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WALTER STEVINS, Wittie Chaucer, c. 1555

WALTER STEVINS, Wittie Chaucer, c. 1555

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The Critical Heritage vol. 1

To the reader

When I happenyd to looke vpon the conclusions of the

astrolabie compiled by Geffray Chawcer, and fownde the

same corrupte and false in so many and sondrie places,

that I dowbtede whether the rudenes of the worke weare

not a gretter sclaunder to the authour, then trowble and

offence to the readers; I dyd not a lytell marvell if a

booke showlde come oute of his handes so imperfite and

indigest; whose other workes weare not onely reckenyd for

the best that euer weare sette fowrth in oure english

tonge: but also weare taken for a manifest argumente of

his singular witte, and generalitie in all kindes of

knowledge. Howebeit when I called to remembrance that in

his proheme he promised to sette fowrth this worke in

fyve partes, wherof weare never extante but these two

first partes onely, it made me to belyue that either the

worke was never fynisshed of the authoure, or els to haue

ben corrupted sens by some other meanes; or what other

thinge might be the cause therof I wiste not. Never the

lesse vnderstandinge that the woorke, which before lay as

neglected, to the profite of no man and discourage of

many, mighte be tourned to the commoditie of as manye as

her-after showlde happen to travayle in that parte of

knowledge: I thowght it a thinge worth my laboure if I

cowlde sette it in better order and frame, which thinge

howe I haue done it, let be theire indifferente

iudgemente, which heretofore haue readen thother settinge

forth; or lyst to compare this and that together wherin I

confesse that besydes the amendinge of verie many wordes I

haue displaced some conclusions, and in some places wheare

the sentences weare imperfite, I haue supplied and filled

them, as necessitie required.—As for some conclusions I

haue altered them, and some haue I cleane put oute for

vtterlye false and vntrue: as namelye the conclusion of

direction and retrogradaconn of planetes: and the

conclusions to knowe the longitudes of sterres, whether

thei be determinate or indeterminate in the astrolabie.

The conclusion, to knowe with what degree of the zodiacke

any planet ascendeth on the horizonte whether his latitude

be north or sowth; as the meanynge of the same conclusion

was most hardest by reason of the imparfitenes therof; so

in practise I fownde him most false, as he shall fynde

that lyst to take the lyke paines. Notwithstandinge this

haue I doone, not challenginge for my selffe, but

renuncynge and leauinge to worthie Chawcer his due praise

for this worke. which if it had come parfite vnto oure

handes (no dowbte) woolde have merited wonderfull praise.

As for me if I haue done any thinge therin it shall



The Critical Heritage vol. 1

suffice if the louers of wittie Chawcer do accepte my

good will and entente.


[Vpon the first degree of Aries] Albeit yt in Chaucers tyme

vpon the .12. day of march the sonne entred into the bedde

of Aries: yet in our tyme yu shalt finde that the sonne

entreth therin the .10. day of the same moneth.



Barnaby Googe (1540–94), gentleman, translator and poet,

was educated at both Christ’s College, Cambridge, and New

College, Oxford, without acquiring a degree, perhaps

because he was already busy translating ‘The First thre

Bokes of the most Christian poet, Marcellus Palingenius,

called the Zodyake of Lyfe’, 1560. The third enlarged

edition of 1565 with a new Preface indicates, by the

comparison with Ennius, the progressive sense of Chaucer’s

remoteness; Sig ( ) 3b.

What pleasure and profite the dilligent reading of vertuous

Poets doth minister to the Godly and Christian minde, so

euidently and playnely hath alwayes appeared, that I neede

not to bestowe any time about the declaring hereof.

[Cites Holy Scripture as divine poetry originally in verse

and equal in literary merit with the poetry of the Greeks

and Romans, and asks the ‘louing and frendly reader’ to]

be not so straight of iudgement as I know a number to be

that can not abyde to reade anye thing written in Englishe

verse, which nowe is so plenteously enriched wyth a numbre

of eloquent writers, that in my fansy it is lyttle

inferiour to the pleasaunt verses of the auncient Romaines.

For since the time of our excellente countreyman Sir

Geffray Chaucer who liueth in like estimation with vs as

did olde Ennius wyth the Latines. There hath flourished in

England so fine and filed phrases, and so good & pleasant

Poets as may counteruayle the doings of Virgin, Ouid,

Horace, Iuuenal, etc.



The Critical Heritage vol. 1




Foxe (1516–87), Protestant reformer and martyrologist, was

educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and led a turbulent

life, partly in exile. The success of his ‘Ecclesiasticall

history contayning the Actes and Monumentes of thynges

passed in euery Kynges tyme in this Realme’, 1563, led to

an enlarged edition, in two huge folios, in 1570, where

his notices of Chaucer appear. It was reprinted many times.

His view of Chaucer’s Protestant virtue is mainly, but not

entirely, based on the mistaken attribution to Chaucer of

‘Jack Upland’, first published with Chaucer’s ‘Works’ in

1602, but printed separately before, c. 1536. Text from

Vol. I, Sig.

iiij; p. 341; II, pp. 965–6.

(A Protestation to the whole Church of England.)

To discend now somewhat lower in drawing out the descent

of the Church. What a multitude here commeth of faithful

witnesses in the time of Ioh. Wickleffe, as Ocliffe,

Wickleffe. an. 1376. W.Thorpe, White, Puruey, Patshall,

Payne, Gower, Chauser, Gascoyne, William Swynderby, Walter

Brute, Roger Dexter, William Sautry about the year 1400.

Iohn Badley, an 1410. Nicholas Tayler, Rich. Wagstaffe,

Mich. Scriuener, W.Smith, Iohn Henry, W.Parchmenar, Roger

Goldsmith, with an Ancresse called Mathilde in the Citie of

Leicester, Lord Cobham, Syr Roger Acton Knight, Iohn

Beuerlay preacher, Iohn Hus, Hierome of Prage Scholemaster,

with a number of faithfull Bohemians and Thaborites not to

be told with whom I might also adioyne Laurentius Valla,

and Ioannes Picus the learned Earle of Mirandula. But what

do I stand upon recitall of names, which almost are


For so much as mention is here made of these

superstitious sects of Fryers, and such other beggerly

religions, it shall not seme much impartinent, being

moued by the occasion hereof…to annexe…a certayne other

auncient treatise compiled by Geoffray Chawcer by the way

of a Dialogue or questions moued in the person of a

certaine uplandish and simple ploughman of the countrey.

Which treatise for the same, ye autor intituled Jack vp




The Critical Heritage vol. 1

Moreouer to these two [Linacre & Pace], I thought it not

out of season to couple also some mention of Geffray

Chaucer, and Iohn Gower: Whiche although beyng much

discrepant from these in course of yeares, yet may seme

not vnworthy to bee matched with these forenamed persons in

commendation of their studie and learnyng….

Likewise, as touchyng the tyme of Chaucer, by hys owne

workes in the end of his first booke of Troylus and

Creseide it is manifest, that he and Gower were both of

one tyme, althoughe it seemeth that Gower was a great

deale his auncient: both notably learned, as the barbarous

rudenes of that tyme did geue: both great frendes together,

and both in like kind of studie together occupied, so

endeuoryng themselues, and employing their tyme, that they

excelling many other in study and exercise of good letters,

did passe forth their lyues here right worshipfully &

godly, to the worthy fame and commendation of their name.

Chaucers woorkes bee all printed in one volume, and

therfore knowen to all men. This I meruell, to see the

idle life of ye priestes and clergy men of that tyme,

seyng these lay persons shewed themselues in these kynde of

liberall studies so industrious & fruitfully occupied: but

muche more I meruell to consider this, how that the

Bishoppes condemnyng and abolishyng al maner of Englishe

bookes and treatises, which might bryng the people to any

light of knowledge, did yet authorise the woorkes of

Chaucer to remayne still & to be occupied: Who (no doubt)

saw in Religion as much almost, as euen we do now, and

vttereth in hys workes no lesse, and semeth to bee a right

Wicleuian, or els was neuer any, and that all his workes

almost, if they be throughly aduised, will testifie (albeit

it bee done in myrth, & couertly) & especially the latter

ende of his third booke of the Testament of loue: for

there purely he toucheth the highest matter, that is the

Communion. Wherin, excepte a man be altogether blynde, he

may espye him at the full. Althoughe in the same booke (as

in all other he vseth to do) vnder shadowes couertly, as

vnder a visoure, he suborneth truth, in such sorte, as

both priuely she may profite the godly minded, and yet not

be espyed of the craftye aduersarie: And therefore the

Byshops, belike, takyng hys workes but for iestes and

toyes, in condemnyng other bookes, yet permitted his bookes

to be read. So it pleased God to blinde then the eyes of

them, for the more commoditie of his people, to the entent

that through the readyng of his treatises, some fruite

might redounde therof to his Churche, as no doubt, it did

to many: As also I am partlye informed of certeine, whiche

knewe the parties, which to them reported, that by readyng

of Chausers workes, they were brought to the true knowledge



The Critical Heritage vol. 1

of Religion. And not vnlike to be true. For to omitte

other partes of his volume, whereof some are more fabulous

then other, what tale can bee more playnely tolde, then

the talke of the ploughman? or what finger can pointe out

more directly the Pope with his Prelates to be Antichrist,

then doth the poore Pellycan reasonyng agaynst the gredy

Griffon? Under whiche Hypotyposis or Poesie, who is so

blind that seeth not by the Pellicane, the doctrine of

Christ, and of the Lollardes to bee defended agaynst the

Churche of Rome? Or who is so impudent that can denye

that to be true, which the Pellicane there affirmeth in

describyng the presumptuous pride of that pretensed

Church? Agayne what egge can be more lyke, or figge vnto

an other, then ye words, properties, and conditions of

that rauenyng Griphe resembleth the true Image, that is,

the nature & qualities of that which we call the Churche

of Rome, in euery point and degre? and therfore no great

maruell, if that narration was exempted out of the copies

of Chaucers workes: whiche notwithstandyng now is restored

agayne, and is extant, for euery man to read that is


This Geffray Chauser being borne (as is thought) in

Oxfordshire, & dwellyng in Wodstocke, lyeth buried in the

Churche of the minster of S.Peter at Westminster, in an

Iie on the South side of the sayd Churche, not far from

the doore leading to the cloyster, and vpon his graue

stone first were written these ii old verses

Galfridus Chauser vates et fama poesis

Maternae, hac sacra sum tumulatus humo.

Afterward, about the yeare of our Lord 1556. one M.

Brickam, bestowyng more cost vppon his tumbe, did adde

therunto these verses folowyng….

[This inscription, no longer extant, describes Chaucer as

‘Anglorum vates ter maximus olim’, ‘Once the thrice-great

poet of the English’.]



Gascoigne (1525?–1577), educated at Trinity College,



The Critical Heritage vol. 1

Cambridge, was member of Parliament, soldier, poet,

playwright, translator. He reveals a Cantabrigian warmth

of feeling for ‘our father Chaucer’. As a practising poet

he echoes some earlier remarks both on the need for ‘fine

invention’ and for technical ability in versification. He

is notable for writing the first English technical

discussion of verse as an appendix, ‘Certayne Notes of

Instruction…’, to ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne

Esquire’, 1575. Text from Sig. Tii, Sig. Tiiib and Sig.

Vii b.

The first and most necessarie poynt that euer I founde

meete to be considered in making of a delectable poeme is

this, to grounde it upon some fine invention. For it is

not inough to roll in pleasant woordes nor yet to thunder

in Rym, Ram, Ruff, by letter (quoth my master Chaucer) nor

yet to abound in apt vocables, or epythetes…. Also our

father Chaucer hath vsed the same libertie in feete and

measures that the Latinists do vse: and who so euer do

peruse and well consider his workes, he shall finde that

although his lines are not alwayes of one selfe same

number of Syllables, yet beyng redde by one that hath

vnderstanding, the longest verse and that which hath most

Syllables in it, will fall (to the eare) correspondent vnto

that whiche hath fewest syllables in it: and like wise

that whiche hath in it fewest syllables, shalbe founde yet

to consist of woordes that haue suche naturall sounde, as

may seeme equall in length to a verse which hath many moe

sillables of lighter accentes…

[I had forgotten a notable kinde of ryme, called ryding

rime, and that is suche as our Mayster and Father Chaucer

vsed in his Canterburie tales, and in diuers other

delectable and light enterprises.


c. 1575

A poem discovered among love poems by Professor R.H.

Robbins in a Bodleian MS., Douce 290, f. 94, written in

the second half of the sixteenth century, attests Chaucer’s

status as a classic, or rather Neoclassic, whose genius,



The Critical Heritage vol. 1

fame and virtue are equally great and all alike recognised

in earth and heaven. Text from the MS, but cf. ‘The

Chaucer Review’, II (1968), pp. 136–7.

Thy dearest dearlinges death oh howe,

canst thow (O Brytayne) brooke,

wher is thy springe of learninge nowe,

Syth fates thy Tullie tooke.


Brytayne put one thy wailinge weedes.

byd thow adue to mearth,

Seinge wormes, wher learninge was, now fe[eds]

within the dankishe earth.


You spytefull fates, how durst you tuitch

his fatal twyne with kniffe,

Your envyous rancour ay is such,

to spoile the good of liffe.


Tho you


You can



ecclipse his mortall daies,

to your will were bound,

not dym his splendent prayes

in the heavens doe sounde.

Brute blowes in Trvmp of lastinge fame

his glittringe laudes well woonn

as phoebus rayes doth shyne, his name

aboute the world doth roonn.


oute of his bones nowe putryfyed,

his ffame doth dailie sproote,

his biased brute in Realmes doth ryde

that first from him tooke roote.


His prayes the world scarce comprehen[d]

his fame so thicklie raignes.

The earner, that those lavdes furth send,

in slender tombe contaynes.


Wherone thees verses gravd in gould

in marble shuld be sett,

Least that in earth his cyndred mould

thou Brytayne shuld forgett.

Heere Geffrey Chaucers carcasse lyes,

whylom of greate renoune;

f. 94v


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WALTER STEVINS, Wittie Chaucer, c. 1555

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