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writers selected for notice in this work. Some will think that names are included which would have been better omitted ; others, that names are omitted which ought to have been included. I can only say that I have endeavoured to make as representative and catholic a selection as possible ; and that, in choosing writers for brief notice, I have tried to fix on such as are especially remarkable, not only on account of their intrinsic merit, but as showing the literary tendencies of their time. It is with great regret that many authors of high merit and interest have been altogether left unnoticed; but more names could not have been inserted without destroying the distinctive character of the work.

As strict chronological order has not been adopted in deal. ing with the various authors mentioned, chronological tables giving the leading dates belonging to each chapter have been given in the Contents. These will, it is hoped, be useful for reference.

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Chaucet ; James I. of Scotland, D Cawain Douglas, Sir David

Lyndsay; Mandeviile; Wiclif, Tyndale, Coverdale, Rogers (translations of the Bible); Sir Thomas Malory, More, Latimer, Foxe.

“Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath

Preluded those melodious bursts, that fill
The spacious times of great Elizabeth

With sounds that echo still.”—TENNYSON.

F this book were a history of the English language,

or if it dealt with such writers as have an interest only to those who have made them the subjects of

special study, not a few names would have to be mentioned ere we came to deal with our first really great poet. Literature is a plant of slow and gradual growth : its beginnings, like the source of some great river, are obscure and difficult to trace: it is not till many influences have been at work, and many busy pens employed in moulding and forming the language, that the appearance of a writer who deserves to be ranked as a classic is possible. The authors before Chaucer (be it said with reverence to those zealous antiquaries whose enthusiasm has done so much to make the study of our old literature attractive and profitable) are interesting only for historical reasons: Chaucer is interesting for himself alone, apart from all considerations regarding his influence upon the language, or the admirable representations which his works afford of the social life of his time. His was a genial, sunny nature, Shakespearean in its breadth and sweet placidity; and hence he was able to look human life straight in the face and to hold the mirror up to nature without flinching.

“ All sorts and conditions of men” are described by him with sly humour, and, in general, a strong undercurrent of sympathy: like the character in Terence, he might have said, “I am a man, and think nothing human alien from me.” Had he lived in our day, we cannot doubt that he would have made an admirable novelist had he chosen to employ his pen in that direction. But in addition to his gifts as a story-teller, he was a genuine poet: our first, and still, after the lapse of more than six centuries, one of our greatest. He had the poet's command of language, the poet's ear for rhythm, the poet's love of the beautiful, the poet's love of nature. So great was he, that we have to leap over nearly two centuries ere we come to a poet fit to be mentioned in the same breath with him.

Of the story of Chaucer's life we do not know so much as could be wished, but within the past few years a good deal has been done by earnest students both in the way of finding out new facts and in demolishing traditional fictions. He was the son of a London vintner, and was born about 1340, the date given in all the older biographies, 1328, being now almost universally abandoned as inconsistent with certain other facts in his life. Of his early years almost nothing is known. has been supposed that he studied at Oxford or Cambridge; but this is mere baseless conjecture. At all events, we are safe to imagine that from his childhood he was fond of reading, and improved his opportunities in that direction to the best of his ability. Few, indeed, are the men who neglect books in their youth, and find pleasure in them when they are grown up; and Chaucer's works conclusively prove that he was, for his time, a man of great learning. “The acquaintance,"

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writes Sir Harris Nicolas," he possessed with the classics, with divinity, with astronomy, with so much as was then known of chemistry, and indeed with every other branch of the scholastic learning of the age, proves that his education had been particularly attended to; and his attainments render it impossible to believe that he quitted college at the early period at which persons destined for a military life usually began their career. It was not then the custom for men to pursue learning for its own sake; and the most natural manner of accounting for the extent of Chaucer's acquirements is to suppose that he was educated for a learned profession. The knowledge he displays of divinity would make it more likely that he was intended for the Church than for the Bar, were it not that the writings of the Fathers were generally read by all classes of students."

Whether educated at a university, whether intended for the Church or the Bar (all which conjectures rest on no real basis of fact), it is certain that in 1359 Chaucer accompanied the expedition of Edward III. into France. He was taken prisoner during the campaign, but was promptly released the king paying £16 for his ransom early in 1360. Seven years later we find him one of the king's valets, at the same time receiving a yearly pension of twenty marks in consideration of former and future services. For some time after this his career seems to have been one of unbroken prosperity. From 1370 to 1380 he was employed in no fewer than seven diplomatic services, in which he appears to have acquitted himself well, as indeed the tact and knowledge of human nature shown in his writings would lead us to expect. Of these diplomatic missions, three were to Italy, where Chaucer is supposed by some to have met Petrarch, the most consummate master of poetical form then living, and Boccaccio, that prince of story-tellers, whose gay raillery and cheerful spirit must have been eminently congenial to Chaucer. Whether he became personally acquainted with these great writers is not certain : it is certain that he knew and loved their works, and that they exerted a great influence over his genius. During the same ten years honours and offices were freely showered on him. In 1374 he was appointed comptroller of the customs and subsidy of wools, skins, and tanned hides in the port of London, and about the same time he received other remunerative appointments which gave him an income equivalent to about £1000 a year of our money. In 1382 he was made comptroller of the petty customs, and in 1386 member of Parliament for the shire of Kent. This was the culminating point of his fortunes. His patron, John of Gaunt, was abroad, and his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, showed little favour to the poet, who was deprived of his two comptrollerships. Chaucer seems to have possessed in abundance that “perfect readiness to spend whatever could be honestly got,” which is said to be characteristic of men of letters, and of the ample revenues which he had enjoyed during the preceding years he had probably saved little. In 1388 we find him raising money by transferring the two pensions he enjoyed to another man. In 1389 a gleam of returning prosperity shone on him. He was appointed clerk of the king's works, receiving two shillings a day, equal to £ of our money. This office, however, he did not hold long. By the end of 1391 he had lost it, “and for the next three years his only income was his annuity of £10 from the Duke of Lancaster, and an allowance of 40s., payable half-yearly, for robes as the king's esquire." In 1394 he obtained an annuity of £20 from the king for life, but his pecuniary embarrassments still continued. To them he pathetically alludes in the verses To his Empty Purse:"

“To yow, my Purse, and to noon other wight,

Complayn I, for ye be my lady dere;
I am so sory now that ye been lyght,
For, certes, but yr ye make me hevy chere,
Me were as leef be layd upon my bere.”

By and by, it is satisfactory to be able to say, his purse was made heavier. In 1398 the king made him a grant of a tun of wine a year for life-a suitable donation to a poet who, it should seem, was by no means destitute of convivial qualities.

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