Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

writing—but the special characteristic of the style is, that the word is always to the purpose. He amply possesses his language, and his sparing expression is chosen, and never inadequate—never indigent. His rule is, that for every phrase there be matter; and narrative or argument is thus constantly progressive. He does not appear to be hurried out of himself by the heat of composition. His good understanding completely goes along with him, and weighs every word.


5.

SIR NICHOLAS HARRIS NICOLAS, A LIFE FOUNDED ON EVIDENCE

1845

Nicolas (1799-1848), who was educated as a midshipman and at the Inner Temple, was noted for his genealogical and antiquarian research, and the reforms he agitated for in facilities for the study of records. He was a prolific researcher, editor, biographer, annotator and parent, and for the first time established a sound documentary basis for the life of Chaucer in his memoir that precedes the edition of 1845, from which the following extracts are taken.

(p. 1) Although great trouble was taken to illustrate the life of CHAUCER by his former biographers, the yield of research was but imperfectly gleaned. Many material facts in his history have been very recently brought to light, and are now, for the first time, published; but it is not from these discoveries only that this account of the Poet will derive its claim to attention. An erroneous construction has been given to much of what was before known of him; and absurd inferences have, in some cases, been drawn from supposed allusions to himself in his writings. A Life of the Poet, founded on documentary evidence instead of imagination, was much wanted; and this, it is hoped, the present Memoir will supply.

CHAUCER’S parentage is unknown, and the conjectures that have been hazarded on the subject are too vague to justify the adoption of any of them. His name, which was

-66-

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