Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

extent and variety of his information, his wonderful knowledge of human nature, the boldness with which he attacked clerical abuses, and advocated the interests of honour and virtue, and more than all, of that philosophical construction of mind, which rendered him superior to the prejudices of his time, and placed him far in advance of the wisest of his contemporaries.


6.

JOHN HENRY LEIGH HUNT, GENIALITY, SINGING

1846, 1855

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), genial and prolific essayist, editor, poet and family man, was educated at Christ’s Hospital. He edited various magazines of liberal views and was imprisoned on one occasion. He was the friend of many of the greatest Romantic writers and for a while particularly influential over Keats, whom he seems to have introduced to Chaucer’s works. His shrewd and copious comments embody a fellow-practitioner’s intelligent and generous appreciation. He attempts to analyse irony, narrative techniques and humour, and is early in his association of poetry with the idea of music. The extracts are taken (a) from ‘Wit and Humour, Selected from the English Poets’ (1846), and (b) from ‘Stories in Verse’ (1855).

(a)

(p. 18) 4th, Irony, (

, Talk, in a sense of Dissimulation) or Saying one thing and Meaning another, is a mode of speech generally adopted for purposes of satire, but may be made the vehicle of the most exquisite compliment. On the other hand, Chaucer, with a delightful impudence, has drawn a pretended compliment out of a satire the most outrageous. He makes the Cock say to the Hen, in the fable told by the Nun’s Priest, that ‘the female is the confusion of the male;’ but then he says it in Latin, gravely quoting from a Latin author a sentence to that effect about womankind. This insult he proceeds to translate into an eulogy:-

-70-

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