
them That hem hath holpen whan that they were Who oft hath help'd them by his power to
dck seeke. heal.
*Zephyrus, or Zephyr: the god of thewestwind. It is murdered by servants of the King m 1170. He was
become a name for the wind of summer, canonized, or made a saint, by the Pope, after his death,
"t Pilgrims who have brought a palm branch from the and pilgrimages were then constantly made to his tomb
Holy Land. in Canterbury Cathedral. In those days it was usual in
I Kouthe : past participle of the verb conne, to know, sickness or peril to vow a pilgrimage to the shrine of some
or to be able. It was used much as savoir is in French saint who was supposed to be able to help people by inter-
-to be able to do, to know how to do a thing. The verse ceding with God, when pilgrims prayed him to. Erasmus
means To serve the saints they could, or they knew of, or alludes to the quantities of offerings on Thomas Beket's
knew how to serve.' shrine, given by those who believed the saint had healed
Thomas Beket, Chancellor of Henry II. He was or helped them.
Archbishop of Canterbury for eight years, and was
CHAUCERS PROLOGUE. 19
It happened that one day in the spring, as I was resting at the Tabard* Inn, in South-
wark, ready to go on my devout pilgrimage to Canterbury, there arrived towards night at the
inn a large company of all sorts of people-nine-and-twenty of them: they had met by chance,
all being pilgrims to Canterbury.t The chambers and the stables were roomy, and so every one
found a place. And shortly, after sunset, I had made friends with them all, and soon became one
of their party. We all agreed to rise up early, to pursue our journey together.+
But still, while I have time and space, I think I had better tell you who these people were, their
condition and rank, which was which, and what they looked like. I will begin, then, with
valable ) A KNIGHT their was and that a worthy man, A knight there was, and that a worthy man,
That from the tyme that he ferst bigan Who from the time in which he first began
A tabard was an outer coat without sleeves, worn f Probably all or many occupied but one bedroom, and
by various classes, but best known as the coat worn they became acquainted on retiring to rest, at the ordinary
over the armour (see p. 48), whereon there were signs time-sunset.
and figures embroidered by which to recognize a man The word Knight (knecht) really means servant.
in war or tournament: for the face was hidden by the The ancient knights attended on the higher nobles and
helmet, and it was easier to detect a pattern in bright were their servants, fighting under them in battle. For as
colours than engraved in dark steel. So, of course, the there was no regular army, when a war broke out every-
pattern represented the arms used by him. And thus body who could bear arms engaged himself to fight under
the tabard got to be called the coat of arms. Old some king or lord, anywhere, abroad or in England, and
families still possess what they call their coat of arms, was paid for his services. That was how hundreds of
representing the device chosen by their ancestors in nobly born men got their living-the only way they could
the lists; but they do not wear it any more : it is only get it. This is what the knight Arviragus does in the
a copy of the pattern on paper. A crest was also fastened 'Franklin's Tale;' leaving his bride, to win honour (and
to the helmet for the same purpose of recognition, and money) by fighting wherever he could.
there is usually a 'crest still surmounting the modern The squire waited on the knight much as the knight did
' coat of arms.' The inn where Chaucer slept was on the earl-much in the position of an aide-de-camp of
simply named after the popular garment. It, or at least a the present day. The page served earl, knights, ladies. But
very ancient inn on its site, was recently standing, and knight, squire, and page were all honourable titles, and
known as the Talbot Inn, High Street, Borough: Talbot borne by noblemen's sons. The page was often quite a
being an evident corruption of Tabard. We may notice here, boy, and when he grew older changed his duties for
that the Ploughman, described later on, wears a tabard, those of squire, till he was permitted to enter the knight-
which may have been a kind of blouse or smock-frock, hood. The present knight is described as being in a lord's
but was probably similar in form to the knight's tabard. service, and fighting under him 'in his war,' but he was a
t People were glad to travel in parties for purposes of man held in the highest honour.
safety, the roads were so bad and robbers so numerous.
20 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
ride To ryden out, he lovede chyvalrye, To ride afield, loved well all chivalry,
frankness Trouthe and honour, freedom and curtesie. Honour and frankness, truth and courtesy.
war Ful worth was he in his lordes were, Most worthy was he in his master's war,
further And therto hadde he riden, noman ferre, And thereto had he ridden, none more far,
As wel in Cristendom as in hethenesse, As well in Christian as in heathen lands,
And evere honoured for his worthinesse. And borne with honour many high commands.
He had been at Alexandria when it was won: in Prussia he had gained great honours, and in
many other lands. He had been in fifteen mortal battles, and had fought in the lists for our faith
three times, and always slain his foe. He had served in Turkey and in the Great Sea. And he was
always very well paid too. Yet, though so great a soldier, he was wise in council; and in manner he
was gentle as a woman. Never did he use bad words in all his life, to any class of men: in fact
He was a verray perfight, gentil knight. He was a very perfect, noble knight.
As for his appearance, his horse was good, but not gay. He wore a gipon of fustian, all
stained by his habergeon;* for he had only just arrived home from a long voyage.
there, san With him their was his sone, a yong SQUYER, With him there was his son, a gay young
merry A lovyer, and a lusty bacheler,t A bachelor and full of boyish fire,
locks curled With lokkes crulle as they were layde in press. With locks all curl'd as though laid in a press,
guess Of twenty yeer he was of age I gesse. And about twenty years of age, I guess.
Of his stature he was of even length, In stature he was of an even length,
uiny And wondurly deliver, and great of strength. And wonderfully nimble, and great of
See p. 48 and Appendix, p. Io7. on les appelait Chevaliers-Bacheliers . quant l'Ecuyer
t "On nommait Bacheliers les chevaliers pauvres, les bas (Squire)c'dtait leprdtendanthlaChevalerie."-LE GRAND,
Cheyaliers . quand ceux-ci avaient requ la chevalerie, Fabliaux & Contes.
CHAUCER'S PROLOGUE. 21
had been And he hadde ben somtyme in chivachie,* And he had followed knightly deeds of war
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and in Picardie, In Picardy, in Flanders, and Artois,
little And born him wel, as in so litel space, And nobly borne himself in that brief space,
stand In hope to stonden in his lady grace.t In ardent hope to win his lady's grace.
Embrowdidt was he, as it were a mede Embroidered was he, as a meadow bright,
Al ful of fresshe floures, white and reede. All full of freshest flowers, red and white;
playing on} Syngynge he was, or flowtynge al the day; Singing he was, or flute-playing all day,
He was as fresh as is the month of May. He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Schort was his goune, with sleeves long and Short was his gown, his sleeves were long and
could, horse Wel cowde he sitte on hors, and faire ryde. Well he became his horse, and well could ride;
relate He cowde songes wel make and endite, He could make songs, and ballads, and recite,
also, drawl ustne and eek dance, and wel purtray and Joust and make pretty pictures, dance, and
pictures f j pey dne
As for the young squire's manners-
Curteys he was, lowly, and servysable, Courteous he was, lowly, and serviceable,
carved And carf byforn his fadur at the table. And carved before his father at the table.
no more A YEMAN had he, and servantes nomoo A yeoman had he (but no suite beside:
it pleased } At that tyme, for him luste ryde soo; Without attendants thus he chose to ride,)
lim And he was clad in coote and hood of grene. And he was clad in coat and hood of green.
Chivachie: military expeditions, of his dress is what Chaucer means, for there is no other
t See page 45, note t. instance of Chaucer calling a complexion embroidered, and
$ Mr. Bell considers that these two lines refer to the gorgeously flowered fabrics embroidered with the needle
squire's complexion of red and white. Speght thinks it were peculiar to the period and in common use.
means freckled. But there is little doubt that the material As it was the custom for sons to do.
22 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
arrows A shef of pocok arwes* bright and kene, A sheaf of peacock-arrows bright and keen,
bore Under his belte he bar ful thriftily, Under his belt he carried thriftily;
arrow Wel cowde he dresse his takel yomanly; Well could he dress an arrow yeomanly!
arrows His arwesdrowpud noughtwith fethereslowe,t None of his arrows drooped with feathers low
bore And in his hond he bar a mighty bowe. And in his hand he held a mighty bow.
"n.te" } A not-heed hadde he, with a broun visage. A knot-head had he, and a sunburnt hue,
knew Of woode-craft cowde he wel al the usage; In woodcraft all the usages he knew;
bore Upon his arme he bar a gay bracer,+ Upon his arm a bracer gay he wore,
buckler And by his side a swerd, anda bokeler, And by his side buckler and sword he bore,
And on that other side a gay daggere, While opposite a dagger dangled free;
dressed well Harneysed wel, and scharp at poynt of spere; Polished and smart, no spear could sharpe
epresent- A Cristofre on his brest of silver scene. A silver Christopher' on his breast was
Ing St. |
An horn he bar, the bawdrikll was of grene: A horn he carried by a baldrick green:
rster' } A forster was he sothely, as I gesse. He was a thorough forester, I guess.
Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE, There also was a Nun, a Prioress,
her That of hire smylyng was ful symple and coy; Who of her smiling was most simple and coy;
oath Hire greatest ooth ne was but by seynt Loy, Her greatest oath was only by St. Loy,'
"* Peacocks' feathers on them instead of swans'. buckler, Chaucer could not have meant so small a one. It
"t It was a sign of the yeoman's carefulness in his busi- was usual for serving men of noble families to carry
ness that they stuck out from the shaft instead of drooping, swords and bucklers when in attendance on them.
I Bracer: a leather defence for the arm: a similar I| Bawdrik-baldrick : ornamented strap to suspend
shield is now worn in archery. the horn or dagger.
Bokeler-buckler: a small shield-used chiefly for a 1 Oaths were only too common among ladies as well
warder to catch the blow of an adversary. Some pictures as men. It was an exceptional refinement to use only a
show the buckler to have been only the size of a plate, but small oath. Tyrwhitt prints the name of the saint, Eloy,
it varied. In comparing the Wife of Bath's hat to a contraction of Eligius-a saint who, having been a worker
CHAUCER'S PROLOGUE. 23
called And sche was cleped madame Eglentyne. And she was called Madame Eglantine.
Ful wel sche sang the servfse devyne, Full well she sang the services divine,
seemly Entuned in hire nose* ful semyly, Entuned through her nose melodiously,
elegantly And Frensch sche spak ful faire and fetysly, And French she spoke fairly and fluently,
school Aftur the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, After the school of Stratford atte Bow,
unknown } For Frensch of Parys was to hire unknowe. For French of Paris-that she did not know.
meat, taught At mete wel i-taught was sche withalle; At meal-times she was very apt withal;
let Sche leet no morsel from hire lippes falle, No morsel from her lips did she let fall,
wetted Ne wette hire fyngres in hire sauce deepe.tf Nor in her sauce did wet her fingers deep;
carry Wel cowde sche care a morsel, and wel keep, Well could she lift a titbit, and well keep,
rfe That no drope ne fil uppon hire breste. That not a drop should fall upon her breast;
caurtes } In curtesie was sett al hire leste. To cultivate refinement was her taste.
Hire overlippe wypude sche so clene, $ Her upper lip she ever wiped so clean
scrap That in hire cuppe their was no ferthing sene That in her drinking-cup no scrap was seen
had drunk Of grees, whan sche dronken hadde hire Of grease, when she had drank as she thought
seemly Ful semely aftur hire mete sche raught. And gracefully she reached forth for her food.
assuredly And sikurly sche was of gret disport, And she was very playful, certainly,
And ful pleasant, and amyable of port, And pleasant, and most amiable to see.
ways And peyned hire to counterfete cheere And mighty pains she took to counterfeit
manner } Of court, and ben estatlich of manere, Court manners, and be stately and discreet,
worthy And to ben holden digne of reverence. And to be held as worthy reverence.
speak But for to speken of hire conscience, But then to tell you of her conscience !
Sche was-so charitable and so pitous She was so charitable and piteous
Sche wolde weepe if that sche sawe a mous That she would weep did she but see a mouse
Caught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde. Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled;
emallhounds Of smale houndes hadde sche, that sche fedde And little dogs she had, which oft she fed
With rostud fleissh, and mylk, and wastel With roasted meat, and milk, and finest bread;
them But sore wepte sche if oon of hem were deed, But sore she wept if one of them were dead,
in metals, was often invoked by smiths (see 'Friar's Tale'\, Mr. Bell naively points out the innocence and
&c.; but Dr. Morris says St. Loy is the old spelling of St. 'ignorance of the ways of the world,' which pervade
Louis of France, by whom the Prioress swore, the whole of the 'simple Prioress's character;' but you
"* Bell approves reading voice for nose, as Speght has will notice that in laughing at the cheerful nun's affectation
actually done. It has not struck either of them that of court manners, Chaucer never once gives her credit for
Chaucer is all the way through laughing at the fastidious very high or noble character, though he does not speak
and rather over-attractive nun ill-naturedly. I have ere now alluded to his dislike of the
"t Knives and forks were not in use-people had to use Church, friars, nuns, and all included: and here he shows
their fingers; but some used them more agreeably than others, that her charitableness and compassion were spent on
t At meals one cup for drinking passed from guest to wholly inadequate objects. She is extravagant to the last
guest, instead of each having his own glass, as now. It degree in feeding her dogs, and weeping for dead mice; but
was considered polite to wipe one's mouth well before nothing is said of charity to the poor, or any good works
drinking, so that the next drinker should find no grease at all. She is too intent on fascinating everybody, and
in the wine. The great stress Chaucer lays on the pretty dressing smartly. There is sharp sarcasm in all this.
nun's courtesy seems to hint at very dirty habits among [I Wastel breed-a kind of cake-the most expensive of
ordinary folk at meals! all bread.
24 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
rod Or if men smot it with a yerde smerte : Or, haply, with a rod were smitten smart.
And al was conscience and tendre herte. And all was conscience and tender heart I
Ful semely hire wymple* i-pynched was: Most daintily her wimple plaited was:
portioned. Hire nose tretys : hire eyen grey as glas: Her nose was straight; her eyes were grey as
eyes, glass gla
Hire mouth ful small, and therto softe and Her mouth was little, and so soft and red I
surely But sikurly sche hadde a faire forheed. Besides, she had a very fine forehead,
broad, think It was almost a spanne brood, I trowe: That measured nigh a span across, I trow I
under- For hardily sche was not undurgrowe. For certainly her stature was not low.
neat Ful fetys was hire cloke, as I was waar. And very dainty was the cloak she wore;
small Of small coral about hire arme sche baar 'Around her arm a rosary she bore,
set of beads A peire of bedes t gaudid al with grene; Of coral small, with little gauds of green,
jewel, bright And theron heng a broch of gold ful scene, And thereon hung a golden locket sheen,
written On which was first i-writen a crowned A, On which was graven first a crowned A,
And after that, Amor vincil oinnia. And after, Amor vincit omnia.
The Prioress was attended by another nun, who acted as her chaplain, and three priests.
mastery A MoNK other was, a fair for the maistrie, A monk there was-one sure to rise no doubt,
hunting An out-rydere, that lovede venerye; A hunter, and devoted rider out;
be A manly man, to ben an abbot able. Manly-to be an abbot fit and able,
dainty horse Ful many a deynte hors hadde he in stable: For many a dainty horse had he in stable;
Wimple : a loose covering for the neck, close up to twisted this device to refer to the text, The greatest of
the chin, plaited daintily; worn especially by nuns. these is charity;' but the double entendre is apparent.
"t A rosary, the coral beads of which were divided by From a French phrase, bone pur la maistrie= good
smaller ones, or gauds, of a green colour, to excel all others. The monk bids fair to excel all others or
$ 'Love conquers all things.' The Prioress might have outstrip the rest in promotion, on account of his worldliness.
CHAUCER'S PROLOGUE. 25
when, hear And whan he rood, men might his bridel heere* And when he rode, his bridle you could hear
c' er Gyngle in a whistlyng wynd as cleere, Jingle along a whistling wind as clear
where, And eek as lowde as doth the chapel belle, And quite as loud, as doth the chapel bell,
iouse Ther as this lord was keper of the selle. Where this good monk is keeper of the cell.
This jolly monk cared for little else but hunting, though this has never been considered a proper
pursuit for the clergy. He was indifferent to what was said of him, and spared no cost to keep the most
splendid greyhounds and horses for hard riding and hare-hunting. I saw his sleeves edged with the rare
fur gris at the wrist, and that the finest in the land; his hood was fastened under his chin with a curious
gold pin, which had a love-knot in the largest end. His pate was bald and shiny, his eyes rolled in his
head; his favourite roast dish was a fat swan.t
friar A FRERE their was, a wantoun and a merye, A friar there was, so frisky and so merry-
solemn A lymytour,$ a ful solempne man. A limitour, a most important man,
isable to do In alle the ordres foure is noon that can In the four orders there is none that can
dalliance So moche of daliaunce and fair language. Outdo him in sweet talk and playfulness.
familiar Ful wel biloved and famulier was he He was most intimate and popular
country With frankeleyns II overall in his cuntre, With all the franklins dwelling near and far,
also, rich And eek with worth women of the toun: And with the wealthy women of the town.
"The custom of hanging small bells on the bridle and is described as making such a good thing out of his
harness of horses is still observed on the Continent for the begging, that he bribed his fellow friars not to come
purpose of giving notice to foot-passengers to get out of within his particular haunt, and interfere with his doings:
the way; but it was no doubt often used for ostentation. an unprincipled dandy who is another instance of Chaucer's
So Wicliffe inveighs against the clergy in his Triologe for sarcasm against the Church.
their 'fair hors, and jolly and gay sadels, and bridels There were four orders of mendicant friars-Domini-
ringing by the way.'" cans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustins.
t A bird more commonly eaten in those days than it is II Frankeleyns: a franklin was a rich landholder, free
now, but expensive even then. of feudal service, holding possessions immediately from
T Lymytour: a friar licensed to beg within a certain the king. See p. 28.
district or limit. This friar, no very pleasing character,
25 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
Ful sweetly herde he confession, So sweetly did he hear confession ay;
And plesaunt was his absolucioun; In absolution pleasant was his way.
easy He was an esy man to yeve penance In giving penance, very kind was he
when, knew Ther as he wiste to han a good pitance; When people made it worth his while to be;
poor For unto a poure ordre for to geve For giving largely to some order poor
shriven Is signe that a man is wel i-schreve. Shows that a man is free from sin, be sure,
boast For if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt, And if a man begrudged him not his dole,
knew He wiste that a man was repentaunt. He knew he was repentant in his soul.
heart For manya-man so hard is of his herte, For many a man so hard of heart we see,
henay } He may not wepe though him sore smerte; He cannot weep, however sad he be;
Therfore in-stede of wepyng and prayers, Therefore, instead of weeping and long prayers,
"may Men moot yive silver to the poure freres. Men can give money unto the poor friars.
He carried a number of pretty pins and knives about him that he made presents of to people; and
he could sing well, and play on the rotta.f He never mingled with poor, ragged, sick people-it is not
respectable to have anything to do with such, but only with rich people who could give good dinners.
Somwhat he lipsede for his wantownesse, Somewhat he lisped for his wantonness,
tongue To make his Englissch swete upon his tunge; To make his English sweet upon his tongue;
and when he played and sang, his eyes twinkled like the stars on a frosty night.
beard A MARCHAUNT was their with a forked berd, A merchant was there with a fork6d beard,
hors In motteleye, and high on hors he sat, In motley dress'd-high on his horse he sat,
beaver Uppon his heed a Flaundrisch bevere hat. And on his head a Flemish beaver hat.
Confession, absolution, and penance: sacraments in t The rotta was an ancient instrument of the guitar
the Roman Catholic Church. tribe.
CHAUCER'S PROLOGUE. 27
Oxford A CLERK their was of Oxenford also, A clerk of Oxford was amid the throng,
logic, gone That unto logik hadde long ygo. Who had applied his heart to learning long.
lean, horse As lene was his hors as is a rake, His horse, it was as skinny as a rake,
And he was not right fat, I undertake; And he was not too fat, I'll undertake !
lio oe } But lokede holwe, and therto soburly. But had a sober, rather hollow look;
uppermnost 1 -
.or cloak Ful thredbare was his overest courtepy. And very threadbare was his outer cloak.
got For he hadde geten him yit no benefice, For he as yet no benefice had got:
Ne was so worldly for to have office. Worldly enough for office he was not!
he would For him was lever have at his beddes heede For liefer would he have at his bed's head
Twenty books, clothed in blak or reede, A score of books, all bound in black or red,
Of Aristotil, and his philosophies, Of Aristotle, and his philosophy,
robes Than robus riche, or fithul, or sawtrie Than rich attire, fiddle, or psaltery.
Yet although the poor scholar was so wise and diligent, he had hardly any money, but all he could
get from his friends he spent on books and on learning; and often he prayed for those who gave him the
means to study. He spoke little-never more than he was obliged-but what he did speak was always
sensible and wise.
tending to Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche, Full of true worth and goodness was his speech,
would, learn And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche. And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.
"* Clerk: a scholar probably preparing for the priesthood. labouring classes. The parson, for instance, spoken of
In many Roman Catholic countries it was the custom till later, is said to be brother of the ploughman travelling
very lately for poor scholars to ask and receive contribu- with him. The poor scholar and the good parson are
tions from the people for the expenses of their education. 'birds of a feather.'
They were often extremely indigent, coming from the
28 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
Then there was a
Seeit ot' ato,
was not Nowher so besy a man as he their nas, Never has been a busier man than he,
And yit he seemed besier than he was. Yet busier than he was, he seemed to be.
amixd ) He roode but hoomly in a medley coote He rode but homely-clad, in medley coat,
belt Gird with a seynt of silk, with barres smale. Girt with a belt of silk, with little bars.
The Franklin Table Dormant.
A FRANKELEIN was in his compainye; There was a Franklin in his company,
dalsy Whit was his berde, as is the dayesye. And white his beard was, as the daisies be.
Of his complexioun he was sangwyn, With ruddy tints did his complexion shine;
morning Wel loved he in the more a sop of wyn. Well loved he in the morn a sop of wine.
meats Withoute bake mete was never his house, Without good meat, well cooked, was ne'er his
pie Of flessch and fissch, and that so plentevous Both fish and flesh, and that so plenteous,
snowed Hit snewed* in his house of mete and drynke, It seemed as though it snowed with meat and
Or, abounded: the 0. E. snewe, like the Prov. Eng. snee, snie, sni'e, snew, signifies to swarm.
CIIAUCER'S PROLOGUE. 29
think o, Of alle deyntees that men cowde thynke. And every dainty that a man could think.
sundry After the sondry sesouns of the yeer According to the seasons of the year
supper So chaungede he his mete and his soper. He changed his meats and varied his good cheer.
His table dormant* in his halle always His table-dormant in his hall always
Stood redy covered al the long day. Stood ready furnished forth throughout the day.
He was the most hospitable of men, and very well-to-do. He kept open house, for everybody to
come and eat when they liked. He had often been sheriff and knight of the shire; for he was very
highly thought of.
all An anlas and gipser al of silk A dagger and a hawking-pouch of silk
Heng at his gerdul, whit as more mylk. Hung at his girdle, white as morning milk.
A Haberdasher, a Carpenter, a Webber (weaver), a Dyer, and a Tapiser (tapestry-maker) came next,
The Doctor of Physic. The Wife of Bath.
with the Cook they brought with them, a Shipman, a Doctor of Physic, and a worthyt woman,' called
the Wife of Bath, because she lived near that city.
ite mtife of Sathi.
She was so expert in weaving cloth, that there was no one who could come up to her; and she
thought so much of herself, that if another woman even went up to the church altar before her, she
considered it a slight upon her. The Wife of Bath was middle-aged, and somewhat deaf: she had had
five husbands, but they had all died-she was such a shrew: and she had taken pilgrimages to Cologne
and Rome, and many other places; for she had plenty of money, as one might see by her showy dress.
The table dormant was a permanent table, not a new fashion, and expensive. See drawing of table dor.
board on trestles such as the ordinary one, mentioned on mant in 14th century, on page 28.
p. 2. It was only used by very rich people, for it was a t Well-to-do.
30 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
hooe Hire hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed, Her stockings were of finest scarlet red,
Ful streyteyteyd, and schoosfulmoyst and newe. All straitly tied, and shoes all moist and new.
Bold was hire face, and fair and rede of hew. Bold was her face, and fair and red of hue.
She was well wimpled with fine kerchiefs, and her hat was as broad as a buckler or a target.
Then came the poor Parson-poor in condition, but 'rich in holy thought and work'-who was so
good, and staunch, and true, so tender to sinners and severe to sin, regarding no ranks or state, but
always at his post, an example to men.
wide Wyd was his parisch, and houses fer asondur, Wide was his parish, the houses far asunder,
ceased But he ne lafte not for reyne ne thondur, But never did he fail, for rain or thunder,
In siknesse nor in meschief to visit In sickness and in woe to visit all
furthest The ferrest in his parissche, moche and lite, Who needed-far or near, and great and small-
Uppon his feet, and in his hond a staff. On foot, and having in his hand a staff.
But Cristes lore and his apostles twelve Christ's and the twelve apostles' law he taught,
followed He taught, and ferst he folwed it himselve.* But first himself obey'd it, as he ought.
File illou t1 m an.
Then the parson's brother, who was only a Ploughman, and worked hard in the fields, kind to his
neighbours, ever honest, loving God above all things. He wore a tabard, and rode on a mare.f
"* Chaucer speaks, you see, in very different terms of the existed against the despotic power of the aristocracy."
poor and conscientious parish priest (who was supported But, however that may be, there is no doubt that these
only by his benefice and tithes of the people-a small in- parish parsons actually were a much better and more
come) from what he does of the monastic orders, cor- honest class of men than the monks, and the begging friars,
rupted by the wealth they had accumulated. Bell says- and all the rest, were at this time. They were drawn,
"It was quite natural that Chaucer, the friend of John of like the Roman Catholic secular clergy of the present day,
Gaunt, should praise the parochial clergy, who were poor, from the labouring classes.
and therefore not formidable, at the expense of the rich t No one of good position rode on a mare in the middle
monastic orders who formed the only barriers which then ages.
CHAUCER S PROLOGUE. 31
The Ploughman. The Summoner. The Pardoner.
There was also a Miller, a Manciple, a Reve, a Summoner, a Pardoner, and myself [Chaucer].
The SummonerO was a terrible-looking person, and rode with the Pardoner, who was his friend: the
Pardoner singing a lively song, and the Summoner growling out a bass to it, with a loud, harsh voice.
As for his looks, he had
A fyr-reed cherubynes face,t A 'fiery-cherubin' red face,
pimply For sawceflem he was with eyghen narwe. For pimply he was, with narrow eyes.
Children were sore afraid of him when they saw him, he was so repulsive, and so cruel in extorting his
gains. He was a very bad man: for though it was his duty to call up before the Archdeacon's court
anybody whom he found doing wrong, yet he would let the wickedest people off, if they bribed him with
money; and many poor people who did nothing wrong he forced to give him their hard earnings,
threatening else to report them falsely to the Archdeacon. He carried a large cake with him for a
buckler, and wore a garland big enough for the sign-post of an inn.1
The Pardoner was a great cheat too, and so the friends were well matched; he had long thin hair,
as yellow as wax, that hung in shreds on his shoulders. He wore no hood, but kept it in his wallet: he
thought himself quite in the tip-top of fashion.
Summoner: an officer employed by the ecclesias. they got to be detested by the masses, and Chaucer's
tical courts to summon any persons who broke the law hideous picture gives the popular notion of a Summoner.
to appear before the archdeacon, who imposed what t A face as red as the fiery cherubin: a rather profane
penalty he thought fit. The Summoners found it to their simile In many ancient pictures we find the cherubin
interest to accept bribes not to report offences : therefore painted wholly scarlet ; and the term had become a
bad people who could afford to pay got off, whilst those proverb. 'Sawceflem' is from salsum jflenma, a disease
who could not afford to pay were punished with rigour, of the skin.
Many Summoners extorted bribes by threatening to say $ See note, p. 92, note *.
people had transgressed the law who had not ; and so Pardvn:r : Seller of the Pope's indulgences.
32 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
except Dischevele, sauf his cappe, he rood al bare. Dishevell'd, save his cap, he rode barehead:
such, eyes Suche glaryng eyghen hadde he, as an hare. Such glaring eyes, like to a hare, he had !
A vehicle* hadde he sowed on his cappe; A vernicle was sewed upon his cap;
before His walet lay byfom him in his lappe. His wallet lay before him, in his lap.
truly But trewely to tellen atte last, But honestly to tell the truth at last,
He was in church a noble ecclesiaste. He was in church a noble ecclesiast.
Wel cowde he rede a lesson or a storye,t Well could he read a lesson or a story,
best of all But altherbest he sang an offertorie : But ever best he sang the offertory :
knew, when For wel he wyste, whan that song was songe For well he knew that after he had sung,
preach, whet He most preche, and wel affyle his tonge, For preaching he must polish up his tongue,
win To wynne silver, as he right wel cowde : And thus make money, as he right well could:
Therfore he sang ful merely and lowde. Therefore he sang full merrily and loud.
Now I have told you as much as I can what people came into the Tabard Inn that night, and why
they were all travelling together, and where they were going.
Our host made us very welcome, and gave us a capital supper. He was a thoroughly good fellow,
our host-a large, stout man, with bright, prominent eyes, sensible and well behaved, and very merry.
After supper, he made us all laugh a good deal with his witty jests; and when we had all paid our
reckonings, he addressed us all:-
truly And sayde thus : Lo, lordynges, trewely And said to us : "My masters, certainly
Ye ben to me right welcome hertily : Ye be to me right welcome, heartily:
dsanl, lie For by my trouthe, if that I schal not lye, For by my truth, and flattering none, say I,
saw I ne saugh this yeer so mery a company I have not seen so large a company
( 'brge) At oones in this herbergh, as is now. At once inside my inn this year, as now I
Fayn wolde I do yow merthe, wiste I how. I'd gladly make you mirth if I knew how.
A vernicle-diminutive of Veronike-was a small copy t The Pardoner's eloquence and musical gifts account,
of the face of Christ, worn as a token that he had just perhaps, for the exquisite story he afterwards tells.
returned from a pilgrimage to Rome.
CHAUCER'S PROLOGUE. 33
And of a merthe I am right now bythought, And of a pleasant game I'm just bethought
do, ease To doon you eese, and it schal coste nought. To cheer the journey-it shall cost you nought!
"Whoever wants to know how, hold up your hands." We all held up our hands, and begged
him to say on.
Well, my masters," said he, I say that each of you shall tell the rest four stories-two on the way to
Canterbury, and two on the way home. For you know it is small fun riding along as dumb as a stone.
And whichever in the party tells the best story, shall have a supper at this inn at the cost of the rest when
you come back. To amuse you better, I will myself gladly join your party, and ride to Canterbury at my
own expense, and be at once guide and judge; and whoever gainsays my judgment shall pay for all we
spend by the way. Now, tell me if you all agree, and I will get me ready in time to start."
We were all well pleased; and the next morning, at daybreak, our clever host called us all together,
and we rode off to a place called the Watering of St. Thomas.* There we halted, and drew lots who
should tell the story first, knight, clerk, lady prioress, and everybody.
The lot fell to the knight, which every one was glad of; and as soon as we set forward, he began
Hottss ig tie M, tag.*
ONE of the things most deserving of notice in reading Chaucer is his singularly strong grasp of character.
In the 'Canterbury Tales' this is self-evident, and the succinct catalogue of the thirty-one pilgrims, which in feebler
hands would have been dry enough, is a masterpiece of good-humoured satire, moral teaching, and, above all,
photographic portraits from life. You will notice that Chaucer meant to make his Canterbury Tales' much longer
than he lived to do. His innkeeper proposes that each of the pilgrims shall tell four stories. Only twenty-four
of these exist.
You will never find any character drawn by Chaucer acting, speaking, or looking inconsistently. He has always
well hold of his man, and he turns him inside out relentlessly. He very seldom analyzes thought or motives, but he
shows you what is so clearly, that you know what must be without his telling you.
The good-humoured naivetg of mine host, like all his class, never forgetful of business in the midst of play, is
wonderfully well hit off; for the innkeeper clearly would be the gainer by this pleasant stratagem : and he prevents any
one's giving him the slip by going with them to Canterbury and back. The guests are glad enough of his company, for
he could be especially useful to them on the way.
The stories, also, will be found perfectly characteristic of the tellers-there is no story given to a narrator whose
rank, education, or disposition make it inconsistent. Each tells a tale whose incidents savour of his natural occupation
and sympathies, and the view each takes of right or wrong modes of conduct is well seen in the manner as well as the
Chaucer's personal distrust of and contempt for the contemporary Ghurch and its creatures was the natural and
healthy aversion of a pure mind and a sincerely religious heart to a form of godliness denying the power thereof-a
Church which had become really corrupt. It is significant of his perfect artistic thoroughness that, with this aversion,
he never puts an immoral or unfitting tale into the mouth of nun or friar; for it would be most unlikely that these
persons, whatever their private character might be, would criminate themselves in public.
"* Mr. Wright says this place was situated at the second milestone on the old Canterbury road.
NCE upon a time, as old stories tell us, there was a duke named Theseus, lord and governor
of Athens, in Greece, and in his time such a conqueror that there was none greater under
the sun. Full many a rich country owned his sway.
GLOSSARY. That with his wisdam and his chivalrie, What with his wisdom and his chivalry
kingdom, He conquered al the regne of Femynye, The kingdom of the Amazons won he,
once, called That whilom was i-cleped Cithea; That was of old time named Scythia,
fresh And wedded the fresshe quene Ipolita,* And wedded the fresh Queen Ipolita,
country And brought her hoom with him to his centre, And brought her to his own land sumptu-
much, With mochel glorie and gret solempnite; With pomp and glory, and great festivity;
also, sister And eek hire yonge suster Emelye. And also her young sister Emelye.
music And thus with victories and with melodye And thus with victory and with melodies
duke Lete I this noble duk to Athenes ryde, Let I this noble duke to Athens ride,
arms And al his ost, in armes him biside. And all his glittering hosts on either side.
And, certainly, if it were not too long to listen to, I would have told you fully how the kingdom cf
the Amazons was won by Theseus and his host. And of the great battle there was for the time between
Athens and the Amazons; and how Ipolita-the fair, hardy queen of Scythia-was besieged; and about
the feast that was held at the wedding of Theseus and Ipolita, and about the tempest at their
home-coming. But all this I must cut short.
plough I have, God wot, a large feeld to ere; I have, God knows, a full wide field to sow,
weak And wayke ben the oxen in my plough. And feeble be the oxen in my plough.
I will not hinder anybody in the company. Let every one tell his story in turn, and let us see now
who shall win the supper I
I will describe to you what happened as Theseus was bringing home his bride to Athens.
Tyrwhitt. Hyppolita, Smith's Dic.
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 35
GLOSSARY. This duk, of whom I make mencioun, This duke aforesaid, of deserved renown,
come Whan he was comen almost unto the toun, When he had almost come into the town
prosperity In al his wele and in his most pryde, In all his splendour and in all his pride,
aware He was war, as he cast his eyghe aside, Perceivdd, as he cast his eyes aside,
kneeled Wher that their knelede in the hye weye A company of ladies, in a row,
two A compagnye of ladies, tweye and tweye, Were kneeling in the highway-two by two,
each, black Ech after other, clad in clothes blake; Each behind each, clad all in black array;
woe But such a cry and such a woo they make, But such an outcry of lament made they,
That in this world nys creature lyvynge, That in this world there is no living thing
That herde such another weymentynge, That e'er heard such another outcrying;
cease And of that cry ne wolde they never stenten, Nor would they cease to wail and to complain
caught Til they the reynes of his bridel henten. Till they had caught him by his bridle-rein.
What folk be ye that at myn hom comynge "What folk are ye who at my home-coming
perturb Pertourben so my festeo with crying ? Perturb my festival with murmuring,"
Quod Theseus; Have ye so gret envye Quoth Theseus. Or do you envy me
Of myn honour, that thus compleyne and crie ? Mine honour that ye wail so woefully ?
Injured Or who hath yow misboden or offendid ? Or who hath injured you, or who offended ?
And telleth me, if it may ben amendid; Tell me, if haply it may be amended,
black And why that ye ben clad thus al in black ? And why are all of you in black arrayed ?"
them The oldest lady of hem alle spak . The oldest lady of them all then said-
"Lord, to whom fortune has given victory, and to live ever as a conqueror, we do not grudge
your glory t and honour, but we have come to implore your pity and help. Have mercy on us in our
grief. There is not one of us that has not been a queen or duchess; now we are beggars, and you can
help us if you will.
I was wife to King Capaneus, who died at Thebes : and all of us who kneel and weep have lost
our husbands there during a siege; and now Creon, who is king of Thebes, has piled together these
dead bodies, and will not suffer them to be either burned or buried."
And with these words all the ladies wept more piteously than ever, and prayed Theseus to have
compassion on their great sorrow.
The kind duke descended from his horse, full of commiseration for the poor ladies. He thought
his heart would break with pity when he saw them so sorrowful and dejected, who had been lately of so
noble a rank.
He raised them all, and comforted them, and swore an oath that as he was a true knight, he would
avenge them on the tyrant king of Thebes in such a fashion that all the people of Greece should be able to
tell how Theseus served Creon I
The duke sent his royal bride and her young sister Emelye on to the town of Athens, whilst he
Feste in this place means rather festival than feast, as intimates and inferiors as thou. Throughout Chaucer the
Theseus was only on his way to the city. distinction is noticeable: but as the present mode reverses
"t At this period, the personal pronoun you was used the order, I have in my lines adhered to no strict principle,
only in the plural sense, or in formal address, as on the but have used the singular or plural personal pronoun
Continent now; whilst thou implied familiarity. The according as it seemed most forcible.
Deity, or any superior, was therefore addressed as you: 1 Thebes, in Greece.
36 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
displayed his banner, marshalled his men, and rode forth towards Thebes. For himself, till he had
accomplished this duty, he would not enter Athens, nor take his ease for one half-day therein.
The duke's white banner bore the red statue of Mars upon it; and by his banner waved his pennon,
which had the monster Minotaur (slain by Theseus in Greece) beaten into it in gold. Thus rode
this duke-thus rode this conqueror and all his host-the flower of chivalry-till he came to Thebes.
To make matters short, Theseus fought with the King of Thebes, and slew him manly as a knight
in fair battle, and routed his whole army. Then he destroyed the city, and gave up to the sorrowful
ladies the bones of their husbands, to burn honourably after their fashion.
When the worthy duke had slain Creon and taken the city, he remained all night in the field.
During the pillage which followed, it happened that two young knights were found still alive, lying in
their rich armour, though grievously wounded. By their coat-armour the heralds knew they were of the
blood-royal of Thebes; two cousins, the sons of two sisters. Their names were Palamon and Arcite.
These two knights were carried as captives to Theseus' tent, and he sent them off to Athens, where
they were to be imprisoned for life; no ransom would he take.
Then the duke went back to Athens crowned with laurel, where he lived in joy and in honour all his
days, while Palamon and Arcite were shut up in a strong tower full of anguish and misery, beyond all
reach of help.
Thus several years passed.
GLossARY. This passeth yeer by yeer, and day by day, Thus passeth year by year, and day by day,
morning Till it fel oones in a more of May Till it fell once upon a morn of May
see That Emelye, that fairer was to seene That Emelye-more beauteous to be seen
Than is the lilie on hire stalkes grene, Than is the lily on his stalk of green,
powers And fresscher than the May with floures newe- And fresher than the May with flowers new
strove, hue For with the rose colour strof hire hewe, (For with the rose's colour strove her hue
I n'ot which was the fayrere of hem two- I know not which was fairer of the two)
Er it were day as sche was wont to do, Early she rose as she was wont to do,
dressed Sche was arisen, and al redy dight; All ready robed before the day was bright;
sloth For May wole han no sloggardye a nyght. For May time will not suffer sloth at night;
The sesoun priketh every gentil herte, The season pricketh every gentle heart,
And maketh him out of his sleepe sterte, And maketh him out of his sleep to start,
arise, thine And seith, Arys, and do thin observaunce.t And saith, Rise up, salute the birth of spring!
"* A garment worn over the armour, on which the and Queen Catherine of Aragon formally meeting the
armorial bearings were usually embroidered, for the pur- heads of the corporation of London, on Shooter's Hill, to
pose of recognition. See tabard, p. 48. 'go a maying.'
T The rites and ceremonies, observed on the approach But one thing should be remembered when we see how
of spring, from the earliest times in many countries, but many pleasures were referred to May, and how much more
which have now died out in England, are among the most people seemed to count on the weather of a month now-
natural and beautiful of all popular fetes. I have already days proverbially disappointing. The seasons were not
in the preface alluded to the custom of riding out into the the same then as they are now. Not because the climate
fields at daybreak to do honour to May, the month which of the land has altered so much, though that may be
was held to be the symbol of spring-time. Rich and poor, fairly surmised; but because the seasons were actually
the court and the commoners, all rode out with one arranged otherwise. In Chaucer's time, May began
impulse. Boughs of hawthorn and laburnum were brought twelve days later than our May, and ended in the midst of
home to decorate all the streets, and dancing round the June, and therefore there was a much better chance of settled
maypole, and feasting, and holiday-making, were observed weather than we have. This fact also accounts for the pro-
almost like religious rites. It was a great privilege to verbial connection of Christmas and hard weather, snow, and
be elected queen of May, and one which every young ice, which we get as a rule in January, while December is
maiden coveted. At a later time we read of Henry VIII. foggy and wet. Twelfth Day was the old Christmas Day.
(See page 4.)
FAIR EMELYE GATHERING FLOWERS.
The fairness of the lady that I see
Yonde in the garden romynge to and fro.'
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 37
GLOSSARY. This maked Emelye han remembraunce And therefore Emelye, remembering
do To don honour to May, and for to ryse. To pay respect to May, rose speedily:
clothed I-clothed was sche fresh for to devyse.* Attired she was all fresh and carefully,
yellow Hire yolwe heer was browdid in a tresse, Her yellow hair was braided in a tress
Byhynde hire bak, a yerde long I gesse. Behind her back, a full yard long, I guess,
And in the gardyn at the sonne upriste And in the garden as the sun uprose
pleased Sche walketh up and doun where as hire liste. She wandered up and down where as she chose.
Sche gadereth floures, party whyte and reede, She gathereth flowers, partly white and red,
To make a sotil gerlandt for hire heede, To make a cunning garland for her head.
And as an aungel hevenly sche song. And as an angel heavenly she sang.
The great tower, so thick and strong, in which these two knights were imprisoned, was close-joined
to the wall of the garden.
Bright was the sun, and clear, that morning, as Palamon, by leave of his jailor, had risen, and was
roaming about in an upper chamber, from which he could see the whole noble city of Athens, and also
the garden, full of green boughs, just where fresh Emelye was walking.
This sorrowful prisoner, this Palamon, kept pacing to and fro in this chamber, wishing he had never
been born; and it happened by chance that through the window, square and barred with iron, he cast his
eyes on Emelye.
He started and cried out aloud, Ah i" as though he were stricken to the heart.
And with that cry Arcite sprang up, saying, Dear cousin, what ails you ? You are quite pale
and deathly. Why did you cry out ? For God's love be patient with this prison life since it cannot be
altered. What is Heaven's will we must endure."
Palamon answered, Cousin, it is not that-not this dungeon made me cry out-but I was smitten
right now through the eye into my heart. The fairness of a lady that I see yonder in the garden, roaming
to and fro, made me cry out. I know not whether she be woman or goddess: but I think it is Venus
And he fell down on his kn33s and cried, Venus, if it be thy will thus to transfigure thyself in
the garden, help us to escape out of the tower."
Then Arcite looked forth and saw this lady roaming to and fro, and her beauty touched him so deeply
that he said, sighing, The fresh beauty of her will slay me. And if I cannot gain her mercy, I am
but dead, and there is an end."
But Palamon turned furiously on him, and said, Do you say that in earnest or in play ?"
Nay," cried Arcite, "in earnest by my faith-God help me, I am in no mood for play."
It were no great honour to thee," cried Palamon, to be false and a traitor to me, who am thy
cousin and thy brother, sworn as we are both, to help and not hinder one another, in all things till death
part us. And now you would falsely try to take my lady from me, whom I love and serve, and ever
shall till my heart break. Now, certainly, false Arcite, you shall not do it. I loved her first, and told
thee, and thou art bound as a knight to help me, or thou art false !"
But Arcite answered proudly, Thou shalt be rather false than I-and thou art false, I tll thee,
At point devise-with exactness. of fresh flowers was a common practice with both sexes:
t The love of the Anglo-Saxons and the early English a beautiful custom, followed by the Romans, and pre-
for flowers is very remarkable. The wearing of garlands viously by the Greeks.
38 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
utterly I For I loved her with real love before you did. You did not know whether she were woman or
goddess. Yours is a religious feeling, and mine is love as to a mortal; which I told you as my cousin,
and my sworn brother. And even if you had loved her first, what matters it ? A man loves because
he can't help it, not because he wishes. Besides, you will never gain her grace more than I, for both of
us are life-long captives. It is like the dogs who fought all day over a bone; and while they were fighting
over it, a kite came and carried it off."
Long the two knights quarrelled and disputed about the lady who was out of their reach. But you
shall see what came to pass.
There was a duke called Perithous, who had been fellow and brother in arms of Duke Theseus
since both were children, and he came to Athens to visit Theseus. These two dukes were very great
friends : so much so that they loved no one so much as each other.
Now, Duke Perithous had known Arcite at Thebes, years before, and liked him, and he begged
Theseus to let Arcite out of prison.
Theseus consented, but only on the condition that Arcite should quit Athens; and that he should
lose his head, were he ever found there again.
So Arcite became a free man, but he was banished the kingdom.
How unhappy then Arcite was I He felt that he was worse off than ever. Oh, how I wish I had
never known Perithous 1" cried he. Far rather would I be back in Theseus' prison, for then I could see
the beautiful lady I love."
GLOSSARY. O dere cosyn Palamon, quod he, 0 my dear cousin, Palamon," cried he,
thine,chance Thyn is the victories of this venture, "In this ill hap the gain is on thy side.
thou Ful blisfully in prison maistow dure; Thou blissful in thy prison may'st abide!
In prison ? certes nay, but in paradys I In prison ? truly nay-but in paradise!
thee Wel hath fortune y-torned the the dys. Kindlytoward thee hath fortuneturn'd the dice."
So Arcite mourned ever, because he was far away from Athens where the beautiful lady dwelt, and
was always thinking that perhaps Palamon would get pardoned, and marry the lady, while he would never
see her any more.
But Palamon, on the other hand, was so unhappy when his companion was taken away, that he
wept till the great tower resounded, and his very fetters were wet with his tears.
"Alas, my dear cousin," he sighed, "the fruit of all our strife is thine !-You walk free in
Thebes, and think little enough of my woe, I daresay. Youwill perhaps gather a great armyandmakewar on
this country, and get the beautiful lady to wife whom I love so much I while I die by inches in my cage."
And with that his jealousy started up like a fire within him, so that he was nigh mad, and pale as
ashes. 0 cruel gods 1 he cried, "that govern theworld with your eternal laws, how is man better than
a sheep lying in the fold ? For, like any other beast, man dies, or lives in prison, or is sick, or unfortunate,
and often is quite guiltless all the while. And when a beast is dead, it has no pain further; but man
may suffer after death, as well as in this world."
Now I will leave Palamon, and tell you more of Arcite.
Formal compacts for the purpose of mutual counsel and assistance were common to the heroic and chivalrous
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 39
Arcite, in Thebes, fell into such excessive sorrow for the loss of the beautiful lady that there never was
a creature so sad before or since. He ceased to eat and drink, and sleep, and grew as thin and dry as an
arrow. His eyes were hollow and dreadful to behold, and he lived always alone, mourning and lamenting
night and day. He was so changed that no one could recognize his voice nor his look. Altogether he
was the saddest picture of a man that ever was seen-except Palamon.
One night he had a dream. He dreamed that the winged god Mercury stood before him, bidding
him be merry; and commanded him to go to Athens, where all his misery should end.
Arcite sprang up, and said, I will go straight to Athens. Nor will I spare to see my lady through
fear of death-in her presence I am ready even to die 1"
He caught up a looking-glass, and saw how altered his face was, so that no one would know him.
And he suddenly bethought him that now he was so disfigured with his grief, he might go and dwell in
Athens without being recognized, and see his lady nearly every day.
He dressed himself as a poor labourer, and accompanied only by a humble squire, who knew all he
had suffered, he hastened to Athens.
He went to the court of Theseus, and offered his services at the gate to drudge and draw, or do any
menial work that could be given him. Well could he hew wood and carry water, for he was young and very
strong. Now, it happened that the chamberlain of fair Emelye's house took Arcite into his service.
Thus Arcite became page of the chamber of Emelye the bright, and he called himself Philostrate.
Never was man so well thought of !-he was so gentle of condition that he became known
throughout the court. People said it would be but right if Theseus promoted this Philostrate, and placed
him in a rank which would better display his talents and virtues.
At last Theseus raised him to be squire of his chamber, and gave him plenty of gold to keep up his
degree. Moreover, his own private rent was secretly brought to him from Thebes year by year. But he
spent it so cunningly that no one suspected him. In this crafty way Arcite lived a long time
very happily, and bore himself so nobly both in peace and war that there was no man in the land dearer
Now we will go back to Palamon.
Poor Palamon had been for seven years in his terrible prison, and was quite wasted away with
misery. There was not the slightest chance of getting out; and his great love made him frantic. At
last, however, one May night some pitying friend helped him to give his jailor a drink which sent him
into a deep sleep; so that Palamon made his escape from the tower. He fled from the city as fast
as ever he could go, and hid himself in a grove; meaning afterwards to go by night secretly to Thebes,
and beg all his friends to aid him to make war on Theseus. And then he would soon either die or get
Emelye to wife.
turn Now wol I torne unto Arcite agayn, Now will I tell you of Arcite again,
knew, } That litel wiste how nyh that was his care, Who little guess'd how nigh him was his care
Til that fortune hadde brought him in the snare. Until his fortune brought him in the snare.
The busy larke, message of day, The busy lark, the messenger of day,
saluteth Salueth in hire song the more gray; Saluteth in her song the morning grey;
And fyry Phebus ryseth up so bright, And fiery Phoebus riseth up so bright,
That al the orient laugheth of the light, That all the orient laugheth for the light;
40 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
rays, groves And with his stremes dryeth in the greves And in the woods he drieth with his rays
leaves The silver dropes, hongyng on the leeves. The silvery drops that hang along the sprays.
royal* And Arcite, that is in the court ryal Arcite-unknown, yet ever waxing higher
squire With Theseus, his squyer principal, In Theseus' royal court, now chiefest squire-
Is risen, and loketh on the merye day. Is risen, and looketh on the merry day:
onrce" } And for to doon his observaunce to May, And, fain to offer homage unto May,
Remembryng on the poynt of his desir, He, mindful of the point of his desire,
starting, fire He on his courser, stertyng as the fir, Upon his courser leapeth, swift as fire,
fields, play Is riden into the feeldes him to pleye And rideth to keep joyous holiday
Out of the court, were it a myle or tweye. Out in the fields, a mile or two away.
you And to the grove of which that I yow tolde, And, as it chanced, he made towards the
egan' } By venture his wey he gan to holde, All thick with leaves, whereof I spake above,
make To maken him a garland of the greves, Eager to weave a garland with a spray
leaves Were it of woodebynde or hawethorn leves, Of woodbine, or the blossoms of the may.
sang, against And lowde he song ayens the sonne scheene : And loud against the sunshine sweet he sings,
O May,t with al thy floures and thy greene, 0 May, with all thy flowers and thy green
Welcome be thou, wel faire freissche May I Right welcome be thou, fairest, freshest May I
memay I hope that I som grene gete may. Yield me of all thy tender green to-day !"
heart And fro his courser, with a lusty herte, Then from his courser merrily he sprang,
started Into the grove ful hastily he sterte, And plunged into the thicket as he sang;
roamed And in a pathe he romed up and doun, Till in a path he chanced to make his way
hace } Ther as by venture this Palamoun Nigh to where Palamon in secret lay.
Was in a busche, that no man might him see, Sore frighted for his life was Palamon:
afraid, death For sore afered of his deth was he. But Arcite pass'd, unknowing and unknown;
knows, Nothing ne knew he that it was Arcite: And neither guess'd his brother was hard by;
guessed, God wot he wolde han trowed it ful lite. But Arcite knew not any man was nigh.
"truly,'.in For soth is seyd, goon sithen many yeres, So was it said of old, how faithfully,
eyes, ears That feld hath eyen, and the woode hath eeres. 'The woods have ears, the empty field can
A man should be prudent, even when he fancies himself safest: for oftentimes come unlooked-for
meetings. And little enough thought Arcite that his sworn brother from the tower was at hand,
sitting as still as a mouse while he sang.
Whan that Arcite hadde romed al his fill, NowwhenArcite long time had roam'd his fill,
And songen al the roundel lustily, And sung all through the rondel lustily,
SThe words court and royal, now applied only to the other country. They often mustered as big an army as the
sovereign of the land, were applicable then to the domains king, because they could afford to pay the knights (see
of the great nobles, who were to all intents and purposes note, p. 19), and were invincible in their strongholds, sur-
kings. Their pride, and wealth, and immense power, rounded by their serfs dependent on them.
made them very formidable to the sovereign, as we con- t Tyrwhitt.
stantly find in following the history of England or any
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 41
reverie Into a studied he fel sodeynly, He fell into dejection suddenly,
fashions } As don thes lovers in here queynte geeres, As lovers in their strange way often do,
briars Now in the croppe,* now doun in the breres, Now in the clouds and now in abject wo,
Now up, now doun, as boket in a well. Now up, now down, as bucket in a well.
He sat down and began to make a kind of song of lamentation. Alas," he cried, the day that
I was born! How long, O Juno, wilt thou oppress Thebes? All her royal blood is brought to
confusion. I myself am of royal lineage, and yet now I am so wretched and brought so low, that I have
become slave and squire to my mortal foe. Even my own proud name of Arcite I dare not bear, but
pass by the worthless one of Philostrate I Ah, Mars and Juno, save me, and wretched Palamon,
martyred by Theseus in prison I For all my pains are for my love's sake, and Emelye, whom I will serve
all my days."
Ye slen me with you're eyen, Emelye; "You slay me with your eyes, O Emelye 1
be Ye ben the cause wherfore that I dye : You are the cause wherefore I daily die.
remnant Of al the remenant of myn other care For, ah, the worth of all my other woes
amount Ne sette I nought the mountaunce of a tare, Is not as e'en the poorest weed that grows,
were able to So that I couthe don aught to you're pleasaunce! So that I might do aught to pleasure you!"
Palamon, hearing this, felt as though a cold sword glided through his heart. He was so angry that he
flung himself forth like a madman upon Arcite :-
And seyde : Falset Arcyte-false traitour Crying, "False, wicked traitor! false Arcite !
Now art thou hent, that lovest my lady so, Now art thou caught, that lov'st my lady so,
For whom that I have al this peyne and wo, For whom I suffer all this pain and wo I
counsel And art my blood, and to my counsel sworn, Yet art my blood-bound to me by thy vow,
before now As I ful ofte have told the heere byforn, As I have told thee oftentimes ere now-
tricked And hast byjaped here duke Theseus, And hast so long befool'd Duke Theseus
And falsly changed hast thy name thus; And falsely hid thy name and nurture thus I
dead, else I wol be deed, or elles thou schalt dye. For all this falseness thou or I must die.
Thou schalt not love my lady Emelye, Thou shalt not love my lady Emelye-
more But I wil love hire only and no mo; But I will love her and no man but I,
foe For I am Palamon, thy mortal fo. For I am Palamon, thine enemy!
weapon And though that I no wepne have in this place, And tho' I am unarmed, being but now
escaped But out of prison am astert by grace, Escap'd from out my dungeon, care not thou,
fear I drede not, that other thou schalt dye, For nought I dread-for either thou shalt die
Or thou ie schalt not loven Emelye. Now-or thou shalt not love my Emelye.
escape Ches which thou wilt, for thou schalt not asterte. Choose as thouwilt-thou shalt not else depart."
there This Arcite, with ful dispitous herte, But Arcite, with all fury in his heart,
Crop, the top of the wood; briars, the thorny brush- metaphor well expresses the fluctuating moods of an over-
wood and weeds growing on the ground. This pretty wrought state of feeling. t Tyrwhitt.
42 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
Whan he him knew, and hadde his tale herde, Now that he knew him and his story heard,
fierce As fers as a lyoun, pulleth out a swerde, Fierce as a lion, snatch'd he forth his sword,
And side thus : By God that sitteth above, Saying these words: "By Him who rules above,
were it not Nere it that thou art sike and wood for love, Were't not that thou art sick and mad for love,
also And eek that thou no wepne hast in this place, And hast no weapon-never should'st thou
step Thou schuldest never out of this grove pace, Living or like to live, from out this grove,
die That thou ne schuldest deyen of myn hond. But thou shouldest perish by my hand on oath
defy For I defye the seurte and the bond I cast thee back the bond and surety, both,
sayest Which that thou seyst that I have maad to the; Which thou pretendest I have made to thee.
What, verray fool, thenk wel that love is fre I What ? very fool! remember love is free,
In spite of And I wol love hire mawgrd al thy might. And I will love her maugrd all thy might!
because But, for thou art a gentil perfight knight, But since thou art a worthy, noble knight,
art willing And wilnest to dereyne hire by batayle, And willing to contest her in fair fight,
pledge Have heere my trouthe, to more I nyl not Have here my troth, to-morrow, at daylight,
knowledgej Withouten wityng of eny other wight, Unknown to all, I will not fail nor fear
win, found That heer I wol be founden as a knight, To meet thee as a knight in combat here,
And bryngen harneys right enough for the; And I will bring full arms for me and thee;
And ches the best, and lef the worst for me. And choose the best, and leave the worst for me!
And mete and drynke this night wil I brynge And I will bring thee meat and drink to-night,
Inough for the, and clothes for thy beddynge. Enough for thee, and bedding as is right:
win And if so be that thou my lady wynne, And if the victory fall unto thine hand,
wood And sle me in this wode, their I am inne, To slay me in this forest where I stand,
Thou maist wel have thy lady as for me. Thou may'st attain thy lady-love, for me!"
This Palamon answerde, I graunt it the. Then Palamon replied-" I grant it thee."
Then these, who had once been friends, parted till the morrow.
an 0 Cupide, out of alle charite! 0 god of love, that hast no charity!
kingdom O regne that wolt no felaw have with the! 0 realm, that wilt not bear a rival nigh !
truly, nor Ful soth is seyd, that love ne lordschipe Truly 'tis said, that love and lordship ne'er
iellsin' } Wol not, his thonkes, have no felaschipe. Will be contented only with a share.
fnd Wel fynden that Arcite and Palamoun. Arcite and Palamon have found it so.
Arcite is riden anon unto the toun Arcite is ridden soon the town unto:
before And on the more, or it were dayes light, And, on the morrow, ere the sun was high,
prepared Ful prively two harneys hath he dight, Two harness hath he brought forth privily,
sufficient Bothe suffisaunt and mete to darreyne Mleet and sufficing for the lonely fight
them The batayl in the feeld betwix hem tweyne. Out in the battle-field mid daisies white.
carried And on his hors alone as he was born, And riding onward solitarily
"* Harness was a technical term for the complete armour or equipment, as opposed to portions, which were equally
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 43
before He caryed al this harneys him byforn; All this good armour on his horse bore he:
And in the grove, at tyme and place i-sette, And at the time and place which they had set
be This Arcite and this Palamon ben mette. Ere long Arcite and Palamon are met.
then, their Tho chaungen gan here colour in here face, To change began the colour of each face-
kingdom Right as the honter in the regne of Trace Ev'n as the hunter's, in the land of Thrace,
That stondeth in the gappe with a spere, When at a gap he standeth with a spear,
Whan honted is the lyoun or the bere, In the wild hunt of lion or of bear,
groves And hereth him come ruschyng in the greves, And heareth him come rushing through the
breaking And breketh bothe the bowes and the leaves, Crashing the branches in his madden'd mood,
And thenketh, Here cometh my mortel enemy, And think'th, Here com'th my mortal enemy,
without Withoute faile, he mot be deed or I; Now without fail or he or I must die;
For eyther I mot slen him at the gappe, For either I must slay him at the gap,
Or he moot slee me, if it me myshappe : Or he must slay me if there be mishap."
their hue So ferden they, in chaungyng of here hew, So fared the knights so far as either knew,
far, them As fer as either of hem other knewe. When, seeing each, each deepen'd in his hue.
au tig } Ther nas no good day, ne no saluyng; There was no greeting-there was no 'Good
But street withouten words rehersyng, But mute, without a single word, straightway
each, helped Everich of hem helpeth to armen other, Each one in arming turn'd to help the other,
own As friendly, as he were his owen brother; As like a friend as though he were his brother.
And thanne with here scharpe speres strong And after that, with lances sharp and strong,
foined They foyneden ech at other wonder long, They dash'd upon each other-lief and long.
then, seemed Tho it semede that this Palamon You might have fancied that this Palamon,
mad In his fighting were as a wood lyoun, Fighting so blindly, were a mad libn,
And as a cruel tygre was Arcite : And like a cruel tiger was Arcite.
began As wilde boores gonne they to smyte, As two wild boars did they together smite,
Smdess } That frothen white as fome, for ire wood. That froth aswhite asfoamfor rage-they stood
their Up to the ancle caught they in here blood.t And fought until their feet were red with blood.
And in this wise I lete hem fighting dwelle; Thus far awhile I leave them to their fight.
you And forth I wol of Theseus yow telle. And now what Theseus did I will recite.
Then something happened that neither of them expected.
It was a bright clear day, and Theseus, hunting with his fair queen Ipolita, and Emelye, clothed all in
green, came riding by after the hart, with all the dogs around them; and as they followed the hart,
suddenly Theseus looked out of the dazzle of the sun, and saw Arcite and Palamon in sharp fight, like
two bulls for fury. The bright swords flashed to and fro so hideously that it seemed as though their
smallest blows would fell an oak. But the duke knew not who they were that fought.4
Theseus smote his spurs into his horse, and galloped in between the knights, and, drawing his sword,
Even these similes separate the two characters: the lion may be mad with rage ; the tiger, which is a cat, is crafty
as well as fierce.
+ An exaggeration simply for picturesque effect, such as many have indulged in since Chaucer.
? The helmet entirely concealing the face.
44 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
cried, "Ho I* No more, on pain of death! By mighty Mars, he dies who strikes a blow in my
presence!" Then Theseus asked them what manner of men they were, who dared to fight there,
without judge or witness, as though it were in royal lists ?t
You may imagine the two men turning on Theseus, breathless and bloody with fight, weary with
anger, and their vengeance still unslaked.
L- This Palamon answerde hastily, And Palamon made answer hastily,
need And seyde : Sire, what nedeth words mo? And said-" O Sire, why should we waste more
two We han the deth deserved bothe tuo. For both of us deserve to die the death.
captives Tuo woful wrecches ben we, tuo kaytyves Two wretched creatures are we, glad to die
beedbty That ben encombred of oure owne lyves, Tired of our lives, tired of our misery-
And as thou art a rightful lord and juge And as thou art a rightful lord and judge
give us not Ne yeve us neyther mercy ne refuge. So give us neither mercy nor refuge I
holy And sle me first, for seynte charite; And slay me first, for holy charity-
also But sle my felaw eek as wel as me. But slay my fellow too as well as me I
little Or sle him first; for, though thou know him lyte, -Or slay him first, for though thou little know,
This is thy mortal fo, this is Arcite, This is Arcite-this is thy mortal foe,
That fro thy lond is banyscht on his heed Who from thy land was banished on his head,
deserved For which he hath i-served to be deed. For which he richly merits to be dead I
For this is he that come to thi gate Yea, this is he who came unto thy gate,
was named And seyde, that he highte Philostrate. And told thee that his name was Philostrate-
befooled Thus hath he japed the ful many a yer, Thus year by year hath he defied thine ire-
made And thou hast maad of him thy cheef squyer. And thou appointest him thy chiefest squire
And this is he that loveth Emelye. -And this is he who loveth Emelye !
For sith the day is come that I schal dye, For since the day is come when I shall die,
I make pleynly my confession, Thus plain I make confession, and I own
that That I am thilke woful Palamoun, I am that miserable Palamon
wickedly That hath thy prison broke wikkedly. Who have thy prison broken wilfully I
I am thy mortal foo, and it am I I am thy mortal foe,-and it is I
That loveth so hoote Emelye the bright, Who love so madly Emelye the bright,
That I wol dye present in hire sighte. That I would die this moment in her sight I
sentence Therfore I aske deeth and my juwyse; Therefore I ask death and my doom to-day-
slay But slee my felaw in the same wyse, But slay my fellow in the selfsame way :-
For bothe we have served to be slayn. For we have both deserved to be slain."
This worthy duk answerde anon agayn, And angrily the duke replied again,
And seyde : This is a short conclusion : 'There is no need to judge you any more,
own Your owne mouth, by your confession, Your own mouth, by confession, o'er and o'cr
condemned Hath dampned you bothe, and I wil it record. Condemns you, and I will the words record.
Ho was the word by which the heralds or the king and enclosed for combats on horseback, and tournaments.
commanded the cessation of any action. These combats got sometimes very serious, and many
t What were called the 'lists' were the places built knights and horses were wounded, or even killed.
THE KNIGHT S TALE. 45
It needeth nought to pyne yow with the corde.* There is no need to pain you with the cord.
dead Ye schul be deed by mighty Mars the reede! Ye both shall die, by mighty Mars the red !"
Then the queen, 'for verray wommanhede,' began to weep, and so did Emelye, and all the ladies
present. It seemed pitiful that two brave men, both of high lineage, should come to such an end, and
only for loving a lady so faithfully. All the ladies prayed Theseus to have mercy on them, and pardon
the knights for their sakes. They knelt at his feet, weeping and entreating him-
And wold have kist his feet their as he stood, And would have kissed his feet there as he
Till atte last aslaked was his mood; Until at last appeased was his mood,
runneth For pite renneth sone in gentil herte, For pity springeth soon in gentle heart.
shook And though he first for ire quok and sterte, And though he first for rage did quake and start,
He hath considered shortly in a clause He hath considered briefly in the pause
The trespas of hem bothe, and eek the cause: The greatness of their crime, and, too, its cause;
their And although that his ire hire gylt accused, And while his passion had their guilt accused,
them Yet in his resoun he hem bothe excusede. Yet now his calmer reason both excused.
Everybody had sympathy for those who were in love; t and Theseus' heart had compassion of
women, for they wept ever in on' (continually).
So the kindly duke softened, and said to all the crowd good-humouredly, "What a mighty and
great lord is the god of love!"
here Lo, her this Arcite and this Palamoun, "Here are this Arcite and this Palamon,
freely (quit) That quytely weren out of my prison, Safe out of prison both, who might have gone
royary And might have lyved in Thebes really, And dwelt in Thebes city royally,
know, their And witen I am here mortal enemy, Knowing I am their mortal enemy,
their, lieth And that here deth lith in my might also, And that their death within my power lies:
And yet hath love, maugre here eyghen tuo, Yet hath blind Love, in spite of both their eyes,
A form of torture to extort confession. Theseus' in vice and degradation. The arts were ofttimes culti-
grim humour at this juncture implies how far lightlier vated to win a woman's ear or eye; knowledge itself was
human life was held then than now. But he was naturally sought for her sake, for knowledge is power. Of course
in a great rage when he knew who the knights were. the love of courtesy, valour, and learning were deeply
Palamon's insolent address in the singularpersonal pronoun rooted in the age, or the woman's sympathy could not
was not likely to mollify him, coming as it did from a have existed. But her encouragement of all that was
captive, though an equal by birth. esthetic, her influence over men, and therefore the im.
"t How idealized, and how idolized, the passion of love petus she gave to the higher life, must never be underrated,
had grown to be with the new elevation of woman's condi- however we may reprove the errors of that day. The
tion in these times is well known. Love literally covered institution of actual 'Courts of Love'-tribunals for the
a multitude of sins: the malefactor was pardoned whose judgment of love-matters, bearing a definite recognition,
offences were caused by love; the rough was made smooth and which seem so strange, almost repulsive to us, presided
for the feet of love to tread upon. There was a reason for over as they were by ladies only-was the result of the
this. It is but too true that the morals of the people will worship of physical beauty and the passion which it in-
rot bear the light of modern times; but it would be un- spired, and the proof, however grotesque, of the real value
fair to judge them by that light. Those were rough days, seen to lie in it. This will be better understood when we
when laws were often feeble, narrow, or ill-enforced. The observe that even children were encouraged to cultivate
want of legal organization placed a great refining and en- somewhat of this ideal love, and the childish education of
nobling power in the hands of woman. Many a knight, boys and girls consisted to a very large extent in learning
who was coarse or cowardly, was pricked to courteous the art of writing love-letters. Thus Palamon's and
ways and deeds of courage by his love of some fair wo- Arcite's adoration of fresh Emelye are seen to be neither
man, when without it he would have sunk lower and lower exaggerated nor futile.
46 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
I-brought hem hider bothe for to dye. Led them both hither only to be slain !
look, high Now loketh, is nat that an heih folye ? Behold the height of foolishness most plain I
be Who may not ben a fole, if that he love ? Who is po great a fool as one in love?
Byholde for Goddes sake that sitteth above, For mercy's sake-by all the gods above,
Se how they blede! be they nought wel arrayed! See how they bleed a pretty pair are they I
them Thus hath here lord, the god of love, hem payed Thus their liege lord, the god of love, doth pay
their Here wages and here fees for here service. Their wages, and their fees for service done;
think And yet they wenen for to ben ful wise, And yet each thinks himself a wise man's son
serve That seven love, for ought that may bifalle. Who serveth Love, whatever may befall.
But this is yette the beste game of alle, But this is still the greatest joke of all,
fun That sche, for whom they have this jolitee, That she, the cause of this rare jollity,
mu hem, Can hem therefore as moche thank as me. Owes them about as many thanks as I I
knows Sche woot no more of al this hoote fare, She knew no more of all this hot to-do,
knows By God, than wot a cuckow or an hare. By Mars! than doth a hare or a cuckoo I
tried But al moot ben assayed, hoot or colde; But one must have one's fling, be't hot or cold;
must be, ) A man moot ben a fool other yong or olde; A man will play the fool either young or old.
I woot it by myself ful yore agon: I know it by myself-for long ago
one For in my tyme a servant was I on. In my young days I bowed to Cupid's bow."
This is as if he should say, These two foolish boys have got nothing from their liege lord, the god
of love, but a very narrow escape with their heads. And Emelye herself knew no more of all this hot
business than a cuckoo But I, too, was young once, and in love, and so I won't be hard upon them !"
" I will pardon you," he added, for the queen's sake and Emelye's, but you must swear to me never to
come and make war on me at any time, but be ever my friends in all that you may for the future."
And they were very thankful and promised as he commanded.
Then Theseus spoke again, in a kind, half laughing way:-
speak, roya: To speke of real lynage and riches, "And as for wealth and rank, and royal birth,
princess Though that sche were a quene or a prynces, Although she were the noblest upon earth,
each Ilk of yow bothe is worthy douteles Each of you both deserves to wed your flame
neverthe-. To wedden, when time is, but natheles Being of equal worth; but all the same
less I speke as for my suster Emelye, It must be said, my sister Emelye
For whom ye have this stryf and jelousye, (For whom ye have this strife and jealousy),
know Ye woot yourself, sche may not wedde two You see yourselves full well that she can never
once, fought At oones, though ye faughten ever mo; Wed two at once although ye fought for ever I
'or wilin'ig That oon of yow, or be him loth or leef, But one of you, whether he likes or no,
must He mot go pypen in an ivy leef;* Must then go whistle, and endure his wo.
This is to say, sche may nought now have That is to say, she cannot have you both,
angry Al be ye never so jelous, ne so wrote. Though you be never so jealous or so wroth."
'To pipe in an ivy leaf:' A proverbial expression, similar to 'go whistle'-meaning to be engaged in any
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 47
With that he made them this offer-that Palamon and Arcite should each bring in a year's time
(5o weeks) a hundred knights, armed for the lists,* and ready to do battle for Emelye; and whichever
knight won, Palamon and his host or Arcite and his host, should have her for his wife.
Who looks happy now but Palamon ? and who springs up with joy but Arcite I Every one was so
delighted with the kindness of Theseus that they all went down on their knees to thank him-but of
course Palamon and Arcite went on their knees most.
Now, would you like to know all the preparations Theseus made for this great tournament ?
First, the theatre for the lists had to be built, where the tournament was to take place. This was built
round in the form of a compass, with hundreds of seats rising up on all sides one behind another, so that
everybody could see the fight, and no one was in anybody's way. The walls were a mile round, and all
of stone, with a ditch running along the outside. At the east and at the west stood two gates of white
marble, and there was not a carver, or painter, or craftsman of any kind that Theseus did not employ to
decorate the theatre. So that there never was such a splendid place built in all the earth before or since.
Then he made three temples: one over the east gate for Venus, goddess of love; one over the
west gate for Mars, who is god of war; and towards the north, he built a temple all of alabaster and red
coral; and that was for Diana. All these beautiful things cost more money than would fill a big
Now I will tell you what the temples were like inside.
First, in the Temple of Venus were wonderful paintings of feasts, dancing, and playing of music,
and beautiful gardens, and mountains, and people walking about with the ladies they liked. All these
were painted on the walls in rich colour.
There was a statue of Venus besides, floating on a sea of glass, and the glass was made like
waves that came over her. She had a citole in her hand, which is an instrument for playing music
on; and over her head doves were flying. Little Cupid was also there, with his wings, and his bow
and arrows, and his eyes blinded, as he is generally made.
Then, in the Temple of Mars, who is the god of war, there were all sorts of dangers and mis-
fortunes painted. Battles, and smoke, and forests all burning with flames, and men run over by carts,
and sinking ships, and many other awful sights. Then a smith forging iron-swords and knives
The statue of Mars was standing on a car, armed and looking as grim as possible : there was a
hungry wolf beside him.
As for the Temple of Diana, that was very different from Venus's. Venus wishes everybody to
marry the one they love. Diana does not want any one to marry at all, but to hunt all day in the
fields. So the pictures in Diana's Temple were all about hunting, and the merry life in the forest.
Her statue showed her riding on a stag, with dogs running round about, and underneath her feet
was the moon. She was dressed in the brightest green, and she had a bow and arrows in her hand.
Now you know all about the splendid theatre and the three temples.
At last the day of the great tournament approached I
The tournament, great as the loss of life often was, of the tournament. In this case, Emclye is not asked
seems to have been the greatest delight of the people in whether she likes to be disposed of thus coolly but she
the middle ages. The ladies especially loved them, as could not fail to be touched by the great compliment paid
they were often in homage to themselves. The victor her.
in the mimic battle received a crown from the queen
48 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
Palamon and Arcite came to Athens as they had promised, each bringing with him a hundred
knights, well armed; and never before, since the world began, was seen a sight so magnificent. Every-
body who could bear arms was only too anxious to be among the two hundred knights-and proud
indeed were those who were chosen for you know, that if to-morrow there should be a like famous
occasion, every man in England or anywhere else, who had a fair lady-love, would try to be there.
All the knights that flocked to the tournament wore shining armour according to their fancy.
Some wore a coat of mail, which is chain-armour, and a breast-plate, and a gipon: others wore plate-
Basalet o under t elmet
Cam"a, Or tippet ( t Iaail habergeon seen at neck.
,, Tabard (coat armour)
Hauberk. over a plate hauberk.
Jupon. or gipon, a
over plate taces. Gauet
Greaves (plate) over Jambes of plate.
armour, made of broad sheets of steel; some carried shields, some round targets. Again, some took
most care of their legs, and carried an axe; others bore maces of steel.
It was on a Sunday, about nine o'clock in the morning, when all the lords and knights came into
With Palamon came the great Licurgus, King of Thrace; with Arcite came the mighty King of
India, Emetrius : and I must give you the exact account of how these two kings looked, which is
most minute. I should not wonder if these were the likenesses of Palamon and Arcite themselves.*
First, then, comes-
GLOSSARY. Ligurge himself, the grete kyng of Trace; Licurge himself, the mighty king of Thrace;
Blak was his berd, and manly was his face. Black was his beard, and manly was his face,
eyes The cercles of his eyen in his heed The circles of his eyes within his head
between They gloweden bytwixe yolw and reed, Glow'd of a hue part yellow and part red,
And lik a griffoun looked he about, And like a griffon looked he about,
stout With kempe heres t on his browes stowte; With hair down-combed upon his brows so
"* There are no portraits, otherwise, of these two princes, means bent, curled, and hence rough, shaggy." A similar
whose characters are so clear and forcible all through that term occurs a few lines farther on, describing the hair
some physical description is sorely needed. The portraits 'kempt behind his back,' where Dr. Morris reads
of the two sovereigns fit singularly well the fierce, pas- combed. It seems, however, contrary to the rule of
sionate nature of Palamon, and the cooler but equally courtesy observed by lovers, that a noble knight should
noble one of Arcite. appear at a festival like a wild man of the woods. If, on
t Kemped heres : Dr. Morris rejects the usual rendering the other hand, the shaggy hairs were on the eyebrow, it
of the word kemped as combed, and asserts that it means certainly adds to the ferocity of his look. I prefer the
the very reverse, and, "instead of smoothly combed, former reading for Emelye's bridegroom.
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 49
nuices, His lymes grete, his brawnes hard and strong, His limbs were great, his muscles hard and
shoulders His schuldres brood, his armes round and His shoulders broad, his arms were round and
guise And as the gyse was in his centre, According to the fashion of his land,
high, car Ful heye upon a chare of gold stood he, Full high upon a car of gold stood he,
bullesthe With four white boles in a trays. And to the car four bulls were link'd, milk-
In stede of cote armour on his harnays, 'Stead of coat-armour on his harness bright,
With nales yolwe, and bright as eny gold, With yellow nails and bright as any gold,
very old He had a bere skyn, cole-blak for-old. A bear's skin hung, coal-black, and very old.
lon air } His lange heer y-kempt byhynd his bak, His flowing hair was comb'd behind his back,
shone As eny raven fether it schon for black. As any raven's wing it shone for black.
A wrethe of gold arm-gret, and huge of A wreath of gold, arm-thick, of monstrous
Upon his heed, set ful of stones bright, Crusted with gems, upon his head was set,
diamonds Of fyne rubies and of fyn dyamauntz. Full of fine rubies and clear diamonds.
Aboute his chare their wenten white alauntz,t About his car there leaped huge white hounds,
steer) Twenty and mo, as grete as eny stereo, Twenty and more, as big as any steer,
To hunt at the lyoun or at the bere, To chase the lion or to hunt the bear,
muzzle And folwed him, with mosel fast i-bounde, And followed him, with muzzles firmly bound,
spikes, filled Colerd with golde, and torettz+ fyled round. Collar'd in gold, with golden spikes around.
The other portrait has a less barbaric splendour about it.
India The gret Emetreus, the kyng of Ynde, The great Enetrius, the Indian King,
Uppon a steede bay, trapped in steel, Upon a bay steed trapp'd in shining steel,
ipered } Covered with cloth of gold dyapred wel, Covered with cloth of gold from head to heel,
Cam rydyng lyk the god of armes, Mars. Came riding like the god of armies, Mars;
His coote armour was of a cloth of Tars, His coat-armour was made of cloth of Tars,
overlaid Cowched of perlys whyte, round and grete. O'erlaid with pearls all white and round and
burnished His sadil was of brend gold new i-bete; His saddle was of smooth gold, newly beat.
mantle A mantelet[[ upon his schuldre hangyng A mantlet on his shoulder as he came,
cram-ull, Bret-ful of rubies reed, as fir sparclyng. Shone, cramm'd with rubies sparkling like red
run His crispe her lik rynges was i-ronne, And his crisp hair in shining rings did run,
"* See page 42, note. : See Appendix, p. III.
t Alauns. A species of dog used for hunting the boar, A kind of rich silk.
&c. Sp. alano. Speght says they were greyhounds, 11 The mantelett' was at first devised to protect the
Tyrwhitt mastiffs, much esteemed in Italy in the 14th burnished helmet from becoming inconveniently heated by
century. See Cotgrave-' Allan, a kind of big, strong, the sun: it became afterwards fantastic in form, and is
thick-headed, and short-snowted dog-the brood whereof the origin of the mantlingg' seen in modern coats of
came first out of Albania.' arms.
50 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
elow And that was yalwe, and gliteryng as the sonne. Yellow it was, and glittering as the sun.
His nose was high, his eyen bright cytryn, His nose was high,hTis eyes were bright citrine,
His lippes round, his colour was sangwyn, His lips were round, his colour was sanguine,
sprinkled A fewe freknes in his face y-spreynd, With a few freckles scattered here and there,
somewhat, Betwixe yolwe and somdel blak y-meynd, 'Twixt black and yellow mingling they were,
looking And as a lyoun he his lokyng caste. And lion-like his glance went to and fro.
suppose Of fyve and twenty yeer his age I caste. His age was five and twenty years, I trow.
His berd was wel bygonne for to sprynge; A downy beard had just begun to spring,
His voys was as a trumpe thunderynge. His voice was like a trumpet thundering.
laurel Upon his heed he wered of laurer grene Upon his head he wore a garland green,
A garlond freische and lusty for to sene. Of laurel, fresh, and pleasant to be seen.
ha, de-} Upon his hond he bar for his deduyt* Upon his wrist he bore for his delight
eagle, any An egle tame, as eny lylie whyt. An eagle, tame, and as a lily white.
There was a great festival, and the dancing, and minstrelsy, and feasting, and rich array of Theseus'
palace were most wondrous to behold. I should never have time to tell you
be What ladies fayrest ben, or best daunsynge, What ladies danced the best, or fairest were,
sing Or which of hem can carolet best and singe, Or which of them best sung or carol'd there;
Ne who most felyngly speketh of love; Nor who did speak most feelingly of love,
sit What haukes sitten on the perche above, What hawks were sitting on the perch above,
lie What houndes liggen on the floor adoun. What hounds lay crouching on the floor down.
Then there were the temples to visit, to ask grace and favour from the gods. Palamon went to the
Temple of Venus, the goddess of love, and prayed her to help him to gain his lady. Venus promised
Arcite thought it more prudent to go to the god of war, Mars; so he sacrificed in his temple, and
prayed for victory in the lists. Mars promised him the victory.
But Emelye did not wish to marry either of her lovers. She went to the temple of Diana early in
the morning, and asked the goddess to help her not to get married She preferred her free life, walking
in the woods and hunting. She made two fires on Diana's altar: but Diana would not listen to her, and
both the fires went out suddenly, with a whistling noise, and Emelye was so frightened that she began to
cry. Then Diana told her she was destined to marry one of these poor knights who had suffered so
much for her, and so she must make up her mind to it.
Emelye then departed : but Mars and Venus had a great dispute,because, as you know, they had
This. fair countenance is oddly assigned to an Indian so provision had to be made for their accommodation
monarch: but some of the details of his appearance are on the grandest occasions. In Wright's 'Womankind,'
poetic embellishments and must not be relied upon. The we read: "Different species of the hawk were allotted to
white eagle carried for his pleasure is probably one of persons of the different grades and ranks of society. Thus
the many :-, :.. i-i:..-.; for picturesque effect, and is only we are told that the eagle and the vulture belonged to the
a magnified lalcon, a bird which was at this time the con- emperor, from which we must understand that the emperor
stant companion of the noble: hawking was in high favour, was not expected to go often a-hawking." Evidently
and the bird's tameness depended on its habituation to its Chaucer was well read in his books on falconry.
owner's voice and touch. A little later on the hawks are f Carole (Tyrwhitt-the other editions have dance) was
mentioned as sitting on perches during the festival; such a round dance.
perches were in every room and hall in common life;
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 51
promised success to each of the two knights, and Emelye could not marry both. Now, you shall see how
-each of them managed to gain a victory.
All Monday was spent in jousting and dancing, and early on Tuesday began the great tourney.
Such a stamping of horses and chinking of harness !* Such lines and crowds of horsemen There
you might see armour so rare and so rich, wrought with goldsmith's work, and embroidery, and steel !
Helmets and hauberks and trappings-squires nailing on the spearheads, and buckling helmets-rubbing
up the shields, and lacing the plates with thongs of leather. Nobody was idle.
The fomy stedes on the golden bridel The foamy steeds upon the golden bridle
Gnawyng, and faste the armurers also Gnawing, and fast the armourers also
With fyle and hamer prikyng to and fro; With file and hammer pricking to and fro;
many a Yemen on foote, and communes many oon Yeomen on foot, and flocking thro' the land
go With schorte staves, thikke as they may goon. Commons with short staves, thick as they car
Pipes, trumpets, drums, and clarions were heard, that serve to drown the noise of battle with music-
little groups of people gathered about the palace, here three-there ten-arguing the merits of the two
Theban knights. Some said one thing, some another. Some backed the knight with the black beard,
others the bald one, others the knight with close hair. Some said, He looks grim, and will fight and
lie hath an axe that weighs twenty pound !"
Duke Theseus sits at a window, like a god on his throne. The masses of people are pressing
towards him to see him, and to salute him humbly, and to hear his commands, and his decree !
A herald on a tall scaffold shouts out Ho!" till all the noise of the people is hushed, and when all
is quiet, he tells them the duke's will:-
My lord hath of his wisdom considered that it were destruction to gentle blood to fight in this
tourney, as in mortal battle. Therefore, to save life, he now changes his first purpose.
No arrows, pole-axe, or short knife shall be brought into the lists, no short sword, either in the
hand or worn at the side. No man shall ride more than one course with a sharp spear. Whoso comes
to harm shall be taken, and not slain, but brought to the stake, there to abide according to order. And
should a chieftain on either side be taken, or slay his fellow, no longer shall the tourney last. God
speed you, go forth, and lay on fast Fight your fill with mace and longsword "
The shouts of all the people rang right up to the sky, God save such a good lord, who will have
no bloodshed !"
Up go the trumpets and the music, and through the broad city, all hung with cloth of gold, the
crowds ride to the lists. The noble duke rode first, and the Theban knights on either side, afterwards
came the queen and fair Emelye, and then all the company followed according to their rank.
When they came to the lists, everybody pressed forward to the seats. Arcite goes in at the west
gate by Mars' temple, with a red banner, and all his hundred knights. At the same moment Palamon
enters the east gate by Venus' temple, with his white banner and brave host. Never was there such a
"* The term for the whole panoply of knight or steed- cut of a broadsword, or even from the blow of a mace;
armour and coat-armour included. but a thrusting sword might easily pierce through the joints
"t A knight in armour was in very little danger from a of his armour.-Bell.
52 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
sight. The two companies were so evenly matched there was no choosing between them. Then
they ranged themselves in two ranks; the names were read out, that there might be no cheating in the
numbers; the gates were shut, and loud was the cry, "Do now your devoir, young knights proud "
The heralds have ceased to ride up and down. The trumpets ring out-in go the spears steadily
to the rests-the sharp spur is in the horse's side. There you may see who can joust and who can
ride-there the shafts of the spears shiver on the thick shields-he feels the thrust right through the
body. Up spring the lances twenty foot high, out fly the swords like silver-helmets are crushed and
shivered-out bursts the blood in stern, red streams See, the strong horses stumble-down go all-
a man rolls under foot like a ball. See, he fences at his foe with a truncheon, and hustles him while
his horse is down. He is hurt through the body, and is dragged off to the stake-and there he must
stay. Another is led off to that other side. All the humane orders of Theseus are forgotten.
From time to time Theseus stops the fray to give time for refreshment and drink, should the
combatants need it.
Often have these two Thebans fought before now; each has often unhorsed the other. But in spite
of Theseus' commands, never was tiger bereft of its young so cruel in the hunt, as Arcite in his
jealousy was on Palamon. Never was hunted lion, mad with hunger, so eager for blood as Palamon
for Arcite's life. See, they are both bleeding.
As the day went by, many in the field were carried away by excitement. The strong King
Emetrius flew at Palamon as he fought with Arcite, and ran his sword into him. Then there was a
frightful uproar. Emetrius could not govern himself, and was dragged off to the stake by the force of
twenty men, and while trying to rescue Palamon, the great King Licurge was borne down; and King
Emetrius, despite his strength, was flung out of his saddle a sword's length, so violently Palamon hit at
him; but he was carried to the stake for all that, and this tumult put an end to the tourney, according
to the rule Theseus had made.
How bitterly wretched was Palamon, now that he could not ride any more at his foe Only
by an unfair attack had he lost ground. Theseus, seeing them all fighting together wildly, cried out
"Ho and stopped the tourney. Then he said, I will be a true judge, and impartial. Arcite of
Thebes shall have Emelye, who, by good luck, has fairly won her! "
Shouts of delight answered Theseus, till it seemed as if the theatre would fall with the noise.
It is said that Venus was so disappointed at Palamon, her knight, losing, that she wept, and went
for help to her father, the god Saturn. Saturn said to her, Daughter, hold thy peace; Mars has had
his way, but you shall yet have yours !"
Now you shall see what happened.
This fierce Arcite, hearing the duke's decision, and the cries and yells of the heralds and all the
People, raised his visor and spurred his horse along the great place and looked up at Emelye. And
Emelye looked down at him kindly (for women always follow the favour of fortune), and smiled.
It was in this sweet moment, when he was off his guard, that something startled his tired and
excited horse, and it leapt aside and foundered as it leapt, and before Arcite could save himself, he was
flung down, and his breast-bone smashed against the saddle-bow-so that he lay as dead, his face black
with the sudden rush of blood.
Poor Arcite to lose all, just in the moment of supreme joy and victory!
He was carried out of the lists, broken-hearted, to Theseus' palace, where his harness was cut off
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 53
him, and he was laid in a beautiful bed. He was still conscious, and always asking piteously for
As for Duke Theseus, he came back to the town of Athens in great state and cheer. Were it not
for this unlucky accident at the end, there had not been a single mishap, and as the leeches said Arcite
would soon be well again, that was no such great disaster. None had been actually killed, though
many had been grievously wounded : which was very gratifying. For all the broken arms could be
mended, and the bruises and cuts healed with salves and herbs and charms.
There had even been no discomfiture, for falls did not count as shame, nor was it any disgrace to
be dragged to a stake with kicks and hootings, and held there hand and foot all alone, whilst one's horse
was driven out by the sticks of the grooms. That was no disgrace, for it was not cowardice; and such
things must happen at a tourney. And so all the people made mirth.
The duke gave beautiful gifts to all the foreign knights, and there were ever so many more shows
and feasts for the next three days, and the two mighty kings had the greatest honour paid them, till all
men had gone home to their houses.
So there was an end of the great battle.
But Arcite did not get well so soon as they thought he would. His wound swelled up, and the
sore increased at his heart more and more. He was so injured that the balms and the salves gave him
no ease, and nature could not do her part. And when nature cannot work, farewell physic 1 there is no
more to be done but carry the man to the churchyard.
In short, Arcite was evidently dying, and he sent for Emelye, who held herself his wife, and for
Palamon, his cousin, and they both came to his bedside.
Then he told Emelye all the sorrow that was in his heart, at losing her whom he had loved so
dearly; and how he still loved her, and wanted her to pray for him when he was dead.
pains Allas, the woo! allas, the peynes strong "Alas, the woe! alas, the trials strong
suffered That I for you have suffered, and so long! That I for you have borne-and, ah, so long I
death Allas, the deth alas, myn Emelye! Alas, to die! alas, mine Emelye !
separating Alias, departyng of our compainye! Alas, that we so soon part company I
Allas, myn hertes queen alias, my wyf Alas, my heart's one queen alas, my wife I
Myn hertes lady, endere of my lyf Ah, my heart's lady, ender of my life !
ask What is this world? what asken men to have? What is life worth ? what do men yearn to
Now with his love, now in his colde grave Now with his darling-now in his cold grave,
any Allone, withouten eny compainye Alone, alone, and with no company !
foe Farwel, my swete foo! myn Emelye !* Farewell, my sweet foe-farewell, Emelye,
two And softe tak me in you're armes tweye, And softly take me in your arms to-day
hearken For love of God, and herkneth what I seye. For love of God, and listen what I say."
Then Arcite pointed to Palamon, and said-
I have heer with my cosyn Palamon "I have here with my cousin Palamon
Tyrwhitt's and Bell's editions read, Farwel, my swete, farwel, myn Emelye I'
54 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
Had stryf and rancour many a day agon Had strife and hatred days and years agond
For love of yow, and for my jelousie. For love of you, and for my jealousy.
So Jupiter have of my soule part, So Jupiter have of my soul a part,
As in this world right now ne knowe I non As in the whole wide world now know I none
So worthy to be loved as Palamon, So worthy to be loved as Palamon,
That serveth you, and wol don al his lyf. Who served you well, and will do all his life.
sila And if that evere ye schul ben a wyf, Therefore, if ever you shall be a wife,
forget Foryet not Palamon, the gentil man. Forget not Palamon, that noble man."
began to fail And with that word his speche faille gan, And with that word his speech to fail began,
For fro his feete up to his brest was come For from his feet up to his breast was come
The cold of deth, that hadde him overcome.* The cold of death, that hath him overcome.
already And yet moreover in his armes two And now moreover, in his arms at last
gone The vital strength is lost, and al ago. The vital strength is lost, and all is past.
without Only the intellect, withouten more, Only the intellect, all clear before,
That dwellede in his herte sik and sore, That lingered in his heart so sick and sore,
began to fail Gan fallen, when the herte felte deth; Began to falter when the heart felt death,
arkened, Dusked his eyen two, and failed his breth. Then his two eyes grew dark, and faint his
But on his lady yit caste he his eye; But on his lady yet cast he his eye;
His last word was-Mfercy, Emelye. And his last word was-" Alercy, Emelye."
He was dead.
Emelye was carried away from Arcite, fainting; and the sorrow she felt is more than I can tell.
Day and night she wept, for she had learned to love Arcite as much as if he had been already her
husband, so that she was nigh to dying.
All the city mourned for him, young and old. Theseus, and Palamon, and everybody was filled
with grief. Never had there been such sorrow.
Theseus had a splendid bier made, for Arcite to be burned according to the custom, with the
greatest honours. Huge oak trees were cut down on purpose to burn on his pile. Arcite's body was
covered with cloth of gold, with white gloves on his hands, his sword by his side, and a wreath of
laurel on his head. His face was uncovered, so that all the people might see him, when he was carried
forth from the great hall of the palace.
Theseus ordered that Arcite should be burned in that very grove where Palamon and Arcite had
first fought for love of Emelye, on that sweet May morning a year ago. So the funeral pile was raised
in that grove.
Three beautiful white horses, covered with glittering steel harness and the arms of Arcite, bore all
his armour and weapons before him to the spot.
The whole city was hung with black, and the noblest Greeks in the land carried the bier. Duke
Tyrwhitt. OJernzome is participle past of overninmet (Sax.), to overtake. The following, and the sixth line
further on, are also Tyrwhitt's reading.
THE KNIGHT'S TALE. 55
Theseus, and his old father Egeus, and Palamon, walked beside it, carrying in their hands golden cups,
full of milk and wine and blood, to throw upon the pile. Then came Emelye, weeping, with fire in her
hand, as the custom was, wherewith to set light to the pile.
With great care and ceremony the wood and straw were built up around the body, so high that
they seemed to reach to the sky, and cloth of gold and garlands of flowers were hung all round it.
Poor Emelye fainted when she set fire to the pile, in the course of the funeral service, for her grief
was more than she could bear. As soon as the fire burned fast, perfumes and jewels were flung in, and
Arcite's shield, spear, and vestments, and the golden cups. Then all the Greeks rode round the fire to
the left, three times shouting, and three times rattling their spears; and three times the women cried
And when all was over, Emelye was led home; and there were curious ceremonies performed, called
the lykewake, at nightfall.
Long afterwards, Theseus sent for Palamon. The mourning for Arcite was over in the city, but
Palamon came, still wearing his black clothes, quite sorrowful.
Then Theseus brought Emelye to Palamon, and reminded them both of Arcite's dying words. He
took Emelye's hand and placed it in the hand of Palamon. Then Palamon and Emelye were married,
and they lived happy ever after.
welfare For now is Palamon in alle wele, For now this Palamon hath all the wealth,
health Lyvynge in blisse, in richesse, and in hele; Living in bliss, in riches, and in health;
And Emelye him loveth so tendrely, And Emelye loveth him so tenderly,
nobly And he hire serveth al so gentilly, And he doth cherish her so faithfully,
eteen } That never was their no word hem bitweene That all their days no thought they had again
affliction Of jelousye, or any other teene. Of jealousy, nor any other pain.
Thus endeth Palamon and Emelye, Thus endeth Palamon and Emelye,
fair And God save al this fayre compainye. And God save all this kindly company I
lotes y tfhe S ta.
THE outline of the foregoing Tale was borrowed by Chaucer from Boccaccio's Theseida:' but the treatment and
conception of character are wholly his own.
It is a common thing to say of the Knight's Tale that with all its merits the two principal actors, Arcite and Palamon,
are very much alike, and constantly may be mistaken for each other. It seems to me that to say such a thing is a
proof of not having read the tale, for the characters of the two men are almost diametrically opposed, and
never does one act or speak as the other would do.
Notice, therefore, the striking contrast all through the story between the characters. From the first, Arcite in the
prison is seen to be cooler and more matter-of-fact than Palamon, whose violent nature suffers earliest from imprison.
ment, mentally, perhaps morally; and whom we find pacing restlessly about, and ceaselessly bemoaning his fate, while
Arcite is probably sitting still in philosophic resignation.
Palamon is clearly a man of violent, uncontrolled passions-reckless, even rash, and frantically jealous. Arcite's is by
56 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
far the stronger mind-wise, clever, cool, but quite as brave and fervent as his friend. Every incident brings out their
character in strong relief. To Palamon it is given to see Emelye first. Ie mistakes her for Venus, and prays to her as such
-his mind being probably slightly disordered by the privations of medieval prison life, as a mind so excitable would soon
become. Arcite recognizes her instantly as a woman, and claims her calmly. Palamon 'flies out,' reproaches him
bitterly, violently, with the term most abhorrent to the chivalrous spirit of the time-' false.' Arcite answers with
passion, but he is matter-of-fact in the midst of it, reminding his friend how little consequence it is to either of them,
for both are perpetual prisoners; and he can even wind up with a touch of humour, quoting the two fighting dogs and
On his release from prison, Arcite follows out successfully a most difficult role, concealing his identity in the midst of
Theseus' court, and in the agitating presence of his lady, at the risk of his life-foryears : a stratagem requiring constant
sangfroid and self-control, which would have been as impossible to Palamon, as mistaking a beautiful woman for a
divine vision would have been to Arcite. He does not forget Palamon during this time, though powerless to help him.
Hie is unselfish enough to pray Juno for him, in his soliloquy in the wood.
At the meeting of the rivals in the wood, Palamon, mastered at once by rage, bids Arcite fight with him, that
instant, regardless of his (Palamon's) being unarmed : he fears nothing, he only wants to fight. Arcite, also furious,
can nevertheless see the common-sense side of the affair, and the need for fair play and proper accoutrements ; and
enumerates very sensibly the arms and other necessaries he will bring Palamon, including (so matter-of-fact is he) food
and beddingfor the night.
When the combatants are discovered in their illegal and unwitnessed fight, Palamon does not fear death. He is only
anxious that, whether he be dead or alive, Arcite shall not have Emelye ; and reiterates his entreaty that Arcite may be
slain too-before or after, he doesn't care which, as long as he is slain.
Palamon's intense jealousy, which could face death cheerfully, but not the yielding up of his beloved to another man,
and his anxiety that Arcite should not survive him, are of course less ignoble than they seem if viewed in the light of
the times. It was this same jealousy which prompted him to betray Arcite as soon as he got the chance--forgetting
that Arcite had not betrayed him, the day before, when he was in his power. But Chaucer himself once or twice refers
to his mind being unhinged-' wood for love'-which claims our forbearance.
Again, the appearance of Licurge (taken as Palamon's portrait) is very characteristic. His eye is fierce, his get-up
is mighty, barbaric, bizarre; but Emetrius (Arcite) appears in a much more usual way. Licurge mounts a chariot drawn
by bulls-Emetrius rides on horseback, like an ordinary knight. Licurge is enveloped in a bear's hide-Emetrius is
It is also noteworthy that Palamon entreats Venus for success, for he can think of nothing but his love : Arcite
thinks it more prudent to address Mars, since he has got to win Emelye by fight-he has considered the question, you see;
and it is therefore (I think) that the preference is given to Palamon in marrying Emelye, because society so exalted the
passion of love in those days, while Arcite is made to suffer for his very prudence, which might argue a less
It was a master-thought to make Arcite die by an accident, so that neither of the rivals vanquished the other, and
Palamon escapes the possible reproach of winning his happiness by slaying his friend.
The sympathy, however, remains with Arcite. His character is beautifully developed. It is not inconsistent with
his power of self-control and brave heart, noble throughout, that he is able to make such a sacrifice on his death-bed as
to give Emelye to Palamon. It is a sign of forgiveness of Palamon, who, at the point of death, showed no such
generosity; and the greatness of the sacrifice must be estimated by remembering the medieval view of love and
I do not think that Palamon could have done that, any more than he could have concealed his identity in Theseus
See Chauccrfor Schools, p. 86, for some curious details.
HIS worthy Friar (Chaucer says), as he rode along with the rest of the company, kept
looking askance at the Summoner, whom he evidently regarded as an enemy,* and though,
as yet, for common civility's sake, he had not said anything to him which could cause a
regular quarrel, it was quite plain there was little love lost between them.
When his turn came to tell his story, he saw a chance of annoying the Summoner, which
he didn't mean to lose; and, disagreeable as the Summoner was, it is not very surprising.
But if it like to this company, "But if agreeable to the company,
joke I wil yow of a Sompnour telle a game; I'll tell you of a Summoner such a game I
Pard6, ye may wel knowe by the name, Belike you may imagine from the name,
That of a Sompnour may no good be sayd; That of a Summoner can no good be said.
disappointed I pray that noon of yow be evel apayd. I pray that none of you be ill repaid !"
The Summoner, who was inoffensive enough just then, whatever he might have been at other
times, was not very well pleased at having his trade spoken of in such terms, and felt that it was all a
hit at himself; and mine host, to prevent further squabbling, breaks in with-" Now, Friar, it is not
very courteous to speak at a companion in that style; a man of your calling ought to know
In company we wol have no debaat: "In company we will have no debate,
ten Telleth your tale, and let the Sompnour be. Tell on your tale, and let the Summoner be."
Nay, quoth the Sompnour, let him saye to Nay," cried the Summoner, let him say of
What so him list; whan it cometh to my lot What he may choose. When my turn comes,
good lack I
SThe Summoners and the Friars were naturally always was legally qualified to extort, whilst the Friar was only
at variance, both deriving their money from the same permitted to beg. Thus, if the Summoner had been to a
Source: both belonged to the Church, but the Summoner house first, the Friar was likely to suffer.
58 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
requite, } By God I schal him quyten every grot. All he has said I'll pay him fairly back !
great I schal him telle which a gret honour I'11 tell him what a pretty trade is his,
be, false Is to ben a fals flateryng lymytour I Beggar and flattering limitor that he is !"
Mine host cries out, "Peace, no more of this !" and begs the Friar to go on.
O NCE upon a time there was an archdeacon in my country who punished with great severity
all kinds of misdoings.
He had a Summoner ready to his hand, who worked under this strict archdeacon with equal
severity. A slyer fellow was there none in England; and most cunningly he watched the people
in secret, so as to find out how best to catch them tripping.
I shall not spare this Summoner here, though he be mad as a hare with it all; for Summoners have
no jurisdiction over us Friars, you know, and never will have, all the days of their lives. We are out of
their power I
[" So are other refuse of the people besides Friars!" interrupted the angry Summoner, when he
"Peace, with bad luck to you I" cries mine host, also getting angry; "and let the Friar tell his
story. Now tell on, master, and let the Summoner gale t]
This false thief-this Summoner-used to find out, in all sorts of underhand ways; what people
did, right or wrong, by spying-in secret, and by keeping people to spy for him. And when he found
out anybody doing wrong, he would threaten to summon them before the court, and they used to bribe
him with money to let them off. If they were too poor to bribe him, he would make the archdeacon
punish them; but if they had enough money to give him, he did not care how many bad things they
did, and never told the archdeacon. This was very unjust and wicked, as it encouraged people to do
wrong; and the Summoner grew quite rich in this evil way, for he kept all the money himself, and
did not give it to the archdeacon. He was, you see, a thief as well as a spy;
For in this world nys dogge for the bowe: No dog on earth that's trained to the bow
whole That can an hurt dere from an hol y-knowe, Can a hurt deer from an unhurt one know,
better than this cunning man knew what everybody was about,-
because And for that was the fruyt of al his rent, And, since that was the source of all his pelf,
there } Therfore theron he set all his entent. To winning gain he did devote himself.
befell, once And so bifel, that oones on a day And so it chanc'd that, once upon a day,
This Sompnour, ever wayting on his pray, This Summoner, ever waiting for his prey,
-* Houses of ill-fame were exempted from ecclesiastical to squeak.when he feels the shoe pinch, let him !'
interference on the ground that they were a necessary evil, I "A dog trained for shooting with the bow, part of
and might be thus better surveill. whose education consisted in following the stricken deer
t Gale--sing: it means here, 'If the Summoner likes only, and separating it from the herd."-Bell.
THE FRIAR'S TALE. 59
Rod forth to sompne a widew, an old ribibe,* Rode forth to summon a widow, a poor soul,
Feynyng a cause, for he wolde han a bribe. And feign'd a cause,that he might get a dole.
"saw And happede that he say before him ryde It happened that he saw before him ride
"A gay yeman under a forest syde. A yeoman gay, along the forest side.
"A bowe he bar, and arwes bright and kene; A bow he bore, and arrows, bright and keen;
short cloak He had upon a courtepy of grene ; He had on a short upper cloak of green;
head An hat upon his heed with frenges blake. A black-fringed hat upon his head was set.
Sir, quoth this Sompnour, heyl and wel The Summoner cried out, Hail, sir, and well
overtaken overtake, met!"
fellow Welcome, quod he, and every good felawe. "Welcome," quoth he, "and every one as
ridest good 1
too, Whider ridestow under this grene schawe ? And whither ridest thou in this green wood ?
(Sayde this yiman) wiltow fer to-day ? (The yeoman said) and is it far you go ?"
This Sompnour himt answer and sayde, Nay: The Summoner made answer, and said, No:
purpose Here faste by, quod he, is myn entent Close handy here my errand lies," quoth he,
raise To ryden, for to reysen up a rent I ride to raise a rent that's owing me,
duty That longith to my lordes duetd. Belonging to my master's property."
"Art thou a bailiff, then ? asks the yeoman. The Summoner was ashamed to say what he
really was, so he said, Yes."
Good," said the stranger. "Thou art a bailiff and I am another. Let us be friends. I am
unknown in this country; but if you will come and see me in my country, I have plenty of gold and
silver in my chest, and I will share it all with you."
Thank you," said the greedy Summoner; and they shook hands, and promised to be staunch
friends and sworn brothers till they died And thus they rode on together.
The Summoner, who was always inquisitive and asking questions, was very anxious to know where
he could find this amiable new friend, who was so free with his money.
Brother, quoth he, where now is your dwellyng, Brother," quoth he, your dwelling now,
seek Another day if that I schulde yow seeche? If I some future day the place could reach ?"
Notice the cunning yeoman's answer:-
This yiman him answered in softe speche: The yeoman answered him in softest speech:
Brother, quod he, fer in the north" centre, Brother," quoth he, far in the north
where Wheras I hope somtyme I schal the se; Whereat I hope sometime I shall thee see.
sarate, Er we depart I schal the so wel wisse, Before we part I shall direct thee so,
s thou, That of myn house ne schaltow never misse. Thou canst not fail my dwelling-place to know."
Ribibe: a shrill musical instrument-metaphorical Christians, was in the north, and after their conversion, as
for a shrill old woman, their converters adopted their name, only giving the place
t Tyrwhitt. a Christian character, it was natural that the people
I The hell of the Teutonic race, before they were should retain their original notion of its position.-Bell.
60 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
You will see later why he was so anxious to bring the Summoner to his own dwelling.
you Now, brother, quod this Sompnour, I yow "Now, brother," said the Summoner, "I pray,
rile Teche me, while that we ryden by the way, Teach me while we are riding on our way,
since, be Syn that ye ben a baily as am I, Since you a bailiff are, as well as I,
subtilty Som subtilte, as tel me faithfully Some subtle craft, and tell me faithfully
my In myn office how I may most* wynne. How in my office I most gold may win,
refrain And spare not for consciens or for synne, And hide not aught for conscience or for sin,
But, as my brother, tel me how do ye ? But as my brother, tell me how do ye ?"
The strange yeoman is delighted at these questions, and you will see that in his answer he pretends
to describe himself, but he is really describing all the Summoner does I
Now, by my trouthe, brother myn, sayde he, "Now,by mytroth, mybrother dear,"quoth he,
As I schal telle the a faithful tale. "I will be frank with you, and tell you all:
smarrlw' } My wages ben ful street and eek ful smale; The wages that I get are very small,
severe My lord to me is hard and dangerous, My master's harsh to me, and stingy too,
laborious And myn office is ful laborous, And hard is all the work I have to do;
And therfor by extorciounst I lyve. And therefore by extortion do I live.
give ForsothI take al that men wil me yive, Forsooth, I take what any one will give;
lcuning } Algate by sleighte or by violence, Either by cunning or by violence
Fro yer to yer I wynne my despence, From year to year I snatch my year's expense.
I can no better telle faithfully. No better can I tell you honestly."
Now, certes, quod this Sompnour, so fare I. "Now, truly," cried the Summoner, "so do II
knows I spare not to take, God it woot, I never spare to take a thing, God wot,
unless But-if it be to hevy or to hoot.+' Unless it be too heavy or too hot.
get What I may gete in counsel prively, What I can grasp by counsel privily,
conscience No more consciens of that have I; No scruples in that matter trouble me.
were it Nere myn extorcions I might not lyven, Without extortion I could ne'er subsist,
shrine } Ne of such japes I wil not be schriven. So in my pranks I ever will persist;
Stomak ne conscience know I noon. Stomach nor conscience truly I have none.
curse I schrew thes schrifte-fadres, everichoon. I hate all these shrift-fathers, every one !
Wel be we met, by God and by seint Jame! Well met are we, our ways are just the same.
But, leve brother, telle me thy name ? But, my dear fellow, tell me now your name?"
Quod this Sompnour. Right in this mene- The Summoner entreated him. Meanwhile
began This yeman gan a litel for to smyle. That yeoman broke into a little smile.
wilt thou Brothir, quod he, woltow that I the telle ? Brother," he answered, wilt thou have me
Tyrwhitt. A proverbial expression,
t Money forced out of people by threats or ill-usage. Tyrwhitt.
THE FRIAR'S TALE. 61
I am a feend, my dwelling is in helle, -I am a fiend, my dwelling is in hell,
here And her I ryde about my purchasing, And here I ride about my purchasing
know To wite where men wol yive me eny thing. To know what men will give me anything.
the effect My purchase is theffect of all my rent. Such gains make up the whole of all my rent.
Loke how thou ridest for the same entent Look how thou journeyest for the same intent
To wynne good, thou rekkist never how, To reap thy gains, thou carest never how I
Right so fare I, for ryde I wolde new Just so I do-for I will journey now
prey Unto the worldes ende for a praye. Unto the wide world's end to get my prey."
a, A, quod the Sompnour, benedicile, what say "Mercy!" the Summoner cried, "what is't
ye? ye say?"
He is rather aghast at this awful confession, bad as he admits himself to be. He had sincerely
thought it was a real yeoman; and when he says to him, with a strange and evil smile, Shall I tell
you ?-I am a fiend, my dwelling is in hell," the horrible candour strikes him dumb for a minute. He
rather wishes he wasn't his sworn brother. But he very soon gets over this, thinking of the gold and
silver, and begins to talk quite friendly.
truly I wende ye were a yemen trewely: "I thought you were a yeoman, verily:
shape Ye have a mannes schap as wel as I. Ye have a human shape as well as I."
"Have you then a distinct form in hell like what I see ?"
"No, certainly," says the fiend, there we have none, but we take a form when we will."
it seem to Or ellis make yow seme that we ben schape Or else we make you think we have a shape,
Somtyme like a man, or like an ape; Sometimes like to a man, or like an ape;
Or lik an aungel can I ryde or go; Or like an angel I can ride or go;
It is no wonder thing though it be so. It is not wondrous that it should be so."
"Why, a common conjurer can deceive you any day, and I have tenfold more cunning than a
"Why," said the Summoner, quite interested, do you have several shapes, and not only one ?"
We borrow whatever shape is best to catch our prey," said the evil one.
What makes you take all that trouble ?" says the Summoner.
dear Ful many a cause, lieve sir Sompnour. "Full many a cause, my good sir Summoner,"
Sayde this feend. But al thing hath a tyme; Replied the fiend. But all things have a time;
The day is short, and it is passed prime,t The day is short, and it is now past prime,
won And yit ne wan I nothing in this day; Yet have I not won anything to-day;
attend I wol entent to winning, if I may, I'll give my mind to winning, if I may,
And not entende our things to declare. And not our privy doings to declare."
For you see the fiend was more intent upon his business than even the Summoner. However, he
Tyrwhitt ; more forcible. t The first quarter of the artificial day: i.e. 9 o'clock.
62 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
goes on to say, that sometimes he is obliged to work under the great God, without whose sufferance he
could never have any power at all.
God's For somtyme we ben Goddis instruments "Sometimes God uses us as instruments
means And menes to don his comaundementes, And means, to work out His all-wise intents:
He chooses When that Him list, upon His creatures, When on us this divine command He lays,
various In divers acts and in divers figures. We serve in divers forms and divers ways."
But you needn't be in such a hurry," he says to the Summoner. You'll know more than you
like perhaps before long."
one, jest But oon thing warne I the, I wol not jape, "But of one thing I warn thee, not in play,
kanw } Thou wilt algates wite how we ben schape. That thou shalt know what we are like, some
Thou schalt herafterward, my brother deere, Thou shalt hereafter come, my brother dear,
come, learn Cor where the nedith not of me to leere,* Whither thou wilt not need of me to hear;
own For thou schalt by thin oughn experience For thou shalt learned be-nay, specially wise
be able, )
to consel,- Conne,t in a chayer, reden of this sentence By self-experience-in these mysteries:
better, Bet than Virgile + when he was on lyve, Wiser than Virgil ere from earth he past,
quickly Or Daunt also; Now let us ryde blyve, Or Dante either. Let us now ride fast,
For I wol holde company with the For I will keep companionship with thee
Til it be so that thou forsake me. Till thou desirest to depart from me."
A pleasant prospect! However, the Summoner was quite content, so long as the silver and gold were
shared with him. He declares he will never forsake his sworn brother, though-he be a fiend, and pro-
mises to share all his own goods with the evil one I adding-
thee Tak thou thi part, and that men wil the "Take thou thy part, whatever men will give,
mine, live And I schal myn, thus may we bothe lyven; And I will do the same, so both shall live ;
either And if that eny of us have more than other, And if the one get more than doth the other,
Let him be trewe, and part it with his brother. Let him be true and share it with his brother."
I graunte, quod the devel, by my fay. "I grant it," said the devil, "by my fay."
r:de And with that word thay riden forth hir way. With that, they rode together on their way.
As they proceeded they saw right at the town's end a cart laden with hay. The road was heavy
with mud, so that the cart stuck. The carter smote his horses, and cried like mad, Hait! go on !
Tyrwhitt. Morris has 'nothing for to leere.' The text has Heit, Scot, heit, biok, what spare ye
t This verse means, 'You shall hereafter understand for the stones ?' and it is singular that 'hayt' is still the
this subject so well, as to be able to give lectures on it, word used by waggoners in Norfolk to make their horses
as a professor in his chair ;' chayer being the term for go on ; while Scot remains one of the commonest names
pulpit or professor's chair; conne part of the verb conne, for a horse in Norfolk and Suffolk, The Reeve's horse in
to know cr be able; and rede, to counsel. The evil one is the Prologue is called Scot also. Brock means a badger,
sarcastic on the special wickedness of the Summoner. hence applied to a grey horse. The carter presently calls
: Alluding to Eneas' visit to infernal regions (6th book this horse 'myn oughne lyard (grey) boy.'
of 'Eneid') and Dante's 'Inferno.'
THE FRIAR'S TALE. 63
The fiend take you-what a labour I have with you. The fiend have it all, cart, horse, and
The Summoner, hearing this, remembered he was to have half of all the evil one's goods, and
whispered to him, Don't you hear what the carter says ? Take it all quick-he has given it you-hay,
and cart, and the three horses !"
"Nay," said the evil one, "he does not mean what he says. He is only in a passion. Ask him
yourself, or else wait and see what comes next."
The carter whacked his horses, and they began to stoop and pull the cart out, and then he
said, Hait! bless you-good Dobbins-well pulled, my own grey boy Now is my cart out of the
"There, brother, what did I tell you ? says the fiend. Now, you see the churl said one thing,
but he thought another. Let us go on; I shall get nothing here."
With that they went a little way outside the town. The Summoner began to whisper to his com-
panion, Here there lives an old beldame who would almost as soon lose her head as give up a penny
of her goods. But I mean to have twelve pence* out of her, though she should go mad; or else I'll haul
her up before the court. And yet, all the same, I know no harm of her. But if you want a lesson
how to extort your gains in your country, you may take example of me!"
The Summoner goes and raps at the old widow's gate. Come out, you old crone. I dare say you
are in mischief there!" he cried.
"Who knocks ?" said the old woman. "God save you, sir. What is your will ?"
"I've a bill of summons against you. On pain of cursing, see that you are to-morrow before the
archdeacon, to answer to the court."
God help me," says the poor old woman, in great distress. I have been ill a long time, and
cannot walk so far, and to ride would kill me, my side pricks so. May I not ask for a libel,J and
answer there by my procurator whatever there is against me ?"
Yes," says the Summoner, "pay me-let's see-twelve pence, and I will let you off. I shall not
get much profit out of that. My master gets it, and not I. Make haste and give me twelve pence-I
Twelve pence !" said the poor widow. Now, heaven help me out of this. I have not so much
as twelve pence in the whole wide world. You know that I am old and poor. Rather give me alms."
"Nay, then," cries the hard-hearted Summoner, I will not let you off, even if you die of it."
"Alas!" says she, "I am not guilty."
"Pay me !" cried he, or I will carry off your new pan besides, which you owe me, for when you
were summoned to the court before, I paid for your punishment!"
"You lie," cried the poor old woman. "I was never summoned before to that court in all my life;
and I have done no wrong. May the evil one catch you for your wickedness, and carry you away, and
my pan too !"
"* The value of twelve pence may be estimated by the t There was then no means of conveyance for people
relative value of food and labour. Bell says, Twelve who could not walk except horseback.
pence would have bought two dozen hens, or three gallons $ A libel, a copy of the information or indictment. A
of red wine, or hired a dozen common labourers for twelve libel is still the expression in the ecclesiastical courts.-
days," but surely he means a dozen labourers for one day, Bell. The abuses, we see, have led to another interpre-
or one labourer for twelve days. station of the word libel-as libellous.
64 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
And when the fiend heard her curse the Summoner on her knees, he came forward and said,
" Now, good mother, are you in earnest when you say that ?"
May the devil fetch him, pan and all, before he dies, if he doesn't repent!"
Repent!" cries the wicked Summoner, "I don't mean to repent anything I do, I can tell you. I
wish I had everything you possess besides-even every rag you have on!"
"Now, brother," says the evil one, don't be angry; for you and this pan are mine by right.
This very night you shall go with me to hell, and you will soon know more about our mysteries than a
master of divinity "
caught And with that word the foule fend him hente; With that the foul fiend took him for his own,
Body and soule, he with the devyl wente, Body and soul he's with the devil gone,
their Wher as the Sompnours han her heritage; Whither these Summoners have their heritage
made And God, that maked after His ymage And God, who did create in His image
Mankynde, save and gyde us alle and some, Mankind, protect and guide us all our days,
grant And leene this Sompnour good man to become. And lead this Summoner here to mend his
Lordings, I could have told you, if I had time, all the pains and punishments which came to this
wicked Summoner in hell. But let us all pray to be kept from the tempter's power. The lion lies in
wait always to slay the innocent, if he can. Dispose your hearts ever to withstand the evil fiend who
longs to make you his slaves! He will not tempt you above what you can bear, for Christ will be your
champion and your knight.* And pray that this Summoner with us, may repent of his misdeeds before
the devil carries him away.
floteo bfi the Mgt.a
LEGEVDS of the kind told by the Friar were very popular in the medieval times, believed in by some as they were
laughed at by others. Mr. Wright conjectures that this tale was translated from some old fabliau. The Friar evidently
counted on the unpopularity of this class of men, the Summoners, when he held his fellow-traveller up to general ignominy
in this way. It seems a breach of civility and fair-play to modern minds, but the Summoners were in reality hated
universally for their extortion or for their secret power among the people. As you have seen, the host begins by calling
for justice, but the popular feeling was but too clearly on the Friar's side from the first, and mine host shares it. (Vide
notes, pp. 31, 57.)
This Tale would appear by no means to discourage swearing; but mark the distinction drawn between a hearty,
deliberate malediction, and the rapid unmeaning oath which sowed the common talk. The lesson was probably the
more forcible through the absence of any hypercritical censure of strong language '-censure which would have been
vain indeed, in an age when common oaths were thought as much less of, as positive cursing was more of, than in the
The rough moral deduced was admirably suited to the coarse and ignorant minds of the lower orders.
This singular (to us) term as a-plied to Christ, was more valiant for her sake. The term is both picturesque
of course borrowed fiom the popular notion of warfare, and forcible as an appeal to the common understanding, in
when each knight, inspired by some fair inciter, was the which the Friars were naturally adepts.
Tbt Vale' Tafte,
T HIS Sompnour in his styrop up he stood, Up in his stirrups did the SVmmoner start,
mad Upon the Frere his herte was so wood, For with this Friar such rage was in his heart,
quaked That lyk an aspen leef he quok for ire. That like an aspen-leaf he shook for-ire.
Lordyngs, quod he, but oon thing I desire; Lordings," cried he, "but one thing I desire,
I yow biseke that of your curtesye, And I beseech you of your courtesy,
Syn ye han herd this false Frere lye, Since you have heard this falsest Friar lie,
pray suffer As suffrith me, I may my tale telle. Suffer me, pray, my story now to tell.
This Frere bosteth that he knowith helle, This Friar boasts of how he knoweth hell;
And God it wot, that is but litel wonder,* Heav'n knows, that if he does it is no wonder,
Freres and feendes been but litel asonder.t For fiends and Friars are not far asunder."
Oxford Sir Clerk of Oxenford, our hoste sayde, Sir Clerk of Oxford," then our landlord said
Ye ryde as still and coy as doth a made "You ride as shy and quiet as a maid
Were newe spoused, syttyng at the bord ; Newly espous'd, who sits beside the board;
This day ne herde I of your mouth a word. All day we have not had from you a word.
sophism I trow ye study about som sophyme. I guess, some subtle lore you're studying.
But Salomon saith, everything hath tyme. But Solomon says there's time for everything.
be For Goddis sake as beth of better cheere, Prithee, rouse up, and be of better cheer,
study It is no tyme for to stodye hiere. It is no time for your deep studies here.
"Do not give us a sermon, or something so learned that we cannot understand it.
Spekith so playn at this tyme, we yow praye, Speak to us very plainly, now, we pray,
That we may understonde that ye saye. That we may understand the whole you say."
Tyrwhitt. have been but a boy, which would account for his diffident
t The Summoner's Tale (omitted) follows here. demeanour: yet his education and knowledge might war-
I Students then entered the university at a far younger rant mine host's fear of his being too learned for them.
age than at the present day, almost indeed when boys now Table: a board upon trestles.
enter the public schools, so that the Clerk of Oxford may
65 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
This worthy Clerk answered pleasantly, Host, I am under your orders, so I will obey you, and tell
you a tale which I learned at Padua, of a worthy'clerk, who has been proved by his words and work.
coffi He is now deed and nayled in his chest, "Now he is dead, and nailed in his chest,
give Now God yive his soule wel good rest I I pray to God to give his spirit rest !
Fraunces Petrark,* the laureat poete, Francis Petrarch, the poet laureate,
was named Highte this clerk, whos rethorique swete This clerk was called, whose rhetoric sweet did
Italy Enlumynd al Ytail of poetrie, Illume all Italy with poetry,
As Liniant did of philosophies, As Linian did with his philosophy,
law Or lawue, or other art particulere; And law, and other noble arts as well;
But deth, that wol not suffre us duellen here, But death, that will not suffer us here to dwell,
eye But as it were a twyncling of an ye, But, as it were, a twinkling of an eye,
Hem bothe hath slayn, and alle schul we dye. Hath slain them both, and we, too, all shall die."
T O the west of Italy there is a territory called Saluces,+ which once belonged to a marquis very much
beloved by all his people. They all obeyed and respected him, both lords and commoners, and he was
Besides, he was the noblest born of any one in Lombardy-handsome, and strong, and young-
courteous to all, and discreet enough, except in some things where he was not quite perfect and his
name was Walter.
The worst fault of him was the careless sort of life he led. He did nothing but hunt, and hawk, and
amuse himself, instead of attending to more serious duties. This made his people very sorry, and they
thought if Walter had a wife he would get more steady, and not waste his time so sadly.
One day all his people went in a great crowd to see him; and the wisest one among them said-" O
noble marquis, your goodness gives us courage to come to you and tell you what we want. Do not be
angry, but deign to listen to us, for we all love you. The only thing needed to make us quite happy is
for you to marry. We pray you, then, to let us find you a nice wife, and we will choose the noblest and
best in the land."
Walter listened, and then answered-" My dear people, you know I am very comfortable as I am, and
enjoy my liberty: I don't want a wife. But if it makes you any happier, I will try and get one as soon
as I can. As for choosing me one, pray don't take so much trouble. I would much rather do that for
myself. Only remember that when I am married, you must always show the greatest honour and respect
to whoever she may be. For since I consent to give up my freedom to please you, you must not find
fault with any one whom I choose."
"* These are the lines on which the supposition is based natural philosopher, who flourished about 1378."-B.
that Petrarch and Chaucer had met. $ Saluzzo, a marquisate near Mount Viso: Lat. Vesulus.
"t "Joannes of Lignano, near Milan, a canonist and
THE CLERK'S TALE. 67
All the people promised they would be quite content with any wife he liked, for they were so much
afraid he would not marry at all if they didn't.
Then, to make quite sure, they begged him to fix exactly the day when the wedding should take
place, and he did so, promising to get everything ready, according to their request. And the people
thanked him on their knees and went away.
N OW, near the marquis's palace, there was a village in which dwelt a poor man-poorer than the
poorest of his neighbours. His name was Janicula, and he had a young daughter who was fair enough
to see, called Griselda.
But, in beauty of mind, Griselda was the fairest maiden under the sun. She had been brought up
very humbly, and more often drank water than wine, and she worked so hard that she was never idle.
But though this mayden tender were of age, But though this maiden was as yet so young,
breast, Yet in the brest of her virginity Under her girlish innocence there lay
mature, Ther was enclosed rype and sad corrage; A brave and serious spirit, ever strong;
love And in gret reverence and charity And with good heart she laboured day by
Hir olde pore fader fostered sche; To tend and help her father, poor and grey.
feld A fewe scheep spynnyng on the feld sche kepte, Some sheep while spinning in the fields she
would not be Sche nolde not ben ydel til sche slepte. For never was she idle till she slept.
came And when sche hom-ward com, sche wolde And she would often, as she homeward sped,
worts Wortis or other herbis tymes ofte, Bring with her herbs and cresses gathered
chop, boil The which sche schred and seth for her Which for a meal she fain would seethe and
living lyvynge, shred.
And made hir bed ful hard, and nothing softe. Hard was her bed and frugal was her fare,
ever, up- And ay sche kept hir padres lif on lofte Keeping her father with untiring care,
With every obeissance and diligence, And all obedience, and all diligence
father's That child may do to fadres reverence. That child can give to filial reverence.
On this poor hard-working Griselda, the marquis Walter had often cast his eyes when he happened to
pass her while hunting. And when he looked at her it was with no foolish thoughts, but with serious
admiration for her virtue. He had never seen any one so young who was so good, and he made up his
mind if ever he married anybody he would marry her.
So, after the people's visit, according to his promise to them, Walter began to prepare beautiful dresses
"* Corage is used in several senses: impulse (as in the may be implied. The word is derived from the Latin cor,
opening lines of the Prologue), feeling, or disposition the heart.
68 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
and jewels, brooches and rings of gold, and everything proper for a great lady. And the wedding-day
arrived, but no one had seen any bride, or could think where she was to come from !
At last all the feast was ready, all the palace beautifully adorned, upstairs and downstairs-hall and
chambers. The noble guests arrived who were bidden to the wedding-lords and ladies richly arrayed-
and still there was no bride !
The marquis made them all follow him into the village, to the sound of music.
Now, Griselda, who knew nothing of all this, went that morning to fetch water from the well; and
she heard say that this was to be the marquis's wedding-day.
So she hastened home, and thought to herself she would get through her work as fast as she could,
and try to see something of the sight.
"I will stand with the other girls at the door," she said to herself innocently, and I shall see the
new marchioness, if she passes by this way to the castle."
Just as she crossed the door, the marquis came up, and called her.
Griselda set down her water-cans beside the door in an ox's stall,* and, dropping on her knees,t waited
for the great lord to speak.
The marquis said gravely, Where is thy father, Griselda ? and Griselda answered humbly, He
is all ready here," and hurried in to fetch him.
Then the marquis took the poor man by the hand, saying, Janicula, I shall no longer hide the wish
of my heart. If you will consent, I will take your daughter for my wife before I leave this house. I
know you love me, and are my faithful liegeman. Tell me, then, whether you will have me for your son-
This sudden offer so astonished the poor man that he grew all red, and abashed, and trembling. He
could say nothing but-" My lord, it is not for me to gainsay your lordship. Whatever my lord
yet Yit wol I, quod this markys softely, "Yet," said the marquis, softly, "fain would I
That in thy chambre, I and thou and sche That in thy chamber I and thou and she
knowest Have a collacioun, and wostow why ? Confer together-dost thou wonder why ?
For I wol aske if that it hir will be For I would ask her whether she will be
according to To be my wyf, and reule hir after me; My wife-and rule herself to pleasure me;
done And al this schal be doon in thy presence, And in thy presence all things shall be said:
hearing I wol nought speke out of thyn audience. Behind thy back no contract shall be made."
And while the three were talking in the chamber all the people came into the house without,+ and
wondered among themselves how carefully and kindly she kept her father. But poor Griselda, who had
never seen such a sight before, looked quite pale. She was not used to such grand visitors.
"* See note + below, in the case of so poor a man as Janicula, probably there
t The courtsey of modem times is all that remains of was but one covered room, hall or chamber, used for
the old custom of kneeling, any purpose of shelter. So when the guests came into
$ The house without. In these early times, dwelling- the house without, the enclosure is meant, within which a
places were usually built within a court. The court was, single hut stood, built of planks. Janicula's ox (used for
among the poor, a spot enclosed by a hedge or fence of draught, as now in Italy) inhabited the hut with them, and
sticks, and often a dry ditch; in the middle of this en- Griselda sets down her can in the stall when she enters the
closure or house, the hall in which they lived stood--a hut. In and around Naples we may still see the turkeys,
mere covered room. The chamber or bower, for sleeping pigs, and donkeys sharing the hovels with the peasants in
and privacy, was a second erection within the court; but, this miserable way.
V. i I - I-- LT e~r
'This is enough, Grisilde myn, quod he.'
THE CLERK'S TALE. 69
This is what the marquis said to her.
Griselda, it pleases your father and me that I should marry you, and I suppose you will not be
unwilling.* But first I must ask you, since it is to be done in such a hurry, will you say yes now, or will
you think it over? Are you ready to obey me in all things when you are my wife, whether I am kind
to you or not ? and never to say no when I say yes-either by word or by frowns ? Swear that, and I will
swear to marry you."
Wondering at all this, and trembling with fear, Griselda answered-
"My lord, I am quite unworthy of the great honour you offer me; but whatever my lord wishes I
will consent to. And I will swear never, so far as I know, to disobey you-not even if you wish to kill
me, though I don't want to die."
That is enough, my Griselda," said Walter, and he went gravely out at the door, and showed her to
the people. This is my wife, who stands here," he said: "honour and love her, whoever loves me."
Then, so that she might not enter his castle in her poor gown, he bade all the gentlewomen robe
her at once in beautiful clothes; and though these smart ladies did not much like touching the old
clothes she had on, still they stript them all off her, and clad her all new and splendidly, from head
Then they combed and dressed her hair, which was quite loose and disarranged, and with their
delicate fingers they placed a crown on her head, and covered her with jewels, great and small. They
hardly knew her, so beautiful she looked when she was thus richly attired.
The marquis put a ring on her finger, which he had brought on purpose, and set her on a snow-
white horse; and she was conducted, with great rejoicings, to the palace, where the day was spent in
feasting and merriment till the sun set.t
In short, heaven so favoured the new marchioness, that in a little time you would never have guessed
she was of so humble birth; she might have been brought up in an emperor's hall, and not in a hut
with oxen. The people who had known her from her childhood could hardly believe she was Janicle's
daughter, she was so changed for the better.
Moreover, her virtue and gentle dignity made her beloved by everybody, so that her fame was
spread throughout all the country, and people even took long journeys to come and look upon her.
Walter had not a fault to find with her. She made him happy by her excellence and her wifely
homeliness, just as she made the people happy by her kindness and cleverness in redressing their
G RISELDA had a little girl at last, which was a great joy to them both, and to all the people. But
Walter had a great longing to put his wife to the test-to see whether she was really as meek and patient
and submissive as she seemed.
I know not why he wanted to do this, for he had often tried her in little ways before, and had found
On the Continent, even at the present day, the bride Walter's question, "Wol ye assent, or elles yow avyse ?"
is expected to assent to the bridegroom chosen by her gave her the chance to refuse.
parents. Walter treated Griselda with especial conside- t In the 14th century it was the custom for everybody to
ration and respect by consulting her. Skeat quotes the go to bed with the sun. Theyrose in the morning at 4 or
legal formula of refusal, Le roy s'avisera, to show that 5, had breakfast at 6, dinner at Io or ii, and supper about 6.
70 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
her perfect; and for my part I think it is a cruel deed to grieve and torment a wife who does not deserve
it, for the sake of needless proof.
However, Walter did as follows. One night, while the baby was still very young, he came to her,
looking stern and troubled; she was all alone, and he said, Griselda, you have not forgotten the day when
I took you out of your poor home. Well, although you are very dear to me, to my people you are not
dear; they feel it a great shame to be the subjects of one who came of such mean rank. And since thy
daughter was born they have murmured so greatly that I cannot disregard them, so I must do with the
baby as the people choose, if I want to live in peace with them all. Yet what I must do is much against
my will, and I will not do it without your consent; but I pray you to show me now how patient you
can be, even as you swore to be, pn our marriage day."
When Griselda heard this she did not know that it was all untrue,and she said calmly, My lord, all
shall be as you will. My child and I, we are both yours, living or dying. Do as you choose. For
my part, there is nothing I fear to lose, butyou."
The marquis was overjoyed to hear that, but he concealed his pleasure, and kept a very stern and sad
face, and presently departed.
He went to a man, to whom he gave certain directions how to act; then he sent the man to
This man was a sergeant,* the trusted servant of the marquis, and he stalked into Griselda's chamber.
"Madam," he said, "you must forgive me if I do what I am compelled to by my lord. This child I am
ordered to take away," and the man made as though he would kill it at once.
ill-fame Suspecious was the defame of this man, Suspicious of repute was this stern man,
Suspect his face, suspect his word also, Suspicious in his look, and speech also,
Suspect the tyme in which he this bigan. So was the time when he the deed began.
Allas hir daughter, that she lovede so, Alas! her baby, that she loved so,
leted } Sche wende he wold han slayen it right tho; Would he destroy it ere he turned to go ?-
neverthe-} But natheles sche neyther weep ne sikede, And yet she did not weep, she was resigned
Conformyng hir to that the marquis likede. To all the wishes of her master's mind.
to speak But atte last speke sche bigan, To say a few meek words she then began,
And mekely sche to the sergeant preyde, And for one boon she pitifully pray'd,
So as he was a worthy gentil man, That as he was a kind and worthy man
might That she most kisse hir child er that it She might but kiss her baby ere it died.
lap And in hir barmt this litel child sche leyde, And in her lap the little child she laid,
With ful sad face, and gan the child to blesse, With mournful face, and did the baby bless,
began, kiss And lullyd it, and after gan it kesse. And lull'd it with how many a soft caress!
And then she said, in her gentle voice, Farewell, my child; I shall never see thee again; but since
I have marked thee with the cross, may He who died for us all bless thee I To him, little child, I give
thy soul, for this night thou shalt die for my sake."
Sergeant and servant are doublets.-Skeat. Pro- Sergeant at one time meant squire to a prince or
bably he was a cross between a highwayman and a soldier, nobleman, t Tyrwhitt.
THE CLERK'S TALE. 71
Truly, even to a nurse, this would have been hard to bear, but to a mother how far more
grievous Still she was so firm and brave that she soon gave up the baby to the sergeant, saying,
"Take the little, tiny maid, and go, do my lord's command. But one thing I pray you, that when it is
dead you will bury the little body in some place where birds and beasts will not mangle it."
The sergeant would not promise her even that, but carried the child off with him.*
He took the babe to the marquis, and told him exactly all that Griselda had said. The marquis
certainly showed some little feeling and regret; yet he kept to his purpose, as men will when they
are determined. He then bade the sergeant wrap up the child softly and tenderly, and carry it in secret,
in a box or the skirt of a garment, to Bologna, where dwelt his sister, Countess of Panik.t She
would foster it kindly; but whom the child belonged to was to be kept from all men's knowledge.
The sergeant did as he was commanded, and the marquis watched his wife to see if there should be
any rebellion in her manner. But she did not change. She was always kind, and loving, and serious,
and as busy and humble as ever. Not a word she spoke of the poor baby.
A FEW years afterwards, Griselda had another child-a little boy. This was still more joy to the
people and to Walter than the other baby, because it was the heir.
When the babe was two years old, the marquis took it into his head to tempt again his poor wife.
Ah! how needless to torture her but married men care for no limits when they find a patient wife !
Wife," said the marquis, I have told you how discontented are the people with our marriage;
and since the boy's birth their anger has been greater. Their murmuring destroys all my comfort and
courage. They grumble, because when I am dead the blood of Janicle shall succeed to my heritage; and
I cannot disregard the words they say So I think I will serve him as I served his sister; but do
not suddenly fly out with grief. Be patient, I beg of you, and command your feelings."
Griselda answered, sadly and calmly, when she heard this-
I have, quod sche, sayd thus, and ever schal, "I have," quoth she, "said this, and ever shall,
will not I wol no thing, ne nil no thing certain, I wish not, nor will wish, it is certain,
please But as yow list: nought greveth me at al, But as you choose: I grieve me not at all,
Though that my daughter and my sone be Although my daughter and my son be slain
say At your comaundement: this is to sayn, At your commandment: nor will I complain
I have not had no part of children twayne, That I have had no part in children twain,
sickness But first syknes, and after wo and payne. But sickness first, and then a bitterer pain.
be, master Ye ben oure lord: doth with your owne thing "Thou art our lord: do, then, with what is thine
ask, advice Right as yow list: axith no red of me; E'en as thou wilt: ask not assent of me;-
For as I left at hom al my clothing For as I left at home all that was mine
It was common, nay usual, in medieval times for t Panico, Petrarch; Panigo, Boccace. I cannot be sure
noble children to be put out to nurse in the family of of the situation of this place, but there is a certain Paganico
some equal or dependent, for purposes of security. The near Urbino, marked in old maps as a castle or fortress,
removal of Walter's children from the mother was not an which is not too far from Bologna to be possibly the place
outrage; but concealing their fate from her was. referred to. A river Panaro flows between Modena and
72 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
Whan I first com to yow, right so, quod sche, WhenI came first to thee, right so," quoth she,
Left I my will and al my liberte, Left I my will and all my liberty,
you And took your clothing; wherfor, I yow And took new habits: wherefore, now, I pray
desire Doth your plesaunce, I wil you're lust obeye. Do but thy pleasure, and I will obey."
If I knew beforehand what your wish was," said poor Griselda, I would do it without delay; but
now that I know your will, I am ready to die if you desire it; for death is nothing compared with your
When the marquis heard that, he cast down his eyes, and wondered how she could endure it all;
and he went forth looking very dreary, but in reality he felt extremely pleased.
The ugly sergeant came again, and took away the little boy : Griselda kissed it and blessed it, only
asking that his little limbs might be kept from the wild beasts and birds; but the sergeant promised
nothing, and secretly took him with great care to Bologna.
The marquis was amazed at her patience; for he knew that, next to himself, she loved her children
best of anything in the world. What could he do more to prove her steadfastness, and faithfulness,
and patience ? But there are some people who, when they have once taken a thing into their head,
will stick to it as if they were bound to a stake. So this marquis made up his mind to try his wife still
He watched her closely, but never could he find any change in her: the older she grew, the more
faithful and industrious she was. Whatever he liked, she liked: there seemed but one will between
them; and, God be thanked, all was for the best.
But all this time the slander against Walter spread far and near; and the people said he had wickedly
murdered both his children, because his wife was a poor woman. For the people had no idea what had
really become of them. And they began to hate Walter instead of loving him, as they had once done;
for a murderer is a hateful name.
Still the marquis was so determined to test his wife, that he cared for nothing else.
When Griselda's daughter was twelve years old, Walter sent secretly to Rome, commanding that
false letters, seeming to come from the Pope, should be made according to his will. These letters, or
'bulls,' were to give him leave to quit his first wife, for the sake of his people, and marry another
woman; but they were none of them really from the Pope: they were all counterfeit and false, made
by Walter's order, to deceive Griselda.
The common people did not know the difference between true letters and false; but when the tidings
arrived, Griselda was very sorrowful; for she loved Walter best of all things, as he very well knew.
judge, sad I deeme that hir herte was ful wo;* Full sure am I her heart was full of wo;
alike, frm But sche, like sad for evermo, But she, as though serene for evermo,
disposed Disposid was, this humble creature, Was ready, in her humbleness of mind,
to eure Th'adversite of fortune al tendure. In all adversity to be resigned.
&_ .. : .. .
And as a lamb sche sitteth meeke and still,
And let this cruel sergeant doon his wille'
THE CLERK'S TALE. 73
Then the marquis sent to the Earl of Panik, who had married his sister, begging him to bring both
his children home, openly and in great honour; but no one was to know whose children they were. He
was to answer no questions-
should But saye the made schuld i-wedded be* But say the maiden should, ere long, be wed
immediately Unto the Markys of Saluce anoon. Unto the Marquis of Saluce so high.
did And as this eorl was prayd, so dede he; And as this earl was pray'd to do, he did,
gone For at day set he on his way is goon And started on his journey speedily
many a one Toward Saluce, and lordes many oon, Towards Saluces, with lordly company
In riche array, this mayden for to guyde, In rich array, this maiden fair to guide,
Hir yonge brother rydyng by hir syde. Her little brother riding by her side.
Arrayed was toward hir marriage And this fresh maid was robed for marriage
maiden, ) This freisshe may, al ful of gemmes clere; Full of clear gems, in goodly raiment rare;
Hir brother, which that seven yer was of age, Her brother, who was seven years of age,
also, manner Arrayed eek ful freissh in his manere; Was in his fashion clad all fresh and fair;
nobleness And thus in gret noblesse and with glad chere, And thus, in splendour, and with joyous air,
their Toward Saluces shaping her journey, Towards Saluces following the way,
their Fro day to day thay ryden in her way. The cavalcade advances day by day.
IN order to put the last trial upon Griselda, to the uttermost proof of her courage, the marquis one
day, before all the household, said to her in a boisterous way-
certainly, Certes, Grisildes, I had y-nough plesaunce "Tis true, Griselda, I was once content
To have yow to my wif, for your goodnesse, To marry you-because you were so good,
truth, And for you're trouthe, and for your obeis- And true, and faithful, and obedient-
nwealt, Nought for your lignage, ne for your richesse; Not for your wealth, nor for your noble blood;
truth But now know I in verray sothfastnesse Still one thing must be clearly understood,
amstaken That in great lordschip, if I wel avyse, That in this rank and riches men so praise
,undry wise Ther is gret servitude in sondry wyse. There is great servitude in many ways.
I may not do, as every ploughman may; "I may not do as every ploughman may:
constrain My poeple me constreignith for to take My people urge me evermore to take
Another wyf, and crien day by day; Another wife, and clamour day by day.
And eek the Pope, rancour for to slake, And now the Pope, their rancour swift to
dare Consentith it, that dar I undertake; Gives glad consent to any change I make;
It was not uncommon in olden times for girls to be married at twelve years of age.
74 GOLDEN KEY TO CHAUCER.
much And.trewely, thus moche I wol yow saye, And more than that-I need not fear to say-
My newe wif is comyng by the waye. My new wife is already on her way.
heart Be strong of hert, and voyde anoon hir Make way for her, be brave, give up her
that And thilke dower that ye broughten me And, see, the dowry that you brought to me
Tak it agayn, I graunt it of my grace. I will restore-I grant it of my grace.
return Retourneth to your fadres house, quod he, Go back unto your father's house," quoth he,
No man may always have prosperity. "No one can always have prosperity.
advise With even heart I rede yow endure With equal spirit suffer weal or woe,
chance The strok of fortune or of adventure. The gifts of chance or luck that come and go."
And sche agayn answer in pacience : And she replied, with perfect patience:
My lord, quod sche, I wot, and wist always, "My lord, I know, and knew always quoth
How that bitwixe your magnificence "Too well, that 'tween your own magnificence
nobody And my poverty, no wight can ne may And my great poverty, there cannot be
Make comparison, it is no nay; Comparison at all, and verily
mnort. } I ne held me neuer digne in no manere I held myself unworthy every way
chaber-i To ben your wif, ne yit your chamberere, To be your wife-or servant-for a day.
And in this house, their ye me lady made, "And in this house wherein ye made me great
(The high God take I for my witness, (High God my witness, who shall haply set
cheer And al-so wisly he my soule glade) Some coming comfort in my altered state),
I never huld me lady ne maistresse, Lady nor mistress never was I yet;
But humble servaunt to your worthinesse, But humble servant to the grace I get:
life And ever schal, while that my lyf may dure, This I shall be, with spirit ever strong,
above Aboven every worldly creature. More than all others, yea, my whole life long.
benignity That ye so long of your benignity "And for your charity in keeping me
nobleness Han holden me in honour and nobleye, In dignity and honour day by day
where Wher as I was not worthy for to be, So many years, unworthy though I be,
thank That thonk I God and yow, to whom I preye Now thank I God and you, to whom I pray
repay For-yeld it yow, their is no more to seye. That He will all your graciousness repay.
go Unto my fader gladly wil I wende, Unto my father cheerfully I wend
And with him duelle unto my lyves ende. To dwell with him from now to my life's end.
Ther I was fostred as a child ful small, "There I was fostered as an infant small,
Til I be deed my lyf their wil I ledc, There till I die my life I will lead through,
clean A widow clene in body, hert, and al: Dwell as an honest widow, heart and all.
maiden- For sith I yaf to yow my maydenhede, For since I gave my girlhood unto you,
"hood And am your trewe wyf, it is no drede, And am your wife, most loving and most true,