Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

seen how much of this was owing to the age which nurtured and understood the poet. Also, we have not failed to see how different, strangely different, the condition of poetry in an essentially scientific age has now become. Instead of breadth we have height, instead of definiteness vagueness, instead of multitude mass, instead of simplicity complexity, instead of joy sorrow. It is as if the spirit of humanity, in seeking to work out its own objective existence, had lost the old instinctive knowledge of what was to be done and how to do it; and had started again with a wider problem and uncertain appliances. There is ever a dissatisfaction and sadness in modern poetry, a loss of the old simple joy and power of doing a thing at once and for ever. The course of poetry is in this analogous almost to that of philosophy. Philosophy has long ceased to inquire after the nature of happiness, and seeks more temperately, but more sadly, after that of duty. Her object is no longer the good, but the right. What is next?


12.

FRANCIS JAMES CHILD, FINAL -E

1863 (1869)

The great American scholar Child (1825-96), the son of a sailmaker, educated at Harvard and in Germany, became professor of English at Harvard. He analysed Chaucer’s language and laid the foundation stone of modern understanding in Observations on the Language of Chaucer, in ‘Memoirs of the American Academy’, N.S. VIII (1863), pp. 445-502. A splendidly judicious extract from this, re-arranged and incorporated in A.J. Ellis, ‘Early English Pronunciation’, Part I, 1869, Chapter IV, p. 360, is a token representation of his work, and remains admirable guidance.

ELISION OF FINAL VOWELS

Even if Chaucer followed invariable rules with regard to the pronouncing or suppressing of the final e, it cannot be expected that they should be entirely made out by

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