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this early introduction to the court atmosphere is a crucial point in his career. While the native English spirit was beginning to assert itself throughout the country, the tone of the court at this time was still foreign. French literature was in fashion: “French poets and 'menestrels' were in the service and pay of the English King.” Queen Philippa and her ladies amused themselves with French poetry and romance. It was a brilliant, comfortable world too, adorned with a splendid ceremonial, stirred by the echo of chivalric deeds, for the King had just won the battle of Poitiers (1356). At an age when life is very new and wonderful to an eager and susceptible youth, the boy-poet Chaucer was transported to the midst of this foreign atmosphere, this little world of fair ladies and great lords, of French singers and French tastes. Outside in the country was the greater world of England, a plague-stricken and miserable land where the people toiled and hungered, enduring “ wind and rain in the fields.” But circumstances had shut the young Chaucer away from this world of the poor; his training was that of a gentleman's son; his world, the world of chivalry. and worldly experience, Chaucer gained in some way a knowledge of books. He learned Latin, and he was probably familiar with French from his earliest years. Like Shakespeare he was a lover not only of men but of books; and, possessing the industry and enthusiasm of the student, he was doubtless his own best teacher. His poems are almost always founded upon books; many of them are translations or paraphrases of other men's work, and he is fond of introducing reminiscences of his reading. More than one passage reveals his delight in study, and shows us that in the midst of a

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Geoffrey Chaucer From a picture in the National Portrait Gallery

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busy life he turned to books for rest and refreshment. Sad and wakeful he turns

“To rede, and drive the night away;”

preferring his romance to a game “at chesse or tables." He tells us that when he was busy in the London Custom House, after he had finished his day's work, instead of seeking rest and diversion, he would go home and sit over a book as dombe as any stoon.” The character and scope of Chaucer's reading were such as his training and opportunities would lead us to expect. He was a child of foreign influences. Trained in a court where the King could hardly speak an intelligible English sentence, Chaucer's literary inheritance was not English but Latin and French. He studied the Latin literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; he knew Vergil's Æneid and Ovid's Metamorphoses, and he had some acquaintance with other classical works. But his mother-literature was the French. He read the long French

poem, the Romance of the Rose; he was influenced by the lyrics of his French contemporaries, so that, when he began to write, addressing, as he did, a courtly audience whose sympathies were French, he naturally followed the French manner.

In the French War, 1359. — But reading and poetry formed but part of Chaucer's eventful and many-sided career. Before he was twenty he saw something not only of the court but of the camp and of the field, for he was with the English army in the French campaign of 1359. While this campaign was marked by no brilliant military exploits, there must have been much to stir the imagination. In those days war was magnificent with that “pomp and panoply

pomp and panoply" in which poets delight, and Chaucer saw with his bodily eyes such

spectacles as poets dream of. As the King's host moved through France, says Froissart, it seemed to cover the country, and the soldiers “were so richly armed and appareled that it was a wonder and a great pleasure to look at the shining arms, the floating banners." And in this mighty army were the King, the Black Prince, and many of the greatest knights and captains of the age. Chaucer learned something too of war's reverses, for he was taken prisoner by the French and ransomed by the King for £16. After his return from the French campaign, Chaucer entered the King's service. In 1367 he was granted a pension of twenty marks as “ valet of the King's chamber,” and somewhat later he rose to the position of esquire. Before 1379 he had been employed in no less than seven diplomatic missions to various places on the Continent.

Early Poems. — While Chaucer was thus making his way as courtier, soldier, and diplomatist, he had already begun his work as a poet. He wrote love-lyrics in the French manner, most of which have been lost. He translated the Romance of the Rose (1360-65?). One of his early poems, The Dethe of Blaunche the Duchesse (1369), was called forth by the death of Blanche of Lancaster, the wife of John of Gaunt, the poet's patron. The love of Nature, in her milder and fairer aspects, of the soft grass, the birds, the flowers, and the green woods, — and a deep and reverent appreciation of the beauty of womanhood, these two traits so characteristic of Chaucer's maturer work, are already apparent in this poem. It is here that we find that melodious and charming description of happy girlhood, which takes its place beside the work of the great masters:

“I saw hir daunce so comlily,
Carole and singe so swetely

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