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" A Frere there was, a wanton and a mery
Ful wel beloved, and familier was he
With frankeleins over all in his contree,
And eke with worthy wimmen of the toun.
Full swetely herde he confession,
And pleasant was his absolution.
He was an esy man to give penance,
Ther as he wiste to han a good pitance :
For unto a poure ordre for to give
Is signe that a man is wel yshrive.
And knew wel the tavernes in every toun,
And every hosteler and gay tapstere,
Better than a lazar and a beggere.
It is not honest, it may not avance,
As for to delen with no swich pouraille,
But all with riche and sellers of vitaille.
For many a man so hard is of his herte,
He may not wepe, although him sore smerte.
Therfore in stede of weping and praieres,

Men mote give silver to the poure freres."?
This lively irony had an exponent before in Jean de Meung.
But Chaucer pushes it further, and gives it life and motion. His
monk begs from house to house, holding out his wallet :

“ In every hous he gan to pore and prie,
And begged mele and chese, or elles corn.
Yeve us a bushel whete, or malt, or reye,
A Goddes kichel, or a trippe of chese,
Or elles what you list, we may not chese;
A Goddes halfpeny, or a masse peny;
Or yeve us of your braun, if ye have any,
A dagon of your blanket, leve dame,
Our suster dere (lo here I write your name).'. .
And whan that he was out at dore, anon,

He planed away the names everich on. He has kept for the end of his circuit, Thomas, one of his most liberal clients. He finds him in bed, and ill; here is excellent fruit to suck and squeeze:

“God wot,' quod he, 'laboured have I ful sore,

And specially for thy salvation,
Have I sayd many a precious orison.
I have this day ben at your chirche at messe
And ther I saw our dame, a, wher is she?'"3

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i Canterbury Tales, prologue, ii. p. 7, l. 208 et passim.
2 Ibid.
The Sompnoures Tale, ii. p. 220, l. 7319–7340.

3 Ibid. p. 221, l. 7366.

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The dame enters :

“ This frere ariseth up ful curtisly,

And hire embraceth in his armes narwe,

And kisseth hire swete and chirketh as a sparwe.' Then, in his sweetest and most caressing voice, he compliments her, and says:

«« «Thanked be God that you yaf soule and lif,

Yet saw I not this day so faire a wif

In all the chirche, God so save me.' Have we not here already Tartuffe and Elmire? But the monk is with a farmer, and can go to work more quickly and directly. When the compliments ended, he thinks of the substance, and asks the lady to let him talk alone with Thomas. He must inquire after the state of his soul :

«•I wol with Thomas speke a litel throw :

Thise curates ben so negligent and slow
To gropen tendrely a conscience.
Now, dame,' quod he, “jeo vous die sanz doule,
Have I nat of a capon but the liver,
And of your white bred nat but a shiver,
And after that a rosted pigges hed
(But I ne wolde for me no beest were ded),
Than had I with you homly suffisance.
I am a man of litel sustenance,
My spirit hath his fostring in the Bible.
My body is ay so redy and penible
To waken, that my stomak is destroied.'" 3

he raises his hands to heaven, and ends with a sigh. The wife tells him her child died a fortnight before. Straightway he manufactures a miracle; how could he earn his money in any better way? He had a revelation of this death in the “ dortour” of the convent; he saw the child carried to paradise; he rose with his brothers, “with many a tere trilling on our cheke," and they sang a Te Deum :

"'For, sire and dame, trusteth me right wel,

Our orisons ben more effectuel,
And more we seen of Cristes secree thinges
Than borel folk, although that they be kinges.
We live in poverte, and in abstinence,
And borel folk in richesse and dispence.

Poor man,



1 Canterbury Tales, ii. The Sompnoures Tale, p. 221, l. 7384. 2 Ibid. p. 222, l. 7389.



3 Ibid. p. 222,

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Lazer and Dives liveden diversely,

And divers guerdon hadden they therby.' Presently he spurts out a whole sermon, in a loathsome style, and with an interest which is plain enough. The sick man, wearied, replies that he has already given half his fortune to all kinds of monks, and yet he continually suffers. Listen to the grieved exclamation, the true indignation of the mendicant monk, who sees himself threatened by the competition of a brother of the cloth to share his client, his revenue, his booty, his food-supplies:

“ The frere answered: 0 Thomas, dost thou so?
What nedeth you diverse freres to seche ?
What nedeth him that hath a parfit leche,
To sechen other leches in the toun ?
Your inconstance is your

Hold ye than me, or elles our covent,

for you ben insufficient?
Thomas, that jape n' is not worth a mite,

Your maladie is for we han to lite.'2 · Recognize the great orator; he employs even the grand style to keep the supplies from being cut off:

WA, yeve that covent half a quarter otes ;

And yeve that covent four and twenty grotes ;

yeve that frere a peny, and let him go:
Nay, nay, Thomas, it may no thing be so.
What is a ferthing worth parted on twelve ?
Lo, eche thing that is oned in himself
Is more strong, than whan it is yscatered .

Thou woldest han our labour al for nought.'"3 Then he begins again his sermon in a louder tone, shouting at each word, quoting examples from Seneca and the classics, a terrible fluency, a trick of his trade, which, diligently applied, must draw money from the patient. He asks for gold,“ to make our cloistre,"

And yet, God wot, uneth the fundament
Parfourmed is, ne of our pavement
N’ is not a tile yet within our wones;
By God, we owen fourty pound for stones.
Now help Thomas, for him that harwed helle,
For elles mote we oure bokes selle,

· Canterbury Tales, ii. The Somproures Tale, p. 223, l. 7450–7460. ? Ibid. p. 226, l. 7536–7544.

3 Ibid. p. 226, l. 7545-7553.

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In the end, Thomas in a rage promises him a gift, tells him to put his hand in the bed and take it, and sends him away duped, mocked, and covered with filth.

We have descended now to popular farce: when amusement must be had at any price, it is sought, as here, in broad jokes, even in filthiness. We can see how these two coarse and vigorous plants have blossomed in the dung of the middle age. Planted by the sly fellows of Champagne and Ile-de-France, watered by the trouvères, they were destined fully to expand, speckled and ruddy, in the large hands of Rabelais. . Meanwhile Chaucer plucks his nosegay from it. Deceived husbands, mis- · haps in inns, accidents in bed, cuffs, kicks, and robberies, these suffice to raise a loud laugh. Side by side with noble pictures of chivalry, he gives us a train of Flemish grotesque figures, carpenters, joiners, friars, summoners; blows abound, fists descend on fleshy backs; many nudities are shown; they swindle one another out of their corn, their wives; they pitch one another out of a window; they brawl and quarrel. A bruise, a piece of open filthiness, passes in such society for a sign of wit. The summoner, being rallied by the friar, gives him tit for tat:

"..This Frere bosteth that he knoweth helle,

And, God it wot, that is but litel wonder,
Freres and fendes ben but litel asonder.
For parde, ye han often time herd telle
How that a Frere ravished was to helle
In spirit ones by a visioun,
And as an angel lad him up and doun,
To shewen him the peines that ther were,
And unto Sathanas he lad him doun.
(And now hath Sathanas,' saith he, "a tayl
Broder than of a Carrike is the sayl.)
Hold up thy tayl, thou Sathanas, quod he,

and let the Frere see
Wher is the nest of Freres in this place.
And er than half a furlong way of space,
Right so as bees out swarmen of an hive,

i Canterbury Tales, ii. The Sompnoures Tale, p. 230, l. 7685-7695.

Out of the devils ...

ther gonnen to drive.
A twenty thousand Freres on a route,
And thurghout hell they swarmed al aboute,
And com agen, as fast as they may gon.'»i

Such were the coarse buffooneries of the popular imagination.

V. It is high time to return to Chaucer himself. Beyond the two notable characteristics which settle his place in his age and school of poetry, there are others which take him out of his age and school. If he was romantic and gay like the rest, it was after a fashion of his own. He observes characters, notes their differences, studies the coherence of their parts, endeavors to describe living individualities,-a thing unheard of in his time, but which the renovators in the sixteenth century, and first among them Shakespeare, will do afterwards. Is it already the English positive common sense and aptitude for seeing the inside of things which begins to appear? A new spirit, almost manly, pierces through, in literature as in painting, with Chaucer as with Van Eyck, with both at the same time; no longer the childish imitation of chivalrous life? or monastic devotion, but the grave spirit of inquiry and craving for deep truths, whereby art becomes complete. For the first time, in Chaucer as in Van Eyck, the character described stands out in relief; its parts are connected; it is no longer an unsubstantial phantom. You may guess its past and foretell its future action. Its externals manifest the personal and incommunicable details of its inner nature, and the infinite complexity of its economy and motion. To this day, after four centuries, that character is individualized and typical; it remains distinct in our memory, like the creations of Shakespeare and Rubens.

We observe this growth in the very act. Not only does Chaucer, like Boccaccio, bind his tales into a single history; but in addition—and this is wanting in Boccaccio-he begins with the portrait of all his narrators, knight, summoner, man of law, monk, bailiff or reeve, host, about thirty distinct figures, of every sex, condition, age, each painted with his disposition, face, costume, turns of speech, little significant ac

i Canterbury Tales, ii. The Sompnoures Prologue, p. 217, l. 7254-7279.

2 See in The Canterbury Tales the Rhyme of Sir Topas, a parody on the chivalric histories Each character there seems a precursor of Cervantes.

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