introducing C haucer. By Not man G. Brett-James. (Harrap. 6s.)
Reviewed by STANLEY B. JAMES.
IHE title of this little hook aptly
describes its character. The author knows Chaucer's world and especially Chaucer's London intimately and can convey his knowledge in a readable form and in a way that assists us to interpret and appreciate the poetry. When we have followed his description of 14th century England and. in particular, read the chapter dealing in detail with the characters of the Canterbury pilgrims we feel as though the portraits in that marvellous gallery were those of personal acquaintances.
Chaucer, we need not be reminded, was a great humanist. Living in an age marked by the tragic effects of the Plague which carried off nearly half the population, created conditions that led to the Peasants' Rising of 1381 and disorganised the ecclesiastical life of the country, he chose to ignore this feature of the times and to let his imagination play lightly on the surface without penetrating to the gloomy depths beneath. He was no m/stic like Rolle and no reformer like T.angland, but a genial observer of the Human Comedy. There is. therefore, something anomalous in the author's quotation of large chunks from those embittered critics of the medieval Church, Wyclif and the late Professor Coulton. Their scolding voices are out of harmony with the subject.
That a writer so genuinely appreciative of Chaucer's lovable geniality should have sought allies in these quarters shows what strange bedfellows prejudice will bring together. He would have done better to maintain throughout the spirit of the man he was describing. To call in the assistance of such dour critics as an aid in the interpretation of our greatest humanist (Shakespeare excepted) is as if, in defending sweet reasonableness against superstition, one were to cite some fanatical Puritan. or, in championing the dignity of the human person. one appealed to the example of Soviet Russia.
The quotations in question intro, duce into what otherwise would be the kindly atmosphere befitting a study of Chaucer an element of embittered controversy that is here out of place.