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Geoffrey Chaucer was an English poet who lived in the fourteenth century. For nearly five hundred years he has ministered to the mirth and gladness of the English-speaking world. In The Canterbury Tales the fourteenth century rises from the grave, so to speak; and Chaucer's pilgrims - a motley band - are almost the only men of his time who live and breathe immortalized by the genius of the poet. Never again, we fear, will Merrie England see the friendly social gathering of knight and squire, of stately dame and low-born cook, of merchant, miller, and friar, spending the evening together in listening to such tales as these.
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Geoffrey Chaucer was an English poet who lived in the fourteenth century. For nearly five hundred years he has ministered to the mirth and gladness of the English-speaking world. In the Canterbury Tales the fourteenth century rises from the grave, so to speak; and Chaucer's pilgrims—a motley band—are almost the only men of his time who live and breathe immortalized by the genius of the poet. Never again, we fear, will Merrie England see the friendly social gathering of knight and squire, of stately dame and low-born cook, of merchant, miller, and friar, spending the evening together in listening to such tales as these. Some of them, no doubt, were coarse enough to make one wonder how they could be told in the hearing of ladies and of priests.
Chaucer's Tales may be regarded as the first and most popular of the short stories that have won for themselves so prominent a place in literature. His Canterbury Tales are the first miscellany of poetry and fiction in our tongue that has achieved world-wide popularity. Their age in itself is no small addition to their charm. These stories, which are now being scattered broadcast over the English-speaking world, were familiar to the men who fought the Wars of the Roses. They cheered the youth of the Reformers, they were the favorite reading of the heroes of the Elizabethan age; and down to our own time these short stories in verse have been the solace and the amusement of successive generations of our race.
SIMPLY TOLD FOR CHILDREN
Many years ago it was a common thing for men and women to go on pilgrimages. If they had been sick, they journeyed to the shrine of a favorite saint to give thanks for their recovery; if they wished to receive some blessing, they asked the same saint to intercede on their behalf, that it might be granted them. And perhaps the time of year when it was most usual to undertake these pious journeys was in the spring, when the birds were singing, and the April showers had made the roads pleasant to walk upon, after the dust of March.
In the reign of Richard II. it happened that a poet, called Geoffrey Chaucer, started on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury, and before he began his journey, he put up for the night in an inn in Southwark, in the south of London. The inn was called the "Tabard." There were assembled in the same inn a number of other travelers of all classes of life, twenty-nine of them, Who were bound on the same religious duty.
The host, as they called the landlord of the inn, was a merry fellow, and when he saw this goodly assembly rnet together, a brilliant idea seized him, which he lost no time inputting before the company. He said, they were all going on a long and dangerous journey (for traveling in those days was a serious business, I can tell you), and would it not be well to beguile the weary hours by entertaining each other. Every one must know and be able to tell at least one good story, and he proposed that each should take it in turn to provide amusement for the others, by telling, as best he could, some history, true or otherwise. Let them draw lots, said he, to decide who should begin, and then each in turn do his best, and when all the stories were told, he who had done best should be entertained at supper by the others. The host himself offered to accompany them, to show them the road, and said he would be their leader, and whoever refused to obey his orders should be obliged to pay for entertainment for the rest. This proposal was agreed to by them all, and they went to bed, intending to start in the morning as soon as the sun rose.
Before I go any farther I will tell you who the company were, and describe them to you as well as I can. First, there was a knight, a noble gentleman, who from his earliest youth had loved chivalry, truth, honor, liberty, and courtesy. He had been in many wars in different countries, and was renowned for his valour. But he was modest and simple in his manners, and never spoke harshly to any one. Chaucer calls him a "very perfect gentle knight." He had just returned from a voyage, and was going to the shrine at Canterbury to return thanks for his preservation from so many dangers.
With him was his son, a young squire, about twenty years of age, tall, strong, and handsome. He had already begun to follow in his father's footsteps, and had been on some short fighting expeditions in France, where he had done his best to acquit himself bravely, that he might win the favor of the lady he loved. He could ride well, and also write and singsongs, draw and dance. And with all this he was modest and courteous in his behavior, as all gentlemen should be.
The knight brought with him one servant, called a yeo-man. He was dressed in green, and carried a mighty bow and arrows, besides a sword and buckler, dagger and horn.
Another pilgrim was a nun, a prioress, who was called Madame Eglantine. She had a sweet, simple, frank face, and was a clever woman. She could sing very sweetly, and speak French, such as was taught at Stratford, near London, for she knew nothing of Parisian French, so no doubt her accent was not very good. Chaucer describes at great length her pretty manners at table, how daintily and nicely she behaved in eating; for I am sorry to tell you that it was no unusual thing at that time to see people, and gentle people too, eating their food in a manner that would shock us now. The prioress was so kind-hearted and pitiful that she would weep if a mouse were caught in a trap, or if any one should beat her little pet dogs. She was accompanied by another nun, and three priests attended them.
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