This text was taken from Godwin's Life of Chaucer by William Godwin, London: T. Davison, White-Friars; 1804.
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TROILUS AND CRESEIDE, A POEM IN FIVE BOOKS.
Chaucer gives the following account of the manner in which he has conducted his version of Lollius's production, which, though it implies that he did not confine himself to his original with a scrupulous fidelity, yet does not lead us to suppose that he varied from it in any very essential particular.
Buta soth is, though I cannot tellen all,
As can mine auctour of his excellence,
Yet have I saied, and Godb to forné shall,
In every thing all wholly his sentence;
And if that I, at lovés reverence,
Have any worde in cechoed for the best,
Doeth therewithal right as your selven lest.
For all my wordés here, and every part,
I speake hem all under correction
Of you that feeling have in loves art,
And put it all in your discrecion.
Book III, ver. 1330.
The poem of Troilus and Creseide is divided into five books. The plan of the work proceeds on the assumption, in direct opposition to the narrative of Homer, that Calchas, the great soothsayer of the Grecian army, is a native of Troy, who, being instructed by his skill in divination that the city in which he lived will finally fall a victim to the prowess of the besiegers, prudently takes a resolution of withdrawing himself in secret, and going over to the enemy. This he does in so cautious a manner, that he leaves his only daughter, Creseide, behind him, exposed to all the resentment of his exasperated countrymen. Creseide, terrified at a danger of which she had not had the smallest foresight, repairs to Hector, and intreats his protection, who, with the goodness and nobleness of nature congenial to him, undertakes for her safety. Thus secured, she conducts
herself in all respects with the utmost discretion and propriety.
A festival soon after occurs, in the month of April, in honour of the Palladion, when a general procession is made to the temple of Minerva, and Creseide among the ladies of Troy is introduced as a worshipper. Her appearance and carriage on this occasion are touched by Chaucer with great beauty and delicacy.
Among these other folke was Creseida,
In widdowes habite blake: but dnatheles,
Right as our first letter is now an A,
In beauté first so stode shee makeles;
Her godely loking gladded all the fprees:
gN'as never sene thing to be prais'd so derre,
Nor under cloudé blake so bright a sterre,
As was Creseide, thei saiden heverichone
That her beholden in her blaké wede;
And yet she stode ful lowe and stil alone
Behinden other folke in litel ibrede,
And nie the doré under shamés drede,
Simple' of atire, and kdebonaire of chere,
With flu assured loking and manere.
It is here that she unexpectedly seen by Troilus, who immediately becomes enamoured of her. His frank and unconquered heart is described with great spirit.
This Troilus, as he was won't gide
His yongé knightés, ladde hem up and doune
In thilké largé temple' on every side,
Beholding aie the ladies of the tone,
Now here, now there; for no devocioune
Had he to none, tol reven him his rest,
But gan to praise and mlacken whom he lest,
And in his walke flu fast he gan to waiten,
If knight or squier of his companie
Gan for to nsike, or let his eyeno baiten
On any woman that he coude espie;
Then he would smile, and hold it a folie,
And say hem thus: O Lorde, she slepeth softe
For love of the, when thou turnest flu ofte.
I have herde tel ppardieux of your living,
Ye lovers, and eke your leude observaunces,
And whiche a labour folke have in winning
Of love, and in the keping qwhiche doutances,
And whan your pray is loste, wo and pernaunces:
O very folés! blinde and nice be ye,
There is not one can ware by other be!
The following stanzas bring back to us with advantage the figure of Creseide.
She n'as nat with the rlest of her stature,
But al her limmés so wel answering
Weren to womanhode, that créature
Was never slassé mannishe in seming;
And eke the puré wise of her mening
She shewed wel, that men might in her gesse
Honour, estate, and womanly noblesse.
tTho Troilus right wonder wel withal
Gan for to like her mening and her chere,
Whiche usomedele wdeignous was, for she let fal
Her like a xlite aside, in suche manere
Ascaunces, What may I not stonden here?
And after that her loking gan she light,
That never thought him sene so gode a sight.
These lines beautifully express the struggle of the mind of the lover, as he first gazed with conscious passion upon the person of his mistress.
Therwith his herte began to sprede and rise;
And soft he sighéd, lest men might him here,
And caught yayen his former playing chere.
From the temple Troilus retires to his own chamber, where he is visited by Pandarus, the uncle of Creseide, a convenient ally, and so devoted to the hero of the poem, as voluntarily to apply himself to the seduction of his niece, to insure the tranquility and peace of heart of his friend. Pandarus, not without difficult, extorts from Troilus the secret of his love, and undertakes his cause. The first book concludes with an admirable picture of the manners and temper of Troilus, after his cares had thus been relieved by the prompt kindness of his auxiliary. Pandarus finds him thrown in a disconsolate attitude upon his bed; but, when he takes his leave,
Dan Troilus lay ztho no lenger doun,
But up anon upon his stede baie,
And in the felde he played the lioun;
Wo was that Greke, that with him met that daie;
And in the tone his maner aatho forthe aie
So godely was and gat him so in grace,
That echo him lov'd, that loked in his face.
For he becamen the friendliest wight,
The gentilest, and eke the mosté fre,
The trustiest, and one of the besté knight,
That in his time was, or els mighté be:
Dede were his bbjapés, and his cruelté,
Dede his high porte, and al his maner straunge,
And echo of hem gan for a vertue chaunge.
The second book contains the blandishments of Pandarus to Creseide, which are conducted with great skill, as being addressed to a young lady of the utmost decorum and bashfulness. Immediately after this, the author has very happily imagined the return of Troilus from a successful sally against the besiegers, and his progress necessarily leading him under the window of his mistress.
His helm ccto-hewen was in twentie places,
That by a ddtissue hong his backe behinde;
His shelde eeto-dash'd with swerdés and with maces,
In whiche men might many an arowe finde,
That ffthirled had bothe horne, and nerfe, and rinde;
And aie the peple cry'd, Here com'th our joie,
And, next his brother, holder up of Troie!
The appearance of Troilus on this occasion operates strongly to fix the budding and irresolute partiality of the Creseide; and the more speedily to bring the affair to its desired issue, Pandarus contrives a meeting of the lovers, and several eminent personages, at a dinner to be given by Deiphobus, another son of Priam.
When the day of this dinner arrives, Troilus, who, feigning himself sick, had gone to his brother's house the night before, remains in his apartment, where he is visited by the principal persons of the company, and last of all by Creseide. Pandarus, who had ex-
aggerated to her the obloquy and animosity to which she was exposed by the treason of her father, and prevailed upon her to sue to the rest of the company for their protection, makes use of this pretense to leave her alone with her lover, that she might with the better advantage importune him for his patronage and friendship. This is their first interview. Other meetings succeed; but they are short, unfrequent and cautious, so as rather to generate an uneasiness and craving of the mind, than to produce satisfaction. The conversation that passed was little.
But thilké little that thei spake or wrought,
His wisé ggghoste toke aie of all soche hede,
It seemed her he wisté what she thought
Withouten worde; so that it was no nede
To bid him aught to do'n, or aught forbede;
For which she thought that love, al come it late,
Of allé joie had open'd her the hhyate.
Pandarus in the mean time resolved that their mutual love should be brought to its full consummation. For this purpose,
Right sone upon the chaunging of the mone,
When lightlesse is the world a night or twaine,
And that the welkin iishope him for to raine,
He straightkk a morowe unto his nece wente,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And finally he swore, and gan her saie
By this and that, she should him not escape,
Ne lenger done him after her to mmcape,
But certainly she musté by her leve,
Come soupen in his house with him at eve.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Or ellis softe he swore her in her ere,
He nnn'oldé never comen there she were.
Creseide yields to the urgent importunity of her uncle, and every thing happens as he had projected. The incidental occurrences of
the evening are described with much life and nature. After staying a proper time at Pandarus's house, Creseide takes leave, and prepares to depart; but fortune intercepts her intention.
The benté moné with her hornés pale,
Saturn and Jove, in Cancro joyned were,
That suche a raine from heven gan ooavaile,
That every maner woman that was there
Had of that smoky raine a very fere.
Creseide is prevailed upon to take up her abode for that night in her uncle's house.
Thus al is wel; but pptho began aright
The newe joie, and al the feste againe;
But Pandarus, if qqgodely had he might,
He would have hiéd her to beddé faine,
And said, O lorde, this is an hugé raine,
This were a wether for to slepen in.
Pandarus conducts his niece to rest in a small
apartment by herself, and accommodates her female attendants in a more spacious anti-chamber, with an open door leading to the apartment of Creseide. At the same time he places Troilus upon a secret stair, conducting by the other side to the lady's bed-chamber. Affairs being in this position,
The sterné winde so loude began to route,
That no wight other's noisé might yhere,
And thei that laien at the dore without
Ful rrsikerly thei slepten al ssyfere;
And Pandarus, with a ful sobre chere,
Goth to the dore anon withouten lette
There as thei lay, and softély it shette.
He then approaches the bedside of Creseide, and, having roused her, communicates to her the story, that Troilus has just arrived, through all the rain, in a fit of frantic jealousy; that he has heard, from what he conceives good authority, that she has bestowed
her utmost favours upon a rival pretender; and that he is driven by the intelligence to ungovernable desperation. Creseide assures her uncle of her constancy and honour, and proposes to see Troilus, and satisfy his scruples, early the next morning. Pandarus exclaims upon the futility of this project, and asserts that it will be impossible otherwise than by an immediate interview, to prevent Troilus from laying violent hands upon himself. Nothing can be better imagined than this preparation. Troilus is then introduced and his mistress expostulates with him upon the unworthiness of his accusation, in a style of such ingenuousness and feeling, that struck with remorse and self-abhorrence, he falls into a swoon. By the efforts of Pandarus and Creseide he is recovered; and Pandarus, retired to a distance from the lovers, pretends to sleep. The consequence of this situation is easily imagined. The triumph of the lover is complete. Nothing can be more beautiful than the simile in the latter of the two following stanzas.
Creseide all ttquite from every drede and tene,
As she that justé cause had him to uutrist,
Made him soche feste it joie was for to sene,
Whan she his trouth and clene ententé wist;
And, as about a tre with many a twist
wwBitrent and writhen is the swete wodbinde,
Gan eche of hem in armés other winde:
And as the newe abashed nightingale,
That stinteth first, whan she beginneth sing,
Whan that she hereth any herdés tale,
Or in the hedges any wight sterring,
And after xxsiker doeth her voice out ring;
Right so Creseidé, when her dredé yystent,
Open'd her hert, and told him her entent.
Such was the first confident and unreserved meeting of the lovers: the third book concludes with a description of their entire happiness and content.
The fourth book treats of their separation. Calchas, the father of Creseide, is exceedingly desirous of having his daughter restored to him; and, a skirmish having been fought in which several Trojans of distinction were made prisoners, he takes advantage of this circumstance to propose an exchange. The overture is accordingly made, and the delivery of Creseide for Antenor is voted in the council of Priam, or, as Chaucer terms it, the Trojan "parliament."
The farewel visit of the ladies of Troy to Creseide is described with considerable vivacity and humour.
zzQuod first that one, I am glad tru´ely
Because of you, that shal your father se;
Another saied, Ywis so am not I,
For all to little hath she with us be;
zzQuod 1tho the thirde, I hope ywis that she
Shall bringen us the pece on every side,
That, when she goth, almiglltie God her gide.
And busille thei gonnen her comforten
On thing, God wot, on which she little thought,
And with 2her talés 3wended her disporten,
And to be glad thei ofte her besought.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tho wordes and 4tho womannishé thingés,
She herd hem right as tho she 5thennés were;
For, God it wore, her herte on other thing is,
Although the body sat emong hem there.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So that she felte almoste her herté die
For wo, and éwerie of that companie.
After so solemn a decree on the fate of Creseide, there is no longer any remedy; and, in the interview which takes place between the lovers on this occasion, Creseide is so affected with her misfortune that she falls into a swoon.
She was right soche to sene in her visage,
As is that wight that men on 6bere ybinde;
Her face, like of paradis the image,
Was al ychaunged in another kinde;
The plaie, the laughter, men wer wont to finde
In her, and eke her joiés everchone,
Ben fledde: ---
Troilus, imagining her to be dead, determines not to survive her, and vents his anguish in these spirited apostrophes:
Than said he thus, 7fulfilde of high disdaine,
O cruel Jove, and thou fortune adverse,
This al and 8some is, falsely have ye slaine
Creseide, and sith ye may do me no werse,
Fie on your might and werkés so diverse!
Thus cowardely ye shul me never 9winne;
There shal no deth me fro my lady 10twinne.
And thou, cité, in which I live in wo,
And thou Priam, and brethren al 11yfere,
And thou my mother, farewel, for I go!
And, Attropos, make redy thou my bere!
And thou Creseide, o sweté herté dere,
Recevé now my spirite, - would he sey,
With swerde at here, al reedy for to dey.
The farewel speech of Creseide is stamped with that decorum and dignity, which had hitherto appeared in all her actions.
For 12trusteth wel, that your estate roiall,
Ne veine delite, nor onely worthinesse
Of you in werre, or 13turnaie marciall,
Ne pompe, arraie, nobley, or eke richesse,
Ne maden me to rue on your distresse;
But morall vertue, grounded upon trouth;
That was the cause I first had on you 14routh.
Eke gentle hert, and manhode that ye had,
And that ye had, as me thought, in dispite
Every thing that 15sowned into bad,
As rudénesse, and 16peplishe appetite,
And that your reson bridled your delite:
This made, above every créature,
That I was yours, and shal while I maie dure.
And this may length of yerés nat fordo,
Ne 17remuable fortuné deface.
In conclusion, it is determined between them to meet again at the end of ten days; and Creseide undertakes for that purpose that she will either through pretext or stealth contrive at that time to visit the city of Troy.
The fifth and last book of the poem has for its principal topic the inconstancy of Creseide. The poet has touched but slightly upon the arts of Diomed, her seducer; but has applied his utmost force to paint in glowing colours the sentiments of Troilus, whom he holds up as the model of a true, a constant and a loyal lover. Nor has he by any means been unhappy in his execution. Troilus, the youngest of the sons of Priam and Hecuba, the favourite of the writers of the middle ages, an accomplished, undaunted, and resistless hero, and, next to Hector, the chief hope of Troy, by no means degenerates into a whining shep-
herd. It is thus that he is introduced expressing himself, immediately after the departure of Creseide.
Who seeth you now, my righté 18lodésterre?
Who sitteth now or 19stant in your presence?
Who can comforten now your hertés 20werre?
Now I am gon, whom 21yeve ye audience?
Who speketh for me right now in absence?
Alas! no wight, and that is al my care;
For del wore I, as ill as I ye fare.
And when he 22fill in any slomberings,
Anon begin he shouldé for to grone,
And dremen of the dredfullesté things
That mighté ben, as he 23mete he were alone
In place horrible, making aie his mone,
Or 24meten that he was emongés all
His enemies, and in 25her hondés fall.
And therewithal his bodie shouldé sterte,
And with the sterte all sodainly awake,
And soche a tremour fele about his herte,
That of the fere his bodie shouldé quake,
And therewithal he shoulde a noisé make,
And seme as though he shouldé fallen depe,
From high aloft: and than he wouldé wepe,
And rewen on him selfe so pitously,
That wonder was to here his fantasie;
Another time he shouldé mightily
Comfort him selfe, and sain it was folie,
So causélesse soche drede and wo to 26drie;
And 27eft begin his 28aspre sorrows newe,
That every man might on his painés rewe.
In this distress of mind Pandarus undertakes to comfort him; and finding him singularly oppressed with the gloomy presentiments excited in him by his dreams, exclaims
Alas ! alas ! so noble a creture
As is a man, should dreden soche 29ordure!
The sensations of Troilus in visiting the different parts of the city, are beautifully expressed. He intreats Pandarus, early the
next morning after the departure of Creseide, to accompany him in a visit to her palace.
For sens we yet maie have no moré fest,
So let us sene her paleis at the lest.
And therwithall, his 30meiné for to 31blend,
A cause he fonde into the toun to go,
And to Creseidés housé thei gon 32wend:
But lorde! this 33sely Troilus was wo,
Him thought his sorrowful herte34 brast atwo;
For when he saw her dores 35sperred all,
Wel nigh for sorrow' adoun he gan to fall.
Therwith when he 36was ware, and gan behold
How shet was every window of the place,
As frost him thought his herté gan to cold;
For whiche with chaunged dedly palé face
Withouten worde he 37forthby gan to pace,
And as God would, he gan so faste ride,
That no wight of his countenaunce 38aspide.
Fro thennesforth he rideth up and doune,
And every thing came him to rememberaunce,
As he rode forth by the' places of the toune,
In whiche he 39whilom had all his plesaunce:
Lo, yonder I saw mine owne lady daunce;
And in that temple with her eyen clere
Me caughté first my righté lady dere;
And yonder have I herde ful lustily
My deré herté laugh; and yonder plaie
Saw I her onés eke ful blisfully;
And yonder onés to me gan she saie,
Now, godé swete, loveth me wel, I praie;
And yonde so godely gan she me beholde,
That to the deth mine hert is to her holde;
And at the corner in the yonder house
Herde I mine alderlevest lady dere
So womanly, with voice melodiouse,
Singen so wel, so godely, and so clere,
That in my soule yet me think'th I here
The blisful 40sowne; and in that yonder place
My lady first me toke unto her grace.
And after this he to the 41yatés wente,
Ther as Creseide out rode, a ful gode paas,
And up and down there made he many a 42wente,
And to him selfe ful oft he said, Alas,
Fro hennes rode my blisse and my solas;
As wouldé blisful God now for his joie
I might her sene ayen comen to Troie !
And to the yonder hil I gan her gide,
Alas, and there I toke of her my leve;
And yond I sawe her to her father ride,
For sorow of whiche mine herté shal to43 cleve;
And hither home I came whan it was eve;
And here I dwel, out casté from all joie,
And shal, til I maie sene her 44efte in Troie.
Upon the wallés fast eke would he walke,
And on the Grekés host he wouldé se,
And to him selfe right thus he wouldé talke:
Lo, yonder is mine owné lady fre,
Or ellés yonder there the tentés be,
And thens cometh this ayre that is so 45sote,
That in my soule I fele it doth me 46bote.
At length the tenth day arrives, the day appointed by Creseide to see her beloved Troilus. Troilus scarcely slept on the preceding night; and no sooner did the first beams of the sun appear above the horizon, than, accompanied by the friendly Pandarus, he had already taken his station on the walls to watch her approach.
Till it was 47none, they stoden for to se
Who that there came, and every 48maner wight
That came fro ferre, thei saiden it was she,
Til that they coulden knowen him aright;
Now was his herté dull, now was it light.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
To Pandarus this Troilus, 49tho seide,
For aught I wot before 50none 51sikerly
Into this toune ne cometh not Creseide;
She hath inough to doén hardély
To 52twinnen from her father, so trowe I,
Her oldé father wol yet make her dine,
Er that she go. ---
Pandare answerd, It maie wel ben certain;
And 53forthy let us dine, I the beseche;
And after 54none than maist thou come again:
And home thei go, withouten moré speche.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The day goth fast, and after that came eve,
And yet came nat to Troilus Creseide:
He loketh forth by hedge, by tre, by 55greve,
And ferre his hedde over the wal he leide;
And at the last he tourned him, and seide,
By God I wore her mening now, Pandare,
Almost iwis all 56newé was my care.
Now doubtélesse this lady 57can her gode,
I wore she cometh riding privily;
I commenden her wisedome 58by mine hode;
She wol nat maken peple nicély
59Gaure on her when she com'th, but softély
By night into the toune she thinketh ride,
And, dere brother! thinke nat long to abide;
We have naught ellés for to doen iwis;
And,--Pandarus, now wilt thou 60trowen me,
Have here my trouth, I se her, yond she is,
Heve up thine even, man; maiest thou nat se?
Pandare answeréd, Naie, so mote I 61the,
Al wrong, by God: what saist thou, man? wher art?
That I se yonder afarre n'is but a carte.
Alas, thou saiest right sothe, quod Troilus;
But hardély it is not all for nought
That in mine herte I now rejoicé thus;
It is ayenst some gode; I have a thought --
62N'ot I nat how, but sens that I was 63wrought,
Ne felt I soche a comfort, dare I saie,
She com'th to-night, my life that durst I laie.
The last of these stanzas obviously supplied Shakespear with the hint of one of his most poetical passages, the beautiful lines in which
Romeo expresses his unusual gaiety just before he receives the intelligence of Juliet's death.
If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:
My bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne;
And, all this day, an unaccustom'd spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.
The night however, advances; the chance of seeing Creseide to-day is lost; and Troilus and his friend are obliged to return home. The lover in the mean time flatters himself;
But nathelesse he gladded him in this,
He thought he unisacompted had his daie.
A fourth, a fifth, and a sixth day pass by, after the tenth which had been fixed for their interview, and yet he sees and hears nothing of Creseide. When he is no longer able to feed himself with hopes, he sinks into the
profoundest melancholy. He is so altered that it becomes difficult for his nearest friends to know him: he is so pale, feeble and wan, that he can no longer walk without a crutch. Priam however, his mother, his brothers and sisters, all endeavor in vain to extort from him to the secret of his uneasiness. He will confess nothing, but that he feels a grievous malady about his heart, and is anxious to die. He has a dream, which his sister interprets to him as emblematical of the guilty familiarity of Diomed and Creseide; but he refuses to trust her prophetic skill. At length the fact is confirmed to him in such a manner as no longer to admit of a doubt. In one of the sallies of the Trojans during the siege, Deiphobus disarms Diomed, and strips him of the coat of mail with which he was accoutered, Troilus examines the trophy, and finds within it, just above the seat of the heart, the very jewel which he had presented to Creseide of the eve of her departure. He now becomes careless of life; he engages in the most desperate actions, and
at length receives his death from the hand of Achilles.
From this analysis of the poem, it is not difficult to infer the degree of applause to which its author is entitled. It has already been observed by one of the critics upon English poetry,64 that it is "almost as long as the Æneid." Considered in this point of view, the Troilus and Creseide will not appear to advantage. It is not an epic poem. It is not that species of composition which Milton65 so admirably describes, as "the most consummate act of the authour's fidelity and ripeness;" the fruit of "years and industry;" the reservoir into which are poured the results of "all his considerat diligence, all his midnight watchings, and expense of Palladian oyl." The Æneid is a little code of politics and religion. It describes men and manners and cities and countries. It embraces an outline of the arts of peace and of war. It
travels through the whole circumference of the universe; and brings together heaven and hell, and all that is natural and all that is divine, to aid the poet in the completion of his design. It is at once historical and prophetic. It comprises the sublime horrors of a great city captured and in flames, and the pathetic anguish of an ardent disappointed and abandoned love. It comprehends a cycle of science and arts, as far as they could be connected with the principal subject; and if all other books were destroyed, the various elements of many sciences and arts might be drawn from an attentive perusal of this poem.
The plan of the Æneid in these respects, is precisely what the plan of an epic poem should be. The Troilus and Creseide can advance no pretensions to enter into this class of composition. It is merely a love-tale. It is not the labour of a mans life; but a poem which, with some previous knowledge of human sentiments and character, and a very slight preparation of science, the writer might perhaps be expected to complete in about as many months, as the work is divided into
books. It is certainly much greater in extent of stanzas and pages, than the substratum and basis of the story can authorise.
It is also considerably barren of incident. There is not enough in it of matter generating visible images in the reader, and exciting his imagination with pictures of nature and life. There is not enough in it of vicissitudes of fortune, awakening curiosity and holding expectation in suspense.
Add to which, the catastrophe is unsatisfactory and offensive. The poet who would interest us with a love-tale, should soothe our minds with the fidelity and disinteredness of the mutual attachment of the parties, and, if he presents us with a tragical conclusion, it should not be one which arises out of the total unworthiness of either. Creseide (as Mr. Urry, in his introduction to Henryson's epilogue to the Troilus, has very truly observed), however prepossessing may be the omanner in which she appears in the early part of the poem, is "a false inconstant whore," and of a class which the mind of the reader almost demands to have exhibited, if
not as "terminating in extreme misery," at least as filled with penitence and remorse. Virgil indeed has drawn the catastrophe of his tale of Dido from the desertion of the lover. But the habits of European society teach us to apprehend less ugliness and loathsome deformity in the falshood of the lover, than of his mistress; and we repose with a tenderer and more powerful sympathy upon the abandoned and despairing state of the female. Besides, Virgil did not write a poem expressly upon the tale of Dido, but only employed it for an episode. The story of Romeo and Juliet is the most perfect model of a love-tale in the series of human invention. Dryden thoroughly felt this defect in the poem of Chaucer, and has therefore changed the catastrophe when he fitted the story for the stage, and represented the two lovers as faithful, but unfortunate.
But, when all these deductions have been made from the claims of the Troilus and Creseide upon our approbation, it will still remain a work interspersed with many beautiful passages, passages of exquisite tenderness, of
great delicacy, and of a nice and refined observation of the workings of human sensibility. Nothing can be more beautiful, genuine, and unspoiled by the corrupt suggestions of a selfish spirit, than the sentiments of Chaucer's lovers. While conversing with them, we seem transported into ages of primeval innocence. Even Creseide is so good, so ingenuous and affectionate, that we feel ourselves as incapable as Troilus, of believing her false. Nor are the scenes of Chaucer's narrative, like the insipid tales of a pretended pastoral life, drawn with that vagueness of manner, and ignorance of the actual emotions, which, while we read them, we nauseate and despise. On the contrary, his personages always feel, and we confess the truth of their feelings; what passes in their minds, or falls from their tongues, has the clear and decisive character which proclaims it human, together with the vividness, subtleness and delicacy, which few authors in the most enlightened ages have been equally fortunate in seizing. Pandarus himself comes elevated and refined from the
pen of Chaucer: his occupation loses its grossness, in the disinterestedness of his motive, and the sincerity of his friendship. In a word, such is the Troilus and Creseide, that no competent judge can rise from its perusal, without a strong impression of the integrity and excellence of the author's disposition, and of the natural relish he entertained for whatever is honourable, beautiful and just.
There is a great difference between merits of any work of human genius considered abstractedly, taken as it belongs to the general stock of literary production and tried severely on its intrinsic and unchangeable pretensions, and the merits of the same work considered in the place which it occupies in the scale and series of literary history, and compared with the productions of its author's predecessors and contemporaries. In the former case the question we have to ask is, Is it good? In the latter we have to enquire, Was it good? To both these questions, when applied to Chaucer's poem of Troilus
and Creseide, the fair answer will be an affirmative.
But it is in the latter point of view that the work we are considering shows to infinitely the greatest advantage. The poem will appear to be little less than a miracle, when we combine our examination of it, with a recollection of the times and circumstances in which it was produced. When Chaucer wrote it, the English tongue had long remained in a languid and almost perishing state, overlaid and suffocated by the insolent disdain and remorseless tyranny of the Norman ravagers and dividers of our soil. Previously to the eleventh century it had no cultivation and refinement from the cowardly and superstitious Saxons, and during that century and the following one it appeared in danger of being absolutely extinguished. With Chaucer it seemed to spring like Minerva from the head of Jove, at once accoutered and complete. Mandeville, Wicliffe and Gower, whom we may style the other three evangelists of our tongue, though all
elder in birth than Chaucer, did not begin so early to work upon the ore of their native language. He surprised countrymen with a poem, eminently idiomatic, clear and perspicuous in its style, as well as rich and harmonious in its versification. His Court of Love, an earlier production, is not less excellent in both these respects. But it was too slight and short to awaken general attention. The Troilus and Creseide was of respectable magnitude, and forms an epoch in our literature.
Chaucer presented to the judgment of his countrymen a long poem, perfectly regular in its structure, and uninterrupted with episodes. It contained nothing but what was natural. Its author disdained to have recourse to what was bloated in sentiment, or romantic and miraculous in incident, for the purpose of fixing or keeping alive the attention. He presents real life and human sentiments, and suffers the reader to dwell upon and expand the operations of feeling and passion. Accordingly the love he describes is neither frantic, nor brutal, nor
artificial, nor absurd. His hero conducts himself in all respects with the most perfect loyalty and honour; and his heroine, however she deserts her character in the sequel, is in the commencement modest, decorous, affectionate, and prepossessing. The loves of Troilus and Creseide scarcely retain any traces of the preposterous and rude manners of the age in which they were delineated.
This poem therefore, as might have been expected, long fixed upon itself as the admiration of the English nation. Chaucer, by his Court of Love, and the ditties and songs which had preceded it, had gratified the partiality of his friends, and given them no mean or equivocal promise of what he should hereafter be able to perform. But these, we may easily conceive, were of little general notoriety. The Troilus and Creseide was probably, more than any of his other works, the basis of his fame, and the foundation of his fortune. He wrote nothing very eminently superior to this, till his Canterbury Tales, which were the production of his declining age. Owing perhaps to the confusion and
sanguinary spirit of the wars of York and Lancaster, English literature rather decayed than improved during the following century; and we had consequently no poem of magnitude, and of a compressed and continued plan, qualified to enter into competition with the Troilus and Creseide, from the earliest periods of our poetry to the appearance of the Fairy Queen. Accordingly, among many examples of its praises which might be produced, sir Philip Sidney in his defense of Poesy has selected this performance, as the memorial of the talents of our poet, and the work in which he "undoubtedly did excellently well."
There are some particular defects belonging to this production beside those already mentioned, which are the more entitled to our notice, as they are adapted to characterize the stage of refinement to which our literature was advanced in fourteenth century. In the first place, the poem is interspersed with many base and vulgar lines, which are not only unworthy of the poet, but would be a deformity in any prose com-
position, and would even dishonour and debase the tone of familiar conversation. The following specimens will afford a sufficient illustration of this fact. Cupid is provoked at the ease and lightness of heart of the hero and prepares to avenge himself of the contempt.
-Sodainly he hitte him at the full,
And yet as proude a pecocke can he 66pul.
B. I, ver. 210.
Thus wol she saine, and al the toune at ones,
The wretch is dead, the divel have his bones.
Withouten jelousie, and soche debate,
Shall no husbonde saine unto me checkemate.
B. II, ver. 754.
For him demeth men hote, that seethe him 67swete.
Now loketh than, if thei be nat to blame,
That hem 68avaunt of women, and by name,
That yet 69behight hem never this ne that,
Ne known hem more than mine oldé hat.
B. III, ver. 321.
I am, til God me better mindé sende,
At Dulcarnon, right at my wittes ende.
For peril is with 70dretching in ydrawe,
Nay suche 71abodes ben nat worthe an hawe.
Soche arguments ne be nat worthe a bene.
But soche an ese therewith thei in her wrought,
Right as a man is esed for to fele
For ache of hedde, to clawen him on his hele.
B. IV, ver. 728.
I have herd saie eke, timés twisé twelve.
B. V, ver. 97.
There are also lines interspersed in the poem, which are not more degraded by the
meanness of the expression, than by the rudeness, not to say the brutality, of the sentiment. We may well be surprised, after considering the delicacy and decorum with which Chaucer has drawn his heroine, to find him polluting the portrait of her virgin character in the beginning of the poem with so low and pitiful a joke as this,
But whether that she children had or none,
I rede it nat, therfore I let it gone.
B. I, ver. 132.
The following sentiment must also be deeply disgustful to a just and well ordered mind. Calchas, the father of Creseide, languishes in the Grecian army for the restoration of his only child, and at length effects to his great joy the means of obtaining her in exchange for Antenor, a prisoner in the Grecian camp.
The whiché tale anon right as Creseide
Had herd, she (whiche that of her father 72 rought,
As in this case, right naught, ne when he deide)
Full busily, &c.
B. IV, ver. 668.
Another defect in this poem of Chaucer, of the same nature, and that is not less conspicuous, is the tediousness into which he continually runs, seemingly without the least apprehension that any one will construe this feature of his composition as a fault. He appears to have had no idea that his readers could possibly deem it too much to peruse any number of verses which he should think proper to pour out on any branch of his subject. To judge from the poem of Troilus and Creseide, we should be tempted to say, that compression, the strengthening a sentiment by brevity, and the adding to the weight and power of a work by cutting away from it all useless and cumbersome excrescences, was a means of attaining to excellence which never entered into our author's mind. A remarkable instance of this occurs in the fourth book, where upward of
one hundred verses upon predestination are put into the mouth of Troilus, the materials of which are supposed to have been extracted from a treatise De Causa Dei, written by Thomas Bradwardline archbishop of Canterbury, a contemporary of our author. Other examples, scarcely less offensive to true taste, might be cited.
It is particularly deserving of notice that scarcely any one of the instances which might be produced under either of these heads of impropriety, has a parallel in the version made by Boccaccio of the same story, probably from the same author, and nearly at the same time. Few instances can be given in which the Italian writer has degenerated into any thing mean and vulgar, and he never suspends his narrative with idle and incoherent digressions. He seems to have been perfectly aware, that one of the methods to render a literary production commendable is to admit into it nothing which is altogether superfluous. The inference is, that whatever may be the comparative de-
grees of imagination and originality between England and Italy in the fourteenth century, what is commonly called taste had made a much greater progress in the latter country than among us.
a sooth, truth.
b going before, helping.
e without a peer: she was the first in beauty among the dames of Troy, as much beyond a question, as A is unquestionably the first letter in the alphabet.
f press, multitude.
g was not; or rather was: Chaucer uses the double negative inserted before and after the verb, conformably to the idiom of the French language.
h every one.
i breadth in litel brede, not conspicuous.
k gentle, courteous.
l bereave, deprive of.
o bait, pause.
p by God.
r least: she was by no means small.
cc much hewn.
ee much bruised.
gg spirit: wise ghoste, penetrating spirit.
ii shaped, prepared.
kk in the morning.?
mm caper, dance.
nn would not.
qq decently he had been able.
tt quit, relieved.
yy stinted, ceased.
3 weened, thought, purposed.
5 thence, in another place.
7 fraught with, impelled by.
8 forte sum.
12 trust: this was the termination of the imperative mood in the time of Chaucer.
14 ruth, pity.
15 sounded (inclined) toward.
16 vulgar, gross.
18 load-star, north star.
35 had recollected himself.
39 most dear.
43 utterly cleave.
46 profit, good.
48 sort of person.
56 thoughtless, inexperienced.
57 judges rightly, is discreet.
58 by my hood; a trivial oath.
62 Ne wot.
64 Warton, Vol. I, Sect. 14.
65 Areopagitica; a Speech for the liberty of Unlicensed Printing.
66 strip of its plumage.
68 vaunt, boast.