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THE WORKS OF JOHN WYCLIFFE.
shielded, burst in impotent fury upon his mouldered corpse. The coffin was torn up, and carried to the little bridge over the Swift, where his bones were burned to ashes and scattered on the waters of the brook. "Thus," says worthy Thomas Fuller, "the brook conveyed his ashes to Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean; and thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over."
As a writer, Wycliffe's great merit lies in his having given to England the first English version of the whole Bible. There were already existing a few English fragments, such as many of the Psalms, certain portions of Mark and Luke, and some of the Epistles. But to the mass of the people the Bible was a sealed book, locked up in a dead and foreign tongue. Wycliffe soon saw the incalculable value of an English Bible in the work of the English Reformation, and set himself to the noble task of giving a boon so precious to his native land. No doubt he sought the aid of other pens, but to what extent we cannot now determine. The greater part of the work-perhaps the whole-was done during those quiet years at Lutterworth, between 1381 and his death. It is nearly certain that he saw the work finished before he died. A complete edition of Wycliffe's Bible, in five volumes, was issued in 1850 from the Oxford Press.
His Latin works are very numerous. One of the principal was called Trialogus, which embodies his opinions in a series of conversations carried on by Truth, Wisdom, and Falsehood. contains, no doubt, the essence of his class lectures.
From his country parsonage by the Swift he poured forth an incredible number of English tracts and treatises, addressed to the people, and thoroughly leavened with his earnest love of truth. The characteristic feature of his English is a manly ruggedness. Content to know that his meaning is strongly and clearly put, he often disdains all elegance of style, and sometimes lapses into lame and slovenly language. We may compare him, as an opponent of error, not to a gallant master of fence, glistening in well-cut taffeta, who with keen glittering rapier lunges home to the heart,
SPECIMEN OF WYCLIFFE'S PROSE.
while he never loses the elegance of posture and movement, the poise of body and of blade, which his graceful art has taught him; but rather to the sturdy leather-clad rustic, who wields his oaken quarter-staff with such sweeping vigour, that in a twinkling he beats down his opponent's guard, and with a rattling shower of heavy blows lays the luckless fellow bleeding and senseless on the earth.
SPECIMEN OF WYCLIFFE'S PROSE.
PART OF LUKE XXIV.
But in o day of the woke ful eerli thei camen to the graue, and broughten swete smelling spices that thei hadden arayed. And thei founden the stoon turnyd awey fro the graue. And thei geden in and foundun not the bodi of the Lord Jhesus. And it was don, the while thei weren astonyed in thought of this thing, lo twey men stodun bisidis hem in schynyng cloth. And whanne thei dredden and bowiden her semblaunt into erthe, thei seiden to hem, what seeken ye him that lyueth with deede men? He is not here; but he is risun: haue ye minde how he spak to you whanne he was yit in Golilee, and seide, for it behoueth mannes sone to be bitakun into the hondis of synful men and to be crucifyed and the thridde day to rise agen? And thei bithoughten on hise wordis, and thei geden agen fro the graue: and teelden alle these thingis to the ellevene and to alle othere. And there was Marye Maudeleyn and Jone and Marye of James, and othere wymmen that weren with hem, that seiden to Apostlis these thingis.
of English verse, he proudly wears the honoured title,-"Father of English Poetry;" nor can the most brilliant of his successors feel ashamed of such a lineage.
He calls him
The accounts of his early life are very uncertain. self a Londoner; and an inscription on his tomb, which signified that in 1400 he died at the age of seventy-two, seems to fix his birth in the year 1328. The words "Philogenet, of Cambridge, Clerk," which occur in one of his earliest works in reference to himself, have caused it to be inferred that he was educated at Cambridge. But Warton and others claim him as an Oxford man too; and, if he studied there, it is more than probable that he sat at the feet of Wycliffe, and imbibed the doctrines of the great reformer. An entry in some old register of the Inns of Court is said to state, that "Geffrey Chaucer was fined two shillings for beating a Franciscane friar in Fleet Street;" which ebullition of young blood is the only recorded event of his supposed law-studies in the Inner Temple.
The favour of John of Ghent, won we know not how, introduced him to Court and the favour of King Edward III. The handsome and accomplished poet, with his red lips and graceful shape, was the very man to win his way in a courtly circle. He went with the army to France, where in 1359 he was made
SUNSHINE AND SHADOW.
prisoner at the siege of Retters. On his release and return home, whenever that happened, we find his prospects grow brighter and brighter. One grant following another, showed how dear the man of letters, who could also wield a sword, was to the brave old king. When in his thirty-ninth year (1367), the poet received a pension of 20 marks; which, as each silver mark weighed eight ounces and was worth £10 of our money, was equivalent to £200 a year. Five years later, he was sent with two others to Genoa, on an important commercial mission; during which trip 1372 he is thought to have travelled in northern Italy, to have visited Petrarch at Padua, and to have heard from the very lips of that "old man eloquent," the story of "Patient Grisilde," which he afterwards embodied in the Clerkes Tale. Then came other royal grants,—a pitcher of wine daily for life the office of Comptroller of Customs of wool, wine, &c., in the Port of London-the wardship of a rich heir, for three years' guardianship of whom he got £104. During this sunshine of kingly favour he married a maid of honour, whose sister afterwards became the wife of his patron, John of Ghent. By this union a pension of 100 shillings, lately conferred on his wife, was added to his income. Two more diplomatic missions, to Flanders and to France, proved the confidence reposed in him by his royal master. Thus rich, honoured, useful, and, we may conjecture, happy, Geoffrey Chaucer saw in 1377 the grey head of the third Edward go down with sorrow to the grave.
At first, under the new reign, all was bright, and continued so for some seven years. In the first year of Richard II. his daily gallon of wine was exchanged for a pension of 20 marks, and other gifts were bestowed on the prosperous comptroller. But soon his sun was darkly clouded. It was not likely that he could avoid taking an active part in the difficulties that arose between Richard and Lancaster; and, as his feelings were strongly enlisted on the side of the duke, he fell into disfavour with the king. Embroiled especially in a London riot, raised by John of Northampton, who was a friend of Lancaster, the poet was forced to flee to the Continent. There, in Hainault, in France, and in Zee
OLD AGE AND DEATH.
land, he lived with his wife and children for eighteen months, becoming at last almost penniless through generosity to his fellow-exiles, and the failure of supplies from home, where his agents had treacherously appropriated his rents. Returning, he was flung into the Tower, and lay there until he was forced to sell his two pensions to save his family from starvation; nor was he freed until, indignant at the base ingratitude of those in whose cause he was suffering, and pressed both by the threats and the entreaties of the Court, he confessed his guilt and denounced his accomplices. Then, Lancaster being once more in the ascendant, royal favour smiled on the poet. He was made Clerk of Works at Westminster and other places, receiving, in lieu of the pensions he had been forced to sell, a pension of £20 and an annual pipe of wine.
Wearied with public life, he retired about 1391 to his house at Woodstock, where he sat down in sober age and country quiet to write his great work-The Canterbury Tales. His remaining days were spent at Woodstock and Donnington Castle, both gifts from the princely Lancaster; and within these sheltering walls he rested and wrote. The accession of Henry IV. brought good fortune to the poet, whose pension was doubled; but he did not live long to enjoy this greater wealth. Within a house which is said to have stood in a garden near the site of Henry the Seventh's Chapel at Westminster, he died on the 25th of October, 1400. His body was buried close by in the Abbey, where the dust of England's noblest dead is laid.
Chaucer's chequered life was such as to wear off all the little roughnesses and conceits of his earlier character, and bring the fine grain of the manly nature below into full view. He saw both the lights and the shadows of human existence,—at one time the admired of a brilliant Court, at another a prisoner and an exile. But through every change he seems to have borne a heart unsoured by care; and even in old age, when his locks hung in silver threads beneath his buttoned bonnet, a joyous spirit shone in his wrinkled face. A small, fair, round-trimmed beard fringed those lips, whose red fulness was remarked as a special beauty in the hand