Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

lived; there were wars, plagues, insurrections, much misery and discontent. But for the disagreeable side of the 14th century we must go to the writer of Piers the Plowman; we find little trace of it in Chaucer. The outside of the walls of the Garden of Mirth is painted with horrible and squalid figures,—Ire, Envy, Covetice, Avarice, Felony, Villany, Sorrow, Eld, and Poverty; but no such figures are admitted within the gates; the concierge is Idleness; the chief inmates are Love, Sweetlooking, Beauty, Richesse, Largesse, Franchise, and Courtesy; and Mirth and Gladness are the master and mistress of the ceremonies.


22.

WILLIAM CYPLES, INCREDIBLE SENTIMENTALITY, AND THE OLD WONDER OF SEX

1877

William Cyples (1831-82), a journalist born in the Potteries, was self-educated with the help of his working mother. He also wrote a philosophical work and a novel called ‘Hearts of Gold’. In this anonymous essay (identified in ‘The Wellesley Index of Nineteenth Century Periodicals’), in ‘The Cornhill Magazine’, XXXV (1877), pp. 280-97, entitled Chaucer’s Love Poetry, he claims that nine-tenths of Chaucer is unread, unknown, outlandish ‘erotics’, most of it sentimental and melancholy. Cyples could hardly be more mistaken in thinking that general interest in sex was waning, but his historical and psychological observations have value. The embarrassing coyness at the beginning of the essay has historical interest in itself, but the whole essay, however mistaken or remote from modern thought and feeling, is full of sense. It makes an interesting analysis of literary love, though confusion about the Chaucerian canon affects it. He introduces the notion of the code of love.

Chaucer’s Love-Poetry

Whenever Chaucer is spoken of, every English face within sight brightens. A special, very oddly-mixed, but, on the

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