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And as a lyon he his eyis kest. (a)
Full many a tamé lyon, and libart. Contemporary with Chaucer was John Gower, a poet of some celebrity. The date of his birth is not ascertained ; but he died in 1408, some years after Chaucer. It is said that there is a flattering tradition in the Stafford family that he was of Stitenham. Whatever might be his birth, he was a learned and an accomplished man,—whom his great contemporary compliments as the moral Gower. Succeeding eulogists adopt the more equi. vocal epithet of ancient, to which his title is indisputable. Poets have from very early periods courted the patronage of the great. Ancient Gower attached himself to Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. He wrote in Latin and French; and his sonnets in the latter language are still reckoned elegant. His principal work in English, entitled CONFESSIO AMANTIS, consists of a series of tales illustrative of the moral virtues and the vices which contrast them. These stories are gleaned, as was then common, from existing collections of
Gestes, Romances, and Tales. Without a spark of the fire of Chaucer, he writes with considerable amenity for the rude period in which he lived. A part of his works were printed by Caxton in 1483, and are thus among the earliest specimens of English typography. Gower was blind for some years before his death, which calamity appears to have been the frequent fate of poets. His tomb, decorated with his volumes and his effigy, the head garlanded with roses, is still to be seen in the church of St Mary Overey in Southwark, to the erection of which edifice he had liberally contributed. Gower's will is still extant, from which it appears that he was too rich a man to be a great poet.
Gower's verses show such uniform mediocrity, that it is impossible to find any tolerable specimen. The entire devotion of a lover to the wishes or ca. prices of his lady is expressed as follows. The allusion with which the passage concludes is to the Troilus and Creseide of Chaucer, probably not long written at that time :
That when her list on nights wake
Methinketh I touch not the floore;
This complaisance of a romantic lover is nothing to the absolute submission of Aristotle, who, after giving his pupil Alexander many counsels against love, falls in love himself with a Queen of Greece, who saddles and bridles the amorous philosopher, and rides him round her chamber. This tale or apologue is told in that mine of stories, called the Gesta Romanorum, from which our elder poets drew copiously.
Passing over several obscure names, half-forgotten even by antiquaries, the next English poet who continues the golden chain which links Chaucer to modern times, was John Lydgate, who is supposed to have been born about 1375. He was a monk, and lived in the Abbey of Bury; a scholar accómplished in all the learning of his time, and familiar with the works of the poets of France and Italy. Lydgate was the first author or versifier of allwork on record in our annals ; and as he always attempted bravely, and with full confidence in his own powers, he sometimes succeeded.“ If, says
(a) Gaiety, or way.
a disguising were intended by the com. pany of goldsmiths,
-a mask before his majesty at Eltham,- ,-a May-game for the sheriffs and alder. men of London,-a mummery before the Lord Mayor,--a procession of pageants from the Crea. tion for the festival of Corpus Christi,-or a carol for the coronation,-Lydgate was consulted and gave the poetry.”_He must have been the busiest man of his time, and one to whom nothing came amiss : he traded in verse before the division of labour was understood. Lydgate is mentioned with contempt by Percy, scoffed at by Ritson, and pronounced stupid by Pinkerton. A critic in whom as much confidence may be placed, Gray the poet, places him next in rank to Chaucer, and before the chilling mediocre “ Ancient Gower.” The principal works of Lydgate are, The History of Thebes, The Fall of Princes, and The Siege of Troy. The following passage, pointed out by Gray, has great sweetness and feeling
Out of her swoone when she did abbraide,
This is mine end, I may it not astarte;
That thou mayst after some mynd on us have,
I hold him strictly twene my armès twein,
On thee and me dependeth the trespace
A mouth he has, but wordis hath he none;
Lydgate's poem, called The Life of our Lady, opens thus elegantly :
O thoughtfull hertè, plonged in distresse