Page images

and Tyrwhitt have shown, there is reason to believe that it had previously been one of the themes of romantic poetry in various languages. The passages pointed out by Tyrwhitt in his notes to Chaucer's poem, as translated or imitated from that of Boccaccio, are few and insignificant, and the resemblances they present would be sufficiently accounted for on the supposition of both writers having drawn from a common source. Nearly the same observations apply to the supposed obligations of Chaucer in his Troilus and Cresseide,' to another poetical work of Boccaccio's, his 'Filostrato.' This discovery was first announced by Tyrwhitt in his 'Essay' prefixed to the Canterbury Tales. But Chaucer himself tells us (Book ii. v. 14) that he translates his poem 'out of Latin;' and in other passages (i. 394, and v. 1653), he expressly declares his "auctor' or author, to be named Lollius. In a note to the 'Parson's Tale,' in the Canterbury Tales, Tyrwhitt assumes that Lollius is another name for Boccaccio, but how this should be he confesses himself unable to explain. In his Glossary (a later publication), he merely describes Lollius as



a writer from whom Chaucer professes to have translated his poem of Troilus and Cresseide,” adding, “I have not been able to find any further account of him."

"He made the boke that hight the House of Fame, &c. And all the love of Palamon and Arcite

Of Thebes, though the story is knowen lite."

Tyrwhitt's interpretation of these last words is, that they seem to imply that the poem to which they allude, the Palamon and Arcite (as first composed) had not made itself very popular. Both he and Warton understand the Latino volgare, as meaning the Italian language in this passage of the letter to La Fiametta, as well as in a stanza which he quotes from the 'Teseide,' in Discourse, note (9).

It is remarkable that he should omit to notice that Lollius is mentioned by Chaucer in another poem, his 'House of Fame' (iii. 378), as one of the writers of the Trojan story, along with Homer, Dares Phrygius, Livy (whom he calls Titus), Guido of Colonna, and "English Galfrid," that is, Geoffrey of Monmouth. The only writer of the name of Lollius, of whom anything is now known, appears to be Lollius Urbicus, who is stated to have lived in the third century, and to have composed a history of his own time, which, however, no longer exists.* But our ignorance of who Chaucer's Lollius was does not entitle us to assume that it was Boccaccio whom he designated by that name. Besides, the two poeins have only that general resemblance which would result from their subject being the same, and their having been founded upon a common original. Tyrwhitt (note to Parson's Tale), while he insists that the fact of the one being borrowed from the other "is evident, not only from the fable and characters, which are the same in both poems, but also from a number of passages in the English which are literally translated from the Italian," admits that "at the same time there are several long passages, and even episodes, in the Troilus of which there are no traces in the Filostrato ;" and Warton makes the same statement almost in the same words. Warton acknowledges elsewhere, too, that the form of Chaucer's stanza in the Troilus does not appear ever to have been used by Boccaccio, nor does he profess to have been able to find such a stanza in any

*See Warton, Hist. Eng. Poetry, ii. 220; and Vossius de Historicis Latinis, ed. 1651, p. 176.

† Hist. Eng. Poetry, ii. p. 221 note.


early Italian poetry.* The only other composition of Chaucer's for which he can be imagined to have had an Italian original is his Clerk's Tale in the Canterbury Tales, the matchless story of Griselda. This is one of the stories of the Decameron; but it was not from Boccaccio's Italian that Chaucer took it, but from Petrarch's Latin, as he must be understood to intimate in the Prologue, where he says, or makes the narrator say— "I woll you tell a tale which that I

Learned at Padowe of a worthy clerk,
As preved by his wordes and his werk:
He is now dead and nailed in his chest ;
I pray to God so yeve his soule rest.
Francis Petrarch, the laureat poet
Highte this clerk, whose rhethoricke sweet
Enlumined all Itaille of poetrie."

Petrarch's Latin translation of Boccaccio's tale is, as Tyrwhitt states, printed in all the editions of his works, under the title of De Obedientia et Fide Uxoria Mythologia' (a Myth on Wifely Obedience and Faithfulness.)† But indeed Chaucer may not have even had Petrarch's translation before him; for Petrarch, in his letter to Boccaccio, in which he states that he had translated it from the Decameron, only recently come into his hands, informs his friend also that the story had been known to him many years before. He may therefore have communicated it orally to Chaucer, through the medium of what was probably their common medium of communication, the Latin tongue, if they ever met, at Padua or elsewhere, as it is asserted they did. All that we are concerned with at present, is the fact that it does

* Essay, § 9.

It is strange that Warton, Hist. Eng. Poetry, ii. 250, should say that this translation was never printed.

not appear to have been taken by Chaucer from the Decameron: he makes no reference to Boccacció as his authority, and, while it is the only one of the Canterbury Tales which could otherwise have been suspected with any probability to have been derived from that work, it is at the same time one an acquaintance with which we know he had at least the means of acquiring through another language than the Italian. To these considerations may be added a remark made by Sir Harris Nicolas :-"That Chaucer was not acquainted with Italian," says that writer, may be inferred from his not having introduced any Italian quotation into his works, redundant as they are with Latin and French words and phrases." To which he subjoins in a note; "Though Chaucer's writings have not been examined for the purpose, the remark in the text is not made altogether from recollection; for at the end of Speght's edition of Chaucer's works translations are given of the Latin and French words in the poems, but not a single Italian word is mentioned.*


*Life of Chaucer, p. 25. Sir Harris has said before :"Though Chaucer undoubtedly knew Latin and French, it is by no means certain, notwithstanding his supposed obligations to the Decameron, that he was as well acquainted with Italian. There may have been a common Latin_original of the main incidents of many, if not of all the Tales, for which Chaucer is supposed to have been wholly indebted to Boccaccio, and from which originals Boccaccio himself may have taken them." Besides the Clerk's Tale, which has been already considered, the only stories in the Canterbury Tales which are found in the Decameron are the Reeve's Tale, the Shipman's Tale, and the Franklin's Tale; but both Tyrwhitt and Warton, while maintaining Chaucer's obligations in other respects to the Italian writers, admit that the two former are much more probably derived from French Fabliaux (the particular fabliau, indeed, on which

[ocr errors]

It may be questioned, then, if much more than the fame of Italian song had reached the ear of Chaucer ; but, at all events, the foreign poetry with which he was most familiar was certainly that of France. This, indeed, was probably still accounted every where the classic poetical literature of the modern world; the younger poetry of Italy, which was itself a derivation from that common fountain-head, had not yet, with all its real superiority, either supplanted the old lays and romances of the trouvères and troubadours, or even taken its place by their side. The earliest English, as well as the earliest Italian, poetry was for the most part a translation or imitation of that of France. Of the poetry written in the French language, indeed, in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, the larger portion, as we have seen, was produced in England, for English readers, and to a considerable extent by natives of this country. French poetry was not, therefore, during this era, regarded among us as a foreign literature at all; and even at a later date it must have been looked back upon by every educated Englishman as rather a part of that of his own land. For a century, or perhaps more, before Chaucer arose, the greater number of our common versifiers had been busy in translating the French romances and other poetry into English, which was now fast be

the Reeve's Tale appears to be founded has been published by Le Grand); and the Franklin's Tale is expressly stated by Chaucer himself to be a Breton lay. He nowhere mentions Boccaccio or his Decameron, or any other Italian authority. Of the Pardoner's Tale, "the mere outline," as Tyrwhitt states, is to be found in the Cento Novelle Antiche; but the greater part of that collection is borrowed from the Contes and Fabliaux of the French.

« PreviousContinue »