Octavius calls Antony back to Rome from Alexandria to help him fight against Sextus Pompey, Menecrates, and Menas, three notorious pirates of the Mediterranean.
Cover of Spanish translation of Chaucer, Cover of Faber reprint edition of Chaucer, Introduction If I were writing this in French, as I should be if Chaucer had not chosen to write in English, I might be able to head this preliminary note with something like Avis au lecteur; which, with a French fine shade, would suggest without exaggeration the note of warning.
For I do really desire to warn the reader, or the critic, of some possible mistakes in or about this book: It were perhaps too sanguine a simplicity to say that this book is intended to be popular; but at least it is intended to be simple. It describes only the effect of a particular poet on a particular person; but it also expresses a personal conviction that the poet could be an extremely popular poet; that is, could produce the same effect on many other normal or unpretentious persons.
It makes no claim to specialism of any sort in the field of Chaucerian scholarship. It is written for people who know even less about Chaucer than I do. It does not in any of the disputed details, dictate to those who know much more about Chaucer than I do.
It is primarily concerned with the fact that Chaucer was a poet. Or, in other words, that it is possible to know him, without knowing anything about him.
The whole point, so far as I am concerned, is that it is as easy for an ordinary Englishman to enjoy Chaucer as to enjoy Dickens. Dickensians always quote Dickens; from which it follows that they often misquote Dickens. Having long depended on memory, I might be quite capable of misquotation; but I fear I have fallen into something that may seem even more shocking: I do incline to think that it is necessary to take some such liberties, when first bringing Chaucer to the attention of fresh and casual readers.
However that may be, all this part of the explanation is relatively easy; and the intention of the book is tolerably obvious.
Unfortunately this plan of simplification and popularity is interrupted by two problems, which can hardly be prevented from presenting a greater complexity.
And yet I cannot altogether regret the course that I actually followed; for there grew upon me, while writing this chapter, a very vivid realization which the chapter itself does not very clearly explain. I fear that the reader will only pause to wonder, with not unjust irritation, why I sometimes seem to be writing about modern politics instead of about medieval history.
I can only say that the actual experience, of trying to tell such truths as I know about the matter, left me with an overwhelming conviction that it is because we miss the point of the medieval history that we make a mess of the modern politics.
I felt suddenly the fierce and glaring relevancy of all the walking social symbols of the Chaucerian scene to the dissolving views of our own social doubts and speculations to-day. There came upon me a conviction I can hardly explain, in these few lines, that the great Types, the heroic or humorous figures that make the pageant of past literature, are now fading into something formless; because we do not understand the old civilized order which gave them form, and can hardly even construct any alternative form.
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The presence of the Guilds or the grades of Chivalry, the presence of the particular details of that day, are not of course necessary to all human beings.
But the absence of the Guilds and the grades of Chivalry, and the absence of any positive substitute for them, is now a great gap that is none the less a fact because it is a negative fact. Feeling this so strongly, at the moment, I simply could not force myself to the usual stiff official attitude of dealing with all such things as dead; of talking of Heraldry as if it were Hieroglyphics or dealing with the friars as if they had disappeared like the Druids.
But I apologize for the disproportion of the second chapter, which spoils the simplicity of the opening and the general intention. Perhaps I might put up my notice of warning, and warn the reader not to read the second chapter.
Now I come to think of it, I might warn him not to read the book at all; but in this, perhaps, there would be a tinge of inconsistency.
Nevertheless, the book would have served its purpose if anyone had learned, even by getting as far as this page, that what matters is not books on Chaucer, but Chaucer.
Lastly, it would be affectation on my part to deny that the very subject forces me to face or as ostentatiously to avoid a subject on which I am in a sense expected to be controversial; on which I could not really be expected to be non-controversial.
But this problem is all the more practical, because of the particular summary, or main truth about Chaucer, which is most borne in upon my mind, on rereading and reconsidering his work.
Chaucer was a poet who came at the end of the medieval age and order; which certainly contained fanaticism, ferocity, wild asceticism and the rest.
There are some who really suggest that it contained only fanaticism, ferocity and the rest. Anyhow, I was faced with the fact that Chaucer was the final fruit and inheritor of that order.
And I was also confronted with the fact, which seems to me quite as certain a fact, that he was much more sane and cheerful and normal than most of the later writers. He was less delirious than Shakespeare, less harsh than Milton, less fanatical than Bunyan, less embittered than Swift.The Byronic Hero is a type of character popularized by the works of Lord Byron, whose protagonists often embodied this archetype (though they did exist .
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