Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

writer who most resembles him—superficial differences apart—is Fielding. In both there is constant shrewdness and common sense, a constant feeling of the comic side of things, a moral instinct which escapes in irony, never in denunciation or fanaticism; no remarkable spirituality of feeling, an acceptance of the world as a pleasant enough place, provided good dinners and a sufficiency of cash are to be had, and that healthy relish for fact and reality, and scorn of humbug of all kinds, especially of that particular phase of it which makes one appear better than one is, which—for want of a better term—we are accustomed to call English. Chaucer was a Conservative in all his feelings; he liked to poke his fun at the clergy, but he was not of the stuff of which martyrs are made. He loved good eating and drinking, and studious leisure and peace; and although in his ordinary moods shrewd, and observant, and satirical, his higher genius would now and then splendidly assert itself—and behold the tournament at Athens, where kings are combatants and Emily the prize; or the little boat, containing the brain-bewildered Constance and her child, wandering hither and thither on the friendly sea.


15.

FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, CORDIAL AFFECTION FOR MEN AND FOR NATURE

1865 (1874)

F.D. Maurice (1805-72), educated at the dissenting Hackney Academy and at both Oxford and Cambridge, was a clergyman, theologian, Christian Socialist, voluminous writer and controversialist, of great sweetness and sensibility of character. His view of Chaucer is not particularly original, but succinctly gathers up several nineteenth-century themes. The extract is from a lecture, ‘On Books’, given in November 1865, printed in ‘The Friendship of Books and other Lectures’ (1874), pp. 76-7.

The earliest poetry belongs to the same age with Wycliffe’s Bible. Chaucer was possibly the friend of Wycliffe—certainly shared many of his sympathies and antipathies. He

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