Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

poets are sometimes missed, because they have been taken for poetasters. But, upon the whole, the chance of excess is preferred: and the preference is well founded; for the whole system is founded on a judicious instinct. Feelings are nature’s reasons; communities often feel better than individuals reason; and they feel better in this instance.


7.

JAMES LORIMER, CHAUCER IS OUR GOETHE

1849

James Lorimer (1818-90), writer and professor, was educated at the universities of Edinburgh, Berlin, Bonn, and the academy of Geneva. He wrote many books on law and political philosophy. He was appointed to the Chair of the Law of Nature and of Nations at Edinburgh in 1865 and advocated many admirable reforms. In this anonymous contribution (identified in ‘The Wellesley Index of Nineteenth Century Periodicals’) he gives a lengthy review of editions of and books about Chaucer in ‘The North British Review’, X (1849) and emphasises Chaucer’s resemblances to later times, concluding with the novel but valuable comparison with Goethe.

(p. 294) In order to deal with the utilitarian spirit which perhaps not improperly influences the choice of the many, in literature as in more vulgar matters, and to fix, as it were, the marketable value of Chaucer, the first question, as it seems to us, which we are bound at once to ask and to answer, is—belongs he to the living or to the dead; does he or does he not speak words of living interest to living men; is he or is he not an integral part of our existing civilisation?

The world is old enough to have seen many intellectual as well as political revolutions, and there are eras which boasted probably of no mean culture, irrevocably lost in the darkness of time. They are past, dead even in their effects—at least we can trace no influence which they exercise over our present life. Mediately they may work, as the civilisation of Egypt through that of Greece, and it is nothing more than reasonable to suppose that by

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