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THE PROLOGUE of Chaucer is now generally recognised as one of the best means of introduction to the Literature of England, and perhaps also as the best way of enabling a pupil to understand the true build and grammar of the English Language. What grammar we still possess being chiefly historical, we see its true nature in this poem ; for we take hold of the language at a transition period, when it is beginning to lose the old inflections, and to manifest its power of adopting foreign words in large numbers. It may be said without exaggeration, that a pupil will learn more about the true nature of our English Speech by reading this Prologue, than by getting up fifty of the seven hundred 'grammars' to be found in the “Educational Library' of the South Kensington Museum. He will learn, in the freshest and most pleasant way, how the inflections gradually dropped off from our words ; how the language obstinately refused to adopt a foreign idiom ; how it increased the wealth of its treasures of expression by admitting Norman-French words in crowds; and how it bears in itself the marks of all the historic changes and vicissitudes that befel the English people.
Two things have been kept in view in the notes : (1) To illus. trate the historical and social facts given by Chaucer ; and (2) to make this little book an INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF ENGLISH. To aid these purposes, too, a Life of Chaucer and a Grammar of his language have been added to the book. The faithful learning of the notes will make the pupil thoroughly acquainted with the fibre of Chaucer's language-with his words, his phraseology, his syntax, and his versification.
1. His Time.-CHAUCER'S LIFE AND WORKS belong to one of the greatest epochs of English History. The Elizabethan period, when England was strong both at home and abroad, and when the English drama was at its best; and the present Victorian period, when there exists everywhere unexampled activity both in literature and in science—are the only two epochs that can be compared with it. His life lay within the reigns of Edward III., Richard II., and one year of Henry IV. In the reign of Edward III. the nation—which consisted of two elements, the Norman and the Saxon-grew into one people ; and the language, which had been gradually absorbing as much Norman-French as it could old, became the ready and powerful instrument of a new literature. The year 1362 marks an important point in the history of the English Language. For in that year Edward III. passed an act of parliament authorising the use of English instead of French in courts of law, in schools, and in other public places. This is sufficient proof that the nation had become truly English. In 1380, the Bible was translated into English by Wicliffe ; and this translation had a permanent effect on the character of English prose. Moreover, great events of all kinds were lifting men's minds, enlarging their ideas, and inspiring their souls : the battles of Creçy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) had been fought; the art of weaving cloth was introduced from Flanders ; Windsor Castle was growing into the most splendid pile in the west of Europe ; gunpowder had lately been invented ; Londoners had seen two kings, the king of Scotland and the king of France, prisoners in their capital; and everywhere new powers and new ideas were stirring throughout the kingdom. And then the time was quite ready to welcome the 'ditties and songës glad, with which Chaucer fulfilled the land over all'* even in the flower of his youth.
2. His Birth and Parentage.--GEOFFREY CHAUCER was born