British Author

Author Bio: Geoffrey Chaucer

                 

                 

Geoffrey Chaucer

(1343-1400)

“Now I pray all those that hearken to this little treatise or read, that if there be anything in it that pleases them, they thank Our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom proceeds all wit and all goodness. And if there be anything that displeases them, I pray them also to blame it upon my lack of skill, who would full gladly have spoken better if I had that skill. For our Book says: ‘all that is written is written for our doctrine,’ and that is my intent. Wherefore I beseech you meekly, for the mercy of God, that you pay for me, that Christ may have mercy upon me and forgive me my sins; and namely for my translations and writing on worldly vanities, which I revoke in my retraction: as are the Book of Troilus, the Book also of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, the Book of the Duchess; the Book of Saint Valentine’s Day of the Parliament of Fowls, The Tales of Canterbury, those conducive to sin, the Book of the Lion; and many another book, if they were in my remembrance, and many a song and many a lecherous lay; that Christ in his great mercy may forgive me the sin.   But the translation of Boethius’ De Consolatione, and other books of legends of Saints, and homilies and morality and devotion, for them I thank Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Blissful Mother, and all the Saints of Heaven; beseeching them that they from henceforth unto my life’s end send me grace to bewail my sins, and to study the salvation of my soul, and grant me the grace of true penitence, confession and satisfaction, to perform in this present life, through the benign grace of Him that is King of kings and Priest over all priests, who bought us with the precious blood of His heart, so that I may be one of those at the day of doom that shall be saved. Qui cum patre etc.”

Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde, did more, perhaps, to influence the development of the English language than any other author save the prolific William Shakespeare.  History credits him with the invention of rhyme royal, that seven-line stanza composed in iambic pentameter, and with the riding heroic couplet.  The first to compose in the English vernacular, Chaucer coined countless words, bringing them into common usage. 

A well-educated son of an affluent London merchant, Chaucer made his living in court.  He fought in the 100 Years War, where he was captured and ransomed by King Edward III.  Serving first at court as page to Prince Lionel’s wife, he climbed to become Lionel’s father, King Edward III’s esquire.  After marrying Philippa Roet, lady-in-waiting to the queen, to better his social and economic position, he pursued more political work, working variously as a custom’s controller in London, a clerk responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of royal properties, diplomat to France, Spain, and Italy, a justice-of-the-peace, and even as a member of Parliament. 

Chaucer’s broad experience at court and in the public eye informed his choice of subject matter in his most famous work, The Canterbury Tales, for which he frequently sourced French literature, especially that of the courtly romance genre.  The broad array of people that filled Edward’s court offered him ample opportunity to create caricatures of the various tradespeople and social castes of his time.  Likewise, it trained him in diplomacy, which stood him in good stead when he turned to satirical lampoons of church and state officers. 

In addition to his original creative works, Chaucer rendered several scholarly, literary translations, including The Consolation of Philosophy by the Italian poet Boethius, the influence of which is evident in Chaucer’s courtly romances, Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight’s Tale.  His scholarship explains his wide facility with philosophical, religious, and historical allusions throughout his oeuvre. 

Chaucer died at the age of sixty in the year 1400 and is buried in Westminster Abbey among his literary peers in what is called Poet’s Corner.   This seems an appropriate remembrance of a man whom renowned poet John Dryden called the Father of English Poetry.  On the monument which marks his resting place, these words appear in Latin:

"Of old the bard who struck the noblest strains

Great Geoffrey Chaucer, now this tomb retains.

If for the period of his life you call,

the signs are under that will note you all.

In the year of our Lord 1400, on the 25th day of October.

Death is the repose of cares.

N.Brigham charged himself with these in the name of the Muses

1556"

 

Author Bio: Charles Dickens

dickens-at-writing-desk-1911.jpg

Charles Dickens

(1812-1870)

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 1812 in Hampshire, England, the oldest child of naval clerk John Dickens and his wife Elizabeth Barrow.  His early childhood was marred by poverty.  When Dickens was 12, his father landed in debtor’s prison; Charles left school to support the family by working in a blacking factory.  Although a windfall inheritance bought John’s freedom, the family’s growing financial needs kept Charles out of the classroom and in the marketplace.  Eventually, he found work as a freelance reporter in the London courts.  This began an illustrious career in letters for Charles.    Over the course of his writing career, Dickens edited several journals, wrote 15 well-respected novels, 5 novellas, countless short stories, and numerous non-fiction articles (Wikipedia).   With his pen, he developed a reputation for humour, wit, and sensitivity, publishing his first book, a collection of stories and articles called Sketches by Boz, under the eponymous pseudonym.  Historian R. H. Horne declared Dickens “manifestly the product of his age…a genuine emanation from its aggregate and entire spirit…a first-rate practical intellect, with ‘no nonsense’ about him” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).  While he was not a philosopher or an intellectual, Dickens’s sagacious observations about Victorian England and human nature won him many devoted readers.  Nevertheless, his personal experiences colored his perception of 19th c. culture, breeding a general distrust of landed wealth.  This “shadow of the Marshalsea” would remain upon Dickens all his life.         

Victorian England was a stratified society; Dickens perceived its excesses and shortfalls, characterizing them satirically in novels such as Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, and Bleak House.  He found as much virtue in the poor as he found graft and corruption in the rich, and these observations found their way into social satires like A Christmas Carol, in which the notorious capitalist Scrooge learns from ghosts and angels to share his blessings with the unfortunate Bob Cratchit and his family.  It can be argued that Dickens virtually created the modern concept of Christmas with this novella.  While some critics have accused Dickens of creating shallow, one-dimensional caricatures, his critical reputation has endured.  Biographer Philip Collins notes: “The centenary in 1970 of Dickens’s death demonstrated a critical consensus about his standing second only to William Shakespeare in English literature which would have seemed incredible 40 or even 20 years earlier” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).   

Working in the genre of realism and in the shadow of the 18th c. picaresque novel, Charles wove somewhat allegorical tales that targeted the social ills of his time, lampooning ethical misconduct such as child abuse, unmerciful debt laws, and corporate graft, while showcasing true, Christian morality.  Encyclopaedia Britannica lauds him as “the conscience of his age.”   A professing Christian, he disliked pretentious religion, preferring instead the sincere faith of those like his character Amy Dorrit. 

However devout, in 1858, Dickens betrayed his wife of 22 years, Catherine Hogarth, who bore him ten children to pursue the young actress Ellen Ternan, with whom he maintained an affectionate relationship until his death (Biography.com).  His work with Ternan gave way to a love of the theater, and Dickens began to stage readings of his stories for the public.  This led to several international tours and great public acclaim.  Likewise, it placed considerable strain on Charles, who collapsed on stage in 1869 while on tour.  Although he recovered, he spent his twilight years, while outwardly cheerful, in reality sad and declining.  American Romantic Ralph Waldo Emerson commented that he was a man whose spirit was too large for his frame, and American author Mark Twain, a notable peer, called him a “pioneer” in the oral and written arts (Encyclopaedia Britannica).  He finished his peerage beneath the stage lights, delivering his final speech on his Farewell Tour with these famous words: “From these garish lights I vanish now forevermore…”  Dickens died in June of 1870 from a stroke; he was 58 years old.  Modern actor and Dickens historian Simon Callow depicts him in his renowned bio-theatrical, the Mystery of Charles Dickens, as an intelligent, energetic, optimistic, but haunted man who craved love and admiration.  He courted this in a distant but adoring public that reveres him to the present day.     

Works Cited:

Biography.com editors.  “Charles Dickens Biography.com.”  www.biography.com/people/charles-

dickens-9274087.  A & E Television Networks.  April 27, 2017.  Web.  September 18. 2017. 

 

Collins, Philip.  “Charles Dickens.”  www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Dickens-British-novelist.

Encyclopaedia Britannica.  August 29, 2017.  Web.  September 18. 2017.  

 

Wikipedia editors.  “Charles Dickens.”  www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens.  N.p.  September 16,    2017.  Web.  September 18, 2017.