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Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. III/Legend of Good Women Introduction

[ xvi ]

INTRODUCTION TO THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN.


§ 1. Date of the Poem: A.D. 1385. The Legend of Good Women presents several points of peculiar, I might almost say of unique interest. It is the immediate precursor of the Canterbury Tales, and enables us to see how the poet was led on towards the composition of that immortal poem. This is easily seen, upon consideration of the date at which it was composed.

The question of the date has been well investigated by Ten Brink; but it may be observed beforehand that the allusion to the 'queen' in l. 496 has long ago been noticed, and it has been thence inferred, by Tyrwhitt, that the Prologue must have been written after 1382, the year when Richard II. married his first wife, the 'good queen Anne.' But Ten Brink's remarks enable us to look at the question much more closely.

He shows that Chaucer's work can be clearly divided into three chief periods, the chronology of which he presents in the following form[1].

First Period.

1366 (at latest). The Romaunt of the Rose.
1369. The Book of the Duchesse.
1372. (end of the period).

[ xvii ]Second Period.

1373. The Lyf of Seint Cecile.
1373. The Assembly of Foules.
1373. Palamon and Arcite.
1373. Translation of Boethius.
1373. Troilus and Creseide.
1384. The House of Fame.

Third Period.

1385. Legend of Good Women.
1385. Canterbury Tales.
1391. Treatise on the Astrolabe.

It is unnecessary for our present purpose to insert the conjectured dates of the Minor Poems not here mentioned.

According to Ten Brink, the poems of the First Period were composed before Chaucer set out on his Italian travels, i.e. before December, 1372, and contain no allusions to writings by Italian authors. In them, the influence of French authors is very strongly marked.

The poems of the Second Period (he tells us) were composed after that date. The Life of Seint Cecile already marks the author's acquaintance with Dante's Divina Commedia; lines 36-51 are, in fact, a free translation from the Paradiso, canto xxxiii. ll. 1-21. See my note to this passage, and the remarks on the 'Second Nun's Tale' in vol. v. The Parlement of Foules contains references to Dante and a long passage translated from Boccaccio's Teseide; see my notes to that poem in vol. i. The original Palamon and Arcite was also taken from the Teseide; for even the revised version of it (now known as the Knightes Tale, and containing, doubtless, much more of Chaucer's own work) is founded upon that poem, and occasionally presents verbal imitations of it. Troilus is similarly dependent upon Boccaccio's Filostrato. The close connexion between Troilus and the translation of Boethius is seen from several considerations, of which it may suffice here to mention two. The former is the association of these two works in Chaucer's lines to Adam—

'Adam scriveyn, if ever it thee befalle
Boece or Troilus to wryten newe.'
Minor Poems; see vol. i. p. 379.

And the latter is, the fact that Chaucer inserts in Troilus (book iv. [ xviii ]stanzas 140-154) a long passage on predestination and free-will, taken from Boethius, book v. proses 2, 3; which he would appear to have still fresh in his mind. It is probable that his Boethius preceded Troilus almost immediately; indeed, it is conceivable that, for a short season, both may have been in hand at the same time.

There is also a close connexion between Troilus and the House of Fame, the latter of which shows the influence of Dante in a high degree; see p. vii. This connexion will appear from comparing Troil. v. stt. 52-55 with Ho. Fame, 2-54; and Troil. i. st. 74 (ll. 517-8) with Ho. Fame, 639, 640. See Ten Brink, Studien, p. 121. It would seem that the House of Fame followed Troilus almost immediately. At the same time, we cannot put the date of the House of Fame later than 1384, because of Chaucer's complaint in it of the hardship of his official duties, from much of which he was released (as we shall see) early in 1385. Further, the 10th of December is especially mentioned as being the date on which the House of Fame was commenced (l. 111), the year being probably 1383 (see Note to that line).

It would appear, further, that the Legend was begun soon after the House of Fame was suddenly abandoned, in the very middle of a sentence. That it was written later than Troilus and the House of Fame is obvious, from the mention of these poems in the Prologue; ll. 332, 417, 441. That it was written at no great interval after Troilus appears from the fact that, even while writing Troilus, Chaucer had already been meditating upon the goodness of Alcestis, of which the Prologue to the Legend says so much. Observe the following passages (cited by Ten Brink, Studien, p. 120) from Troilus, bk. v. stt. 219, 254:—

'As wel thou mightest lyen on Alceste
That was of creatures—but men lye—
That ever weren, kindest and the beste.
For whan hir housbonde was in Iupartye
To dye himself, but-if she wolde dye,
She chees for him to dye and go to helle,
And starf anoon, as us the bokes telle.

Besechinge every lady bright of hewe,
And every gentil womman, what she be,
That, al be that Criseyde was untrewe,
That for that gilt she be not wrooth with me.
[ xix ]Ye may hir gilt in othere bokes see;
And gladlier I wol wryten, if yow leste,
Penelopeës trouthe, and good Alceste.'

There is also a striking similarity between the argument in Troilus, bk. iv. st. 3, and ll. 369-372 (B-text) of the Prologue to the Legend. The stanza runs thus:—

'For how Criseyde Troilus forsook,
Or at the leste, how that she was unkinde,
Mot hennes-forth ben matere of my book,
As wryten folk thorugh whiche it is in minde.
Allas! that they shulde ever cause finde
To speke hir harm; and, if they on hir lye,
Y-wis, hem-self sholde han the vilanye.'

I will here also note the fact that the first line of the above stanza is quoted, almost unaltered, in the earlier version of the Prologue, viz. at l. 265 of the A-text, on p. 88.

From the above considerations we may already infer that the House of Fame was begun, probably, in December, 1383, and continued in 1384; and that the Legend of Good Women, which almost immediately succeeded it, may be dated about 1384 or 1385; certainly after 1382, when King Richard was first married. But now that we have come so near to the date, it is possible to come still nearer; for it can hardly be doubted that the extremely grateful way in which Chaucer speaks of the queen may fairly be connected with the stroke of good fortune which happened to him just at this very period. In the House of Fame we find him groaning about the troublesomeness of his official duties; and the one object of his life, just then, was to obtain greater leisure, especially if it could be had without serious loss of income. Now we know that, on the 17th of February, 1385, he obtained the indulgence of being allowed to nominate a permanent deputy for his Controllership of the Customs and Subsidies; see Furnivall's Trial Forewords to the Minor Poems, p. 25. If with our knowledge of this fact we combine these considerations, viz. that Chaucer expresses himself gratefully to the queen, that he says nothing more of his troublesome duties, and that Richard II. is known to have been a patron of letters (as we learn from Gower), we may well conclude that the poet's release from his burden was brought about by the queen's intercession with the king on his behalf. We may here [ xx ]notice Lydgate's remarks in the following stanza, which occurs in the Prologue to the Fall of Princes[2]:—

'This poete wrote, at the request of the quene,
A Legende, of perfite holynesse,
Of Good Women, to fynd out nynetene
That did excell in bounte and fayrenes;
But for his labour and besinesse
Was importable, his wittes to encombre,
In all this world to fynd so gret a nombre[3].'

Lydgate can hardly be correct in his statement that Chaucer wrote 'at the request' of the queen: for, had our author done so, he would have let us know it. Still, he has seized the right idea, viz. that the queen was, so to speak, the moving cause which effected the production of the poem.

It is, moreover, much to the point to observe that Chaucer's state of delightful freedom did not last long. Owing to a sudden change in the government we find that, on Dec. 4, 1386, he lost his Controllership of the Customs and Subsidies; and, only ten days later, also lost his Controllership of the Petty Customs. Something certainly went wrong, but we have no proof that Chaucer abused his privilege.

On the whole we may interpret ll. 496, 7 (p. 101), viz.

'And whan this book is maad, yive hit the quene,
On my behalfe, at Eltham[4] or at Shene,'

as giving us a date but little later than Feb. 17, 1385, and certainly before Dec. 4, 1386. The mention of the month of May in ll. 36, 45, 108, 176, is probably conventional; still, the other frequent references to spring-time, as in ll. 40-66, 130-147, 171-174, 206, &c., may mean something; and in particular we may note the reference to St. Valentine's day as being past, in ll. 145, 146; seeing that chees (chose) occurs in the past tense. We can hardly resist the conviction that the right date [ xxi ]of the Prologue is the spring of 1385, which satisfies every condition.

§ 2. The two forms of the Prologue. So far, I have kept out of view the important fact, that the Prologue exists in two distinct forms, viz. an earlier and a revised form. The lines in which 'the queen' is expressly mentioned occur in the later version only, so that some of the above arguments really relate to that alone. But it makes no great difference, as there is no reason to suppose that there was any appreciable lapse of time between the two versions.

In order to save words, I shall call the earlier version the A-text, and the later one the B-text. The manner of printing these texts is explained at p. 65. I print the B-text in full, in the lower half of the page. The A-text appears in the upper half of the same, and is taken from MS. C. (Camb. Univ. Library, Gg. 4. 27), which is the only MS. that contains it, with corrections of the spelling, as recorded in the footnotes. Lines which appear in one text only are marked with an asterisk (*); those which stand almost exactly the same in both texts are marked with a dagger (†) prefixed to them; whilst the unmarked lines are such as occur in both texts, but with some slight alteration. By way of example, observe that lines B. 496, 497, mentioning the queen, are duly marked with an asterisk, as not being in A. Line 2, standing the same in both texts, is marked with a dagger. And thirdly, line 1 is unmarked, because it is slightly altered. A. has here the older expression 'A thousand sythes,' whilst B. has the more familiar 'A thousand tymes.'

The fact that A. is older than B. cannot perhaps be absolutely proved without a long investigation. But all the conditions point in that direction. In the first place, it occurs in only one MS., viz. MS. C., whilst all the others give the B-text; and it is more likely that a revised text should be multiplied than that a first draft should be. Next, this MS. C. is of high value and great importance, being quite the best MS., as regards age, of the whole set; and it is a fortunate thing that the A-text has been preserved at all. And lastly, the internal evidence tends, in my opinion, to shew that B. can be more easily evolved from A. than conversely. I am not aware that any one has ever doubted this result.

We may easily see that the A-text is, on the whole, more general and vague, whilst the B-text is more particular in its references. [ xxii ]The impression left on my mind by the perusal of the two forms of the Prologue is that Chaucer made immediate use of the comparative liberty accorded to him on the 17th of February, 1385, to plan a new poem, in an entirely new metre, and in the new form of a succession of tales. He decided, further, that the tales should relate to women famous in love-stories, and began by writing the tale of Cleopatra, which is specially mentioned in B. 566 (and A. 542)[5]. The idea then occurred to him of writing a preface or Prologue, which would afford him the double opportunity of justifying and explaining his design, and of expressing his gratitude for his attainment of greater leisure. Having done this, he was not wholly satisfied with it; he thought the expression of gratitude did not come out with sufficient clearness, at least with regard to the person to whom he owed the greatest debt. So he at once set about to amend and alter it; the first draught, of which he had no reason to be ashamed, being at the same time preserved. And we may be sure that the revision was made almost immediately; he was not the man to take up a piece of work again after the first excitement of it had passed away[6]. On the contrary, he used to form larger plans than he could well execute, and leave them unfinished when he grew tired of them. I therefore propose to assign the conjectural date of the spring of 1385 to both forms of the Prologue; and I suppose that Chaucer went on with one tale of the series after another during the summer and latter part of the same year till he grew tired of the task, and at last gave it up in the middle of a sentence. An expression of doubt as to the completion of the task already appears in l. 2457.

§ 3. Comparison of the two forms of the Prologue. A detailed comparison of the two forms of the Prologue would extend to a great length. I merely point out some of the more remarkable variations.

The first distinct note of difference that calls for notice is at line A. 89 (B. 108), p. 72, where the line—

'When passed was almost the month of May'

[ xxiii ]is altered to—

'And this was now the firste morwe of May.'

This is clearly done for the sake of greater definiteness, and because of the association of the 1st of May with certain national customs expressive of rejoicing. It is emphasized by the statements in B. 114 as to the exact position of the sun (see note to the line). In like manner the vague expression about 'the Ioly tyme of May' in A. 36 is exchanged for the more exact—'whan that the month of May Is comen'; B. 36. In the B-text, the date is definitely fixed; in ll. 36-63 we learn what he usually did on the recurrence of the May-season; in ll. 103-124, we have his (supposed) actual rising at the dawn of May-day; then the manner in which he spent that day (ll. 179-185); and lastly, the arrival of night, his return home, his falling asleep, and his dream (ll. 197-210). He awakes on the morning of May 2, and sets to work at once (ll. 578, 579).

Another notable variation is on p. 71. On arriving at line A. 70, he puts aside A. 71-80 for the present, to be introduced later on (p. 77); and writes the new and important passage contained in B. 83-96 (p. 71). The lady whom he here addresses as being his 'very light,' one whom his heart dreads, whom he obeys as a harp obeys the hand of the player, who is his guide, his 'lady sovereign,' and his 'earthly god,' cannot be mistaken. The reference is obviously to his sovereign lady the queen; and the expression 'earthly god' is made clear by the declaration (in B. 387) that kings are as demi-gods in this present world.

In A., the Proem or true Introduction ends at l. 88, and is more marked than in B., wherein it ends at l. 102.

The passage in A. contained in ll. 127-138 (pp. 75, 76) is corrupt and imperfect in the MS. The sole existing copy of it was evidently made from a MS. that had been more or less defaced; I have had to restore it as I best could. The B-text has here been altered and revised, though the variations are neither extensive nor important; but the passage is immediately followed by about 30 new lines, in which Mercy is said to be a greater power than Right, or strict Justice, especially when Right is overcome 'through innocence and ruled curtesye'; the application of which expression is obvious.

In B. 183-187 we have the etymology of daisy, the declaration [ xxiv ]that 'she is the empress of flowers,' and a prayer for her prosperity, i.e. for the prosperity of the queen.

In A. 103 (p. 73), the poet falls asleep and dreams. In his dream, he sees a lark (A. 141, p. 79) who introduces the God of Love. In the B-text, the dream is postponed till B. 210 (p. 79), and the lark is left out, as being unnecessary. This is a clear improvement.

An important change is made in the 'Balade' at pp. 83, 84. The refrain is altered from 'Alceste is here' to 'My lady cometh.' The reason is twofold. The poet wishes to suppress the name of Alcestis for the present, in order to introduce it as a surprise towards the end (B. 518)[7]; and secondly, the words 'My lady cometh' are used as being directly applicable to the queen, instead of being only applicable through the medium of allegory. Indeed, Chaucer takes good care to say so; for he inserts a passage to that effect (B. 271-5); where we may remember, by the way, that free means 'bounteous' in Middle-English. We have a few additional lines of the same sort in B. 296-299.

On the other hand, Chaucer suppressed the long and interesting passage in A. 258-264, 267-287, 289-312, for no very obvious reason. But for the existence of MS. C., it would have been wholly lost to us, and the recovery of it is a clear gain. Most interesting of all is the allusion to Chaucer's sixty books of his own, all full of love-stories and personages known to history, in which, for every bad woman, mention was duly made of a hundred good ones (A. 273-277, p. 88)[8]. Important also is his mention of some of his authors, such as Valerius, Livy, Claudian, Jerome, Ovid, and Vincent of Beauvais.

If, as we have seen, Alcestis in this Prologue really meant the queen, it should follow that the God of Love really meant the king. This is made clear in B. 373-408, especially in the comparison between a just king (such as Richard, of course) and the tyrants of Lombardy. In fact, in A. 360-364, Chaucer said [ xxv ]a little too much about the duty of a king to hear the complaints and petitions of the people, and he very wisely omitted it in revision. In A. 355, he used the unlucky word 'wilfulhed' as an attribute of a Lombard tyrant; but as it was not wholly inapplicable to the king of England, he quietly suppressed it. But the comparison of the king to a lion, and of himself to a fly, was in excellent taste; so no alteration was needed here (p. 94).

In his enumeration of his former works (B. 417-430), he left out one work which he had previously mentioned (A. 414, 415, p. 96). This work is now lost[9], and was probably omitted as being a mere translation, and of no great account. Perhaps the poet's good sense told him that the original was a miserable production, as it must certainly be allowed to be, if we employ the word miserable with its literal meaning (see p. 307).

At pp. 103, 104, some lines are altered in A. (527-532) in order to get rid of the name of Alcestis here, and to bring in a more immediate reference to the Balade. Line B. 540 is especially curious, because he had not, in the first instance, forgotten to put her in his Balade (see A. 209); but he now wished to seem to have done so.

In B. 552-565, we have an interesting addition, in which Love charges him to put all the nineteen ladies, besides Alcestis, into his Legend; and tells him that he may choose his own metre (B. 562). Again, in B. 568-577, he practically stipulates that he is only to tell the more interesting part of each story, and to leave out whatever he should deem to be tedious. This proviso was eminently practical and judicious.

§ 4. The subject of the Legend. We learn, from B. 241, 283, that Chaucer saw in his vision Alcestis and nineteen other ladies, and from B. 557, that he was to commemorate them all in his Legend, beginning with Cleopatra (566) and ending with Alcestis (549, 550). As to the names of the nineteen, they are to be found in his Balade (555).

Upon turning to the Balade (p. 83), the names actually mentioned include some which are hardly admissible. For example, Absalom and Jonathan are names of men; Esther is hardly [ xxvi ]a suitable subject, whilst Ysoult belongs to a romance of medieval times. (Cf. A. 275, p. 88.) The resulting practicable list is thus reduced to the following, viz. Penelope, Marcia, Helen, Lavinia, Lucretia, Polyxena, Cleopatra, Thisbe, Hero, Dido, Laodamia, Phyllis, Canace, Hypsipyle, Hypermnestra, and Ariadne. At the same time, we find legends of Medea and Philomela, though neither of these are mentioned in the Balade. It is of course intended that the Balade should give a representative list only, without being exactly accurate.

But we are next confronted by a most extraordinary piece of evidence, viz. that of Chaucer himself, when, at a later period, he wrote the Introduction to the Man of Lawes Prologue (see vol. iv. p. 131). He there expressly refers to his Legend of Good Women, which he is pleased to call 'the Seintes Legende of Cupide,' i.e. the Legend of Cupid's Saints. And, in describing this former work of his, he introduces the following lines:—

'Ther may be seen the large woundes wyde
Of Lucresse, and of Babilan Tisbee;
The swerd of Dido for the false Enee;
The tree of Phillis for hir Demophon;
The pleinte of Dianire and Hermion,
Of Adriane and of Isiphilee;
The bareyne yle stonding in the see;
The dreynte Leander for his Erro;
The teres of Eleyne, and eek the wo
Of Brixseyde, and of thee, Ladomea;
The cruelte of thee, queen Medea,
Thy litel children hanging by the hals
For thy Iason, that was of love so fals!
O Ypermistra, Penelopee, Alceste,
Your wyfhod he comendeth with the beste!
But certeinly no word ne wryteth he
Of thilke wikke example of Canacee'; &c.

We can only suppose that he is referring to the contents of his work in quite general terms, with a passing reference to his vision of Alcestis and the nineteen ladies, and to those mentioned in his Balade. There is no reason for supposing that he ever wrote complete tales about Deianira, Hermione, Hero, Helen, Briseis, Laodamia, or Penelope, any more than he did about Alcestis. But it is highly probable that, just at the period of writing his Introduction to the Man of Lawes Prologue, he was seriously intending to take up again his 'Legend,' and was planning how to continue it. But he never did it.

[ xxvii ]On comparing these two lists, we find that the following names are common to both, viz. Penelope, Helen, Lucretia, Thisbe, Hero, Dido, Laodamia, Phyllis, Canace, Hypsipyle, Hypermnestra, Ariadne, and (in effect) Alcestis. The following occur in the Balade only, viz. Marcia, Lavinia, Polyxena, Cleopatra. And the following are mentioned in the above-quoted passage only, viz. Deianira, Hermione, Briseis, Medea. We further know that he actually wrote the Legend of Philomela, though it is in neither of the above lists; whilst the story of Canace was expressly rejected. Combining our information, and rearranging it, we see that his intention was to write nineteen Legends, descriptive of twenty women, viz. Alcestis and nineteen others; the number of Legends being reduced by one owing to the treatment of the stories of Medea and Hypsipyle under one narrative. Putting aside Alcestis, whose Legend was to come last, the nineteen women can be made up as follows:—

1. Cleopatra. 2. Thisbe. 3. Dido. 4 and 5. Hypsipyle and Medea. 6. Lucretia. 7. Ariadne. 8. Philomela. 9. Phyllis. 10. Hypermnestra (all of which are extant). Next come—11. Penelope: 12. Helen: 13. Hero: 14. Laodamia (all mentioned in both lists). 15. Lavinia: 16. Polyxena[10] (mentioned in the Balade). 17. Deianira: 18. Hermione: 19. Briseis (in the Introduction to the Man of Lawe).

This conjectural list is sufficient to elucidate Chaucer's plan fully, and agrees with that given in the note to l. 61 of the Introduction to the Man of Lawes Tale, in vol. v.

If we next enquire how such lists of 'martyred' women came to be suggested to Chaucer, we may feel sure that he was thinking of Boccaccio's book entitled De Claris Mulieribus, and of Ovid's Heroides. Boccaccio's book contains 105 tales of Illustrious Women, briefly told in Latin prose. Chaucer seems to have partially imitated from it the title of his poem—'The Legend of Good Women'; and he doubtless consulted it for his purpose. But he took care to consult other sources also, in order to be able to give the tales at greater length, so that the traces of his debt to the above work by Boccaccio are very slight.

We must not, however, omit to take notice that, whilst Chaucer [ xxviii ]owes but little to Boccaccio as regards his subject-matter, it was from him, in particular, that he took his general plan. This is well shewn in the excellent and careful essay by M. Bech, printed in 'Anglia,' vol. v. pp. 313-382, with the title—'Quellen und Plan der Legende of Goode Women und ihr Verhältniss zur Confessio Amantis.' At p. 381, Bech compares Chaucer's work with Boccaccio's, and finds the following points of resemblance.

1. Both works treat exclusively of women; one of them speaks particularly of 'Gode Women,' whilst the other is written 'De Claris Mulieribus.'

2. Both works relate chiefly to tales of olden time.

3. In both, the tales follow each other without any intermediate matter.

4. Both are compacted into a whole by means of an introductory Prologue.

5. Both writers wish to dedicate their works to a queen, but effect this modestly and indirectly. Boccaccio addresses his Prologue to a countess, telling her that he wishes to dedicate his book to Joanna, queen of Jerusalem and Sicily; whilst Chaucer veils his address to queen Anne under the guise of allegory.

6. Both record the fact of their writing in a time of comparative leisure. Boccaccio uses the words: 'paululum ab inerti uulgo semotus et a ceteris fere solutus curis.'

7. Had Chaucer finished his work, his last Legend would have related to Alcestis, i.e. to the queen herself. Boccaccio actually concludes his work with a chapter 'De Iohanna Hierusalem et Sicilie regina.'

See further in Bech, who quotes Boccaccio's 'Prologue' in full.

To this comparison should be added (as Bech remarks) an accidental coincidence which is even more striking, viz. that the work 'De Claris Mulieribus' bears much the same relation to the more famous one entitled 'Il Decamerone,' that the Legend of Good Women does to the Canterbury Tales.

Boccaccio has all of Chaucer's finished tales, except those of Ariadne, Philomela, and Phyllis[11]; he also gives the stories of some whom Chaucer only mentions, such as the stories of Deianira [ xxix ](cap. 22), Polyxena (cap. 31), Helena (cap. 35), Penelope (cap. 38); and others. To Ovid our author is much more indebted, and frequently translates passages from his Heroides (or Epistles) and from the Metamorphoses. The former of these works contains the Epistles of Phyllis, Hypsipyle, Medea, Dido, Ariadne, and Hypermnestra, whose stories Chaucer relates, as well as the letters of most of those whom Chaucer merely mentions, viz. of Penelope, Briseis, Hermione, Deianira, Laodamia, Helena, and Hero. It is evident that our poet was chiefly guided by Ovid in selecting stories from the much larger collection in Boccaccio. At the same time it is remarkable that neither Boccaccio (in the above work) nor Ovid gives the story of Alcestis, and it is not quite certain whence Chaucer obtained it. It is briefly told in the 51st of the Fabulae of Hyginus, but it is much more likely that Chaucer borrowed it from another work by Boccaccio, entitled De Genealogia Deorum[12], where it appears amongst the fifty-one labours of Hercules, in the following words:—

'Alcestem Admeti regis Thessaliae coniugem retraxit [Hercules] ad uirum. Dicunt enim, quod cum infirmaretur Admetus, implorassetque Apollinis auxilium, sibi ab Apolline dictum mortem euadere non posse, nisi illam aliquis ex affinibus atque necessariis subiret. Quod cum audisset Alcestis coniunx, non dubitauit suam pro salute uiri concedere, et sic ea mortua Admetus liberatus est, qui plurimum uxori compatiens Herculem orauit, vt ad inferos uadens illius animam reuocaret ad superos, quod et factum est.'— Lib. xiii. c. 1 (ed. 1532).


§ 5. The Daisy. To this story Chaucer has added a pretty addition of his own invention, that this heroine was finally transformed into a daisy. The idea of choosing this flower as the emblem of perfect wifehood was certainly a happy one, and has often been admired. It is first alluded to by Lydgate, in a Poem against Self-Love (see Lydgate's Minor Poems, ed. Halliwell, p. 161):—

'Alcestis flower, with white, with red and greene,
Displaieth hir crown geyn Phebus bemys brihte.'

And again, in the same author's Temple of Glas, ll. 71-74:—

'I mene Alceste, the noble trewe wyf ...
Hou she was turned to a dayesye.'

[ xxx ]The anonymous author of the Court of Love seized upon the same fancy to adorn his description of the Castle of Love, which, as he tells us, was—

'With-in and oute depeinted wonderly
With many a thousand daisy[es] rede as rose
And white also, this sawe I verely.
But what tho deis[y]es might do signifye
Can I not tel, saufe that the quenes floure,
Alceste, it was, that kept ther her soioure,
Which vnder Uenus lady was and quene,
And Admete kyng and souerain of that place,
To whom obeied the ladies good ninetene,
With many a thousand other bright of face[13].'

The mention of 'the ladies good ninetene' at once shews us whence this mention of Alcestis was borrowed.

In a modern book entitled Flora Historica, by Henry Phillips, 2nd ed. i. 42, we are gravely told that 'fabulous history informs us that this plant [the daisy] is called Bellis because it owes its origin to Belides, a granddaughter of Danaus, and one of the nymphs called Dryads, that presided over the meadows and pastures in ancient times. Belides is said to have encouraged the suit of Ephigeus, but whilst dancing on the green with this rural deity she attracted the admiration of Vertumnus, who, just as he was about to seize her in his embrace, saw her transformed into the humble plant that now bears her name.' It is clear that the concocter of this stupid story was not aware that Belides is a plural substantive, being the collective name of the fifty daughters of Danaus, who are here rolled into one in order to be transformed into a single daisy; and all because the words bellis and Belides happen to begin with the same three letters! It may also be noticed that 'in ancient times' the business of the Dryads was to preside over trees rather than 'over meadows and pastures.' Who the 'rural deity' was who is here named 'Ephigeus' I neither know nor care. But it is curious to observe the degeneracy of the story for which Chaucer was (in my belief) originally responsible[14]. See Notes and Queries, 7th S. vi. 186, 309.

[ xxxi ]Of course it is easy to see that this invention on the part of Chaucer is imitated from Ovid's Metamorphoses, where Clytie becomes a sun-flower, Daphne a laurel, and Narcissus, Crocus, and Hyacinthus become, respectively, a narcissus, a crocus, and a hyacinth. At the same time, Chaucer's attention may have been directed to the daisy in particular, as Tyrwhitt long ago pointed out, by a perusal of such poems as Le Dit de la fleur de lis et de la Marguerite, by Guillaume de Machault (printed in Tarbe's edition, 1849, p. 123), and Le Dittié de la flour de la Margherite, by Froissart (printed in Bartsch's Chrestomathie de l'ancien Français, 1875, p. 422); see Introduction to Chaucer's Minor Poems, in vol. i. p. 36. In particular, we may well compare lines 42, 48, 49, 60-63 of our B-text with Machault's Dit de la Marguerite (ed. Tarbé, p. 123):—

'J'aim une fleur, qui s'uevre et qui s'encline
Vers le soleil, de jour quant il chemine;
Et quant il est couchiez soubz sa courtine
Par nuit obscure,
Elle se clost, ainsois que li jours fine.'

And again, we may compare ll. 53-55 with the lines in Machault that immediately follow, viz.

'Toutes passe, ce mest vis, en coulour,
Et toutes ha surmonté de douçour;
Ne comparer
Ne se porroit nulle à li de coulour': &c.[15]

The resemblance is, I think, too close to be accidental.

We may also compare (though the resemblance is less striking) ll. 40-57 of the B-text of the Prologue (pp. 68, 69) with ll. 22-30 of Froissart's poem on the Daisy:—

'Son doulç vëoir grandement me proufite,
et pour ce est dedens mon coer escripte
si plainnement
que nuit et jour en pensant ie recite
[ xxxii ]les grans vertus de quoi elle est confite,
et di ensi: "la heure soit benite
quant pour moi ai tele flourette eslite,
qui de bonté et de beauté est dite
la souveraine,"' &c.

At l. 68 of the same poem, as pointed out by M. Sandras (Étude sur G. Chaucer, 1859, p. 58), and more clearly by Bech (Anglia, v. 363), we have a story of a woman named Herés—'une pucelle [qui] ama tant son mari'—whose tears, shed for the loss of her husband Cephëy, were turned by Jupiter into daisies as they fell upon the green turf. There they were discovered, one January, by Mercury, who formed a garland of them, which he sent by a messenger named Lirés to Serés (Ceres). Ceres was so pleased by the gift that she caused Lirés to be beloved, which he had never been before.

This mention of Ceres doubtless suggested Chaucer's mention of Cibella (Cybele) in B. 531. In fact, Chaucer first transforms Alcestis herself into a daisy (B. 512); but afterwards tells us that Jupiter changed her into a constellation (B. 525), whilst Cybele made the daisies spring up 'in remembrance and honour' of her. The clue seems to be in the name Cephëy, representing Cephei gen. case of Cepheus. He was a king of Ethiopia, husband of Cassiope, father of Andromeda, and father-in-law of Perseus. They were all four 'stellified,' and four constellations bear their names even to the present day. According to the old mythology, it was not Alcestis, but Cassiope, who was said to be 'stellified[16].' The whole matter is thus sufficiently illustrated.

§ 6. Agaton. This is, perhaps, the most convenient place for explaining who is meant by Agaton (B. 526). The solution of this difficult problem was first given by Cary, in his translation of Dante's Purgatorio, canto xxii. l. 106, where the original has Agatone. Cary first quotes Chaucer, and then the opinion of Tyrwhitt, that there seems to be no reference to 'any of the Agathoes of antiquity,' and adds: 'I am inclined to believe that Chaucer must have meant Agatho, the dramatic writer, whose name, at least, appears to have been familiar in the Middle Ages; for, besides the mention of him in the text, he is quoted by Dante in the Treatise de Monarchia, lib. iii. "Deus per nuncium facere [ xxxiii ]non potest, genita non esse genita, iuxta sententiam Agathonis."' The original is to be found in Aristotle, Ethic. Nicom. lib. vi. c. 2:—

Μόνου γὰρ ἀυτοῦ καὶ θεὸς στερίσκεται
Ἀγένητα ποιεῖν ἅσσ' ἄν ᾖ πεπραγμένα.

Agatho is mentioned by Xenophon in his Symposium, by Plato in the Protagoras, and in the Banquet, a favourite book with our author [Dante], and by Aristotle in his Art of Poetry, where the following remarkable passage occurs concerning him, from which I will leave it to the reader to decide whether it is possible that the allusion in Chaucer might have arisen: ἐν ἐνίαις μὲν ἓν ἢ δύο τῶν γνωρίμων ἐστὶν ὀνομάτων, τὰ δὲ ἄλλα πεποιημένα· ἐν ἐνίαις δὲ ὀυθέν· οἷον ἐν τῷ Ἀγάθωνος Ἄνθει. ὁμοίως γὰρ ἐν τούτῳ τά τε πράγματα καὶ τὰ ὀνόματα πεποίηται, καὶ ὀυδὲν ἧττον ἐυφραίνει. Edit. 1794, p. 33. "There are, however, some tragedies, in which one or two of the names are historical, and the rest feigned; there are even some, in which none of the names are historical; such is Agatho's tragedy called 'The Flower'; for in that all is invention, both incidents and names; and yet it pleases." Aristotle's Treatise on Poetry, by Thos. Twining, 8vo. edit. 1812, vol. i. p. 128.'

The peculiar spelling Agaton renders it highly probable that Chaucer took the name from Dante (Purg. xxii. 106), but this does not wholly suffice[17]. Accordingly, Bech suggests that he may also have noticed the name in the Saturnalia of Macrobius, an author whose Somnium Scipionis Chaucer certainly consulted (Book Duch. 284; Parl. Foules, 111). In this work Macrobius mentions, incidentally, both Alcestis (lib. v. c. 19) and Agatho (lib. ii. c. 1), and Chaucer may have observed the names there, though he obtained no particular information about them. Froissart (as Bech bids us remark), in his poem on the Daisy, has the lines:—

'Mercurius, ce dist li escripture,
trouva premier
la belle flour que j'ainc oultre mesure,' &c.

The remark—'ce dist li escripture,' 'as the book says'—may [ xxxiv ]well have suggested to Chaucer that he ought to give some authority for his story, and the name of Agatho (of whom he probably knew nothing more than the name) served his turn as well as another. His easy way of citing authors is probably, at times, humorously assumed; and such may be the explanation of his famous 'Lollius.' It is quite useless to make any further search.

I may add that this Agatho, or Agathon (Ἀγάθον), was an Athenian tragic poet, and a friend of Euripides and Plato. He was born about B.C. 447, and died about B.C. 400.

Lounsbury (Studies in Chaucer, ii. 402) rejects this explanation; but it is not likely that we shall ever meet with a better one.

§ 7. Chief Sources of the Legend. The more obvious sources of the various tales have frequently been pointed out. Thus Prof. Morley, in his English Writers, v. 241 (1890), says that Thisbe is from Ovid's Metamorphoses, iv. 55-166; Dido, from Vergil and Ovid's Heroides, Ep. vii; Hypsipyle and Medea from Ovid (Met. vii., Her. Ep. vi, xii); Lucretia from Ovid (Fasti, ii. 721) and Livy (Hist. i. 57); Ariadne and Philomela from Ovid (Met. viii. 152, vi. 412-676), and Phyllis and Hypermnestra also from Ovid (Her. Ep. ii. and Ep. xiv). He also notes the allusion to St. Augustine (De Civitate Dei, cap. xix.) in l. 1690, and observes that all the tales, except those of Ariadne and Phyllis[18], are in Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus. But it is possible to examine them a little more closely, and to obtain further light upon at least a few other points. It will be most convenient to take each piece in its order. For some of my information, I am indebted to the essay by Bech, above mentioned (p. xxviii).

§ 8. Prologue. Original. Besides mere passing allusions, we find references to the story of Alcestis, queen of Thrace (432[19], 518). As she is not mentioned in Boccaccio's book De Claris Mulieribus, and Ovid nowhere mentions her name, and only alludes in passing to the 'wife of Admetus' in two passages (Ex Ponto, iii. 1. 106; Trist. v. 14. 37), it is tolerably certain that Chaucer must have read her story either in Boccaccio's book De Genealogia Deorum, lib. xiii. c. 1 (see p. xxix), or in the Fables of Hyginus (Fab. 51). A large number of the names [ xxxv ]mentioned in the Balade (249) were suggested either by Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus, or by Ovid's Heroides; probably, by both of these works. We may here also note that the Fables of Hyginus very briefly give the stories of Jason and Medea (capp. 24, 25); Theseus and Ariadne (capp. 41-43); Philomela (cap. 45); Alcestis (cap. 51); Phyllis (cap. 59); Laodamia (cap. 104); Polyxena (cap. 110); Hypermnestra (cap. 168); Nisus and Scylla (cap. 198; cf. ll. 1904-1920); Penelope (cap. 126); and Helena (capp. 78, 92). The probability that Chaucer consulted Machault's and Froissart's poems has already been discussed; see p. xxxi.

It is interesting to note that Chaucer had already praised many of his Good Women in previous poems. Compare such passages as the following:—

'Of Medea and of Iason,
Of Paris, Eleyne, and Lavyne.'
Book of the Duch. 330.

'By as good right as Medea was,
That slow her children for Iason;
And Phyllis als for Demophon
Heng hir-self, so weylaway!
For he had broke his terme-day
To come to her. Another rage
Had Dydo, quene eek of Cartage,
That slow hir-self, for Eneas
Was fals; a! whiche a fool she was!' Id. 726.

—'as moche debonairtee
As ever had Hester in the bible.' Id. 986.

'For love of hir, Polixena— ...
She was as good, so have I reste,
As ever Penelope of Greece,
Or as the noble wyf Lucrece,
That was the beste—he telleth thus,
The Romain, Tytus Livius.' Id. 1071, 1080.

'She passed hath Penelope and Lucresse.'
Anelida; 82.

'Biblis, Dido, Tisbe and Piramus,
Tristram, Isoude, Paris, and Achilles,
Eleyne, Cleopatre, and Troilus.'
Parlement of Foules; 289.

'But al the maner how she [Dido] deyde,
And al the wordes that she seyde,
Who-so to knowe hit hath purpos,
Reed Virgile in Eneidos
[ xxxvi ]Or the Epistle of Ovyde,
What that she wroot or that she dyde;
And, nere hit to long to endyte,
By god, I wolde hit here wryte.'
House of Fame; 375.

The last quotation proves clearly, that Chaucer was already meditating a new version of the Legend of Dido, to be made up from the Æneid and the Heroides, whilst still engaged upon the House of Fame (which actually gives this story at considerable length, viz. in ll. 140-382); and consequently, that the Legend of Good Women succeeded the House of Fame by a very short interval. But this is not all; for only a few lines further on we find the following passage:—

'Lo, Demophon, duk of Athenis,
How he forswor him ful falsly,
And trayed Phillis wikkedly,
That kinges doghter was of Trace,
And falsly gan his terme pace;
And when she wiste that he was fals,
She heng hir-self right by the hals,
For he had do hir swich untrouthe;
Lo! was not this a wo and routhe?
Eek lo! how fals and reccheles
Was to Briseida Achilles,
And Paris to Oënone;
And Iason to Isiphile;
And eft Iason to Medea;
And Ercules to Dyanira;
For he lefte hir for Iöle,
That made him cacche his deeth, parde!
How fals eek was he, Theseus;
That, as the story telleth us,
How he betrayed Adriane;
The devel be his soules bane[20]!
For had he laughed, had he loured,
He mostë have be al devoured,
If Adriane ne had y-be[21]!' &c. Id. 387.

Here we already have an outline of the Legend of Phyllis; a reference to Briseis; to Jason, Hypsipyle, Medea, and to Deianira; a sufficient sketch of the Legend of Ariadne; and another version of the Legend of Dido.

We trace a lingering influence upon Chaucer of the Roman de la Rose; see notes to ll. 125, 128, 171. Dante is both quoted [ xxxvii ]and mentioned by name; ll. 357-360. Various other allusions are pointed out in the Notes.

In ll. 280, 281, 284, 305-308 of the A-text of the Prologue (pp. 89, 90), Chaucer refers us to several authors, but not necessarily in connexion with the present work. Yet he actually makes use (at second-hand) of Titus (i.e. Livy, l. 1683), and also further of the 'epistles of Ovyde.' He takes occasion to refer to his own translation of the Roman de la Rose (B. ll. 329, 441, 470), and to his Troilus (ll. 332, 441, 469); besides enumerating many of his poems (417-428).

I. The Legend of Cleopatra. The source of this legend is by no means clear. As Bech points out, some expressions shew that one of the sources was the Epitome Rerum Romanarum of L. Annæus Florus, lib. iv. c. 11; see notes to ll. 655, 662, 679. No doubt Chaucer also consulted Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus, cap. 86, though he makes no special use of the account there given. The story is also in the history of Orosius, bk. iv. c. 19; see Sweet's edition of King Alfred's Orosius, p. 247. Besides which, I think he may have had access to a Latin translation of Plutarch, or of excerpts from the same; see the notes.

It is worth while to note here that Gower (ed. Pauli, iii. 361) has the following lines:—

'I sigh [saw] also the woful quene
Cleopatras, which in a cave
With serpents hath her-self begrave
Al quik, and so was she to-tore,
For sorwe of that she hadde lore
Antonie, which her love hath be.
And forth with her I sigh Thisbe'; &c.

It is clear that he here refers to Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, because he actually repeats Chaucer's very peculiar account of the manner of Cleopatra's death. See § 9, p. xl. Compare L. G. W. ll. 695-697; and note that, both in Chaucer and Gower, the Legend of Thisbe follows that of Cleopatra; whilst the Legend of Philomela immediately follows that of Ariadne. This is more than mere coincidence. See Bech's essay; Anglia, v. 365.

II. The Legend of Thisbe. This is from Ovid's Metamorphoses, iv. 55-166, and from no other source. Some of the lines are closely translated, but in other places the phraseology is entirely recast. The free manner in which Chaucer treats [ xxxviii ]his original is worthy of study; see, as to this, the excellent criticism of Ten Brink, in his Geschichte der Englischen Litteratur, ii. 117. Most noteworthy of all is his suppression of the mythological element. The story gains in pathos in a high degree by the omission of the mulberry-tree, the colour of the fruit of which was changed from white to black by the blood of Pyramus; see note to l. 851. This is the more remarkable, because it was just for the sake of this very metamorphosis that Ovid admitted the tale into his series. See also notes to ll. 745, 784, 797, 798, 814, 835, 869, &c.; and cf. Gower's Confessio Amantis, ed. Pauli, i. 324.

III. The Legend of Dido. Chiefly from Vergil's Aeneid, books i-iv. (see note to l. 928, and compare the notes throughout); but ll. 1355-1365 are from Ovid's Heroides, vii. 1-8, quoted at length in the note to l. 1355. And see, particularly, the House of Fame, ll. 140-382. Cf. Gower, C. A. ii. 4-6[22].

IV. The Legends of Hypsipyle and Medea. The sources mentioned by Morley are Ovid's Metamorphoses, bk. vii., and Heroides, epist. vi.; to which we must add Heroides, epist. xii. But this omits a much more important source, to which Chaucer expressly refers. In l. 1396, all previous editions have the following reading—'In Tessalye, as Ovyde telleth us'; but four important MSS. read Guido for Ovyde, and they are quite right[23]. The false reading Ovyde is the more remarkable, because all the MSS. have the reading Guido in l. 1464, where a change would have destroyed the rime. As a matter of fact, ll. 1396-1461 are from Guido delle Colonne's Historia Troiana, book i. (see notes to ll. 1396, 1463); and ll. 1580-3, 1589-1655 are also from the same, book ii. (see notes to ll. 1580, 1590). Another source which Chaucer may have consulted, though he made but little use of it, was the first and second books of the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus, expressly mentioned in l. 1457 (see notes to ll. 1457, 1469, 1479, 1509, 1558)[24]. The use made of Ovid, Met. vii., [ xxxix ]is extremely slight (see note to l. 1661). As to Ovid, Her. vii., xii., see notes to ll. 1564, 1670. The net result is that Guido is a far more important source of this Legend than all the passages from Ovid put together. Chaucer also doubtless consulted the fifth book of the Thebaid of his favourite author Statius; see notes to ll. 1457, 1467. Perhaps he also consulted Hyginus, whose 14th Fable gives the long list of the Argonauts, and the 15th, a sketch of the story of Hypsipyle. Compare also Boccaccio, De Claris Mulieribus, capp. 15, 16; and the same, De Genealogia Deorum, lib. xiii. c. 26. Observe also that Gower gives the story of Medea, and expressly states that the tale 'is in the boke of Troie write,' i.e. in Guido. See Pauli's edition, ii. 236.

V. The Legend of Lucretia. Chaucer refers to Livy's History (bk. i. capp. 57-59); and to Ovid (Fasti, ii. 721-852). With a few exceptions, the Legend follows the latter source. He also refers to St. Augustine; see note to l. 1690[25]. Cf. Boccaccio, De Claris Mulieribus, cap. 46, who follows Livy. Several touches are Chaucer's own; see notes to ll. 1812, 1838, 1861, 1871, 1881.

Gower has the same story (iii. 251), and likewise follows Ovid and Livy.

VI. The Legend of Ariadne. From Ovid, Met. vii. 456-8, viii. 6-182; Her. Epist. x. (chiefly 1-74); cf. Fasti, iii. 461-516. But Chaucer consulted other sources also, probably a Latin translation of Plutarch's Life of Theseus; Boccaccio, De Genealogia Deorum, lib. xi. capp. 27, 29, 30; also Vergil, Aen. vi. 20-30; and perhaps Hyginus, Fabulae, capp. 41-43. Cf. House of Fame, 405-426; and Gower, ii. 302[26].

VII. The Legend of Philomela. Chiefly from Ovid, Met. vi. 424-605; and perhaps from no other source, though the use of the word radevore in l. 2352 is yet to be accounted for. Cf. Boccaccio, De Genealogia Deorum, lib. ix. c. 8; and Gower, Conf. Amantis, ii. 313, who refers us to Ovid.

VIII. The Legend of Phyllis. Chiefly from Ovid, Her. [ xl ]Epist. ii.; cf. Remedia Amoris, 591-608. But a comparison with the story as told by Gower (C. A. ii. 26) shews that both poets consulted some further source, which I cannot trace. The tale is told by Hyginus (Fab. capp. 59, 243) and Boccaccio in a few lines. Cf. House of Fame, 388-396. A few lines are from Vergil, Æn. i. 85-102, 142; iv. 373. And see notes to Lydgate's Temple of Glas, ed. Schick, p. 75.

IX. The Legend of Hypermnestra. Chiefly from Ovid, Her. Epist. xiv. But Ovid calls her husband Lynceus, whereas Chaucer calls him Lino. Again, Ovid does not give the name of Lynceus' father. Chaucer not only transposes the names of the two fathers[27], but calls Ægyptus by the name of Egiste or Egistes. Hence we see that he also consulted Boccaccio, De Genealogia Deorum, lib. ii. c. 22, where we find the following account: 'Danaus Beli Prisci fuit filius, ut asserit Paulus[28], et illud idem affirmat Lactantius, qui etiam et ante Paulum Orosium, dicit Danaum Beli filium ex pluribus coniugibus .l. filias habuisse, quas cum Ægistus frater eius, cui totidem erant melioris sexus filii, postulasset in nurus, Danaus oraculi responso comperto se manibus generi moriturum, uolens euitare periculum, conscensis nauibus in Argos uenit.... Ægistus autem, quod spretus esset indignans, ut illum sequerentur filiis imperauit, lege data ut nunquam domum repeterent, ni prius Danaum occidissent. Qui cum apud Argos oppugnarent patruum, ab eo diffidente fraude capti sunt. Spopondit enim se illis iuxta Ægisti uotum filias daturum in coniuges, nec defuit promisso fides. Subornatae enim a patre uirorum intrauere thalamos singulis cultris clam armatae omnes, et cum uino laetitiaque calentes iuuenes facile in soporem iuissent, obedientes patri uirgines, captato tempore iugulauerunt uiros, unaquaeque suum, Hypermestra excepta, quae Lino seu Linceo uiro suo miserta pepercit.' We may note, by the way, that Chaucer's spelling Hypermistre is nearer to Boccaccio's Hypermestra than to the form in Ovid.

§ 9. Gower's Confessio Amantis. The relationship of [ xli ]Gower's Confessio Amantis to Chaucer's Legend has been investigated by Bech; in Anglia, v. 365-371. His conclusion is, that the passages in Gower which resemble Chaucer are only three at most; and I am here concerned to shew that, in two of these, the supposed resemblance is delusive.

1. In Gower's introduction, at the very beginning, ed. Pauli, i.4, we are told that, but for books, the renown of many excellent people would be lost. This seems to be copied from Chaucer's Prologue to the Legend, ll. 17-28. I have no doubt that such is the case; but we must be careful to remember that these lines by Gower form part of the prologue to his second edition, and were not written till 1393; by which time Chaucer's lines were common property, and could be imitated by any one who chose to do it; so we really learn nothing at all from this comparison.

2. In Gower, i. 45-48, there is a passage which bears some resemblance to Chaucer's Prologue to the Legend. But if it be considered impartially, I believe it will be found that the resemblance is too vague to be of any value, and cannot be relied upon. We really must not set much store by such generalities as the mention of the month of May; the address of the poet to Cupid and Venus; the wrathful aspect of Cupid; and the graciousness of Venus, who bids him disclose his malady and shrive himself. If Gower could not 'invent' such common poetical talk, he had small business to write at all. I would rather conclude, that Gower had no opportunity of seeing Chaucer's poem till somewhat later; for it is a striking fact, that, whereas Gower seized the opportunity of copying some of Chaucer's phrases in the Tale of Constance (see this discussed at p. 415), he tells several of Chaucer's Legends, such as those of Thisbe, Dido, Medea, Lucrece, Ariadne, Philomela, and Phyllis in a wholly independent manner; and, when telling the tale of Alcestis (iii. 149), he had no idea that she was ever transformed into a daisy. Moreover, if he had been able to refer to the Legend, l. 1355-6, he would hardly have translated 'Maeandri' by 'king Menander' (ii. 5).

Without hesitation, I dismiss these alleged resemblances as trifling, and the deduction from them as misleading.

3. But when we come to the very end of Gower's work (iii. 357-367), the case is entirely altered, and the resemblances are striking and irrefragable. This is best seen by comparing the whole passage. Gower is in the midst of lamenting his old age, [ xlii ]a subject to which he afterwards returns, when he suddenly introduces a digression, in which he sees

'Cupide with his bowe bent;
And, like unto a parlement
Which were ordeined for the nones,
With him cam al the world atones
Of gentil folk, that whilom were
Lovers; I sigh hem alle there'....

'Garlondes, nought of o colour,
Some of the lefe, som of the flour,
And some of grete perles were.'

After which we are introduced to Tristram and Isolde, Jason and Hercules, Theseus and Phedra, Troilus and Criseide and Diomede, Pyramus, Dido, Phyllis, Adriane, Cleopatra, Tisbe, Progne and Philomene and Tereus, Lucrece, Alcestis; and even Ceyx and Alcyone (cf. Chaucer's youthful poem). The matter is put beyond doubt by Gower's adoption of Chaucer's peculiar account of Cleopatra's death, as already noted above; see p. xxxvii.

The conclusion to be drawn from these facts is obvious. We see that, in the year 1385, Gower had almost completed his long poem, and communicated the fact to his friend Chaucer; and Chaucer, in return, told him of the new poem (the Legend) upon which he was then himself engaged, so planned as to contain nineteen tales or sections, and likely to extend to some 6,000 lines. Moreover, it was written in a new metre, such as no Englishman had ever employed before. Gower was allowed to see the MS. and to read a considerable portion of it. He was so struck with it as to make room for some remarks about it; and even went out of his way to introduce a personal reference to his friend. He makes Venus say to himself (iii. 374):—

'And grete wel Chaucer, whan ye mete,
As my disciple and my poete....
Forthy now, in his dayes olde[29],
Thou shall telle him this message,
That he, upon his later age[29],
[ xliii ]To sette an ende of alle his werke,
As he, which is myn owne clerke,
Do make his testament of love,
(As thou hast do thy shrift above),
So that my court it may recorde.'

That is to say, Chaucer, being the poet of Venus, is to make his testament of love, or final declaration concerning love, in a form suitable for being recorded in the court of the goddess. This 'testament' is, of course, the Legend of Good Women, in which the martyrs of love are duly recorded; and their stories, written at the command of Cupid and by way of penance for what he had missaid against women, were to be placed to the good side of the author's account with Venus and her son. Moreover, they were finally to be sent in to the visible representative of the court of Love, viz. to the queen of England and her court.

It is interesting to observe that Gower, like Chaucer himself at the moment, regarded this poem as the crowning effort of Chaucer's poetical career. Neither of them had, at the time, any suspicion that Chaucer would, after all, 'sette an ende of alle his werke' in a very different manner. We may thus confidently date the first edition of Gower's Confessio Amantis in the year 1385, before the Legend of Hypermnestra was abandoned in the middle of a sentence. The date of the second edition of the same is 1393; and it is a great help to have these dates thus settled.

§ 10. Metre. The most interesting point about this poem is that it is the first of the 'third period' of Chaucer's literary work. Here, for the first time, he writes a series of tales, to which he prefixes a prologue; he adopts a new style, in which he seeks to delineate characters; and, at the same time, he introduces a new metre, previously unknown to English writers, but now famous as 'the heroic couplet.' In all these respects, the Legend is evidently the forerunner of the Canterbury Tales, and we see how he was gradually, yet unconsciously, preparing himself for that supreme work. In two notable respects, as Ten Brink remarks, the Legend is inferior to the Tales. The various legends composing it are merely grouped together, not joined by connecting links which afford an agreeable relief. And again, the Prologue to the Legend is mere allegory, whilst the famous Prologue to the Tales is full of real life and dramatic sketches of character.

[ xliv ]Chaucer had already introduced the seven-line stanza, unknown to his predecessors—the earliest example being the Compleint unto Pite—as well as the eight-line stanza, employed in his earliest extant poem, the A. B. C. For the hint as to this form of verse, he was doubtless indebted in the first instance to French poets, such as Guillaume de Machault, though he afterwards conformed his lines, as regarded their cadence and general laws, to those of Boccaccio and Dante[30].

The idea of the heroic couplet was also, I suppose, taken from French; we find it in a Complainte written by Machault about 1356-8 (see below, p. 383); but here, again, Chaucer's melody has rather the Italian than the French character. The lines in Froissart's poem on the Daisy (p. xxxi) are of the same length, but rime together in groups of seven lines at a time, separated by short lines having two accents only. Boccaccio's favourite stanza in the Teseide, known as the ottava rima, ends with two lines that form an heroic couplet[31].

§ 11. 'Clipped' Lines. It ought to be clearly understood that the introduction of the new metre was quite an experiment, for which Chaucer himself offers some apology when he makes the God of Love say expressly: 'Make the metres of hem as thee leste' (l. 562). Hence it was that he introduced into the line a variety which is now held to be inadmissible; though we must not forget that even so great a master of melody as Tennyson, after beginning his 'Vision of Sin' with lines of normal length, begins the second portion of it with the lines:—

'Then methought I heard a hollow sound
Gathering up from all the lower ground;
Narrowing in to where they sat assembled,
Low voluptuous music winding trembled,' &c.

[ xlv ]It is precisely this variation that Chaucer sometimes allowed himself, and it is easy to see how it came to pass.

In lines of a shorter type we constantly find a similar variation. There are a large number of 'clipped' lines in the House of Fame. Practically, their first foot consists of a single syllable, and they may be scanned accordingly, by marking off that syllable at the beginning. Thus, ll. 2117-2120 run thus:—

'And leet | hem gon. Ther might' I seen
Weng | ed wondres faste fleen,
Twent | ty thousand in a route,
As E | olus hem blew aboute.'

This variation is still admissible, and is, of course, common enough in such poems as Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. It is considered a beauty.

The introduction of two more syllables in lines of the above type gives us a similar variation in the longer line. If, for example, after the word thousand in the third of the above lines, we introduce the word freres (dissyllabic), we obtain the line:—

'Twen | ty thousand freres in a route.'

It is a remarkable fact, that this very line actually occurs in the Canterbury Tales (Group D, 1695); as I have pointed out in the note to l. 2119 of the House of Fame, at p. 286 below. Persistent efforts have often been made to deny this fact, to declare it 'impossible,' and to deride me for having pointed it out (as I did in 1866, in Morris's edition of Chaucer, i. 174); but I believe that the fact is now pretty generally admitted. It is none the less necessary to say here, that there is rather a large number of such lines in the Legend of Good Women; precisely as we might expect to find in a metre which was, in fact, a new experiment. As it is advisable to present the evidence rather fully, I here cite several of these lines, marking off the first syllable in the right way:—

'That | of all' the flour-es in the med-e'; 41.
'Suf | fisaunt this flour to preys' aright'; 67.
'Of | this flour, when that it shuld unclos-e'; 111.
'Mad' | her lyk a daisie for to sen-e'; 224.
'Half | hir beautee shulde men nat fynd-e'; 245.
'With | the whyt-e coroun, clad in gren-e'; 303.
'Mai | dens been y-kept, for Ielosy-e'; 722.
'For | to met' in o plac' at o tyd-e'; 783.
'With | her fac' y-wimpled subtilly'; 797.
[ xlvi ]'Both | e with her hert' and with her y-ën'; 859.
'Bet | ing with his hel-es on the ground-e'; 863.
'We | that wer-en whylom children your-e'; 901.
'Been | as trew' and loving as a man'; 911.
'Had | den in this temple been ov'r-al'; 1024.
'We | that wer-en in prosperitee'; 1030.
'Lyk | ed him the bet, as, god do bot-e'; 1076.
'Lov' | wol lov', for no wight wol hit wond-e'; 1187.
'Send' | her lettres, tokens, broches, ring-es'; 1275.
'Mer | cy, lord! hav' pitè in your thoght'; 1324.
'Twen | ty tym' y-swowned hath she than-ne'; 1342.
'With | her meynee, end-e-long the strond-e'; 1498.
'Yift | es gret', and to her officeres'; 1551.
'Fad | er, moder, husbond, al y-fer-e'; 1828.
'Fight | en with this fend, and him defend-e'; 1996.
'Tell | en al his doing to and fro'; 2471.
'Y | permistra, yongest of hem all-e'; 2575.

It is worth notice that they become scarcer towards the end of the poem. For all that, Chaucer regarded this form of the line as an admissible variety, and Hoccleve and Lydgate followed him in this peculiarity. The practice of Hoccleve and Lydgate is entirely ignored by those to whom it is convenient to ignore it. Perhaps they do not understand it. The usual argument of those who wish to regulate Chaucer's verse according to their own preconceived ideas, is to exclaim against the badness of the MSS. and the stupidity of the scribes. This was tolerably safe before Dr. Furnivall printed his valuable and exact copies of the MSS., but is less safe now. We now have twelve MSS. (some imperfect) in type, besides a copy of Thynne's first edition of the poem in 1532, making thirteen authorities in all. Now, as far as this particular matter is concerned, the chief MSS. shew a wonderful unanimity. In ll. 41, 111, 224, 722, 797, 901, 911, 1076, 1187, 1996, there is no variation that affects the scansion. And this means a great deal more than it seems to do at first sight. For the scribes of MSS. A. and T. evidently did not like these lines, and sometimes attempted emendations with all the hardihood of modern editors. The fact that the scribes are unwilling witnesses, with a tendency to corrupt the evidence, makes their testimony upon this point all the stronger. Added to which, I here admit that, wherever there seemed to be sufficient evidence, I have so far yielded to popular prejudice as to receive the suggested emendation. I now leave this matter to the consideration of the unprejudiced reader; merely observing, that I believe a considerable [ xlvii ]number of lines in the Canterbury Tales have been 'emended' in order to get rid of lines of this character, solely on the strength of the Harleian MS., the scribe of which kept a keen look-out, with a view to the suppression of this eccentricity on the part of his author. To give him much encouragement seems inconsistent with strict morality.

The introduction (ll. 249-269) of a Balade of twenty-one lines makes every succeeding couplet end with a line denoted by an odd number. The whole number of lines is 2,723. Dr. Furnivall was the first person who succeeded in counting their number correctly.

§ 12. Description of the Manuscripts. The MSS. easily fall into two distinct classes, and may be separated by merely observing the reading of l. 1396: see note to that line. MSS. C., T., A. here read Guido or Guydo; whilst MSS. F., Tn., B. read Ouyde. MS. P. is here deficient, but commonly agrees with the former class. Those of the same class will be described together. Besides this, MS. C. is, as regards the Prologue only, unique of its kind; and is throughout of the highest authority, notwithstanding some unpleasant peculiarities of spelling. It is necessary to pay special attention to it.

The list of the MSS. (including Thynne's edition) is as follows:—

A.—Arch. Selden B. 24; Bodleian Library (First class).

Add.—Additional 9832; British Museum (First class).

Additional 12524; British Museum (First class).

B.—Bodley 638; Bodleian Library (Second class).

C.—Cambridge Univ. Library, Gg. 4. 27 (First class).

F.—Fairfax 16; Bodleian Library (Second class).

P.—Pepys 2006; Magd. Coll., Cambridge (First class).

T.—Trinity College, Cambridge, R. 3. 19 (First class).

Th.—Thynne's edition, pr. in 1532 (Second class?).

Tn.—Tanner 346; Bodleian Library (Second class).

α.—Additional 28617; British Museum (First class); but only a fragment, viz. ll. 513-610, 808-1105, 1306-1801, 1852-2110, 2125-2135, 2151-2723.

β.—Cambridge Univ. Library, Ff. 1. 6 (Thisbe only).

γ.—Rawlinson C. 86; Bodleian Library (Dido only).

They may be thus described.

C. (Camb. Univ. Lib. Gg. 4. 27) is the famous Cambridge MS., [ xlviii ]containing the Canterbury Tales, denoted by the symbol 'Cm.' in the footnotes to vol. iv (i.e. throughout the Canterbury Tales); also by the symbol 'Gg.' in vol. i., i.e. in the Minor Poems; see p. 49 of the Introduction to vol. i. It also contains some other pieces by Chaucer, viz. the A. B. C., Envoy to Scogan, Truth, Troilus, and the Parlement of Foules. It is of early date, and altogether the oldest, best, and most important of the existing copies of the Legend. I shall call all those that resemble it MSS. of the first class.

Its great peculiarity is that it possesses the unique copy of the early draught of the Prologue; see p. xxi. Upon comparison of it with the Fairfax MS. (the best MS. of the second class), it is found to offer slight differences in many places throughout the various Legends, besides presenting large differences throughout the Prologue. The variations are frequently for the better, and it becomes clear that the first class of MSS. is of an older type. The second class is of a later type, and differs in two ways, in one way for the worse, and in another way for the better. In the former respect, it presents corrupted or inferior readings in several passages; whilst, on the other hand, it presents corrections that are real improvements, and may have been due to revision. No doubt there was once in existence a correct edition of the revised text, but no existing MS. represents it. We can, however, practically reconstruct it by a careful collation of MS. C. with MS. F.; and this I have attempted to do. Throughout the Prologue, I take MS. C. as the basis of the 'A-text,' correcting its eccentricities of spelling, but recording them in footnotes wherever the variation is at all important; such a variation as hym for him, or yt for hit, I regard as being of no value. At the same time, I take MS. F. as the basis of the B-text, and correct it, where necessary, by collation with the rest. Throughout the Legends themselves, I take MS. F. as the basis of the text, collating it with C. throughout, so that the text really depends on a comparison of these MSS.; if MS. C. had been made the basis, the result would have been much the same. It was convenient to take F. as the basis, because it agrees, very nearly, with all previous editions of the poem. Unfortunately, leaf 469 of MS. C. has been cut out of it; and, in consequence, ll. 1836-1907 are missing. The scribe has missed ll. 1922, 1923, 2506, 2507, in the process of copying.

[ xlix ]Addit. 9832. This is an imperfect MS., ending at l. 1985, no more leaves of the MS. being left after that line. Besides this, the scribe has omitted several lines, viz. ll. 166, 233, 234, 332, 333, 351, 865-872, 960, 961, 1255, 1517, 1744-1746, 1783, 1895, 1945. It belongs to the first class of the MSS., but is an unsatisfactory copy, and I have not fully collated it. It confirms, however, several of the readings of this edition, as distinguished from former editions.

Addit. 12524. This also is only a fragment. The first leaf begins at l. 1640 of the poem, from which point it is complete to the end, though ll. 2454-2461 are partially effaced. It belongs to the first class of MSS., but is a late copy, and I have not fully collated it. It confirms several of my readings.

T.—MS. Trin. Coll. Cam. R. 3. 19. Denoted by the symbol 'Trin.' in my edition of the Minor Poems, and described in vol. i., Introd. p. 56. It is of rather late date, about 1500, but belongs to the first class of MSS. The scribe has omitted the following lines, viz. 233, 234, 332, 333, 489, 960, 961, 1627, 2202, 2203, 2287-2292, and 2569.

A.—MS. Arch. Selden B. 24 (Bodley). Denoted by the symbol 'Ar.' in my edition of the Minor Poems, and described in vol. i., Introd. p. 54. A Scottish copy, written about 1472. It belongs to the first class of MSS., but the Scottish scribe sometimes takes liberties, and gives us a reading of his own. For example, l. 714 becomes:—'As in grete townis the maner is and wone.' But its readings, on the whole, are good. It alone preserves the word 'almychti' in l. 1538, which in all the rest is too short; this may not have been the original reading, but it gives a fair line, and furnishes as good an emendation as we are likely to get. The scribe has omitted ll. 860, 861, 960, 961, 1568-1571, 2226, and 2227; besides which, one leaf of the MS. is missing, causing the loss of ll. 2551-2616.

P.—Pepys 2006, Magd. Coll., Cambridge. Denoted by 'P.' in my edition of the Minor Poems, of which it contains ten. It belongs, on the whole, to the first class of MSS. The scribe has omitted ll. 232, 437, 623, and 1275. Besides this, it has lost at least one leaf, causing the complete loss of ll. 706-776, whilst ll. 777-845 are in a different handwriting. At l. 1377 it breaks off altogether, so that it is only a fragment. It gives l. 1377 in the following extraordinary form:—'And thow wer not fals to oon, [ l ]but thow wer fals to twoo'; giving six feet at least to the line, and a syllable over.

α.—Addit. 28617. A fair MS., but only a fragment, as already noted (p. xlvii). It confirms many of my readings; as, e.g., in ll. 1995, 2019, 2020, 2199, &c. It varies in l. 1999, but gives there an excellent reading:—That is nat derk, and ther is roum and space.

β.—Camb. Univ. Library, Ff. 1. 6. Contains the Legend of Thisbe only. A late and poor MS., of small account.

γ.—Rawl. C. 86 (Bodleian Library). Contains the Legend of Dido only. A poor text, with many errors. Yet it seems to be of the first class, and preserves ll. 960-1. It confirms my readings of ll. 1048, 1074, 1079, 1139, 1144, 1159, 1174, 1195, 1196, 1215, 1366.

F.—Fairfax 16 (Bodleian Library). This is the valuable MS. which contains so many of the Minor Poems. It is described in my Introd. to the Minor Poems; vol. i. p. 51. I have taken it as the basis of the edition, though it was necessary to correct it in all the places where the MSS. of the first class have better readings. It is the best MS. of the second class, and Bell's edition does little more than follow it, almost too faithfully, though the editor professes to have collated with it the MS. A. described above. The same text, in the main, reappears in the editions by Thynne, Morris, Corson, Gilman. The scribe is careless, and frequently leaves out essential words; he also omits ll. 249, 487, 846, 960, 961, 1490[32], 1643, 1693, 1998, part of 2150, 2151, 2152, part of 2153[33], 2193, 2338 (in place of which a spurious line is inserted in a wrong place), and 2475. Besides this, the scribe often ruins the scansion of a line by omitting an essential word in it, as has already been mentioned. Thus in l. 614, he drops the word for, which occurs in all the other MSS. The scribe often wrongly adds or omits a final e, and is too fond of substituting y for i in such words as him, king. When these variations are allowed for, the spelling of the MS. is, for the most part, clear and satisfactory, and a fair guide to the right pronunciation. Rejected spellings are given in footnotes as far as l. 924; after which I have made such alterations as are purely trivial without giving notice. Even in ll. 1-924 I have changed hym into him, and kyng into king; [ li ]and, conversely, strif into stryf, (where the y denotes that the vowel is long), without hesitation and without recording the change. My text is, in fact, spelt phonetically; and, after all, the test of a text of Chaucer is to read it with the Middle-English pronunciation as given by Dr. Sweet in his Second Middle-English Primer, and to observe whether the result is perfectly in accord with the flowing melody so manifest in the Canterbury Tales.

B.—Bodley 638. Closely related to MS. F., and almost a duplicate of it, both being derived from a common source. B. is sometimes right where F. is wrong; thus in l. 1196 it has houyn, where F. has heuen. See Introd. to the Minor Poems, vol. i. p. 53. Of course this MS. belongs, like F., to the second class. It preserves l. 1693 (missing in F.); otherwise it omits all the lines that are omitted in F., as well as ll. 157, 262, 623, 1345, 1866; all of which F. retains. Like F., it has a spurious line in place of l. 2338.

Tn.—Tanner 346 (Bodley). This is a MS. of the second class, strongly resembling F.; see Introd. to the Minor Poems, vol. i. p. 54. It preserves ll. 1693, 2193, 2475; otherwise it omits all the lines omitted in F., as well as the latter half of l. 1378 and the former half of l. 1379. It has a spurious line in place of l. 2338. It is clear that F., B., and Tn. are all from a common source, which was an older MS. not now known.

§ 13. Description of the Printed Editions. Th.—Thynne's edition; A.D. 1532. This follows, mainly, the MSS. of the second class; its alliance with F., B., and Tn. is shewn by its containing the spurious form of l. 2338. But it gives the genuine form also, so that in this place three lines rime together. It is more complete than any of those MSS., preserving the lines which they omit (excepting ll. 960, 961), save that it omits ll. 1326, 1327 (doubtless by oversight), which are found in these three MSS., and indeed in all the copies. Probably Thynne used more than one MS., as he sometimes agrees with the MSS. of the first class. Thus, in l. 1163, he reads vpreysed had, as in C., T., A., P., instead of vp-reyseth hath, as in F., Tn., B. He might, however, have corrected this by the light of nature. In ll. 1902, 1923, Thynne alone gives the right reading Alcathoe; unfortunately, both these lines are missing in MS. C. The chief faults of Thynne's edition are its omission of ll. 960, 961, 1326, 1327, and its spurious l. 2338. Thynne was also unfortunate in following, in general, the authority of a MS. of the second class.

[ lii ]Some later editions.—Later editions appeared in the collected editions of Chaucer's Works, viz. in 1542, (about) 1550, 1561, 1598, 1602, 1687; after which came Urry's useless edition of 1721. Excepting the last, I suppose the editions are all mere reprints; each being worse than its predecessor, as is almost always the case. At any rate, the edition of 1561 is a close reprint of Thynne, with a few later spellings, such as guide in place of Thynne's gyde in l. 969. This edition of course omits ll. 960, 961, 1326, 1327; and gives the spurious l. 2338.

According to Lowndes, other later editions of Chaucer's Works are the following:—Edinburgh, 1777; 18mo. 12 vols.—Edinburgh, 1782; 12mo. 14 vols.—In Anderson's British Poets, Edinburgh, 1793-1807; royal 8vo. 13 vols.—In Cooke's British Poets, London, 1798, &c., 18mo. 80 parts.—In Chalmers' English Poets, London, 1810; royal 8vo. 21 vols. I suppose that all of these are mere reprints; such is certainly the case with the edition by Chalmers, which merely reproduces Tyrwhitt's edition of the Canterbury Tales, and follows 'the black-letter editions' throughout the other poems. The same remark applies to the edition printed by Moxon in 1855, and attributed to Tyrwhitt as editor.

Other editions are those by S. W. Singer, London, 1822, fcp. 8vo. 5 vols.; by Sir H. Nicolas (in the Aldine edition of English Poets), London, 1845, post 8vo. 6 vols.; and by Robert Bell, London, 1855, 12mo. 8 vols. The last was really edited by Mr. Jephson.

Bell's (so-called) edition was conveniently reprinted in four volumes, in Bohn's Standard Library; a revised edition of this was published in 1878, with a Preliminary Essay by myself. Of the Legend of Good Women, the editor (Mr. Jephson) remarks that 'the text of the present edition is founded upon a careful collation of the MS. Fairfax 16, in the Bodleian Library, and MS. Arch. Seld. B. 24'; i.e. upon a collation of F. with A. It gives us the text of MS. F., with the missing lines supplied from Thynne or from MS. A. It omits ll. 960, 961, and inserts ll. 1326, 1327 in the wrong place, viz. after l. 1329. At l. 2338, it gives both the correct and the spurious forms of the line; so that here (as in Thynne) three lines rime together. In l. 2150-3, the same confusion occurs as is noticed below, in the account of Morris's edition. The chief gain in this edition is that it has a few explanatory notes. Of these I have freely availed myself, marking them with the word 'Bell' whenever I quote them exactly; though [ liii ]they were really written, as I am told, by Mr. Jephson, whose name nowhere appears, except at p. 12 of my Essay, as prefixed to the revised edition.

The Aldine edition was reprinted in 1866, on which occasion it was edited by Dr. Morris. With respect to the Legend of Good Women, Dr. Morris says that it is copied from MS. F., collated with MSS. A., C. (privately printed at Cambridge by Mr. H. Bradshaw, 1864), and MSS. Addit. 9832 and 12524. In this edition, variations from the MS. (F.) are denoted by italic letters, but such variations are very few. Practically, we here find a correct print of MS. F., with most of the missing lines supplied by collation, and with very few corrections. Lines 960, 961 are, however, still omitted, though found in MS. C.; but ll. 1326, 1327 (also omitted by Thynne) are duly given, being found, in fact, in MS. F. At l. 2338, the correct line is given, but the spurious line is also retained; so that (as in Thynne) three lines here rime together. In the former part of l. 2153, a part of l. 2150 is repeated, giving us by instead of eek; the fact is that the scribe slipped from gayler in l. 2150 to gayler in l. 2153, omitting all that came between these words. Nothing is said about the interesting form of the Prologue as existing in MS. C. There are no explanatory notes.

Besides the English editions, two editions of the Legend of Good Women have appeared in America, which demand some notice.

Of these, the former is a very handy edition of the Legend of Good Women, published separately for the first time, and edited by Professor Hiram Corson. The text is that of Bell's edition; but the explanatory notes are fuller and better, and I have carefully consulted them. At the end is an Index of all the words explained, which really serves the purpose of a glossary. This is certainly the best edition I have met with.

The other edition is that of Chaucer's Works, edited by Arthur Gilman, and published at Boston in 1879, in three volumes. The Legend of Good Women occurs in vol. iii. pp. 79-183. The harder words are explained in footnotes, and there are just a few notes on the subject-matter. The chief point in this edition is that the editor quotes some of the more remarkable variations in the Prologue from MS. C., which he says is 'evidently an earlier one than the one followed in the text, Fairfax 16, in [ liv ]the Bodleian Library, Oxford.' Yet his text is a mere reprint from that of Morris; it omits ll. 960, 961, and gives l. 2338 both in its correct and in its spurious form. Consequently, it contains 2722 lines instead of 2723. The true number of lines is odd, because of the Balade of 21 lines at l. 249.

The net result is this; that none of the editions are complete, and they are all much the same. After twenty editions, we are left almost where we started at first. Thynne's edition was founded on a MS. very closely resembling F., but more complete; still it omits four lines, and gives l. 2338 twice over, in different forms. The same is true of all the numerous reprints from it. Bell's edition restores ll. 1326, 1327, but in the wrong place; whilst Morris's edition restores them in the right place. These lines actually occur in MS. F. (in the right place), and could hardly have been unnoticed in collating the proofs with the MS. These editions are both supposed to be collated with MS. A. at least, but the results of such collation are practically nil, as that MS. was merely consulted to supply missing lines. The editors practically ignore the readings of that MS., except where F. is imperfect. Hence they did not discover that MS. A. belongs to a different class of MSS., and that it frequently gives earlier and better readings. But even A. omits ll. 960, 961, though it also rightly suppresses the spurious form of l. 2338.

§ 14. Some Improvements in my Edition of 1889. No real advance towards a better text was made till Dr. Furnivall brought out, for the Chaucer Society, his valuable and exact prints of the manuscripts themselves. This splendid and important work gives the texts in extenso of all the MSS. above mentioned, viz. MSS. C., F., Tn., T., A., and Th. (Thynne's ed.) in the 'Parallel-Text edition of Chaucer's Minor Poems,' Part III; MSS. B., Addit. 9832, P., and Addit. 12524, in the 'Supplementary Parallel-Texts,' Part II; and MSS. α, β, γ, in 'Odd Texts,' 1880. But for the invaluable help thus rendered, the edition of 1889 would never have been undertaken, and I should never have attained to so clear an understanding of the text. I have already said that Dr. Furnivall was the first person who succeeded in numbering the lines of the poem correctly; indeed, most editions have no numbering at all.

I have not thought it necessary to encumber the pages with wholly inferior readings that are of no value, but I have carefully [ lv ]collated the best MSS., viz. C., F., Tn., T., A., B., and sometimes P., besides keeping an eye upon Th., i.e. Thynne's edition. I thus was enabled to see the true state of the case, viz. that the MSS. of the first class (C., T., A., P., Addit. 9832, 12524, and 28617) have been practically neglected altogether; whilst, of the MSS. &c. of the second class (F., Tn., B., Th.), only F. and Th. have received sufficient attention. It is now abundantly clear that the best authorities are C. and F., as being of different classes, and that the right plan is to consult these first, and then to see how the other MSS. support them. A long list of important emendations, and an exposure of the extreme inaccuracy of most of the previous editions, will be found in the Introduction to my edition of 1889, and need not be repeated here.

§ 15. Conclusion. In conclusion, I may mention the Poem in MS. Ashmole 59, entitled 'The Cronycle made by Chaucier. ¶ Here nowe folowe the names of the nyene worshipfullest Ladyes ... by Chaucier.' It is a poor production, perhaps written by Shirley, and merely gives a short epitome of the contents of the Legend of Good Women. The words 'by Chaucier' refer to Chaucer's authorship of the Legend only, and not to the authorship of the epitome, which, though of some interest, is practically worthless. The author makes the odd mistake of confusing the story of Alcestis with that of Ceyx and Alcyone in the Book of the Duchesse (62-230). This 'Cronycle' was printed by Dr. Furnivall in his Odd-texts of Chaucer's Minor Poems, Part i.

I have now only to record my indebtedness to others, especially to Dr. Furnivall for his invaluable prints in the Parallel-Texts; to the excellent essay by M. Bech, in vol. v. of Anglia[34]; to Mr. Jephson for his notes in 'Bell's' edition; and to the notes in the edition by Professor Corson. Also to Professor Ten Brink, the second part of whose second volume of the Geschichte der englischen Litteratur has just appeared (1893).

[ lvi ]Note.—If the reader finds the two forms of the Prologue troublesome, he has only to confine his attention to the 'B-text,' in the lower part of pp. 65-105. The text agrees with that usually given, and contains 579 lines. The first line of 'Cleopatra' is l. 580, the numbering being continuous. Besides this, the lines of each Legend are given separately, within marks of parenthesis. Thus l. 589 is the 10th line of 'Cleopatra'; and so in other cases.


I here subjoin an Additional Note to lines 1896-8.

At p. xxxix. above (footnote no. 2), I give Bech's reference to Godfrey of Viterbo. The passage runs thus:—


'De Ioue primo rege Atheniensi.

A Ioue nostrorum uenit generatio regum,
A Ioue principium recipit descriptio regum,
A Ioue philosophi dogmata prima legunt.
Rex erat ex rege quondam patre natus Athenis,
Indeque quadriuii triuiique scientia uenit;
Legis et artis ibi rex ydioma dedit.'




  1. I do not here endorse all Ten Brink's dates. I give his scheme for what it is worth, as it is certainly deserving of consideration.
  2. It is the stanza next following the last one quoted in vol. i. p. 23. I quote it from the Aldine edition of Chaucer, ed. Morris, i. 80.
  3. Of course Lydgate knew the work was unfinished; so he offers a humorous excuse for its incompleteness. I may here note that Hoccleve refers to the Legend in his poem entitled the Letter of Cupid, where Cupid is made to speak of 'my Legende of Martres'; see Hoccleve's Works, ed. Furnivall, p. 85, l. 316.
  4. In December, 1384, Richard II. 'held his Christmas' at Eltham (Fabyan).
  5. I think lines 568, 569 (added in B.) are meant to refer directly to ll. 703, 704.
  6. The Knightes Tale is a clear exception. The original Palamon and Arcite was too good to be wholly lost; but it was entirely recast in a new metre, and so became quite a new work.
  7. It is amusing to see that Chaucer forgot, at the same time, to alter A. 422 (= B. 432), in which Alcestis actually tells her name. The oversight is obvious.
  8. Line A. 277 reappears in the Canterbury Tales in the improved form—'And ever a thousand gode ageyn oon badde.' This is the 47th line in the Milleres Prologue, but is omitted in Tyrwhitt's edition, together with the line that follows it.
  9. I.e. with the exception of the stanzas which were transferred from that work to the Man of Lawes Prologue and Tale; see the 'Account of the Sources,' &c. p. 407, and the last note on p. 307 of the present volume.
  10. I omit 'Marcia Catoun'; like Esther, she is hardly to be ranked with the heroines of olden fables. Indeed, even Cleopatra comes in rather strangely.
  11. See De Claris Mulieribus:—Cleopatra, cap. 86. Thisbe, cap. 12. Dido, cap. 40. Hypsipyle and Medea, capp. 15, 16. Lucretia, cap. 46. Hypermnestra cap. 13. And see Morley's English Writers, v. 241 (1890).
  12. It will be seen below that Chaucer certainly made use of this work for the Legend of Hypermnestra; see p. xl.
  13. Court of Love (original edition, 1561), stanzas 15, 16. I substitute 'ninetene' for the 'xix' of the original.
  14. 'The Jesuit Rapin, in his Latin poem entitled "Horti" (Paris, 1666), tells how a Dalmatian virgin, persecuted by the amorous addresses of Vertumnus, prayed to the gods for protection, and was transformed into a tulip. In the same poem, he says that the Bellides (cf. bellis, a daisy), who were once nymphs, are now flowers. The story [here] quoted [from Henry Phillips] seems to have been fabricated out of these two passages.'—Athenæum, Sept. 28, 1889.
  15. M. Tarbé shews that the cult of the daisy arose from the frequent occurrence of the name Marguérite in the royal family of France, from the time of St. Louis downward. The wife of St. Louis was Marguérite de Provence, and the same king (as well as Philip III., Philip IV., and Philip V.) had a daughter so named.
  16. Chaucer nearly suffered the same fate himself; see Ho. Fame, 586.
  17. Dr. Köppel notes that the name also occurs in Boccaccio's Amorosa Visione (V. 50) in company with that of Claudian: 'Claudiano, Persio, ed Agatone.'—Anglia, xiv. 237.
  18. He should also have excepted Philomela.
  19. These numbers refer to the lines of the B-text of the Prologue.
  20. Cf. L. G. W. 2177, 2227.
  21. Cf. L. G. W. 1952-8.
  22. Gower is amusing when he turns Ovid's 'Ad uada Maeandri' (Her. vii. 2) into a reference to 'King Menander'!
  23. The unfamiliar form Guido was read as Ouide, by changing G, o, into O, e.
  24. Lounsbury (Studies in Chaucer, ii. 259) objects that many scholars suppose that Valerius Flaccus was unknown previously to 1416. But, if so, how did Chaucer know that the title of his poem was 'Argonauticon Libri,' and not 'Argonautae,' as in Dares?
  25. In fact, St. Augustine tells the whole story; De Ciuitate Dei, lib. i. cap. xix. And it was copied from St. Augustine's version into the Gesta Romanorum, Tale 135.
  26. For lines 1896-8, Bech refers us to Godfrey of Viterbo's Speculum Regum; see the extract from it in Pertz, Monumenta Germanica, vol. xxii. p. 38, l. 159; which tells us that the teaching of philosophy and of the seven sciences at Athens was introduced there by Jupiter; see further, at p. lvi.
  27. We must remember that, in olden times, writers often had to trust to their memory for details not always at hand. Hence such a mistake as this was easily made.
  28. The reference seems to be to Paulus Orosius, Hist. i. 11; but Belus is not there mentioned. Yet Hyginus (Fab. 168) has: 'Danaus Beli filius ex pluribus coniugibus quinquaginta filias habuit.' See Anglia, v. 350.
  29. 29.0 29.1 People were soon called 'old' in those days. Dante, at 35, was in the 'middle' of life; after which, all was downhill. Hoccleve was miserably old at 53; Works, ed. Furnivall, p. 119. Jean de Meun, in his Testament, ed. Méon, iv. 9, even goes so far as to say that man flourishes up to the age of 30 or 40, after which he 'ne fait que langorir.' Premature age seems to have been rather common in medieval times. Moreover, Gower is speaking comparatively, as of one no longer 'in the floures of his youthe.'
  30. Ten Brink, Chaucer's Sprache, &c., p. 174.
  31. The heroic couplet was practically unknown to us till Chaucer introduced it. The rare examples of it before his time are almost accidental. A lyrical poem printed in Böddeker's Altenglische Dichtungen, p. 232, from MS. Harl. 2253, ends with a fair specimen, and is older than Chaucer. The last two lines are:—

    'For loue of vs his wonges waxeþ þunne,
    His herte-blod he ȝef for al mon-kunne.'

    The oldest single line of this form is at the end of Sawles Warde (ab. A.D. 1210); see Spec. of English, pt. i. p. 95:—

    'That ich mot iesu crist mi sawle ȝelden.'

  32. Not 1491, as Bell says; he has mistaken the line.
  33. From geten to gayler; Dr. Furnivall has not got this quite right.
  34. This excellent essay investigates Chaucer's sources, and is the best commentary upon the present poem. I had written most of my Notes independently, and had discovered most of his results for myself. This does not diminish my sense of the thoroughness of the essay, and I desire to express fully my acknowledgments to this careful student. I may remark here that Chaucer's obligations to Froissart were long ago pointed out by Tyrwhitt, and that the name Agatho was explained in Cary's Dante. There is very little else that Bech has missed. Perhaps I may put in some claim to the discovery of a sentence taken from Boethius; and to some other points of minor importance.