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more tolerant and kindly eye. Langland is a satirist rather than a humorist; Chaucer a humorist rather than a satirist. His humour is satirical, but it is genial. You can see that in his descriptions of the Canterbury Pilgrims. They are all touched to the life, but it is with the hand of sympathy, not of reproach. The poet laughs as he puts his fingers on the various weak places of his fellow-creatures. He extenuates nothing, but he puts nothing down in malice, or, if in malice, it is still with a twinkle of the eye. The fun he pokes at the young Squire, for example, is essentially good-tempered: there is no indignation in his reference to the

Lockës crull as they were laid in press;

nor in the lines where he describes him as

Embroidered, as it were a mead

All full of freshë flowers, white and rede.

The Prioress is treated with the same careful tenderness :
Full well she sangë the service divine,
Entuned in her nose full swetëly.

And French she spake full fair and fetisly,
After the school of Stratford-attë-Bowe,
For French of Paris was to her unknowe.

If it were necessary to characterise Chaucer's humour in one word, it might be described as sly. Slyness is essentially the air with which, when describing the 'Sergeant of the Law,' Chaucer says:

No where so busy a man as he there n'as,
And yet he seemed busier than he was.

In reading the Canterbury Tales you call up the picture of a shrewd but hearty man, who sees clearly through the foibles of his fellows, but has not the energy or the desire to chastise them. He would wish them otherwise, but in the mean time he contents himself with laughing at them.

Unfortunately, it would be impossible thoroughly to illustrate the humour of the Tales without quoting one of them in extenso, for it is only by taking them as wholes

that you can gain a fair notion of their interest and value. Like all humorists, Chaucer required room to work in, and no mere extract can give an adequate conception of his


Perhaps the best specimen that can be given in this place is his address 'To his Empty Purse :'

To you, my purse, and to none other wight
Complain I, for you be my lady dear.

I am sorry now that you be light,

For certes you now make me heavy cheer.
Me were as liefè laid upon a bier,

For which unto your mercy thus I cry:
Be heavy again, or else must I die.

Now vouchsafe this day, or it be night,

That I of you the blissful sound may hear,
Or see your colour like the sunnè bright,
That of yellowness had never peer.
You be my life, you be my heartès stere,
Queen of comfort and of good company;
Be heavy again, or else must I die.

Now, purse, that art to me as my life's light
And saviour, as down in this world here,
Out of this town help me by your might,
Since that you will not be my treasure,
For I am shaved as near as any frere;

But I pray unto your courtesie,

Be heavy again, or else must I die.


This has been happily modernised by several writers, but only requires a very slight literal (not even verbal) alteration to be quite intelligible as the poet wrote it.

Lydgate's contributions to the sum of English wit and humour were not numerous, nor were they very remarkable.* His chief poem was intended for an additional

John Lydgate was born in 1375, and died in 1460. His Falls of Princes was printed in 1494, his History of Troy in 1513, and his. Story of Thebes in 1561.

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Canterbury Tale,' but has no claim to rank so high. Lydgate is, indeed, best in his least ambitious productions, among the most successful of which is the poem called London Lickpenny.' This recounts the adventures in London of a man whose purse, like Chaucer's, was an empty one, and is a series of satirical comments on the inconvenience of being poor. The meaning of the title is disputed, some thinking that it ought to be read London Lackpenny,' and that it is the hero of the poem to whom the latter word applies-that it is he who, being poor, lacks pence. A better explanation, surely, is that which preserves the title London Lickpenny,' and applies the latter word to the metropolis, which, in its greed, licks up the pence of rich and poor alike. Here, at any rate, are a few of Lydgate's verses:

To London once my steps I bent,

Where truth in no wise should be faint;
To Westminster-ward I forthwith went,
To a man of law to make complaint;

I said, For Mary's love, that holy saint!
Pity the poor that would proceed;'

But for lack of money I could not speed [thrive].

And as I thrust the press among,

By froward chance my hood was gone,

Yet for all that I stayed not long,

Till to the King's Bench I was come.
Before the judge I kneeled anon,

And prayed him for God's sake to take heed,
But for lack of money I might not speed.
Beneath them sat clerks a great rout,

Which fast did write with one assent;
There stood up one and cried about,

'Richard, Robert, and John of Kent.'
I wist not well what this man meant,
He cried so thickè there indeed;
But he that lacked money might not speed.
Unto the Common Pleas I yode [went] too,
Where sat one with a silken hood;

I did him reverence, for I ought to do so,
And told my case as well as I could,

How my goods were defrauded me by falsehood.
I got not a mum of his mouth for my meed,
And for lack of money I might not speed.

Unto the Rolls I gat me from thence,
Before the clerks of the Chancery,
Where many I found earning of pence,
But none at all once regarded me.

I gave them my plaint upon my knee;
They liked it well when they had it read:
But, lacking money, I could not speed.

Then to Westminster-gate I presently went,
When the sunnè was at highè prime;
Cookès to me took good intent,

And proferred me bread, with ale and wine,
Ribs of beef, both fat and full fine.

A fair cloth they gan for to sprede;

But, wanting money, I might not then speed. . . .

Then into Cornhill anon I yode,

Where was much stolen gear among;

I saw where hung mine ownè hood,
That I had lost among the throng:

To buy my own hood I thought it wrong,

I knew it well as I did my creed,
But for lack of money I could not speed.

The taverner took me by the sleeve,

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'Sir,' saith he, will you our wine assay?' I answered, That can not much me grieve:

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A penny can do no more than may;' I drank a pint and for it did pay; Yet sore a-hungered from thence I yede, And, wanting money, I could not speed.

Then I conveyed me into Kent,

For of the law would I meddle no more; Because no man to me took intent,

I dight [prepared] me to do as I did before.
Now Jesus that in Bethlem was bore,

Save London, and send true lawyers their meed!
For whoso wants money with them shall not speed !

Lydgate lived in the generation after Chaucer; Skelton. in the generation after Lydgate. Skelton was a cleric by profession, and might perhaps have risen in the Church but for the virulence as well as volubility of his satires, some of which he dared to point against no less puissant a personage than Cardinal Wolsey. He was a very voluminous writer, and is remarkable for the ease of his rhymes, and the rapid uninterrupted flow of his vigorous, if not elegant, verse. His most effective poem is perhaps Why come ye not to Court? from which the following lines on Wolsey are extracted:

Once yet again

Of you I would frayne [ask]-
Why come ye not to court?

To which court?

To the king's court,

Or to Hampton Court ?...

The king's court

Should have the excellence,

But Hampton Court

Hath the preeminence,

And York's Place,
With my lord's grace,
To whose magnificence
Is all the confluence,
Suits and supplications,
Embassies of all nations.
Straw for law canon,

Or for the law common,

Or for law civil!

It shall be as he will: ..

* Died in 1529; author of Magnificence, The Bouge of Court, Philip Sparrow, Speak Parrot, &c.

† Wolsey's residence.

Another of Wolsey's residences.

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