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GEOFFREY CHAUCER has been called the Father of English Poetry; for he was the first great poet that wrote in our language. For nearly three centuries after the Norman conquest, French was the language of the court and nobility of England; but the Saxon peasantry still retained their mother tongue. Gradually, however, the two languages became fused together; the Anglo-Saxon lost many of its grammatical inflections, and a number of French words were incorporated with it.
The new language thus formed, which is essentially Saxon both in its structure and vocabulary, wás termed English, and it has gradually spread, not only throughout the British Islands, but to all quarters of the globe. The English language is said to date from the middle of the fourteenth century, for about that period French ceased to be the ordinary speech of the upper classes; and at this time Chaucer was beginning to write the poems that have rendered him famous.
The exact date of Chaucer's birth is not known, though it is generally thought to have been about the year 1328. There is the like uncertainty about his rank and parentage. He was probably born in London, and he seems to have been educated for one of the learned professions. The first reliable notice of him occurs in 1359, when he served under Edward III. in his expedition against France, and was made prisoner at the siege of Retters. Peace was concluded in the following year, and Chaucer then returned to England. We next hear of him in-1367, as a “valet of the king's household,” a situation always filled by men of gentle birth. In June of that year the king granted him a pension of twenty marks per annum, which would probably be worth £240 of our money. About this time he married Philippa, one of the ladies in the queen's household, whose sister, Catherine, subsequently became the third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
In December 1372, Chaucer was sent on an embassy into Italy, and spent some time at Genoa and Florence; and it is very probable that at this time he becamé acquainted with Petrarch, the great Italian poet. Chaucer seems to have performed his mission to the king's entire satisfaction, for on his return he received several marks of the royal favour. By a writ dated at Windsor 1374, a pitcher of wine daily was granted to him for life, to be received in the port of London from the hands of the king's butler. He was made comptroller of the customs, , and in the last year of Edward's reign he was associated with Sir Thomas Percy in a secret mission to Flanders. Richard II. continued to Chaucer the favour which his grandfather had shown him. He confirmed to him his annuity of twenty marks, and in lieu of the pitcher of wine, granted him an additional twenty marks per annum. He also employed him on several embassies.
Contemporary with Chaucer was the great reformer Wickliffe, who was protected and favoured by John of Gaunt. Many of Chaucer's biographers say that the poet was attached to Wickliffe's opinions; that he took an active part in an insurrection in London which was headed by John of Northampton, one of Wickliffe's followers; and that in consequence of this he was dismissed from his offices and obliged to flee to the continent. It is further stated that, being reduced to poverty, he returned to London after an exile of two years, and was immediately seized and sent to the Tower; that he remained in custody for three years, and was released about May 1389, at the intercession of Anne of Bohemia, queen of Richard II. It is now generally admitted that