With such a start, the pilgrims proceed to tell their tales; but not all. There is neither record of their reaching Canterbury, nor returning. Nor is the completion of the number at all essential: for all practical purposes, we have all that can be asked; and had the work been completed, it would have added little to the historical stores which it now indirectly, and perhaps unconsciously, offers. The number of the tales (including two in prose) is twenty-four, and great additional value is given to them by the short prologue introducing each of them.
CHAUCER, (CONTINUED.)—REFORMS IN RELIGION AND SOCIETY.
Historical Facts. Reform in
Religion. The Clergy, Regular and Secular.
The Friar and the Sompnour. The Pardonere. The Poure Persone. John
Wiclif. The Translation of the Bible. The Ashes of Wiclif.
Leaving the pilgrims’ cavalcade for a more philosophical consideration of the historical teachings of the subject, it may be clearly shown that the work of Chaucer informs us of a wholesome reform in religion, or, in the words of George Ellis, “he was not only respected as the father of English poetry, but revered as a champion of the Reformation.”
Let us recur briefly to the history. With William the Conqueror a great change had been introduced into England: under him and his immediate successors—his son William Rufus, his nephew Henry I., the usurper Stephen, and Henry II.,—the efforts of the “English kings of Norman race” were directed to the establishment of their power on a strong foundation; but they began, little by little, to see that the only foundation was that of the unconquerable English people; so that popular rights soon began to be considered, and the accession of Henry II., the first of the Plantagenets, was specially grateful to the English, because he was the first since the Conquest to represent the Saxon line, being the grandson of Henry I., and son of Matilda, niece of Edgar Atheling. In the mean time, as has been seen, the English language had been formed, the chief element of which was Saxon. This was a strong instrument of political rights, for community of language tended to an amalgamation of the Norman and Saxon peoples. With regard to the Church in England, the insulation from Rome had impaired the influence of the Papacy. The misdeeds and arrogance of the clergy had arrayed both people and monarch against their claims, as several of the satirical poems already mentioned have shown. As a privileged class, who used their immunities to do evil and corrupt the realm, the clergy became odious to the nobles, whose power they shared and sometimes impaired, and to the people, who could now read their faults and despise their comminations, and who were unwilling to pay hard-earned wages to support them in idleness