Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study

By Herbert Ellsworth Cory; Charles M. Gayley et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III

COMPLAINTS, ELEGIES, COLIN CLOUTS COME HOME
AGAINE

Everyone remembers how on a certain immortal journey to Canterbury the bluff host, after a long interruption begun by the riotous outburst of the drunken miller, the irascible reve, and the boisterous cook with their ribald tales, turned a second time to the monk and, with no reverent exhortations, called for a new tale. The monk, though ruddy of face and anointed with nature's oils that come of much choice eating and much riding of good hunting horses, chose to edify the company with a catalogue of gloomy accounts of the deceitful fortunes and tragic falls of Lucifer, Adam, Hercules, "Petro, glorie of Spayne," Nero, Holofernes, and various others. We recall how he had barely finished with Croesus when he was politely but firmly interrupted by the knight and, more emphatically, by the host, who added:

I preye yow hertely, telle us somwhat elles,
For sikerly, nere clinking of your belles,
That on your brydel hange on every syde,
By heven king, that for us alle dyde,
I sholde er this han fallen doun for slepe,
Although the slough had never been so depe;
Then had your tale al be told in vayn.
For certeinly, as that thise clerkes seyn,
"Where-as a man may have noon audience
Noght helpeth it to tellen his sentence. "

Despite the sly advice of Chaucer, however, these dreary and sacerdotal laments, which gave the Middle Ages so much lugubrious joy and were not utterly disdained by such as Boccaccio and Chaucer himself, persisted though Lydgate, Hoccleve, and other dull followers until, in the full dawn of the renaissance in England, they stirred the noble Sackville and his collaborators

-171-

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