Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose

By Kenneth Sisam | Go to book overview
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XII
JOHN GOWER
D. 1408.

John Gower, a Londoner himself, came of a good Kentish family. Chaucer must have known him well, for he chose him as his attorney when leaving for the Continent in 1378, and, with the dedication of Troilus and Criseyde, labelled him for ever as 'moral Gower'. Gower's marriage with Agnes Groundolf, probably a second marriage, is recorded in 1398. Blindness came on him a few years later. His will, dated August 15, 1408, was proved on October 34, 1408, so that his death must fall between those two points. By his own wish he was buried in St. Saviour's, Southwark, the church of the canons of St. Mary Overy, to whom he was a liberal benefactor.

On his tomb in St. Saviour's Church, Gower is shown with his head resting on three great volumes, representing his principal works--the Speculum Meditantis, the Vox Clamantis, and the Confessio Amantis.

The Speculum Meditantis, or Mirour de l'Omme, is a handbook of sins and sinners, written in French.

The Vox Clamantis, written in Latin, covers similar ground. Opening with a vision of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the poet passes in review the faults of the different grades of society-- clergy, nobles, labourers, traders, lawyers--and ends with an admonition to the young King Richard II.

In his English work, the Confessio Amantis, he expressly abandons the task of setting the world to rights, and promises to change his style henceforth. Now he will sing of Love. The machinery of the poem is suggested by the great source of mediaeval conventions, the Roman de la Rose. On a May morning the poet, a victim of love, wanders afield and meets the

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