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JONATHAN SIDNAM (?), Obsolete, c. 1630

JONATHAN SIDNAM (?), Obsolete, c. 1630

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The Critical Heritage vol. 1

in ‘Brasenose College Register’, Oxford, 1909, in 1598,

1601/2, but not recorded in J.Foster ‘Alumni Oxonienses’,

1891. Extracts (a) f.1 (ed.cit., p. 89), (b) ff. 69v–70

(cf. ed.cit., pp. 237–8).





The three first Bookes of



Translated into our Moderne English.

For the satisfaction of those.

Who either cannot, or will not, take ye paines to


The Excellent Authors.

Farr more Exquisite, and significant Expressions

Though now growen obsolete, and

out of vse./


J: S:

Semel insaniuimus omnes./

Quas habeat Meretrix, Merie-tricks, ediscere Nolj

Namque mere trux est, cum meretrice jocus.



Through you [Venus] I fullie haue describd at last

The sweete delight, and joye of Troilus

Though mixed now, and then wth some distast

As from mine Author it hath come to vs.

And though the Storie be not ended thus

Yet I will heere leaue Troilus in rest

Wth Cresida the faire whom he loues best.


Tis true ye Storie saith shee wrongd his loue.

To her Etemall shame, and infamie.

For shee did after this vnconstant proue.

And fell from him, who lou’d her faithfullie.

Till shee prooud false, and vsd him treacherouslie,



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And euen then, he pittied her sad case.

And greeu’d to see her branded wth disgrace.


But yet let him that list, goe on to tell

The wanton slipps of this deceitfull Dame.

And what misfortunes afterwardes befell

Poore Troilus, who vnderwent the shame.

Of her misdeedes, though he deseru’d noe blame.

For I am loath to doe true loue that wrong.

To make her fall, the subject of my song./





Brian Walker, of Bishop Auckland in the diocese of Durham,

a tradesman about whom nothing else is known, in dispute

with nephews and neighbours, was accused by them, and found

guilty, of denying, when drunk, the existence of God and

the devil. His further reported statement in the testimony

given by William Hutchinsonn is unusual evidence of the

general status of Chaucer at this date as a classic of

fiction amongst ordinary townspeople, not courtiers nor

gentry. (The Acts of the High Commission Court within the

diocese of Durham, ‘Surtees Society’, 1858, p. 116, for the

year 1635.)

William Hutchinsonn of Bishopp Awckland, yeoman, aiged 30.

Aboute the beginninge of Lent, gone twelve monethes in

Lent last, happened to be in the house of Anthonie Eastgaite where other companie were present, as Thomas

Allansonn and Eastgait his wife. Walker happened to come

in and did fall into conference and discourse with

examinate [i.e. Hutchinsonn] and Thomas Allanson, and from

such discourse did fall to sweareinge and takeinge God’s

name in vaine, uttering manie detestable oathes. Allanson

said, ‘Fie, mann, doe yow not feare God?’ Walker



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answeared, ‘I doe not beleive there is eyther God or

devill, neyther will I beleive anie thinge but what I

see.’ Aboute twoe yeares and a halfe now by gone,

examinate in the house of Anthonie Welfott of Bishopp

Awckland did heare Walker conferr and speake of the booke

called Chawcer, which booke he verie much commended, and

said he did beleive the same as well as he did the Bible,

or wordes to the same effect. There was present Anthonie




In 1635 Sir Francis Kynaston (1587–1642) educated at Oriel

College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge, a

gentleman, courtier, and patron of learning, published a

Latin translation of the first two books of ‘Troilus and

Criseyde, Amorum Troili et Creseidae libri duo priores

Anglico-Latini’, at Oxford, with two prefatory addresses

and fifteen sets of prefatory flattering verses, in Latin

or English, addressed to Kynaston (all printed by Spurgeon)

by Oxford men, mostly from New College and All Souls.

Their constant refrain is the difficulty of understanding

the ancient language, and the advantage of the Latin

translation. The poem by Edward Foulis (b.1614?) of All

Souls, is representative, and adds a comment on Chaucer’s

vivid realism which is soon to become a dominant note.

Text from Sig. *4b. Kynaston apparently completed his Latin

translation, with a Latin commentary on the whole poem. He

also wrote a commentary in English, part of which was

edited and published by F.G.Waldron, ‘The Loves of Troilus

and Creseid…with a Commentary’, by Sir Francis Kinaston,


True Poet! Who could words endue

With life, that makes the fiction true.

All passages are seene as cleare

As if not pend, but acted here:

Each thing so well demonstrated,

It comes to passe, when ‘tis but read.



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Here is no fault, but ours: through vs

True Poetry growes barbarous:

While aged Language must be thought

(Because ‘twas good long since) now naught.

Thus time can silence Chaucers tongue

But not his witte, which now among

The Latines hath a lowder sound;

And what we lost, the World hath found.

Thus the Translation will become

Th’ Originall, while that growes dumbe:

And this will crowne these labours: None

Sees Chaucer but in Kinaston.

Ed. Foulis, Equitis & Baronetti filius

Coll. Om. An. Socius.


1663, 1664

Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), diarist and great administrator

of Charles II’s navy, was educated at Magdalene College,

Cambridge. He worked in the Navy Office. In extract (a)

Penn, Batten and Mennes were all courtiers, his superiors

in rank, inferiors in ability and diligence, at the Navy

Office. Mennes (1599–1671) was possibly educated at Corpus

Christi College, Oxford, had a distinguished career as a

Royalist military and naval commander, and had a

reputation as a wit. In 1655 he published over his

initials, and in collaboration with Ja[mes] S[mith] (1605–

1667, a genial Royalist divine educated at Lincoln

College, Oxford) ‘Musarum Deliciae’, a small collection of

facetious, mainly scatological, verse, not without wit,

containing two Chaucerian burlesque and satirical

‘characters’ of a Cambridge clerk, i.e. don, William

Nelson, which incorporate a number of reminiscences of

‘The General Prologue’. It is clear that the comic, bawdy,

satirical elements in Chaucer mainly appealed to Mennes.

He probably represents quite well the sort of persons,

courtiers, wits, men of affairs, to whom Chaucer’s work

continued to appeal. The third extract (c) shows that

Pepys himself, though responding to a particularly

realistic detail (perhaps because of his anxiety about his

own eyesight) had read and absorbed the great poem of



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‘sentement’, ‘Troilus and Criseyde’, referring to Book

III, 1462. Pepys suggested to Dryden that he compose ‘The

character of a good parson’, translated and enlarged from

Chaucer’s original in ‘The General Prologue’, and

published in the ‘Fables’, 1700. Dryden, whom Pepys had

known at Cambridge, showed Pepys the draft and invited his

criticism (‘Letters and the Second Diary of Samuel Pepys’,

ed. R.G.Howarth, 1932, pp. 280–1). Exract (b) refers to

Pepys’s own copy of Chaucer, Speght’s edition of 1602,

which can still be seen in Pepys’s Library, Magdalene

College, Cambridge, No. 2365. Pepys also owned some MSS.

of Chaucer, and one of Caxton’s editions of ‘The

Canterbury Tales’, Pepys’s Library No. 2053. (These

extracts taken and information derived from the ‘Diary’,

ed. R.Latham and W.Matthews, IV, 1971, and Mr R.Latham,

CBE, Pepys’s Librarian.)


14 June 1663…So to Sir W.Penn to visit him; and finding

him alone, sent for my wife, who is in her riding-suit, to

see him; which she hath not done these many months I

think. By and by in comes Sir J.Mennes and Sir W.Batten,

and so we sat talking; among other things, Sir J.Mennes

brought many fine expressions of Chaucer, which he dotes on

mightily, and without doubt is a very fine poet (p. 184).


8 July 1664…So to Pauls churchyard about my books—and to

the binders and directed the doing of my Chaucer, though

they were not full neat enough for me, but pretty well it

is—and thence to the clasp-makers to have it clasped and

bossed (p. 199).


10 August 1664. Up; and being ready, abroad to do several

small businesses; among others, to find out one to engrave

my tables upon my new sliding-Rule with silver plates, it

being so small that Browne that made it cannot get one to

do it. So I found out Cocker, the famous writing-master,

and got him to do it; and I sat an hour by him to see

him design it all, and strange it is to see him with his

natural eyes to cut so small at his first designing it,



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and read it all over without any missing, when for my

life I could not with my best skill read one word or

letter of it—but it is use; but he says that the best

light, for his life, to do a very small thing by

(contrary to Chaucer’s words to the sun: that he should

lend his light to them that small seals grave), it should

be by an artificiall light of a candle, set to advantage

as he could do it (p. 237).



Thomas Sprat (1635–1713), bishop of Rochester, wit, man of

letters, Royalist sycophant, High-Church politician,

popular preacher, bon viveur, was educated at Wadham

College, Oxford and is now most notable for ‘The History

of the Royal Society’, published in 1667, but of which he

tells us that the first parts (from which the quotations

are taken) were in print by 1665. He refers to Chaucer in

discussing the history of English, and in an allusion to

‘The House of Fame’ not previously noticed, but is also

important for representing the hostility to metaphor, to

fullness of language, and to eloquence which accompanied

the development of ‘the mechanical philosophy’. Such an

attitude to language, though concerned with science,

inevitably tends to relegate all literature to triviality

or falsehood, and is particularly averse to literature

written, like Chaucer’s, under a generally rhetorical

theory. At the same time it plainly promotes a relish for

the ‘realistic’, plain-spoken, ‘lower-class’, comic

elements such as seem to appear in Chaucer’s fabliaux, and

for which, in the eighteenth century, he was chiefly

marked. Text from the edition of 1667, pp. 41–2, 87, 90,

105, 111–12, 113.

The Truth is, it [the English language] has been hitherto

a little too carelessly handled; and I think, has had less

labor spent about its polishing, then it deserves. Till the

time of King Henry the Eighth, there was scarce any man

regarded it, but Chaucer; and nothing was written in it,



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which one would be willing to read twice, but some of his

Poetry. But then it began to raise it self a little, and

to sound tolerably well….

…they [the members of the Royal Society] have indeavor’d,

to separate the knowledge of Nature, from the colours of

Rhetorick, the devices of Fancy, or the delightful deceit

of Fables….

[London has advantages over all other European capitals.]

It is, as the Poets describe their House of Fame, a City,

where all the noises and business in the World do meet….

(p. 90) [An interest in rarity has up to now vitiated

Natural History and Philosophy.] It is like Romances, in

respect of True History; which by multiplying varieties of

extraordinary Events, and surprizing circumstances, makes

that seem dull and tasteless. And, to say no more, the

very delight which it raises, is nothing so solid: but, as

the satisfaction of Fancy, it affects us a little, in the

beginning, but soon wearies and surfets….

[(p. 105) The Royal Society] did not regard the credit of

Names, but Things…

pp. 111–12 [Attacks ‘superfluity of talking’, and

eloquence] this vicious abundance of Phrase, this trick of

Metaphors, this volubility of Tongue.

(p. 113) [The Royal Society] have therefore been most

rigorous in putting in execution, the only Remedy, that can

be found for this extravagance [i.e. of language]: and that

has been, a constant Resolution, to reject all the

amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style: to

return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when

men deliver’d so many things, almost in an equal number of

words. They have exacted from all their members, a close,

naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions; clear

senses; a native easiness: bringing all things as near the

Mathematical plainness as they can: and preferring the

language of Artizans, Countrymen and Merchants, before

that, of Wits, or Scholars.



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Denham (1615–69), gambler, wit, poet, Royalist, and

Royalist cuckold, was educated at Trinity College, Oxford,

at least to the extent of failing to obtain his BA. He

exemplifies the court-poet’s recognition of Chaucer, and

seems to be the first to call him ‘morning Star’. Text

from the poem ‘On Mr Abraham Cowley, his Death’, from

‘Poems and Translations’, 1668, p. 89.

On4 Mr Abraham Cowley, his Death and

Burial amongst the Ancient Poets.

Old Chaucer, like the morning Star,

To us discovers day from far,

His light those Mists and Clouds dissolv’d,

Which our dark Nation long involv’d;

But he descending to the shades,

Darkness again the Age invades.

Next (like Aurora) Spencer rose,

Whose purple blush the day foreshows.



Edward Phillips (1630–96?), Milton’s nephew, was educated

by Milton. In 1675 he published ‘Theatrum Poetarum, or a

Compleat Collection of the Poets, especially the most

eminent, of all Ages’, and makes a clear distinction

between those who, like Mennes (see No. 60) enjoy Chaucer’s

‘facetiousness’ and the quaintness of his antiquated

language, and those, doubtless few in any age, who

appreciate his real worth. Extract (a) is from the Preface,

Sig. **2; (b) from pp. 50–1.



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True it is that the style of Poetry till Henry the 8th’s

time, and partly also within his Reign, may very well

appear uncouth, strange and unpleasant to those that are

affected only with what is familiar and accustom’d to them,

not but there were even before those times some that had

their Poetical excellencies if well examin’d, and chiefly

among the rest CHAUCER, who through all the neglect of

former ag’d Poets still keeps a name, being by some few

admir’d for his real worth, to others not unpleasing for

his facetious way, which joyn’d with his old English

intertains them with a kind of Drollery.


Sir Geoffry Chaucer, the Prince and Coryphoeus, generally

so reputed, till this Age, of our English Poets, and as

much as we triumph over his old fashion’d phrase, and

obsolete words, one of the first refiners of the English

Language, of how great Esteem he was in the Age wherein he

flourish’d, namely the Reigns of Henry the 4th, Henry the

5th, and part of Henry the 6th, appears, besides his being

Knight and Poet Laureat, by the Honour he had to be allyed

by marriage to the great Earl of Lancaster, John of Gaunt.

How great a part we have lost of his Works above what

Extant of him is manifest from an Author of good Credit,

who reckons up many Considerable Poems, which are not in

his publisht works; besides the Squires Tale, which is said

to be compleat in Arundel-House Library.



Thomas Rymer (1614–1713) was educated at Sidney Sussex

College, Cambridge, and thereby offers an exception to a good

theory. He is notable for the great collection of historical

records, the ‘Foedera’ (1704–35) which include some Chaucer

life-records, and also for being an extreme Neoclassical

critic who condemned ‘Othello’ in his ‘Short View of Tragedy’

(1692). Dryden (No. 66) is too kind to him.



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With his critical principles he can find nothing to say

about Chaucer, whom he dismisses in his ‘Preface of the

Translator’ to the Neoclassical ‘Reflections on

Aristotle’s Treatise of Poesie’, by the French critic

R.Rapin, 1674, Sig. A 6b. He exaggerates Sidney’s

judgments. The concept of design is significant, as it

denies Gothic irregularity.

Nor shall I speak of Chaucer, in whose time our Language,

I presume, was not capable of any Heroick character. Nor

indeed was the most polite Wit of Europe in that Age

sufficient to a great design…. Spencer I think may be

reckon’d the first of our Heroick Poets.



Addison (1672–1719), celebrated essayist and poet, was

educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and wrote, according

to Pope (see No. 67), his account of the English poets

before he had read many of them, as a very young man; and

he would perhaps not have allowed this piece of crass

juvenilia to have been published; but it appeared after

his death in ‘Miscellany Poems’, 6 vols, ed. J.Dryden,

Vol. IV, p. 288.

To Mr. H.S[acheverel] April 3, 1694

Since, dearest Harry, you will needs request

A short Account of all the Muse possest;

That, down from Chaucer’s days to Dryden’s Times

Have spent their noble Rage in British Rhimes;

Without more Preface, wrote in formal length,

To speak the Vndertaker’s want of Strength

I’ll try to make their sev’ral Beauties known,

And show their Verses worth, tho’ not my own.

Long had our dull Fore-Fathers slept Supine

Nor felt the Raptures of the tuneful Nine;

‘Till Chaucer first, a merry Bard, arose;



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And many a Story told in Rhime and Prose.

But Age has rusted what the Poet writ,

Worn out his Language, and obscur’d his Wit:

In vain he Jests in his unpolish’d Strain,

And tries to make his Readers laugh in vain.

Old Spencer next…



Dryden (1631–1700), the great poet and critic, was educated

at Trinity College, Cambridge, and translated a number of

Chaucer’s poems. He shows the customary Cambridge interest

in the purity of English diction, and recognises Chaucer’s

scientific learning, but particularly develops what had

only been lightly touched on earlier, his ‘realism’, his

following ‘Nature’, and his sense of character. This latter

was particularly to be developed by Ogle (No. 76), Blake

(No. 90), and many nineteenth- and twentieth-century


Dryden rises above pedantic Neoclassical principles and

is the great master of informal, humane appreciation, but

emphasis on realism is in great part a Neoclassical

characteristic. He is also a little worried by Chaucer’s

Gothic mingling of trivial with greater things. He claims

to have consulted all the editions but seems to have used

Speght’s 1598 edition to quote from, without worrying too

much about the spelling.

Spencer and Fairfax both flourish’d in the Reign of Queen

Elizabeth: Great Masters in our Language…. Milton was the

Poetical Son of Spencer, and Mr. Waller of Fairfax; for we

have our Lineal Descents and Clans, as well as other

Families: Spencer more than once insinuates, that the Soul

of Chaucer was transfus’d into his Body; and that he was

be-gotten by him Two Hundred years after his Decease.

Milton has acknowledg’d to me that Spencer was his


But to return: Having done with Ovid for this time, it

came into my mind, that our old English poet, Chaucer, in

many Things resembled him, and that with no disadvantage

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JONATHAN SIDNAM (?), Obsolete, c. 1630

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