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JOHN LYDGATE, The Gothic poet, c. 1400 39

JOHN LYDGATE, The Gothic poet, c. 1400 39

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The Critical Heritage vol. 1

Princes’, III, 3837ff.) he is glad to note that prudent

Chaucer found virtuous ‘suffisance’. The poet should be a

good man, like any other man, and Lydgate praises his

‘wise, prudent’ master, Chaucer, for his wisdom and

science, for writing devoutly, and for his wise saws; but

he sees him as a teacher only of the craft of poetry, to

poets, not to lead mankind as a whole higher. Lydgate

recognises Chaucer’s variety—his desport, morality,

knighthood, love, gentillesse, perfect holiness, ribaldry

to make laughter—and in the Prologue to ‘The Seige of

Thebes’, where Lydgate enumerates the variety, he does his

best to indulge in a Chaucerian humour. Lydgate’s own

frequent self-depreciation no doubt expresses a genuine

and attractive personal modesty—so copious a writer had

much to be modest about—but it is also the characteristic

stance of the Gothic poet and reflects Chaucer’s own

(though so much more subtle) self-depreciatory attitude.

Lydgate’s sense of the lameness and ‘rudeness’ of his own

metre and his request to the reader to ‘favour’ it

suggest that he was sharply conscious, as well he might

be, of Chaucer’s superior smoothness. It seems unlikely,

to judge from the end of section (c), that Lydgate had

ever actually met Chaucer.

All quotations from material published by the Early

English Text Society are made by permission of the Council

of the EETS.

(a) ‘The Flower of Courtesy’, c. 1400, ed. W.Thynne, 1532,

fol. cclxxxiiiib, stanzas 34–5 (cf. ‘Chaucerian and Other

Pieces’, ed. W.W.Skeat, 1897).


Euer as I can supprise in myn herte

Alway with feare betwyxt drede and shame

Leste oute of lose, any worde asterte

In this metre, to make it seme lame,

Chaucer is deed that had suche a name

Of fayre makyng that [was] without wene

Fayrest in our tonge, as the Laurer grene.


We may assay forto countrefete

His gay style but it wyl not be;

The welie is drie, with the lycoure swete

Bothe of Clye and of Caliope.



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(b) ‘The Life of Our Lady’, c. 1410, ed. J.Lauritis,

R.Klinefelter and V.Gallagher, ‘Dusquesne Studies,

Philological Series’, No 2, Pittsburg, 1961.

And eke my maister Chauser is ygrave

The noble Rethor, poete of Brytayne

That worthy was the laurer to haue

Of poetrye, and the palme atteyne

That made firste, to distille and rayne

The golde dewe dropes of speche and eloquence

Into our tunge, thurgh his excellence

And fonde the floures, firste of Retoryke

Our Rude speche, only to enlumyne

That in our tunge, was neuere noon hym like

For as the sonne, dothe in hevyn shyne

In mydday spere, dovne to vs by lyne

In whose presence, no ster may a pere

Right so his dytes withoutyn eny pere

Euery makyng withe his light disteyne

In sothefastnesse, who so takethe hede

Wherefore no wondre, thof my hert pleyne

Vpon his dethe, and for sorowe blede

For want of hym, nowe in my grete nede

That shulde alas, conveye and directe

And with his supporte, amende eke and corecte

The wronge traces, of my rude penne

There as I erre, and goo not lyne Right

But for that he, ne may not me kenne

I can no more, but with all my myght

With all myne hert, and myne Inwarde sight

Pray for hym, that liethe nowe in his cheste

To god above, to yeve his saule goode reste





(c) ‘Troy Book’, 1412–20, ed. H.Bergen, Early English Text

Society (EETS), ES 97, 103, 106, 126 (1906–20).

And ouermore to tellen of Cryseyde

Mi penne stumbleỵ for longe or he deyde

My maister Chaucer dide his dilligence

To discryve ỵe gret excellence

Of hir bewte and ỵat so maisterly

To take on me it were but hi3e foly

In any wise to adde more ỵer-to;

For wel I wot, anoon as I haue do,

ỵat I in soth no Jsanke disserue may,

Because ỵat he in writyng was so gay….

II 4677




The Critical Heritage vol. 1

Gret cause haue I & mater to compleyne

On Antropos & vp-on hir envie,

ỵat brak þe þrede & made for to dye

Noble Galfride, poete of Breteyne,

Amonge oure englisch ỵat made first to reyne

ỵe gold dewe-dropis of rethorik so fyne,

Oure rude langage only tenlwmyne.

To God I pray, ỵat he his soule haue,

After whos help of nede I most[e] crave,

And seke his boke ỵat is left be-hynde

Som goodly worde ỵer-in for to fynde,

To sette amonge ỵe crokid lynys rude

Whiche I do write; as, by similitude,

ỵe ruby stant, so royal of renoun,

With-Inne a ryng of copur or latoun,

So stant ỵe makyng of hym, dout[e]les,

Among oure bokis of englische per[e]les:

ỵei arn ethe knowe, ỵei ben so excellent;

ỵer is no makyng to his equipolent;

We do but halt, who-so takeỵ hede,

ỵat medle of makyng, with-outen any drede.

Whan we wolde his stile counterfet,

We may al day oure colour grynde & bete,

Tempre our a3cour and vermyloun:

But al I holde but presumpcioun

It folweỵ nat, þerfore I lette be.

And first of al I wil excuse me

And procede as I haue be-gonne,

And ỵoru3 his fauour certeyn, 3if I konne,

Of Troye boke for to make an ende;

And þer I lefte ageyn I wil now wende,

Vn-to Cryseyde, and þou3 to my socour

Of rethorik þat I haue no flour

Nor hewes riche, stonys no perre

3et for al ỵat, now I wil not leue…

And Chaucer now allas is nat alyue

Me to reforme or to be my rede

For lak of whom slou3er is my spede

ỵe noble Rethor that alle dide excelle;

For in makyng he drank of ỵe we lie

Vndir Pernaso ỵat ỵe Musis kepe

On whiche hil I my3t neuer slepe

[Of the Woe of Troylus & Cressid.]

It wolde me ful longe occupie

Of euery þinge to make mencioun

And tarie me in my translacioun

3if I shulde in her wo procede










III 550

III 4192



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But me semeth ỵat it is no nede

Sith my maister chauncer her-a-forn

In ỵis mater so wel hath hym born

In his boke of Troylus and Cryseyde

Whiche he made longe or ỵat he deyde


[Summarises the story]

ỵe hool story Chauncer kan 3ow telle

3if þat 3e liste no man bet alyue

Nor þe processe halfe so wel discryue,

For he owre englishe gilt with his sawes

Rude and boistous firste be olde dawes

ỵat was ful fer from al perfeccioun

And but of litel reputacioun

Til ỵat he cam & þoru3 his poetrie

Can oure tonge firste to magnifie

And adourne it with his elloquence

To whom honour laude & reuerence

ỵoru3-oute ỵis londe 3oue be & songe

So ỵat ỵe laurer of oure englishe tonge

Be to hym 3oue for his excellence

Ri3t a[s] whilom by ful hi3e sentence

Perpetuelly for a memorial

of Columpna by the cardynal

To Petrak fraunceis was 3ouen in Ytaille

ỵat ỵe report neuere after faille

Nor ỵe honour dirked of his name

To be registred in þe house of fame

Amonge oþer in þe hi3este sete

My maister Galfride as for chefe poete

ỵat euere was 3it in oure langage

ỵe name of whom shal passen in noon age

But euer ylyche with-oute eclipsinge shyne.

And for my part I wil neuer fyne

So as I can hym to magnifie

In my writynge pleinly til I dye,

And god I praye his soule bring in Ioie.

For he ỵat was gronde of wel seying

In al hys lyf hyndred no makyng

My maister Chaucer ỵat founde ful many spot

Hym liste not pinche nor gruche at euery blot

Nor meue hym silf to perturbe his reste

I haue herde telle but seide alweie ỵe best

Suffring goodly of his gentilnes

Ful many ỵing enbracid with rudnes

And 3if I shal shortly hym discryve

Was neuer noon to ỵis day alyue





V 3519



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To reckne alle boỵe 3onge & olde

ỵat worỵi was his ynkhorn for to holde

And in ỵis lond 3if ỵer any be

In borwe or toun village or cite

ỵat konnyng haỵ his tracis for to swe

Wher he go brood or be shet in mwe

To hym I make a direccioun

Of ỵis boke to han inspeccioun.


(d) ‘The Serpent of Division’, c. 1420, printed 1520, 1559,

whence this text, Sig. D5b–D6; ed. H.N.MacCracken, 1911;

the Preface.

So that touchinge the vengeable maner of hys [Julius

Caesar’s] pyteous murder I may conclude with him that was

floure of Poetes in our Englishe tounge/and the first that

euer enlumined our language with floures of Rhetorique and

Eloquence, I meane my maister Chaucer, which compendiouslie

wrote the death of this mightie Emperour, saying in this

wise, as foloweth hereafter in these lines of metre.

With bodkins was Cezar Iulius,

Murdred at Rome by Brutus Crassus

when many a region he had broght lov

Lo who mai trust fortune ani throw

Thus by writing of my wise prudent maister tofore said:

the frowarde and the contrarious Lady Dame Fortune, spareth

neyther Emperour nor king to plunge him downe sodeynly fro

the highest prik of her vnstable wheele.

(e) ‘The Siege of Thebes’, 1420–2, Prologue, ed. A. Erdmann

and E.Ekwall, EETS, ES 108, 125 (1911, 1920).

Incipit Prologus

Whan bri3te phebus/passëd was þe ram

Myd of Aprille/and in-to bolë cam,

And Satourn) old/with his frosty face

In virgyne taken had his place,

Malencolik/and slowgh- of mocioun,

And was also/in thoposicioun

Of lucina/the monë moyst and pale,

That' many Shour/fro heuene made avale;

whan Aurora/was in ỵe morowe red,

And Iubiter/in the Crabbës Hed

Hath take his paleys/and his mansioun;

The lusty tyme/and Ioly fressh- Sesoun






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whan that Flora/the noble myghty quene,

The soyl hath- clad/in newë tendre grene,

With- her flourës/craftyly ymeynt',

Braunch- and bough-/wiỵ red and whit depeynt,

Fletinge ỵe bawme/on hillis and on valys:

The tyme in soth-/whan Canterbury talys

Complet' and told/at' many sondry stage

Of estatis//in the pilgrimage,

Euerich- man/lik to his degrè,

Som- e of desport'/ Som- e of moralitè,

Som- e of knyghthode/loue and gentillesse,

And Som- e also of parfit' holynesse,

And Som- e also in soth/of Ribaudye

To makở laughter'/in ỵe companye,

(Ech- admitted/for noe wold other greve)

Lich as the Cook/ỵe millere and the Reve

Aquytte hem-silf/shortly to conclude

Boystously/in her teermởs Rude,

whan ỵei hadde/wel dronken of the bolle,

And ek also/with his pyllëd nolle

The pardowner/beerdlees al his Chyn,

Glasy-Eyed/and face of Cherubyn,

Tellyng a tale/to angre with- the frere,

As opynly//the storie kan 3ow lere,

word for word/with- euery circumstaunce,

Echon ywrite/and put' in remembraunce

By hym ỵat' was/3if I shal not' feyne,

Floure of Poetes/thorghout' al breteyne,

Which- sothly haddë/most' of excellence

In rethorike/and in eloquence

(Rede his making'/who list' the trouthë fynde)

Which- neuer shal/appallen in my mynde,

But' alwey fressh-/ben in my memorye:

To whom be 3oue/pris/honure/and glorye

Of wel seyinge/first' in oure language,

Chief Registrer/of ỵis pilgrimage,

Al ỵat' was tolde/for3eting' noght at al,

Feyned talis/nor ỵing' Historial,

With many prouerbe/diuers and vnkouthBe rehersaile/of his Sugrid mouh-,

Of eche thyng'/keping' in substaunce

The sentence hool/with-outở variance,

Voyding' the Chaf/sothly for to seyn,

Enlumynyng'/ỵe trewe piked greyn

Be crafty writinge/of his sawes swete,

Fro the tyme/that' thei deden mete

First the pylgrimes/sothly euerichoe

At the Tabbard/assembled on be oe

And fro suthwerk/shortly forto seye,















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To Canterbury/ridyng' on her weie,

Tellynge a tale/as I reherce can,

Lich- as the hoste/assigned euery man,

None so hardy/his biddyng' disobeye.

And this while/that' the pilgrymes leye

At' Canterbury/wel loggëd on and all,

I not' in soth-/what' I may it' call,

Hap/or fortune/in Conclusioun,

That' me byfil/to entren into toue,

The holy seynt'/pleynly to visite

Aftere siknesse/my vowes to aquyte,

In a Cope of blak/and not' of grene,

On a palfrey/slender/long'/and lene,

wiỵ rusty brydel/mad nat' for þe sale,

My man to-forn/with a voidë male….





(f) ‘The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man’, 1426–8, ed.

F.J. Furnivall and K.B.Locock, EETS, ES 77, 83, 92 (1899–


And touchynge the translacioun

Off thys noble Orysoun,

Whylom (yiff I shal nat feyne)

The noble poete off Breteyne,

My mayster Chaucer, in hys tyme,

Affter the Frenche he dyde yt ryme,

Word by word, as in substaunce,

Ryght as yt ys ymad in Fraunce,

fful devoutly, in sentence,

In worshepe, and in reuerence

Off that noble hevenly quene,

Bothe moder and a mayde clene.

And sythe, he dyde yt vndertake,

ffor to translate yt ffor hyr sake,

I pray thys [Quene] that ys the beste,

ffor to brynge hys soule at reste,

That he may, thorgh hir prayere,

Aboue the sterrys bryht and clere,

Off hyr mercy and hyr grace

Apere afforn hyr sonys fface,

Wyth seyntys euere, for A memórye,

Eternally to regne in glorye.

And ffor memoyre off that poete,

Wyth al hys rethorykes swete,

That was the ffyrste in any age

That amendede our langage;

Therfore, as I am bounde off dette,

In thys book I wyl hym sette,






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And ympen thys Orysoe

Affter hys translacion,

My purpos to determyne,

That yt shal énlwmyne

Thys lytyl book, Rud off makyng,

Wyth som clause off hys wrytyng.

And as he made thys Orysoun

Off ful devout entencioun,

And by maner off a prayere,

Ryht so I wyl yt settyn here,

That men may knowe and pleynly se

Off Our lady the .A. b. c….



[Chaucer’s ‘ABC’ follows.]

(g) ‘The Fall of Princes’, 1431–9, ed. H.Bergen, EETS, ES

121–4 (1918–19).


And theih my stile nakid be and bare,

In rethorik myn auctour for to sue,

Yit fro the trouthe shal I nat remue,

But on the

substance bi good leiser abide

Afftir myn auctour lik as I may atteyne,

And for my part sette eloquence aside,

And in this book bewepen and compleyne

Thassaut off Fortune, freward and sodeyne,

How she on pryncis hath kid her variaunce

And off her malice the dedli mortal chaunce.

But, o allas! who shal be my muse,

Or onto whom shal I for helpe calle?

Calliope my callyng will refuse,

And on Pernaso here worthi sustren alle;

Thei will ther sugre tempre with no galle,

For ther suetnesse & lusti fressh syngyng

Ful ferr discordith fro materis compleynyng.

My maistir Chaucer, with his fresh comedies,

Is ded, allas, cheeff poete off Breteyne,

That whilom made ful pitous tragedies;

The fall of pryncis he dede also compleyne,

As he that was of makyng souereyne,

Whom al this land sholde off riht preferre,

Sithe off oure language he was the lodesterre….










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And semblabli as I ha[ue] told toforn,

My maistir Chaucer dede his besynesse,

And in his daies hath so weel hym born,

Out off our tunge tauoiden al reudnesse,

And to refourme it with colours of suetnesse;

Wherfore lat us yiue hym laude & glory

And putte his name with poetis in memory.

Off whos labour to make mencioun,

Wherthoruh off riht he sholde comendid be,

In youthe he made a translacioun

Off a book which callid is Trophe

In Lumbard tunge, as men may reede & see,

And in our vulgar, longe or that he deide,

Gaff it the name off Troilus & Cresseide.

Which for to reede louers hem delite,

Thei ha[ue] theryn so gret deuocioun.

And this poete, hymsilff also to quite,

Off Boeces book, The Consolacioun,

Maad in his tyme an hool translacioun.

And to his sone, that callid was Lowis,

He made a tretis, ful noble & off gret pris,

Vpon thastlabre in ful notable fourme,

Sette hem in ordre with ther dyuysiouns,

Mennys wittis tapplien and confourme,

To vndirstonde be ful expert resouns

Be domefieng off sundry mansiouns,

The roote out-souht at the ascendent,

Toforn or he gaff any iugement.

He wrot also ful many day agone,

Dante in Inglissh, hymsilff so doth expresse,

The pitous story off Ceix and Alcione,

And the deth eek of Blaunche the Duchesse,

And notabli dede his bisynesse,

Bi gret auys his wittis to dispose,

To translate the Romaunce off the Rose.

Thus in vertu he sette al his entent,

Idilnesse and vicis for to fle;

Off Foulis also he wrot the Parlement,

Theryn remembryng of roial Eglis thre,

How in ther chois thei felte aduersite,

Tofor Nature profred the bataile,

Ech for his parti, yiff it wolde auaile.














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He dede also his dilligence & peyne

In our vulgar to translate and endite

Origen vpon the Maudeleyne,

And off the Leoun a book he dede write;

Off Anneleyda and of fais Arcite

He made a compleynt, doolful & pitous,

And off the broche which that Vulcanus

At Thebes wrouhte, ful dyuers of nature,

Ouide writith, who theroff hadde a siht,

For hih desir he shulde nat endure

But he it hadde, neuer be glad nor liht;

And yiff he hadde it onys in his myht,

Lich as my maistir seith and writ in deede,

It to conserue he sholde ay lyue in dreede.

This poete wrot, at request off the queen,

A legende off parfit hoolynesse,

Off Goode Women to fynde out nynteen

That dede excelle in bounte and fairnesse;

But for his labour and [his] bisynesse

Was inportable his wittis to encoumbre,

In al this world to fynde so gret a noumbre.

He made the book off Cantirburi Talis,

Whan the pilgrymis rood on pilgrymage

Thoruhout Kent bi hillis and bi valis,

And alle the stories told in ther passage,

Enditid hem ful weel in our language:

Summe off knyhthod, summe off gentilesse,

And summe off loue & summe off parfitnesse,

And summe also off gret moralite,

Summe off disport, includynge gret sentence.

In prose he wrot the Tale off Melibe,

And off his wiff, that callid was Prudence,

And off Grisildis parfit pacience,

And how the Monk off stories newe & olde

Pitous tragedies be the weie tolde.

This said poete, my maistir in his daies,

Maad and compiled ful many a fressh dite,

Compleyntis, baladis, roundelis, virelaies

Ful delectable to heryn and to see,

For which men sholde, off riht and equite,

Sithe he off Inglissh in makyng was the beste,

Preie onto God to yiue his soule good reste.














The Critical Heritage vol. 1

Book I

[After mentioning the fifty daughters of Danaus]

But yiff ye list han cleer inspeccioun

Off this story vpon eueri side,

Redith the legende of martirs off Cupide,

Which that Chaucer, in ordre as thei stood,

Compiled off women that were callid good.

Touchyng the story off kyng Pandioun,

And off his goodli faire douhtren tweyne,

How Thereus, fais off condicioun,

Hem to deceyue dede his besi peyne,

Thei bothe namyd, off beute souereyne,

Goodli Progne and yong[e] Philomene,

Bothe innocentis and off entent ful cleene.

Ther pitous fate in open to expresse,

It were to me but a presumpcioun,

Sithe that Chaucer dede his besynesse

In his legende, as maad is mencioun,

Ther martirdam and ther passioun,

For to reherse hem dede his besy peyne,

As cheef poete callid off Breteyne.

Off goode women a book he dede write,

The noumbre compleet fully off nynteene;

And there the story he pleynli dede endite

Off Tereus, off Progne & Philomeene,

Where ye may seen ther legende, thus I meene,

Doth hem worshepe & foorth ther liff doth shewe

For a cleer merour, because ther be so fewe.

I will passe ouer and speke off hem no more,

And onto Cadmus foorth my stile dresse—

Yit in my writyng it greueth me sore,

Touchyng off women off feith or stabilnesse,—

Blessid be God,—I fynde noon excesse;

And for ther been so fewe, as thynkith me,

The goode sholde been had in mor deynte.










Book II

Touchyng Lucrece, exaumple off wifli trouthe,

How yonge Tarquyn hir falsli dede oppresse,

And afftir that, which was to gret a routhe,

How she hirsilff[e] slouh for heuynesse,

It nedith nat rehersyn the processe,


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