Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Pardoneres Prologue. - Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5)
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The Pardoneres Prologue. - Geoffrey Chaucer, Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5) 
The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited from numerous manuscripts by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat (2nd ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899). 7 vols. Vol. 5.
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The Pardoneres Prologue.
Title. The Latin text is copied from l. 334 below; it appears in the Ellesmere and Hengwrt MSS. The A. V. has—‘the love of money is the root of all evil’; 1 Tim. vi. 10. It is well worth notice that the novel by Morlinus, quoted in vol. iii. p. 442, as a source of the Pardoner’s Tale, contains the expression—‘radice malorum cupiditate affecti.’
336.bulles, bulls from the pope, whom he here calls his ‘liege lord’; see Prol. A. 687, and Piers the Plowman, B. Prol. 69. See also Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 308.
alle and somme, one and all. Cf. Clerkes Tale, E. 941, and the note.
337.patente; defined by Webster as ‘an official document, conferring a right or privilege on some person or party’; &c. It was so called because ‘patent’ or open to public inspection. ‘When indulgences came to be sold, the pope made them part of his ordinary revenue; and, according to the usual way in those, and even in much later times, of farming the revenue, he let them out usually to the Dominican friars’; Massingberd, Hist. Eng. Reformation, p. 126.
345. ‘To colour my devotion with.’ For saffron, MS. Harl. reads savore. Tyrwhitt rightly prefers the reading saffron, as ‘more expressive, and less likely to have been a gloss.’ And he adds—‘Saffron was used to give colour as well as flavour.’ For example, in the Babees Book, ed. Furnivall, p. 275, we read of ‘capons that ben coloured with saffron.’ And in Winter’s Tale, iv. 3. 48, the Clown says—‘I must have saffron to colour the warden-pies.’ Cf. Sir Thopas, B. 1920. As to the position of with, cf. Sq. Ta., F. 471, 641.
346. According to Tyrwhitt, this line is, in some MSS. (including Camb. Dd. 4. 24. and Addit. 5140), replaced by three, viz.—
Here terme is an error for teme, a variant of theme; so that the last two lines merely repeat ll. 333–4.
347.cristal stones, evidently hollow pieces of crystal in which relics were kept; so in the Prologue, A. 700, we have—
‘And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.’
348.cloutes, rags, bits of cloth. ‘The origin of the veneration for relics may be traced to Acts, xix. 12. Hence clouts, or cloths, are among the Pardoner’s stock’; note in Bell’s edition.
349.Reliks. In the Prologue, we read that he had the Virgin Mary’s veil and a piece of the sail of St. Peter’s ship. Below, we have mention of the shoulder-bone of a holy Jew’s sheep, and of a miraculous mitten. See Heywood’s impudent plagiarism from this passage in his description of a Pardoner, as printed in the note to l. 701 of Dr. Morris’s edition of Chaucer’s Prologue. See also a curious list of relics in Chambers’ Book of Days, i. 587; and compare the humorous descriptions of the pardoner and his wares in Sir David Lyndesay’s Satyre of the Three Estates, ll. 2037–2121. Chaucer probably here took several hints from Boccaccio’s Decamerone, Day 6, Nov. 10, wherein Frate Cipolla produces many very remarkable relics to the public gaze. See also the list of relics in Political, Religious, and Love Poems, ed. Furnivall (E. E. T. S.), pp. xxxii, 126–9.
350.latoun. The word latten is still in use in Devon and the North of England for plate tin, but as Halliwell remarks, that is not the sense of latoun in our older writers. It was a kind of mixed metal, somewhat resembling brass both in its nature and colour, but still more like pinchbeck. It was used for helmets (Rime of Sir Thopas, B. 2067), lavers (P. Pl. Crede, 196), spoons (Nares), sepulchral memorials (Way in Prompt. Parv.), and other articles. Todd, in his Illustrations of Chaucer, p. 350, remarks that the escutcheons on the tomb of the Black Prince are of laton over-gilt, in accordance with the Prince’s instructions; see Nichols’s Royal Wills, p. 67. He adds—‘In our old Church Inventories a cross of laton frequently occurs.’ See Prol. A. 699, and the note. I here copy the description of this metal given in Batman upon Bartholomè; lib. xvi. c. 5. ‘Of Laton. Laton is called Auricalcum, and hath that name, for, though it be brasse or copper, yet it shineth as gold without, as Isidore saith; for brasse is calco in Greeke. Also laton is hard as brasse or copper; for by medling of copper, of tinne, and of auripigment [orpiment] and with other mettal, it is brought in the fire to the colour of gold, as Isidore saith. Also it hath colour and likenesse of gold, but not the value.’
351. The expression ‘holy Jew’ is remarkable, as the usual feeling in the middle ages was to regard all Jews with abhorrence. It is suggested, in a note to Bell’s edition, that it ‘must be understood of some Jew before the Incarnation.’ Perhaps the Pardoner wished it to be understood that the sheep was once the property of Jacob; this would help to give force to l. 365. Cp. Gen. xxx.
The best comment on the virtues of a sheep’s shoulder-bone is afforded by a passage in the Persones Tale (De Ira), I. 602, where we find—‘Sweringe sodeynly withoute avysement is eek a sinne. But lat us go now to thilke horrible swering of adiuracioun and coniuracioun, as doon thise false enchauntours or nigromanciens in bacins ful of water, or in a bright swerd, in a cercle, or in a fyr, or in a shulder-boon of a sheep’; &c. Cf. also a curious passage in Trevisa’s tr. of Higden’s Polychronicon, lib. i. cap. 60, which shews that it was known among the Flemings who had settled in the west of Wales. He tells us that, by help of a bone of a wether’s right shoulder, from which the flesh had been boiled (not roasted) away, they could tell what was being done in far countries, ‘tokens of pees and of werre, the staat of the reeme, sleynge of men, and spousebreche.’ Selden, in his notes to song 5 of Drayton’s Polyolbion, gives a curious instance of such divination, taken from Giraldus, Itin. i. cap. 11; and a writer in the Retrospective Review, Feb. 1854, p. 109, says it is ‘similar to one described by Wm. de Rubruquis as practised among the Tartars.’ And see spadebone in Nares. Cf. Notes and Queries, 1 S. ii. 20.
In Part I. of the Records of the Folk-lore Society is an article by Mr. Thoms on the subject of divination by means of the shoulder-bone of a sheep. He shews that it was still practised in the Scottish Highlands down to the beginning of the present century, and that it is known in Greece. He further cites some passages concerning it from some scarce books; and ends by saying—‘let me refer any reader desirous of knowing more of this wide-spread form of divination to Sir H. Ellis’s edition of Brand’s Popular Antiquities, iii. 179, ed. 1842, and to much curious information respecting Spatulamancia, as it is called by Hartlieb, and an analogous species of divination ex anserino sterno, to Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, 2nd ed. p. 1067.’
355. The sense is—‘which any snake has bitten or stung.’ The reference is to the poisonous effects of the bite of an adder or venomous snake. The word worm is used by Shakespeare to describe the asp whose bite was fatal to Cleopatra; and it is sometimes used to describe a dragon of the largest size. In Icelandic, the term ‘miðgarðsormr,’ lit. worm of the middle-earth, signifies a great sea-serpent encompassing the entire world.
363.Fastinge. This word is spelt with a final e in all seven MSS.; and as it is emphatic and followed by a slight pause, perhaps the final e should be pronounced. Cp. A. S. fæstende, the older form of the present participle. Otherwise, the first foot consists of but one syllable.
366. For heleth, MS. Hl. has kelith, i. e. cooleth.
379. The final e in sinne must not be elided; it is preserved by the caesura. Besides, e is only elided before h in the case of certain words.
387.assoile, absolve. In Michelet’s Life of Luther, tr. by W. Hazlitt, chap. ii, there is a very similar passage concerning Tetzel, the Dominican friar, whose shameless sale of indulgences roused Luther to his famous denunciations of the practice. Tetzel ‘went about from town to town, with great display, pomp, and expense, hawking the commodity [i.e. the indulgences] in the churches, in the public streets, in taverns and ale-houses. He paid over to his employers as little as possible, pocketing the balance, as was subsequently proved against him. The faith of the buyers diminishing, it became necessary to exaggerate to the fullest extent the merit of the specific. . . . The intrepid Tetzel stretched his rhetoric to the very uttermost bounds of amplification. Daringly piling one lie upon another, he set forth, in reckless display, the long list of evils which this panacea could cure. He did not content himself with enumerating known sins; he set his foul imagination to work, and invented crimes, infamous atrocities, strange, unheard of, unthought of; and when he saw his auditors stand aghast at each horrible suggestion, he would calmly repeat the burden of his song:—Well, all this is expiated the moment your money chinks in the pope’s chest.’ This was in the year 1517.
390.An hundred mark. A mark was worth about 13s. 4d., and 100 marks about £66 13s. 4d. In order to make allowance for the difference in the value of money in that age, we must at least multiply by ten; or we may say in round numbers, that the Pardoner made at least £700 a year. We may contrast this with Chaucer’s own pension of 20 marks, granted him in 1367, and afterwards increased till, in the very last year of his life, he received in all, according to Sir Harris Nicolas, as much as £61 13s. 4d. Even then his income did not quite attain to the 100 marks which the Pardoner gained so easily.
397.dowve, a pigeon; lit. a dove. See a similar line in the Milleres Tale, A. 3258.
402.namely, especially, in particular; cf. Kn. Ta. 410 (A. 1068).
406.blakeberied. The line means—‘Though their souls go a-black-berrying’; i. e. wander wherever they like. This is a well-known crux, which all the editors have given up as unintelligible. I have been so fortunate as to obtain the complete solution of it, which was printed in Notes and Queries, 4 S. x. 222, xii. 45, and again in my preface to the C-text of Piers the Plowman, p. lxxxvii. The simple explanation is that, by a grammatical construction which was probably due (as will be shewn) to an error, the verb go could be combined with what was apparently a past participle, in such a manner as to give the participle the force of a verbal substantive. In other words, instead of saying ‘he goes a-hunting,’ our forefathers sometimes said ‘he goes a-hunted.’ The examples of this use are at least seven. The clearest is in Piers Plowman, C. ix. 138, where we read of ‘folk that gon a-begged,’ i. e. folk that go a-begging. In Chaucer, we not only have ‘goon a-begged,’ Frank. Tale, F. 1580, and the instance in the present passage, but yet a third example in the Wyf of Bath’s Tale, Group D. 354, where we have ‘goon a-caterwawed,’ with the sense of ‘to go a-caterwauling’; and it is a fortunate circumstance that in two of these cases the idiomatic forms occur at the end of a line, so that the rime has preserved them from being tampered with. Gower (Conf. Amant. bk. i. ed. Chalmers, pp. 32, 33, or ed. Pauli, i. 110) speaks of a king of Hungary riding out ‘in the month of May,’ adding—
that is, wherein he wished to ride a-Maying. Again (in bk. v, ed. Chalmers, p. 124, col. 2, or ed. Pauli, ii. 132) we read of a drunken priest losing his way:—
‘This prest was dronke, and goth a-strayed’;
i.e. he goes a-straying, or goes astray.
The explanation of this construction I take to be this; the -ed was not really a sign of the past participle, but a corruption of the ending -eth (A. S. -að) which is sometimes found at the end of a verbal substantive. Hence it is that, in the passage from Piers Plowman above quoted, one of the best and earliest MSS. actually reads ‘folk that gon a-beggeth.’ And again, in another passage (P. Pl., C. ix. 246) is the phrase ‘gon abrybeth,’ or, in some MSS., ‘gon abrybed,’ i.e. go a-bribing or go a-thieving, since Mid. Eng. briben often means to rob. This form is clearly an imitation of the form a-hunteth in the old phrase gon a-hunteth or riden an honteth, used by Robert of Gloucester (Specimens of English, ed. Morris and Skeat, p. 14, l. 387):—
‘As he rod an honteth, and par-auntre [h]is hors spurnde.’
Now this honteth is the dat. case of a substantive, viz. of the A.S. huntað or huntoð. This substantive would easily be mistaken for a part of a verb, and, particularly, for the past participle of a verb; just as many people at this day are quite unable to distinguish between the true verbal substantive and the present participle in -ing. This mistake once established, the ending -ed would be freely used after the verbs go or ride. In D. 1778, we even find go walked, without a.
The result is that the present phrase, hitherto so puzzling, is a mere variation of ‘gon a blake-berying,’ i.e. ‘go a-gathering blackberries,’ a humorous expression for ‘wander wherever they please.’ A not very dissimilar expression occurs in the proverbial saying—‘his wits are gone a-wool-gathering.’
The Pardoner says, in effect, ‘I promise them full absolution; however, when they die and are buried, it matters little to me in what direction their souls go.’
407. Tyrwhitt aptly adduces a parallel passage from the Romaunt of the Rose, l. 5763 (or l. 5129 in the French)—
‘Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife’; Phil. i. 15.
413. In Piers Plowman (B-text), v. 87, it is said of Envy that—
‘Eche a worde that he warpe · was of an addres tonge.’
Cf. Rom. iii. 13; Ps. cxl. 3.
440.for I teche, because I teach, by my teaching.
441.Wilful pouerte signifies voluntary poverty. This is well illustrated by the following lines concerning Christ in Piers Plowman, B. xx. 48, 49:—
Several examples occur in Richardson’s Dictionary in which wilfully has the sense of willingly or voluntarily. Thus—‘If they wylfully would renounce the sayd place and put them in his grace, he wolde vtterlye pardon theyr trespace’; Fabyan’s Chronicle, c. 114. It even means gladly; thus in Wyclif’s Bible, Acts xxi. 17, we find, ‘britherin resseyuyden vs wilfulli.’ Speaking of palmers, Speght says—‘The pilgrim travelled at his own charge, the palmer professed wilful poverty.’
The word wilful still means willing in Warwickshire; see Eng. Dialect Soc. Gloss. C. 6.
445. The context seems to imply that some of the apostles made baskets. So in Piers Plowman, B. xv. 285, we read of St. Paul—
‘Poule, after his prechyng · panyers he made.’
Yet in Acts xviii. 3 we only read that he wrought as a tent-maker. However, it was St. Paul who set the example of labouring with his hands; and, in imitation of him, we find an early example of basket-making by St. Arsenius, ‘who, before he turned hermit, had been the tutor of the emperors Arcadius and Honorius,’ and who is represented in a fresco in the Campo Santo at Pisa, by Pietro Laurati, as ‘weaving baskets of palm-leaves’; whilst beside him another hermit is cutting wooden spoons, and another is fishing. See Mrs. Jameson’s Sacred and Legendary Art, 3rd ed. ii. 757.
Note that baskettes is trisyllabic, as in Palladius on Husbandry, bk. xii. l. 307.
448. The best description of the house-to-house system of begging, as adopted by the mendicant friars, is near the beginning of the Sompnour’s Tale, D. 1738. They went in pairs to the farm-houses, begging a bushel of wheat, or malt, or rye, or a piece of cheese or brawn, or bacon or beef, or even a piece of an old blanket. Nothing seems to have come amiss to them.
450. See Prologue, A. 255; and cf. the description of the poor widow at the beginning of the Nonne Prestes Tale, B. 4011.