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as of history. Even where a really historical person
was adopted as a subject, such as Rollo of Normandy,
or Charlemagne, his life was so amplified with ro-
mantic adventure, that it became properly a work
of fiction. This, it must be remembered, was an age
remarkable for a fantastic military spirit it was the
age of chivalry and of the crusades, when men saw
such deeds of heroism and self-devotion daily per-
formed before their eyes, that nothing which could
be imagined of the past was too extravagant to ap-
pear destitute of the feasibility demanded in fiction.
As might be expected from the ignorance of the age,
no attempt was made to surround the heroes with
the circumstances proper to their time or country.
Alexander the Great, Arthur, and Roland, were all
alike depicted as knights of the time of the poet
himself. The basis of many of these metrical tales
is supposed to have been certain collections of stories
and histories compiled by the monks of the middle
ages. Materials for the superstructure were readily
found in an age when anecdotes and apologues were
thought very necessary even to discourses from the
pulpit, and when all the fables that could be gleaned
from ancient writings, or from the relations of tra-
vellers, were collected into story books, and preserved
by the learned for that purpose."


It was not till the English language had risen into some consideration, that it became a vehicle for romantic metrical tales. One composition of the kind, entitled Sir Tristrem, published by Sir Walter Scott in 1804, was believed by him, upon what he thought tolerable evidence, to be the composition of Thomas of Ercildoun, identical with a person noted in Scottish tradition under the appellation of Thomas the Rhymer, who lived at Earlston in Berwickshire, and If this had been the case, died shortly before 1299. Sir Tristrem must have been considered a production of the middle or latter part of the thirteenth But the soundness of Sir Walter's theory century. is now generally denied. Another English romance, the Life of Alexander the Great, was attributed by Mr Warton to Adam Davie, marshall of Stratfordle-Bow, who lived about 1312; but this, also, has One only, King Horn, can be been controverted. assigned with certainty to the latter part of the Mr Warton has placed some thirteenth century. others under that period, but by conjecture alone; and in fact dates and the names of authors are alike wanting at the beginning of the history of this class of compositions. As far as probability goes, the reign of Edward II. (1307-27) may be set down as the era of the earlier English metrical romances, or rather of the earlier English versions of such works from the French, for they were, almost without exception, of that nature.

Sir Guy, the Squire of Low Degree, Sir Degore, King Robert of Sicily, the King of Tars, Impomedon, and La Mort Artur, are the names of some from which Mr Warton gives copious extracts. Others, probably of later date, or which at least were long after popular, are entitled Sir Thopas, Sir Isenbras, Gawan and Gologras, and Sir Bevis. In an Essay on the Ancient Metrical Romances, in the second volume of Dr Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, the names of many more, with an account of some of them, and a prose abstract of one entitled Sir Libius, are given. Mr Ellis has also, in his Metrical Romances, given prose abstracts of many, with some of the more agreeable passages. The metrical romances flourished till the close of the fifteenth century, and their spirit affected English literature till a still later period. Many of the ballads handed down amongst the common people are supposed to have been derived from them.


[Extract from the King of Tars.]

[The Soudan of Damascus, having asked the daughter of the
describes his conduct on the return of the messengers with this
king of Tarsus in marriage, receives a refusal. The extract
intelligence, and some of the subsequent transactions.
language of this romance greatly resembles that of Robert of
Gloucester, and it may therefore be safely referred to the be-
ginning of the fourteenth century.]

The Soudan sat at his dess,1
Y-served of the first mess;

They comen into the hall
To-fore the prince proud in press,
Their tale they tolden withouten lees,
And on their knees 'gan fall;

And said, 'Sire, the king of Tars
Of wicked words is not scarce,

Heathen hound he doth thee call;
And ere his daughter he give thee till
Thine heart-blood he will spill,

And thy barons all !'
When the Soudan this y-heard,
As a wood man he fared,3

His robe he rent adown ;
He tare the hair of head and beard,
And said he would her win with swerd,
By his lord St Mahoun.

The table adown right he smote,
Into the floor foot hot,4

He looked as a wild lion.
All that he hit he smote downright,
Both sergeant and knight,

Earl and eke baron.

So he fared forsooth aplight,
All a day and all a night,

That no man might him chast :5
was daylight,
A-morron, when it
He sent his messengers full right,
After his barons in haste,

That they comen to his parliament,
For to hearen his judgment,

Both least and maist.6
When the parliament was playner,
Thus bespake the Soudan fier',7
And said to 'em in haste:
'Lordings,' he said, 'what to rede ?8
Me is done a great misdeed,

Of Tars the Christian king;
I bade him both lond and lede,
To have his doughter in worthy weed,
And spouse her with my ring.

And he said, withouten fail,
Erst9 he would me slay in batail,
And mony a great lording.
Ac certes10 he shall be forswore,
Or to wroth-hail that he was bore,11
But he it thereto bring.
Therefore, lordings, I have after you sent,
For to come to my parliament,

To wit of you counsail.'
And all answered with good intent,
They would be at his commandement
Withouten any fail.
And when they were all at his hest,12
The Soudan made a well-great feast,
For love of his batail.

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3 Became
4 Did hit. He struck the floor with his foot.
6 Both little and great.
5 Chasten or check.
8 What do you advise.
7 Proud.
10 But assuredly.
was born.


11 It shall be ill-fortune to him that he

12 Order.


The Soudan gathered a host unride, With Saracens of muckle pride,

The king of Tars to assail.

When the king it heard that tide,
He sent about on each a-side,

All that he might of send;
Great war then began to wrack,
For the marriage ne most be take,
Of that maiden hend.2

Battle they set upon a day,
Within the third day of May,

Ne longer nold they lend.

The Soudan come with great power, With helm bright, and fair banner, Upon that king to wend.

The Soudan led an huge host,
And came with much pride and cost,
With the king of Tars to fight;
With him mony a Saracen fier',
All the fields far and near

Of helins leamed light.3

The king of Tars came also,
The Soudan battle for to do,

With mony a Christian knight.
Either host gan other assail,
There began a strong batail,

That grisly was of sight,

Three heathen again two Christian men, And felled them down in the fen,

With weapons stiff and good.

The stern Saracens in that fight,
Slew our Christian men downright,

They fought as they were wood. When the king of Tars saw that sight, Wood he was for wrath aplight,

In hand he hent a spear,

And to the Soudan he rode full right,
With a dunts of much might,

Adown he 'gan him bear.

The Soudan nigh he had y-slaw,
But thirty thousand of heathen law,
Comen him for to weir 6

And brought him again upon his steed,
And holp him well in that need,

That no man might him der.7

When he was brought upon his steed,
He sprung as sparkle doth of gleed,8
For wrath and for envy.

And all that he hit he made 'em bleed,
Ile fared as he wold a weed,

'Mahoun help!' he 'gan cry.

Mony a helm there was unweaved,
And mony a bassinet to-cleaved,
And saddles mony empty;

Men might see upon the field,
Mony a knight dead under shield,

Of the Christian company.

When the king of Tars saw him so ride, No longer there he wold abide,

But fleeth to his own city.

The Saracens, that ilk tide,
Slew adown by each side,

Our Christian men so free.

The Saracens that time, sans fail,
Slew our Christians in batail,
That ruth it was to see;

1 Unreckoned.

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[Extract from the Squire of Low Degree.]

[The daughter of the king of Hungary having fallen into melancholy, in consequence of the loss of her lover, the squire of low degree, her father thus endeavours to console her. The passage is valuable, because,' says Warton, it delineates, in lively colours, the fashionable diversions and usages of ancient times.']

To-morrow ye shall in hunting fare;2
And yede,3 my doughter, in a chair;
It shall be covered with velvet red,

And cloths of fine gold all about your head,

With damask white and azure blue,

Well diapered with lilies new.

Your pommels shall be ended with gold,

Your chains enamelled many a fold,

Your mantle of rich degree,
Purple pall and ermine free.

Jennets of Spain, that ben so wight,

Trapped to the ground with velvet bright.
Ye shall have harp, sautry, and song,
And other mirths you among.

Ye shall have Rumney and Malespine,
Both Hippocras and Vernage wine;
Montrese and wine of Greek,

Both Algrade and despice eke,
Antioch and Bastard,

Pyment also and garnard ;
Wine of Greek and Muscadel,
Both claré, pyment, and Rochelle,
The reed your stomach to defy,
And pots of Osy set you by.

You shall have venison y-bake,

The best wild fowl that may be take;
A leish of harehound with you to streek,7
And hart, and hind, and other like.

Ye shall be set at such a tryst,

That hart and hynd shall come to your fist,
Your disease to drive you fro,

To hear the bugles there y-blow.
Homeward thus shall ye ride,
On-hawking by the river's side,

With gosshawk and with gentle falcón,
With bugle horn and merlión.

When you come home your menzies among,
Ye shall have revel, dances, and song;


Little children, great and small,
Shall sing as does the nightingale.
Then shall ye go to your even song,
With tenors and trebles among.
Threescore of copes of damask bright,
Full of pearls they shall be pight.9
Your censors shall be of gold,
Indent with azure many a fold.
Your quire nor organ song shall want,
With contre-note and descant.
The other half on organs playing,
With young children full fain singing.
Then shall ye go to your suppér,
And sit in tents in green arbér,

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8 Gleamed with light. 5 Blow.

4 Took.

6 Defend.

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6 A drink of wine, honey, and spices. 8 Household. 9 Set.



With cloth of arras pight to the ground,
With sapphires set of diamond.
A hundred knights, truly told,
Shall play with bowls in alleys cold,
Your disease to drive away;
To see the fishes in pools play,
To a drawbridge then shall ye,

Th' one half of stone, th' other of tree;
A barge shall meet you full right,
With twenty-four oars full bright,
With trumpets and with clarion,
The fresh water to row up and down.
Forty torches burning bright,

At your bridges to bring you light.
Into your chamber they shall you bring,
With much mirth and more liking.
Your blankets shall be of fustian,
Your sheets shall be of cloth of Rennes.
Your head sheet shall be of pery pight,1
With diamonds set and rubies bright.
When you are laid in bed so soft,
A cage of gold shall hang aloft,
With long paper fair burning,
And cloves that be sweet smelling.
Frankincense and olibanum,

That when ye sleep the taste may come;
And if ye no rest can take,

All night minstrels for you shall wake.


Hitherto, we have seen English poetry only in the forms of the chronicle and the romance: of its many other forms, so familiar now, in which it is employed to point a moral lesson, to describe natural scenery, to convey satiric reflections, and give expression to refined sentiment, not a trace has as yet engaged our The dawn of miscellaneous poetry, as attention. these forms may be comprehensively called, is to be faintly discovered about the middle of the thirteenth century, when Henry III. sat on the English throne, and Alexander II. on that of Scotland. A considerable variety of examples will be found in the volumes of which the titles are given below. The earliest that can be said to possess literary merit is an elegy on the death of Edward I. (1307), written in musical and energetic stanzas, of which one is subjoined :

Jerusalem, thou hast i-lore 2

The flour of all chivalerie,
Nou Kyng Edward liveth na more,
Alas! that he yet shulde deye!
He wolde ha rered up ful heyge 3

Our baners that bueth broht to grounde;
Wel longe we mowe clepe1 and crie,

Er we such a kyng han y-founde !

The first name that occurs in this department of our literature is that of LAWRENCE MINOT, who, about 1350, composed a series of short poems on the victories of Edward III., beginning with the battle of Halidon Hill, and ending with the siege of Guines Castle. His works were in a great measure unknown until the beginning of the present century, when they were published by Ritson, who praised them for the ease, variety, and harmony of the versification. About the same time flourished RICHARD ROLLE, a hermit of the order of St Augustine, and doctor of divinity, who lived a solitary life near the

1 Inlaid with pearls.

Edward had intended to go on a crusade to the Holy Land.
4 Call.
a High.

*Mr Thomas Wright's Political Songs and Specimens of Lyric
Poetry composed in England in the reign of Edward I. Reliquiae
Antique, 2 vols.

nunnery of Hampole, four miles from Doncaster.
He wrote metrical paraphrases of certain parts of
Scripture, and an original poem of a moral and
religious nature, entitled The Pricke of Conscience;
but of the latter work it is not certainly known that
he composed it in English, there being some reason
for believing that, in its present form, it is a trans-
lation from a Latin original written by him. One
agreeable passage (in the original spelling) of this
generally dull work is subjoined :-


[What is in Heaven.]

Ther is lyf withoute ony deth,
And ther is youthe without ony elde ;1
And ther is alle manner welthe to welde:
And ther is rest without ony travaille;
And ther is pees without ony strife,
And ther is alle manner lykinge of lyf :-
And ther is bright somer ever to se,

And ther is nevere wynter in that countrie :-
And ther is more worshipe and honour,
Then evere hade kynge other emperour.
And ther is grete melodie of aungeles songe,
And ther is preysing hem amonge.

And ther is alle manner frendshipe that may be,
And ther is evere perfect love and charite;
And ther is wisdom without folye,
And ther is honeste without vileneye.
Al these a man may joyes of hevene call:
Ac yutte the most sovereyn joye of alle
Is the sighte of Goddes bright face,
In wham resteth alle mannere grace.


The Vision of Pierce Ploughman, a satirical poem of the same period, ascribed to ROBERT LONGLANDE, a secular priest, also shows very expressively the progress which was made, about the middle of the fourteenth century, towards a literary style. This poem, in many points of view, is one of the most important works that appeared in England previous to the invention of printing. It is the popular representative of the doctrines which were silently specimen of the English language than Chaucer, bringing about the Reformation, and it is a peculiarly but as exhibiting the revival of the same system of national poem, not only as being a much purer alliteration which characterised the Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is, in fact, both in this peculiarity and in its political character, characteristic of a great literary and political revolution, in which the language as well as the independence of the AngloSaxons had at last gained the ascendency over those of the Normans.* Pierce is represented as falling asleep on the Malvern hills, and as seeing, in his sleep, a series of visions; in describing these, he exposes the corruptions of society, but particularly the dissolute lives of the religious orders, with much bitterness.

[Extracts from Pierce Plowman.]
[Mercy and Truth are thus allegorised.]
Came walking in the way, to hell-ward she looked;
Out of the west coast, a wench, as me thought,
Mercy hight that maid, a meek thing withal,
A full benign burd,2 and buxom of speech;
Even out of the east, and westward she looked,
Her sister, as it seemed, came soothly walking,

1 Age.

2 Burd, i. e. a maiden.

* A popular edition of this poem has been recently published 11 naturally made. by Mr Wright. The lines are there divided, as we believe in strictness they ought to be, in the middle, where a pause is

A full comely creature, truth she hight,
For the virtue that her followed afeard was she never.
When these maidens mette, Mercy and Truth,
Either axed other of this great wonder,

Of the din and of the darkness, &c.

[Covetousness is thus personified.]

And then came Covetise, can I him not descrive,
So hungrily and hollow Sir Hervey him looked;
He was beetle-browed, and babberlipped also,
With two bleared een as a blind hag,
And as a leathern purse lolled his cheeks,

Well syder than his chin, they shriveled for eld:
And as a bondman of his bacon his beard was be-

With an hood on his head and a lousy hat above.
And in a tawny tabard of twelve winter age,

Al so-torn and baudy, and full of lice creeping;
But if that a louse could have loupen the better,
She should not have walked on the welt, it was so

[The existing condition of the religious orders is delineated in the following allegorical fashion. It might be supposed that the final lines, in which the Reformation is predicted, was an interpolation after that event; but this has been ascertained not to have been the case.]

Ac now is Religion a rider, a roamer about,
A leader of lovedays,3 and a lond-buyer,

A pricker on a palfrey from manor to manor.

An heap of hounds [behind him] as he a lord were:
And but if his knave4 kneel that shall his cope bring,
He loured on him, and asketh him who taught him
courtesy ?

Little had lords to done to give lond from her heirs
To religious, that have no ruth though it rain on her

In many places there they be parsons by hemself at

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With these imperfect models as his only native guides, arose our first great author, GEOFFREY CHAUCER, distinctively known as the Father of English poetry. Though our language had risen into importance with the rise of the Commons in the time of Edward I., the French long kept possession of the court and higher circles, and it required a genius like that of Chaucer-familiar with different modes

tractions which followed, and the paucity of any striking poetical genius for at least a century and a half after his death, too truly exemplify the fine simile of Warton, that Chaucer was like a genial day in an English spring, when a brilliant sun enlivens the face of nature with unusual warmth and lustre, but is succeeded by the redoubled horrors of winter, and those tender buds and early blossoms which were called forth by the transient gleam of a temporary sunshine, are nipped by frosts and torn by tempests.'

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Chaucer was a man of the world as well as a

student; a soldier and courtier, employed in public affairs of delicacy and importance, and equally acquainted with the splendour of the warlike and magnificent reign of Edward III., and with the bitter reverses of fortune which accompanied the subsequent troubles and convulsions. He had partaken freely in all; and was peculiarly qualified to excel in that department of literature which alone can be universally popular, the portraiture of real life and genuine emotion. His genius was not, indeed, fully developed till he was advanced in years. His early pieces have much of the frigid conceit and pedantry of his age, when the passion of love was erected into a sort of court, governed by statutes, and a system of chivalrous mythology (such as the poetical worship of the rose and the daisy) supplanted the stateliness of the old romance. In time he threw

off these conceits

When about sixty, in the calm evening of a busy

He stoop'd to truth, and moralised his song.

of life both at home and abroad, and openly patronised by his sovereign-to give literary permanence and consistency to the language and poetry of Eng-life, he composed his Canterbury Tales, simple and land. Henceforward his native style, which Spenser varied as nature itself, imbued with the results terms the pure well of English undefiled,' formed of extensive experience and close observation, and a standard of composition, though the national dis- coloured with the genial lights of a happy temperament, that had looked on the world without austerity, and passed through its changing scenes without los

1 Hanging wider than his chin.

2 As the mouth of a bondman or rural labourer is with the ing the freshness and vivacity of youthful feeling

bacon he eats, so was his beard beslabbered-an image still familiar in England.

and imagination. The poet tells us himself (in his Testament of Love) that he was born in London, and

8 Loveday is a day appointed for the amicable settlement of the year 1328 is assigned, by the only authority we

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possess on the subject, namely, the inscription on his tomb, as the date of his birth. One of his poems



is signed Philogenet of Cambridge, Clerk,' and
hence he is supposed to have attended the Univer-
sity there; but Warton and other Oxonians claim
him for the rival university. It is certain that he
accompanied the army with which Edward III. in-
vaded France, and was made prisoner about the
year 1359, at the siege of Retters. At this time the
poet was honoured with the steady and effective
patronage of John of Gaunt, whose marriage with
Blanche, heiress of Lancaster, he commemorates in
his poem of the Dream. Chaucer and 'time-honoured
Gaunt' became closely connected. The former mar-
ried Philippa Pyckard, or De Rouet, daughter of a
knight of Hainault, and maid of honour to the queen,
and a sister of this lady, Catherine Swinford (widow
of Sir John Swinford) became the mistress, and ulti-
mately the wife, of John of Gaunt. The fortunes of
the poet rose and fell with those of the prince, his
patron. In 1367, he received from the crown a grant
of twenty marks, equal to about £200 of our present
money. In 1372, he was a joint envoy on a mission
to the Duke of Genoa; and it has been conjectured
that on this occasion he made a tour of the northern
states of Italy, and visited Petrarch at Padua. The
only proof of this, however, is a casual allusion in
the Canterbury Tales, where the clerk of Oxford says
of his tale-

Learned at Padua of a worthy clerk-
Francis Petrarch, the laureat poet,
Hight this clerk, whose rhetoric sweet
Enlumined all Italy of poetry.

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The tale thus learned is the pathetic story of Patient Grisilde, which, in fact, was written by Boccaccio, and only translated into Latin by Petrarch. Why,' asks Mr Godwin, did Chaucer choose to confess his obligation for it to Petrarch rather than to Boccaccio, from whose volume Petrarch confessedly translated it? For this very natural reason-because he was eager to commemorate his interview with this venerable patriarch of Italian letters, and to record the pleasure he had reaped from his society.' We fear this is mere special pleading; but it would be a pity that so pleasing an illusion should be dispelled. Whether or not the two poets ever met, the Italian journey of Chaucer, and the fame of Petrarch, must have kindled his poetical ambition and refined his taste. The Divine Comedy of Dante had shed a glory over the literature of Italy; Petrarch received his crown of laurel in the Capitol of Rome only five years before Chaucer first appeared as a poet (his Court of Love was written about the year 1346); and Boccaccio (more poetical in his prose than his verse) had composed that inimitable century of tales, his Decameron, in which the charms of romance are clothed in all the pure and sparkling graces of composition. These illustrious examples must have inspired the English traveller; but the rude northern speech with which he had to deal, formed a chilling contrast to the musical language of Italy! Edward III. continued his patronage to the poet. He was made comptroller of the customs of wine and wool in the port of London, and had a pitcher of wine daily from the royal table, which was afterwards commuted into a pension of twenty marks. He was appointed a joint envoy to France to treat of a marriage between the Prince of Wales and Mary, the daughter of the French king. At home, he is supposed to have resided in a house granted by the king, near the royal manor at Woodstock, where, according to the description in his Dream, he was Surrounded with every mark of luxury and distinction. The scenery of Woodstock Park has been described in the Dream with some graphic and picturesque touches:

And right anon as I the day espied,
No longer would I in my bed abide,
I went forth myself alone and boldely,
And held the way down by a brook side,
Till I came to a land of white and green,
So fair a one had I never in been.
The ground was green y-powdered with daisy,
The flowers and the groves alike high,

All green and white was nothing else seen.

The destruction of the Royal Manor at Woodstock,
and the subsequent erection of Blenheim, have
changed the appearance of this classic ground; but
the poet's morning walk may still be traced, and
some venerable oaks that may have waved over him,
lend poetic and historical interest to the spot. The
opening of the reign of Richard II. was unpropitious
to Chaucer. He became involved in the civil and
religious troubles of the times, and joined with the
party of John of Northampton, who was attached
to the doctrines of Wickliffe, in resisting the mea-
sures of the court. The poet fled to Hainault (the
country of his wife's relations), and afterwards to
Holland. He ventured to return in 1386, but was
thrown into the Tower, and deprived of his comp-
pose of his two patents of twenty marks each; a
trollership. In May 1388, he obtained leave to dis-
measure prompted, no doubt, by necessity. He ob-
tained his release by impeaching his previous asso-
ciates, and confessing to his misdemeanours, offering
also to prove the truth of his information by enter-
ing the lists of combat with the accused parties.
How far this transaction involves the character of
the poet, we cannot now ascertain. He has painted
his suffering and distress, the odium which he in-
curred, and his indignation at the bad conduct of his
former confederates, in powerful and affecting lan-
guage in his prose work, the Testament of Love. The
sunshine of royal favour was not long withheld after
this humiliating submission. In 1389, Chaucer is
registered as clerk of the works at Westminster;
and next year he was appointed to the same office at
Windsor. These were only temporary situations,
held about twenty months; but he afterwards re-
The name of the poet does not occur again
ceived a grant of £20, and a tun of wine, per an-
to Woodstock, and there composed his Canterbury
for some years, and he is supposed to have retired
Tales. In 1398, a patent of protection was granted
to him by the crown; but, from the terms of the
deed, it is difficult to say whether it is an amnesty
for political offences, or a safeguard from creditors.
In the following year, still brighter prospects opened
on the aged poet. Henry of Bolingbroke, the son
of his brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, ascended the
throne: Chaucer's annuity was continued, and forty
marks additional were granted. Thomas Chaucer,
whom Mr Godwin seems to prove to have been the
poet's son, was made chief butler, and elected Speaker
of the House of Commons. The last time that the
poet's name occurs in any public document, is in a
lease made to him by the abbot, prior and convent
of Westminster, of a tenement situate in the gar-
den of the chapel, at the yearly rent of 53s. 4d.
on the 25th of October 1400, the poet died in Lon-
This is dated on the 24th of December 1399; and
don, most probably in the house he had just leased,
which stood on the site of Henry VII.'s chapel. He
was buried in Westminster Abbey-the first of that
illustrious file of poets whose ashes rest in the sacred

The character of Chaucer may be seen in his works. He was the counterpart of Shakspeare in Ito mirth and joviality, yet delighting in his books, cheerfulness and benignity of disposition-no enemy


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