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" A Frere there was, a wanton and a mery
Men mote give silver to the poure freres."?
“ In every hous he gan to pore and prie,
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,
i Canterbury Tales, prologue, ii. p. 7, l. 208 et passim.
3 Ibid. p. 221, l. 7366.
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
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,
1 Canterbury Tales, ii. The Sompnoures Tale, p. 221, l. 7384. 2 Ibid. p. 222, l. 7389.
3 Ibid. p. 222,
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?
for you ben insufficient?
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:
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
· Canterbury Tales, ii. The Somproures Tale, p. 223, l. 7450–7460. ? Ibid. p. 226, l. 7536–7544.
3 Ibid. p. 226, l. 7545-7553.
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,
and let the Frere see
i Canterbury Tales, ii. The Sompnoures Tale, p. 230, l. 7685-7695.
Out of the devils ...
ther gonnen to drive.
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.