“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