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The Somnours Tale. - 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 Somnours Tale.
For further remarks about this Tale, see vol. iii. p. 452.
It is principally directed against the Frere; see the description of him in the Prologue, A. 208.
1710. Holderness is an extremely flat district; it lies at the S. E. angle of Yorkshire, between Hull, Driffield, Bridlington and Spurn Point; see the Holderness Glossary, E. D. S. 1877. We find that Chaucer makes no attempt here, as in the Reeve’s Tale, to imitate the Yorkshire dialect.
1712.to preche. The friars were popular preachers of the middle ages. They were to live by begging, and were therefore often called the Mendicant Orders; see l. 1912, and the notes to A. 208, 209. The friar of our story was a Carmelite; see note to l. 2116.
1717.trentals. A trental (from Low Lat. trentale, O. F. trentel) was an office of thirty masses, to be said on so many consecutive days, for the benefit of souls in purgatory. It also meant, as here, the sum paid for the same to the priest or friar. See Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 299, 374; ed. Matthew (E. E. T. S.) pp. 211, 516; and the poem entitled St. Gregory’s Trental, in Religious, Political, and Love Poems, ed. Furnivall, p. 83.
1722.possessioners. This term seems to have been applied (1) to the regular orders of monks who possessed landed property, and (2) to the beneficed clergy. I think there is here particular reference to the latter, as indicated by the occurrence of preest in l. 1727, curat in 1816, and viker and persone in l. 2008. The friars, on the contrary, were supposed to have no endowments, but to subsist entirely upon alms; they contrived, however, to evade this restriction, and in Pierce the Plowman’s Crede, there is a description of a Dominican convent built with considerable splendour. I take the expression ‘Thanked be god’ in l. 1723 to be a parenthentical remark made by the Somnour who tells the story, as it is hardly consistent with the views of the friars. As to the perpetual jealousies between the friars and the possessioners, see P. Plowman, B. v. 144.
1728. It was usual (as said in note to l. 1717) to sing the thirty masses on thirty consecutive days, as Chaucer here remarks. But the friar says they are better when ‘hastily y-songe’; and it would appear that the friars used occasionally to sing all the thirty masses in one day, and so save a soul from twenty-nine days of purgatory; cf. ll. 1729, 1732. In English Gilds, ed. Toulmin Smith, p. 8, we have an example of this. The wardens are there directed to summon the Minorite Friars to say the dirge, ‘and on the morwe to seie a trent of masses atte same freres.’
In Jack Upland, § 13, we find: ‘Why make ye [freres] men beleeue that your golden trentall sung of you, to take therefore ten shillings, or at least fiue shillings, woll bring souls out of hell, or out of purgatorie?’
1730.oules. The M. E. forms oule, owel, owul, as well as A. S. awul, awel, are various spellings of E. awl, which see in the New Eng. Dict. Hence oules means awls or piercing instruments. In the Life of St. Katherine, l. 2178, the tormentors torture the saint with ‘eawles of irne,’ i.e. iron awls. In Horstmann’s South-English Legendary (E. E. T. S.), St. Blase is tormented with ‘oules kene,’ which tore his flesh as when men comb wool (p. 487, l. 84); hence he became the patron saint of wool-combers. Similar tortures were applied by fiends in the medieval descriptions of hell. See Ancren Riwle, p. 212; St. Brandan, ed. Wright, pp. 22, 48.
1734.qui cum patre. ‘This is part of the formula with which prayers and sermons are still sometimes concluded in the Church of England.’—Bell. In a sermon for Ascension Day, in Morris’s O. E. Homilies, ii. 115, we have at the end an allusion, in English, to Christ, after which follows:—‘qui cum patre et spiritu sancto uiuit et regnat per omnia secula seculorum.’ Such was the usual formula.
1740. The friars often begged in pairs; in this way, each was a check upon the other as regarded the things thus obtained. In Jack Upland, § 23, we find the friars are asked:—‘What betokeneth that ye goe tweine and tweine togither?’ Langland tells us how he met two friars; see P. Plowman, C. xi. 8.
1741.tables, writing tablets. In Horman’s Vulgaria, leaf 81, we read:—‘Tables be made of leues of yuery, boxe, cyprus, and other stouffe, daubed with waxe to wrytte on.’ And again, in the same:—‘Poyntellis of yron, and poyntyllis of syluer, bras, boon, or stoone.’ This is a survival of the use of the Roman waxed tablet and stilus.
1743. Jack Upland (§ 20) asks the friar:—‘Why writest thou hir names in thy tables that yeueth thee mony?’ The usual reason was, that the donors might be prayed for; see l. 1745. Cf. l. 1752.
1745.Ascaunces, as if, as though, as if to promise. In G. 838, q. v., it means ‘you might suppose that,’ or ‘possibly.’ In Troilus, i. 205, it means ‘as if to say’; Boccaccio’s Italian has quasi dicesse. It also occurs in Troilus, i. 292; Lydgate, Fall of Princes, fol. 136 b (Tyrwhitt); Tale of Beryn, 1797; Palladius on Husbandry, vi. 39; Sidney’s Arcadia, ed. 1622, p. 162; and in Gascoigne’s Works, ed. Hazlitt, i. 113, where the marginal note has ‘as who should say.’ See the New Eng. Dictionary, where the etymology is said to be unknown.
I have since found that it is a hybrid compound. The first part of it is E. as, used superflously and tautologically; the latter part of it is the O. F. quanses, ‘as if,’ first given in a dictionary by Godefroy in 1889, with six examples, and three other spellings, viz. qanses, quainses, and queinsi. Godefroy refers us to Romania, xviii. 152, and to Foerster’s edition of Cliges, note to l. 4553. Kilian gives Mid. Du. ‘quantsuys, quasi’; borrowed from O. French, without any prefix.
1746. Nothing came amiss to the friars. They begged for ‘corn, monee, chese,’ &c.; see Wyclif’s Works, ed. Matthew, p. 304. And in Skelton’s Colin Clout, l. 842, we read of the friars:—
1747.Goddes here translated the French expression de Dieu, meaning ‘sent from God.’ Tyrwhitt says that the true meaning of de Dieu ‘is explained by M. de la Monnoye in a note upon the Contes de D. B. Periers, t. ii. p. 107. Belle serrure de Dieu: Expression du petit peuple, qui raporte pieusement tout à Dieu. Rien n’est plus commun dans la bouche des bonnes vieilles, que ces espèces d’Hébraïsmes: Il m’en conte un bel écu de Dieu; Il ne me reste que ce pauvre enfant de Dieu. Donnez-moi une bénite aumône de Dieu. See goddes halfpeny in l. 1749. (The explanation by Speght, and in Cowel’s Interpreter, s. v. kichell, seems to be, as Tyrwhitt says, an invention.)
kechil, a little cake. The form kechell occurs in the Ormulum, l. 8662; answering to the early A. S. coecil, occurring as a gloss to tortum in the Epinal Glossary, 993; different from A. S. cīcel (for cȳcel), given as cicel in Bosworth’s Dictionary. The cognate M. H. G. word is küechelīn (Schade), O. H. G. chuochelīn, double dimin. from O. H. G. kuocho (G. Kuchen), a cake; see Kuchen in Kluge. The E. cake is a related word, but with a difference in vowel-gradation.
trip, ‘a morsel.’ ‘Les tripes d’un fagot, the smallest sticks in a faggot’; Cotgrave.
1749.masse-peny, a penny for saying a mass. Jack Upland, § 19, says:—‘Freer, whan thou receiuest a peny for to say a masse, whether sellest thou Gods body for that peny, or thy prayer, or els thy travell?’
1751. ‘dagon, a slip, or piece. It is found in Chaucer, Berners, and Steevens’ Supp. to Dugdale, ii. ap. 370, applied in each instance to a blanket’; Halliwell. Cf. M. E. dagge, a strip of cloth.
1755.hostes man, servant to the guests at the convent. Hoste seems here to mean ‘guest,’ which is one of the meanings of O. F. hoste (see Cotgrave). This sense is rare in M. E., but it occurs in the Romance of Merlin, ed. Wheatley, iii. 684, last line but one. Because he ‘bare the bag,’ this attendant on the friars was nicknamed Iscariot; cf. John, xii. 6. ‘Thei leden with hem a Scarioth, stolen fro is eldris by thefte, to robbe pore men bi beggynge’; Wyclif’s Works, ed. Matthew, p. 49.
1768.the gode man, the goodman, or master of the house. MS. Hl. has housbond-man, and MSS. Cp. Ln. bonde man; all with the same sense. place, house; cf. note to B. 1910; p. 184.
1770.Deus hic, God be here; ‘the ordinary formula of benediction on entering a house’; Wright.
1775. A fine realistic touch; the friar made himself quite at home.
1778.go walked, gone on a walk. For go walked, as in all the seven MSS., Tyrwhitt substitutes y-walked, suppressing this characteristic idiom. See note to C. 406; p. 272.
1792.glose, gloss, interpretation, as distinguished from the text.
1794. Cf. 2 Cor. iii. 6. In the margin of E., ‘Litera occidit, &c.’
1804. Kissing was an ordinary form of salutation.
1810. It was usual, I believe, to use a form of deprecation of this sort in reply to praise. The sense is—‘but I am aware that I have defects, and may God amend them.’
1816.curats, parish clergy; cf. note to l. 1722.
1820. Cf. ‘thou shalt catch men’; Luke, v. 10; ‘fishers of men,’ Matt. iv. 19; Rom. Rose, (E. version), 7492.
1824. ‘For (the sake of the) holy Trinity.’ Seint-e is feminine.
1825.pissemyre, ant. Cf. ‘as angry as a wasp,’ in Heywood’s Proverbs.
1832.Ie vous dy, I tell you. A common phrase; see King Alisaunder, ed. Weber, l. 79; Rom. of the Rose, 7408 (in vol. i. p. 254).
1834.ire (Lat. ira) is one of the seven deadly sins; hence the friar’s sermon against it, in ll. 2005–2088.
1842. ‘But I hope no animal is ever killed on my account.’ A strong hint that he always expected some special provision to be made for him.
1845. Cf. John, iv. 34; Job, xxiii. 12.
1853.toun, village; or, precincts of this farm-house.
1857. Visions of saints being carried to heaven are not uncommon. Bede relates one, of Saint Earcongota; Eccl. Hist. bk. iii. c. 8.
1859.fermerer, the friar who had charge of the infirmary. Put for enfermerer, from O. Fr. enfermerier (Godefroy). So also fermorie, an infirmary, in P. Pl. B. xiii. 108.
1862.maken hir Iubilee, keep their jubilee; i. e. having served fifty years in the convent, they have obtained certain privileges, one of which was to go about alone; see note to l. 1740. Tyrwhitt refers us to Ducange, s. v. Sempectæ.
1864.trikling, so E. Hn.; Cm. trynkelynge (probably by error); rest trilling. Cf. B. 1864.
1866. ‘Nothing but a thanksgiving would have been appropriate for a child dying in infancy, of whose translation to paradise the friar pretends that he had seen a vision’; Bell.
1872.burel (Pt. Hl. borel) folk, lay folk, the laity. ‘The term seems to have arisen from the material of their clothing, which was not used by the clergy’; Wright. Cf. borel, in D. 356; borel men, i. e. laymen, in B. 3145; and borel clerkes, lay clerks, learned laymen, in P. Plowman, B. x. 286.
1877. See Luke, xvi. 19, 20.
1880. In the margin of E., ‘Melius est animam saginare quam corpus.’ Jean de Meun, in his Testament, 346, says of misers: ‘Amegrient leurs ames, plus que leurs cors n’engressent.’
1881. See 1 Tim. vi. 8.
1885. See Exod. xxxiv. 28.
1890. See 1 Kings, xix. 8.
1894. See Levit. x. 9.
1906.mendinants, mendicant friars. Tyrwhitt has mendiants, but, in his notes, admits that mendinants is the right reading, as he found the word to be ‘constantly so spelled in the Stat. 12 Rich. II. capp. 7, 8, 9, 10.’ The same spelling occurs repeatedly in P. Plowman; see note to P. Pl. C. xvi. 3. See Mendiener, to beg, in Godefroy’s O. Fr. Dictionary.
1911. ‘The thridde deceyt of thise ordris is that thei passen othere in preyeris, bothe for tyme thei preyen and for multitude of hem’; Wyclif’s Works, ed. Matthew, p. 317.
1915–7. See note to C. 505; p. 278.
1923. See Matt. v. 3. by freres, (1922), concerning friars. Certainly, there is no ‘text’ to this effect; but the friar trusted to find it in a maner glose, in some kind of comment on the text.
1926. An allusion to possessioners; see note to l. 1722.
1929.Iovinian. I think this is the same Jovinian as is mentioned in D. 675; for Chaucer frequently quotes the treatise by Jerome against this heretic. Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 30, refers in a footnote to ‘Jovinian, the enemy of fasts and of celibacy, who was persecuted and insulted by the furious Jerome.’ The other Jovinian was a fabulous Roman emperor, who was awhile deposed, like Nebuchadnezzar, for his pride and luxury, as related in the Gesta Romanorum, cap. 59 (or chapter 23 in the English version).
walkinge as a swan, i. e. with slow and stately gait. Jerome (Contra Iovin. i. 40) calls Jovinian ‘iste formosus monachus, crassus, nitidus, et quasi sponsus semper incedens.’
1931. ‘All as full of wine as a bottle in the buttery.’
1932. For gret, ed. 1550 has lytle; but, as Tyrwhitt remarks, the expression is ironical.
1933.Davit is put for David, for the rime. MSS. E. Hn. Ln. have Dauit; Cm. dauith; Cp. Hl. dauid; Pt. davyd.
1934.Lo but is the reading of MS. E. But the right reading is probably buf, not but. The readings are; E. but; Hn. Cm. Ln. buf; Cp. buff; Pt. boþ (wrongly); Hl. boef; ed. 1550, bouffe. This gives the line in the following form:—
Lo, ‘buf!’ they seye, ‘cor meum eructavit!’
Here the interjectional ‘buf!’ is probably intended to represent the sound of eructation. We find baw! as an interjection of strong contempt in P. Plowman, C. xiii. 74, xxii. 398.
Ps. xlv (xliv in the Vulgate) begins, in Latin, with the words Cor meum eructauit uerbum bonum; and the Somnour here takes eructauit in the most literal sense.
1935.fore, path, course; such is certainly the right reading, as in D. 110, on which see the note.
1937. See James, i. 22.
1938.at a sours, at a soaring, in her rise, in her upward swoop. The same word as source of a river; from F. source, O. F. sorse, the fem. pp. of the verb which arose from Lat. surgere. Most likely, this is the origin of the later souse, v., in the sense ‘to swoop downward’; see Pope, Epilogue to Satires, Dial. ii. 15; Sh. K. John, v. 2. 150; Spenser, F. Q. i. 5. 8. See my note on the House of Fame, l. 544. In the Book of St. Alban’s, fol. d1, back, we find: ‘Iff your hawke nym the fowle a-lofte, ye shall say, she toke it at the mount or at the souce’; where the r is dropped.
1939.their, for the eir, the air; see footnote.
1943.Seint Yve; see the note to B. 1417 (p. 172), with which this line entirely coincides.
1944. ‘If thou wert not our brother, thou wouldst not fare well’; see l. 1951.
1947.welden, wield, have the full use of.
1963–5. These lines are quoted by the friar as (supposed) ejaculations by Thomas.
1968. In the margin of MS. E., ‘Omnis virtus unita fortior est seipsa dispersa.’ Compare the fable in Æsop about the difficulty of breaking a bundle of sticks; and see Boeth. bk. iii. pr. 11. 37–40.
1973. See Luke, x. 7. In the margin of MS. E., ‘Dignus est operarius mercede, &c.’
1980. ‘In the life of Thomas of India.’ For this construction, see note to F. 209. St. Thomas the apostle is often so called, because he is said to have preached in India; and perhaps the tradition is true; see my note on P. Plowman, C. xxii. 165, and especially the remarks in Marco Polo, ed. Yule, ii. 292. Cf. note to E. 1230 (p. 353).
The mention of the ‘building up of churches’ refers to a well-known legend of St. Thomas, who built churches with the money given to him by King Gondoforus for the purpose of building a palace.
‘Churchene he arerde mani on, and preostes he sette there.’
Legends of Saints, ed. Horstmann, p. 381.
The story is prettily told in Mrs. Jameson’s Sacred and Legendary Art.
Cf. ‘Seyn Tomas of Ynde’; Amis and Amiloun, 758, in Weber, Met. Rom. ii. 401. So also in The Assumption of our Lady, 775; in King Horn, ed. Lumby, p. 96; Political and other Poems, ed. Furnivall, p. 112, l. 19, p. 123, l. 278, p. 139, l. 735.
How intent the friars were on building fine churches and convents for their own use, appears from Wyclif’s Works, ed. Matthew, pp. 5, 14; Pierce the Plowman’s Crede, 191; Jack Upland, § 10, and § 33; Skelton’s Colin Clout, 936; &c.
1986. ‘As will be best for thee.’ Tyrwhitt has the for thy; but thy is right. I find in the New E. Dict., s. v. Best, 8 b, a quotation from Sir E. Sandys, Europae Speculum (1637), 247: ‘I have also, to my best, avoyded that rashnesse.’ Cf. ‘for your beste,’ in B. 2427.
1989. ‘Be not as a lion in thy house, nor frantick among thy servants’; Ecclus. iv. 30. In the margin of MS. E. is the Vulgate version (Ecclus. iv. 35):—‘Noli esse sicut leo in domo tua, euertens domesticos tuos, et opprimens subiectos tibi.’
1993.hir, her; so in all the MSS. but Pt., which has yre. Tyrwhitt has wrongly taken ire as the reading, and Wright and Bell follow him, without giving any notice that MS. Hl. reads hir! But it makes all the difference; hir means ‘thy wife’; cf. ll. 1994–2004, all of which lines are robbed of their meaning by this insidious and uncalled-for alteration. Even ed. 1550 and ed. 1561 have her.
It is easily seen how the error crept in, viz. from confusion with the friar’s sermon against ire; but that does not really begin till we come to l. 2005.
As this passage has been so grossly misunderstood, I annex an outline of the sense intended. ‘Beware of thy wife; she is like the snake in the grass; remember how many men have lost their lives through their wives. But your wife is a meek one; then why strive? No serpent is so venomous as a provoked woman.’ The fact is, that this passage is imitated from Le Roman de la Rose, 16779, &c., where the author bids us beware of women, as being like Vergil’s ‘snake in the grass.’ See next note. With ll. 2001–3 cf. Rom. de la Rose, 9832–6.
1995. Cf. ‘latet anguis in herba’; Vergil, Ecl. iii. 95. See F. 512, 513. But Chaucer took this at second-hand, viz. from Le Roman de la Rose, l. 16793; and combined it with another passage from the same, 9832–6, which, in its turn, is copied from Ovid, Ars Amat. ii. 376:—‘Nec breuis ignaro uipera laesa pede Femina quam,’ &c.
2002.tret, short for tredeth, treads. Cm. has trat. Cf. hit, hideth, F. 512; rit, rideth, A. 974; &c.
2003. Cf. ‘furens quid foemina possit’; Vergil, Æn. v. 6.
2005. Here begins the sermon against ire. See the Persones Tale, I. 533. oon, &c., ‘one of the chief of the seven Deadly Sins’; all of which are described in the Persones Tale; see I. 387.
After l. 2004, MS. Hl. has two spurious lines, for which see the footnote. It is probable, however, that they are reminiscences of two genuine lines; for they occur in Le Rom. de la Rose, 16536–8. There are two more such after l. 2012, where the sense of grate is not obvious.
2007.himself, i. e. the sinner. See Pers. Tale, I. 557.
2009.homicyde; see this, in full, in the Pers. Tale, I. 564–579.
2010. ‘Ire comth of pryde’; I. 534.
2017. ‘Potestat, a chief magistrate’; Halliwell. ‘Podestà, a potestate, a mayor’; Florio. See Malory, Morte Arth. bk. v. c. 8.
2018.Senek, Seneca. The story is given in Seneca’s De Ira, i. 16, beginning:—‘Cn. Piso fuit memoria nostra, uir a multis uitiis integer, sed prauus,’ &c. It ends:—‘Constituti sunt in eodem loco perituri tres, ob unius innocentiam.’ This Piso was a governor of Syria under Tiberius. Precisely the same story is told, of the emperor Heraclius, in the Gesta Romanorum, cap. cxl. Warton gravely describes it in the words—‘The emperor Eraclius reconciles (!) two knights.’
2030–1. Wright says these two lines are not in Tyrwhitt, but he is mistaken. His note was meant to refer to the spurious lines (in MS. Hl.) after l. 2037; the former of which is repeated from l. 2030.
2043. ‘This story is also in Seneca, De Ira, lib. iii. c. 14. It differs a little from one in Herodotus, lib. iii.’ [capp. 34, 35].—Tyrwhitt. Seneca’s story begins:—‘Cambysen regem nimis deditum uino Praexaspes unus ex carissimis monebat.’
2048. Here MS. Hl. inserts two more spurious lines, for the fourth time; see the footnote.
2061. MSS. E. Hn. Cp. Ln. Dd. all insert ful, which is necessary to the rhythm. MSS. Pt. Hl. omit it, and actually read dronk-e (!), with an impossible final e. Tyrwhitt has dranke, omitting ful, and even Wright, Bell, and Morris have dronk-e, with the same omission. Owing to the carelessness of scribes, who often added an idle final e, such forms as dranke, dronke are not very astonishing. But it would be very curious to know how these editors scanned this line.
2075.Placebo. ‘The allusion is to an anthem in the Romish church, from Ps. cxvi. 9, which in the Vulgate [Ps. cxiv. 9] stands thus: Placebo Domino in regione uiuorum. Hence the complacent brother in the Marchant’s Tale is called Placebo.’—Tyrwhitt. Being used in the office for the dead, this anthem was familiar to every one; and ‘to sing Placebo’ came to mean ‘to be complaisant’; as in Bacon, Essay 20. See Pers. Tale, I. 617; and see my notes to P. Plowman, C. iv. 467 (B. iii. 307), B. xv. 122.
2079. This story is also from Seneca, De Ira, lib. iii. c. 21. Cf. Herodotus, i. 189, 202; v. 52. In these authorities, the river is called the Gyndes; and in Alfred’s translation of Orosius, bk. ii. c. 4, it is the Gandes. ‘Sir John Maundeville (Travels, cap. 5) tells this story of the Euphrates.’—Wright.
2085.he, i. e. Solomon; see Prov. xxii. 24, 25.
2090.as Iust as is a squire, as exact (i. e. upright) as a square. He means that he will deal out exact justice, and not condone the sick man’s anger without appointing him a penance for it. A squire is a measuring-square, or T-square, as explained in my Dictionary; it is used for measuring right angles with exactitude. For the use of the word, see Shak. L. L. L. v. 2. 474; Spenser, F. Q. ii. 1. 58; Minshew’s Dict.; Romaunt of the Rose, 7064; Floris and Blancheflur, ed. Lumby, 325. Cotgrave gives: ‘A l’esquierre, justly, directly, evenly, straightly; by line and levell, to a haire.’ Godefroy, s. v. esquarre, refers us to the O. F. translation of 1 Kings, v. 17; ‘e que tuz fussent taillie a esquire.’ Lydgate has: ‘By compas cast, and squared out by squyers’; Siege of Troye, ed. 1555, fol. F 5, back, col. 1.
2095. ‘Thei [the friars] cryen faste that thei haf more power in confessioun then other curatis; for thei may schryve alle that comen to hem, bot curatis may no ferther then her owne parischens’; Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 374. Cf. Rom. Rose, 6390–8 (vol. i. 238).
2098. So in I. 1008: ‘but-if it lyke to thee of thyn humilitee.’
2105. ‘The pavements were made of encaustic tiles, and therefore must have been rather expensive.’—Wright. See my note to Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, l. 194; and Our English Home, p. 20.
2107. ‘For the sake of Him who harried hell’; see note to A. 3512; p. 107.
2116.Elie, Elias, Elijah. Elisee, Eliseus, Elisha. There was great strife among the four orders of friars as to the priority of their order. The Carmelites, who took their name from mount Carmel (see 1 Kings, xviii. 19, 20), actually pretended that their order was founded by the prophet Elijah when he retired to mount Carmel to escape the wrath of Ahab; and by this unsurpassable fiction secured to themselves the credit of priority to the rest. It is therefore clear that the friar of Chaucer’s story was a Carmelite, as no other friar would have alluded to this story. See Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 353; Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, 382.
2119.for seinte charitee; a common expression. It occurs in the Tale of Gamelin, 513; with which Chaucer was familiar. Cf. B. 4510.
2126.your brother. This alludes to the letters of fraternity, which friars were accustomed to grant, under the conventual seal, to such laymen as had given them benefactions or were likely to leave them money in their wills. The benefactors received in return a brotherly participation in such spiritual benefits as the friars could confer. Thus, in Jack Upland, §§ 28, 29, we find:—‘Why be ye [friars] so hardie to grant, by letters of fraternitie, to men and women, that they shall have part and merite of all your good deeds, and ye weten neuer whether God be apayed with your deeds because of your sin? . . . What betokeneth that yee haue ordeined that, whan such one as ye haue made your brother or sister, and hath a letter of your seale, that letter mought be brought in your holy chapter, and there be rad, or els yee will not pray for him?’ See Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 377, 420; ed. Matthew, p. 4. Such lay brethren were usually dressed for burial in a friar’s habit; see Milton, P. L. iii. 479; Rock, Church of our Fathers, i. 487. A benefactor could even thus belong to all the orders of friars at once; cf. P. Plowman, C. x. 343 (B. vii. 192). This gives point to the question in l. 1955 above.
2156.His meynee, i. e. the menials of the sick man.
2159. His companion was in the nearest inn; see l. 1779.
2162.court, the house of the lord of the manor. ‘The larger country-houses consisted generally of an enclosed court, from which circumstance this name was usually given to the manorial residence, and it has been preserved to modern times, as a common term for gentlemen’s seats.’—Wright. Cf. P. Plowman, C. xxiii. 344. It was also called a place; see note to B. 1910; p. 184.
2164. ‘Of ech sich privat seete, by licence of the pope, ben maad, some chapeleyns of houshold, summe chapeleyns of honour,’ &c.; Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 511. ‘Frere, what charity is this, to be confessors of lords and ladies,’ &c.; Jack Upland, § 37. And see Wyclif’s Works, ed. Matthew, p. 333; P. Plowman, B. v. 136–142, xx. 341–345.
2185.maister. The hypocrite here declines to be called ‘master,’ though he had allowed the good wife to call him so twice without reproof; see ll. 1800, 1836; and cf. l. 1781. At the same time, he declares that he had gained the title of Master in the schools. As he was the prior or principal of his convent (see ll. 2260, 2265, 2276) he may have been ‘capped,’ or have received the degree of Master of Divinity. ‘Also capped freris, that ben calde maystres of dyvynite, have her chaumber and servise as lordis or kynges. . . . And what cursidenesse in this . . . to gete hym a cappe of maysterdome, by preyer of lordis and grete giftis,’ &c.; Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 376. An LL.D. of Edinburgh is ‘capped,’ or has a doctor’s cap momentarily laid upon his head, when he receives his degree; as I know by experience.
See also Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, ll. 498, 574.
2187. See Matt. xxiii. 7, 8.
2196. See Matt. v. 13.
2205. ‘How does it seem to me?’ Read think’th.
2209. ‘I consider him to be in a kind of frenzy’; cf. 2240, 2292.
2219.Shewe here means ‘to propose’ or ‘propound.’
2235. See Chaucer’s own explanation of the method of propagation of a sound, in the Hous of Fame, 782–821. He seems to have taken it from Boethius, De Musica, i. 14; see vol. iii. p. 260.
2238.my cherl, i. e. my serf; as being his dependant. It probably implies vassalage.
2244. Cf. A. 100. Although the squire was not above winning ‘a new gown,’ he was probably a young man of (future) equal rank with the lord of the manor. In fact, his scornful boldness proves it.
2247.goune-cloth. ‘In the middle ages, the most common rewards, and even those given by the feudal landholders to their dependants and retainers, were articles of apparel, especially the gown or outward robe. . . . Money was comparatively very scarce in the middle ages; and as the household retainers were lodged and fed, clothing was almost the only article they wanted.’—Wright.
2259. ‘The regular number of monks or friars in a convent had been fixed at twelve, with [i. e. besides] their superior; in imitation, it is said, of the number of twelve apostles and their divine master. The larger religious houses were considered as consisting of a certain number of convents. Thus Thorn, speaking of the abbot of St. Augustine’s at Canterbury, says:—Anno Domini m.c.xlvi, iste Hugo reparavit antiquum numerum monachorum istius monasterii, et erant lx. monachi professi praeter abbatem, hoc est, quinque conuentus in universo.—Decem Scriptores, col. 1807.’—Wright. That is, this house consisted of sixty-one members, the abbot and five convents of twelve each. The smaller (single) convents were also called cells, and the principal, the prior; see A. 172, and note that, in A. 167, the Monk is said, not to be an abbot, but to be fit to be an abbot. The expression ‘his covent,’ in l. 2261, shews that the friar confessor was the prior or head of his cell.
2279. ‘Yif a frere be a maister, or a riche frere in-mong hise bretheren, he shal be loutid and worshipid more then Cristis lawe techith,’ &c.; Wyclif’s Works, ed. Matthew, p. 306.
2281. This implies that the squire, with the rest, had heard the friar preach in church that morning, and had been greatly bored by the sermon.
2289. I supply the word as, which is plainly wanted. MS. Hl. supplies elles, but I believe as to be right. The way in which the second as came to be dropped in this line, is very curious. It arose from misunderstanding the spelling of Ptolemy.
The occurrence of an unpronounceable P at the beginning of Ptolomee made the scribes think something must be omitted. Hence several of them introduced a stroke through the p, which stood as an abbreviation for ‘ro,’ and this turned it into Protholomee, which looked right, but made the second as superfluous. Thus MSS. Cp. Hl. both have ‘protholome,’ with the mark of abbreviation; in MSS. E. Hn. Dd. it is expanded into ‘Protholomee’ at length. We again find the scribes in the same difficulty in D. 324. A still stranger spelling is plotolomee, for which see vol. iii. p. 359, l. 18. Cf. the note on Ptolemy in the same volume, at p. 354.
NOTES TO GROUP E.