Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. I/Notes XVI
[ Text of the Poem ]
XVI. Lenvoy a Scogan.
There are but three MSS., all much alike. As to Scogan, see the Introduction. MSS. F. and P. have the heading—'Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan'; Gg. has—'Litera directa de Scogon per G. C.'
1, 2. These two lines are quite Dantesque. Cf. Purg. i. 47, 76; Inf. iii. 8:—'Son le leggi ... cosi rotte'; 'gli editti eterni ... guasti'; 'io eterno duro.'
3. The 'seven bright gods' are the seven planets. The allusion is to some great floods of rain that had fallen. Chaucer says it is because the heavenly influences are no longer controlled; the seven planets are allowed to weep upon the earth. The year was probably 1393, with respect to which we find in Stowe's Annales, ed. 1605, p. 495:—'In September, lightnings and thunders, in many places of Englanddid much hurt, but esp[e]cially in Cambridge-shire the same brent houses and corne near to Tolleworke, and in the Towne it brent terribly. Such abundance of water fell in October, that at Bury in Suffolke the church was full of water, and at Newmarket it bare downe walles of houses, so that men and women hardly escaped drowning.' Note the mention of Michaelmas in l. 19, shewing that the poem was written towards the close of the year.
7. Errour; among the senses given by Cotgrave for F. erreur we find 'ignorance, false opinion.' Owing to his ignorance, Chaucer is almost dead for fear; i. e. he wants to know the reason for it all.
9. Fifte cercle, fifth circle or sphere of the planets, reckoning from without; see note to Mars, l. 29. This fifth sphere is that of Venus.
14. This deluge of pestilence, this late pestilential flood. There were several great pestilences in the fourteenth century, notably in 1348-9, 1361-2, 1369, and 1375-6; cf. note to IV. 96. Chaucer seems to imply that the bad weather may cause another plague.
15. Goddes, goddess, Venus; here spoken of as the goddess of love.
16. Rakelnesse, rashness. The MSS. have rekelnesse, reklesnesse, reckelesnesse; the first is nearly right. Rakelnesse is Chaucer's word, Cant. Tales, 17232 (H 283); five lines above, Phœbus blames his rakel hond, because he had slain his wife.
17. Forbode is; rather a forced rime to goddes; see p. 488 (note).
21. Erst, before. I accept Chaucer's clear evidence that his friend Scogan (probably Henry Scogan) was not the same person as the John (or Thomas) Scogan to whom various silly jests were afterwards attributed.
22. To record, by way of witness. Record, as Koch remarks, is here a sb., riming with lord; not the gerund record-e.
27. Of our figure, of our (portly) shape; see l. 31.
28. Him, i. e. Cupid. The Pepys MS. has hem, them, i. e. the arrows. Koch reads hem, and remarks that it makes the best sense. But it comes to much the same thing. Cf. Parl. of Foules, 217, where some of Cupid's arrows are said to slay, and some to wound. It was the spear of Achilles that could both wound and cure; see Squi. Tale, F 240, and the note. Perhaps, in some cases, the arrow of Cupid may be supposed to cure likewise; but it is simpler to ascribe the cure to Cupid himself. Observe the use of he in ll. 24 and 26, and of his in ll. 25 and 26. Thynne has hym.
29. I drede of, I fear for thy misfortune.
30. Wreche, vengeance; distinct from wrecche.
31. 'Gray-headed and round of shape'; i. e. like ourselves. Cf. what Chaucer says of his own shape; C. T. Group B, 1890.
35. 'See, the old gray-haired man is pleased to rime and amuse himself.' For ryme (as in the three MSS.), the old editions have renne. This would mean, 'See, the old gray horse is pleased to run about and play.' And possibly this is right; for the O. F. grisel properly means a gray horse, as shewn in Godefroy's O. F. Dict.
36. Mexcuse, for me excuse, excuse myself. Cf. mawreke, Compleint to Pite, 11.
43. For stremes, Gg. has wellis; but the whole expression stremes heed is equivalent to well, and we have which streme in l. 45 (Koch).
In the MSS., the words stremes heed are explained by Windesore (Windsor), and ende of whiche streme in l. 45 by Grenewich (Greenwich); explanations which are probably correct. Thus the stream is the Thames; Chaucer was living, in a solitary way, at Greenwich, whilst Scogan was with the court at Windsor, much nearer to the source of favour.
47. Tullius. Perhaps, says Koch, there is an allusion to Cicero's Epist. vi. ad Cæcinam. For myself, I think he alludes to his De Amicitia; see note to Rom. Rose, 5286.