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logue, that was of the highest service to the future of English poetry. There is another characteristic of his writing which marks him out as a poet and dramatist of Nature's own creation. In the crisis of a bitter trial or an agonising struggle, when the situation itself speaks with overwhelming force to the heart, his language is perfectly simple and direct.
When Virginius, for example, crushed by the unrighteous doom just pronounced against his only child, meets her on his return with . a face dead as ashen cold,' and utters his bleeding heart in the lines beginning • There been two ways, either death or
shame,' the perfect plainness of those words touches the deepest springs of pity, and may well recall the scene, in some respects so similar, , between Claudio and Isabella.
Then, again, Chaucer may be said to have first revealed the capabilities of the language as a vehicle for the higher kinds of poetry. The music of English numbers was, in fact, clearly heard for the first time in the sweet and flexible cadences of his harmonious lines. Some of the poems belonging to the earlier part of the fourteenth century have, indeed, considerable literary merit. For delicacy of observation and descriptive power, there are passages in the Pearl,' for example, that, as Sir F. Madden has said, may compare with similar passages in Douglas and Spenser. But even the best of these poems are strikingly deficient in the higher metrical qualities. Hardly a note of real music is to be heard in their rude and monotonous alliterative lines. While poetical in substance, they are in form little better than the extravagant 'rim ram ruff' romances which Chaucer satirises in the prologue to the . Parsons Tale.' Chaucer had, however, a delicate ear for melody, and the structure of his verse is not only always rhythmical, but marked by the highest metrical qualities.
These excellences have justly made Chaucer not only the father of English poetry, the greatest of our dramatists before the rise of the regular drama, but one of the most delightful and habitually read of all English poets. The many eulogistic references to him by later writers both in prose and verse, down to the close of the Elizabethan period, show how constantly he was studied during the two centuries after his death. In the first century we have repeated and emphatic testimony to his pre-eminent merit by such poets as Lidgate, Occleve, and Douglas. And in the Elizabethan age there is a consensus of enthusiastic appreciation amongst almost all its more distinguished critics, poets, and historians. The list includes amongst eminent prose writers the names of Wilson, Puttenham, Ascham, Fox, and Camden ; and of poets Sir Philip Sidney
ranks Chaucer with Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio ; while Spenser avowedly adopted him as a master, and commenced his poetic career by direct imitations of his style. The wellknown reference to
him that left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold,' and the quotations from the · Canterbury Tales' in Milton's prose writings, show that Chaucer was not forgotten amidst the distractions of the Parliamentary conflict and the civil war. Dryden, again, did his utmost to popularise the more striking of the · Canterbury Tales, and has left, perhaps, the best critical estimate of their author we possess.
During the eighteenth century there were several elaborate attempts to make English readers better acquainted with Chaucer, whose language had by that time become too archaic for the effortless enjoyment of ordinary readers. And in our own day, notwithstanding the obstacles interposed by a grammar and vocabulary partially obsolete, Chaucer has reappeared in a greater number of forms, and is, perhaps, more generally read and studied, than any of the great Elizabethan poets except Shakspeare.
These circumstances render it the more surprising, and, we may add, the more discreditable to our national scholarship, that no complete critical edition of Chaucer's poetical works should yet have been produced. The reproach is one of old standing, and many suggestions have from time to time been made with the view of wiping it away. Dr. Johnson, amongst others, for example, projected a new and complete edition of Chaucer, and, as will be seen from his description, he formed a very just estimate of what such a work ought to be both as to text and commentary. He says:- Chaucer; a new edition of him from manuscripts and old editions, with various ' readings, conjectures, remarks on his language, and the changes it had undergone from the earliest times to his age, and from his to the present; with notes explanatory of (customs, &c., and references to Boccaccio and other authors
from whom he has borrowed; with an account of the liberties • he has taken in telling the stories; his life; and an exact
etymological glossary. This project was not, however, carried into effect; and Godwin, in his voluminous Life of Chaucer, had still to urge the importance of the neglected work. His words are:— There is nothing more ardently to be wished by the • admirers of Chaucer than that a correct and elaborate edition should be made of his works; and that some of the same * exertions should be spent upon illustrating them which have
of late years been so liberally employed upon the productions
of Shakspeare and Milton. Mr. Tyrwhitt, indeed, has taken 'much pains, and in many instances to excellent purposes, with 'the “ Canterbury Tales ;” but nothing can be more miserable * than the condition of the principal copies of the rest of our • author's works.' And nearly thirty years later Dr. Todd, who had himself recently edited both Spenser and Milton, in noticing Tyrwhitt's edition of the · Canterbury Tales,' says, • With the text of the remaining poems we must be content
till an elaborate and correct edition of the poet's works, * which we greatly want, be given.' The truth is, that until the last few years the greater part of Chaucer's poetical works have never, strictly speaking, been edited at all. Troilus
• ' and Cressid,' a story nearly as long as the ' Æneid,' the · Romaunt of the Rose,' the House of Fame,' the · Legend
of Good Women,' and the minor poems, collected and published together for the first time by Thynne in 1532, were printed from defective and imperfect manuscripts without any critical oversight or correction; and from that time to our own day they have been reprinted from the black-letter folios without any attempt at systematic critical revision. The
Canterbury Tales' have, indeed, fared somewhat better, having been more than once carefully edited by critics in many respects well qualified for the task. But much still remains to be done for the text of Chaucer's greatest work; and still more, perhaps, for the adequate explanation of its language and allusions. We have as yet no satisfactory and authoritative text even of the Canterbury Tales;' and the best published text, that recently revised by Mr. Morris, to which we shall presently refer in detail, is without note or comment of any kind. The work which Johnson projected, and which a succession of eminent scholars and critics have so earnestly desiderated, still remains, therefore, to be done.
In these circumstances the formation of a Chaucer Society, mainly for the purpose of printing the best existing manuscripts of the poet's works, ought to be matter of hearty congratulation to all lovers of English literature. Our public and private libraries are rich in Chaucer manuscripts, and the best of these must be available for critical use before an authoritative complete and satisfactory text of Chaucer can be produced. But the only way of placing these manuscripts within the reach of English scholars is by printing them; and, if done at all, this must obviously be the work of a special Society. With this end in view, the Chaucer Society was accordingly founded two years ago, and it is pleasant to find the two great divisions of the Anglo-Saxon race united in this
effort to illustrate the genius and honour the memory of its first great poet and dramatist. The Society was set on foot by Mr. F. J. Furnivall, to whose philological zeal and literary industry students of early English are already so much indebted. But, as he himself tells us, it was established very much at the instance of Professor Child, of Harvard University. At the outset of the temporary preface to the sixtext edition of the Canterbury Tales' now publishing by the Society, Mr. Furnivall says:- But before entering into other • details let me state that the publication of these texts, and the foundation of the Society, are due mainly to the accom
plished American scholar, Professor F. J. Child, who called • forth the publication of the Percy folio manuscript.' In the words of the original prospectus the Society was founded to
do honour to Chaucer, and to let the lovers and students of • his works see how far the best unpublished manuscripts differ from the printed texts.'
* It will deal with the works of no other man-except so far as may be found necessary for the illustration of Chaucer—and will dissolve as soon as all the good manuscripts of the poet's works, and all matter wanted for their illustration, are in type. It is not intended to interfere with any edition of Chaucer's works past or future, but to supplement them all, and afford material for the improvement of his text. Eight or ten years will suffice, if the Society be well supported, to finish its work. . . . There are many questions of metre, pronunciation, orthography, and etymology yet to be settled, for which more prints of manuscripts are wanted, and it is hardly too much to say
that every line of Chaucer contains points that need reconsideration. The proposal, then, is to begin with “The Canterbury Tales," and give of them (in parallel columns in royal 4to.) six of the best unprinted manuscripts known, and to add in another quarto the next best manuscripts if 300 subscribers join the Society.' This excellent plan has so far been carried out with commendable diligence and fidelity. Early in 1869, the first part of the six-text edition, containing the Prologue’ and the • Knight's • Tale,' was issued in the two forms of separate octavo texts, and of all the texts together in a six-columned oblong folio. All the texts are handsomely printed, and, as we can testify from experience, the oblong folio is extremely convenient for collocation and reference. Great care moreover appears to have been taken in printing the texts so as to render them as accurate transcripts of the manuscript as possible.
The Society very properly, however, does not confine itself to the text of Chaucer, but is anxious to collect and publish the most valuable literary and philological materials required for the fuller illustration of his poetical works. This illustra
tive matter includes the foreign originals on which some of his longer narrative, descriptive, and allegorical poems are founded ; a critical examination of the use he made of these materials, and separate disquisitions on points of special interest connected with Chaucer's language, style, allusions, and versification. The publications of the first year belonging to this part of the Society's work are an elaborate treatise on early English pronunciation, by Mr. A. J. Ellis, with Professor Child's exhaustive papers on the use of the final e by Chaucer; a translation of Professor Ebert's Review of • Sandras's Etude sur Chaucer;' a . Thirteenth Century
• Latin Treatise on the Chilindre ;' and the temporary preface by Mr. Furnivall, which seeks for the first time to establish on definite grounds of evidence the right order of the Tales, with the days and stages of the Canterbury Pilgrimage. The issues of the Society, during the second year of its existence, comprise works quite as important, and in some respects even more interesting, than those of the first. In the text series of issues are three additional · Canterbury Tales those of the Miller, the Reeve, and the Cook; and in the Commentary series the original of the Tale of Constance' edited with a translation from an old French chronicle, while a detailed comparison of the · Knight's Tale' with the Teseide, and of the · Troilus and Cressid' with the Filostrato of Boccaccio, are in active preparation. It is impossible to look into these works without feeling what very valuable materials they supply to all students of Chaucer, and especially to the future editors of his works. And if the Society is able to carry on and complete its scheme of publications, the long national reproach of neglecting the Morning Star of Song' will be effectually removed. We learn, however, with astonishment and regret from the last Report of the Society, that although an American Professor munificently sent over fifty guineas to start it, only seventy subscribers of two guineas each have been found in England, and thirty in the United States, to carry on the work. The list contains very few indeed of the names of the great collectors and patrons of literature, which we should have expected to see in connexion with so meritorious an undertaking, and we do not hesitate to urge those of our readers who may be interested in the subject of this article to promote the work, which must have been abandoned but for Mr. Furnivall's indomitable and disinterested exertions.
The Publishers of the Chaucer Society are Messrs. Trübner & Co., Paternoster Row, by whom subscriptions are received.