Chaucer HTML version

The legacy which Chaucer left to our literature was to fructify in the hands of a long
succession of heirs; and it may be said, with little fear of contradiction, that at no time has
his fame been fresher and his influence upon our poets--and upon our painters as well as
our poets--more perceptible than at the present day. When Gower first put forth his
"Confessio Amantis," we may assume that Chaucer's poetical labours, of the fame of
which his brother-poet declared the land to be full, had not yet been crowned by his last
and greatest work. As a poet, therefore, Gower in one sense owes less to Chaucer than
did many of their successors; though, on the other hand it may be said with truth that to
Chaucer is due the fact, that Gower (whose earlier productions were in French and in
Latin) ever became a poet at all. The "Confessio Amantis" is no book for all times like
the "Canterbury Tales"; but the conjoined names of Chaucer and Gower added strength to
one another in the eyes of the generations ensuing, little anxious as these generations
were to distinguish which of the pair was really the first to it "garnish our English rude"
with the flowers of a new poetic diction and art of verse.
The Lancaster period of our history had its days of national glory as well as of national
humiliation, and indisputably, as a whole, advanced the growth of the nation towards
political manhood. But it brought with it no golden summer to fulfil the promises of the
spring-tide of our modern poetical literature. The two poets whose names stand forth
from the barren after-season of the earlier half of the fifteenth century, were, both of
them, according to their own profession, disciples of Chaucer. In truth, however,
Occleve, the only name-worthy poetical writer of the reign of Henry IV, seems to have
been less akin as an author to Chaucer than to Gower, while his principal poem
manifestly was, in an even greater degree than the "Confessio Amantis," a severely
learned or, as its author terms it, unbuxom book. Lydgate, on the other hand, the famous
monk of Bury, has in him something of the spirit as well as of the manner of Chaucer,
under whose advice he is said to have composed one of his principal poems. Though a
monk, he was no stay-at-home or do-nothing; like him of the "Canterbury Tales," we may
suppose Lydgate to have scorned the maxim that a monk out of his cloister is like a fish
out of water; and doubtless many days which he could spare from the instruction of youth
at St. Edmund's Bury were spent about the London streets, of the sights and sounds of
which he has left us so vivacious a record--a kind of farcical supplement to the
"Prologue" of the "Canterbury Tales." His literary career, part of which certainly belongs
to the reign of Henry V, has some resemblance to Chaucer's, though it is less regular and
less consistent with itself; and several of his poems bear more or less distinct traces of
Chaucer's influence. The "Troy-book" is not founded on "Troilus and Cressid," though it
is derived from the sources which had fed the original of Chaucer's poem; but the
"Temple of Glass" seems to have been an imitation of the "House of Fame"; and the
"Story of Thebes" is actually introduced by its author as an additional "Canterbury Tale,"
and challenges comparison with the rest of the series into which it asks admittance. Both
Occleve and Lydgate enjoyed the patronage of a prince of genius descended from the
House, with whose founder Chaucer was so closely connected--Humphrey, Duke of
Gloucester. Meanwhile, the sovereign of a neighbouring kingdom was in all probability