V. His love of nature is noteworthy for that early age. Such lines as these manifest something more than a desire for rhetorical effect in speaking of nature’s phenomena:—
“Now welcom somer, with thy sonne
That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
And driven awey the longe nightes blake!"
His affection for the daisy has for five hundred years caused many other people to look with fonder eyes upon that flower.
VI. He stands in the front rank of those who have attempted to tell stories in melodious verse. Lowell justly says: “One of the world’s three or four great story-tellers, he was also one of the best versifiers that ever made English trip and sing with a gayety that seems careless, but where every foot beats time to the tune of the thought.”
[Illustration: MORRIS DANCERS._From a Manuscript of Chaucer’s Time._]
VII. He is the first great English author to feel the influence of the Renaissance, which did not until long afterward culminate in England. Gower has his lover hear tales from a confessor in cloistered quiet. Chaucer takes his Pilgrims out for jolly holidays in the April sunshine. He shows the spirit of the Renaissance in his joy in varied life, in his desire for knowledge of all classes of men as well as of books, in his humor, and in his general reaching out into new fields. He makes us feel that he lives in a merrier England, where both the Morris dancer and the Pilgrim may show their joy in life.
What Chaucer did for the English Language.—Before Chaucer’s works, English was, as we have seen, a language of dialects. He wrote in the Midland dialect, and aided in making that the language of England. Lounsbury says of Chaucer’s influence: “No really national language could exist until a literature had been created which would be admired and studied by all who could read, and taken as a model by all who could write. It was only a man of genius that could lift up one of these dialects into a preeminence over the rest, or could ever give to the scattered forces existing in any one of them the unity and vigor of life. This was the work that Chaucer did.” For this reason he deserves to be called our first modern English poet. At first sight, his works look far harder to read than they really are, because the spelling has changed so much since Chaucer’s day.
The period from the Norman Conquest to 1400 is remarkable (1) for bringing into England French influence and closer contact with the continent; (2) for the development of (a) a more centralized government, (b) the feudal system and chivalry, (c) better civil courts of justice and a more representative government, Magna Charta being one of the steps in this direction; (3) for the influence of religion, the coming of the friars, the erection of unsurpassed Gothic cathedrals; (4) for the struggles of the peasants to escape their bondage, for a striking decline in the relative importance of the armored knight, and for Wycliffe’s movement for a religious reformation.