English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

CHAUCER AND GOWER.—­That there was for a time a mutual admiration between Chaucer and Gower, is shown by their allusion to each other.  In the penultimate stanza of the Troilus and Creseide, Chaucer calls him “O Morall Gower,” an epithet repeated by Dunbar, Hawes, and other writers; while in the Confessio Amantis, Gower speaks of Chaucer as his disciple and poet, and alludes to his poems with great praise.  That they were at any time alienated from each other has been asserted, but the best commentators agree in thinking without sufficient grounds.

The historical teachings of Gower are easy to find.  He states truths without parable.  His moral satires are aimed at the Church corruptions of the day, and yet are conservative; and are taken, says Berthelet, in his dedication of the Confessio to Henry VIII., not only out of “poets, orators, historic writers, and philosophers, but out of the Holy Scripture”—­the same Scripture so eloquently expounded by Chaucer, and translated by Wiclif.  Again, Gower, with an eye to the present rather than to future fame, wrote in three languages—­a tribute to the Church in his Latin, to the court in his French, and to the progressive spirit of the age in his English.  The latter alone is now read, and is the basis of his fame.  Besides three poems, he left, among his manuscripts, fifty French sonnets, (cinquantes balades,) which were afterward printed by his descendant, Lord Gower, Duke of Sutherland.

GOWER’S LANGUAGE.—­Like Chaucer, Gower was a reformer in language, and was accused by the “severer etymologists of having corrupted the purity of the English by affecting to introduce so many foreign words and phrases;” but he has the tribute of Sir Philip Sidney (no mean praise) that Chaucer and himself were the leaders of a movement, which others have followed, “to beautifie our mother tongue,” and thus the Confessio Amantis ranks as one of the formers of our language, in a day when it required much moral courage to break away from the trammels of Latin and French, and at the same time to compel them to surrender their choicest treasures to the English.

Gower was born in 1325 or 1326, and outlived Chaucer.  It has been generally believed that Chaucer was his poetical pupil.  The only evidence is found in the following vague expression of Gower in the Confessio Amantis: 

    And greet well Chaucer when ye meet
    As my disciple and my poete. 
    For in the flower of his youth,
    In sondry wise as he well couth,
    Of ditties and of songes glade
    The which he for my sake made.

It may have been but a patronizing phrase, warranted by Gower’s superior rank and station; for to the modern critic the one is the uprising sun, and the other the pale star scarcely discerned in the sky.  Gower died in 1408, eight years after his more illustrious colleague.


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