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The Canon’s Yeoman’s 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 Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue.
554.the lyf of seint Cecyle, i. e. the Second Nun’s Tale. This notice is important, because it inseparably links the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale to the preceding one.
555.fyve myle, five miles. Tyrwhitt says that it is five miles ‘from some place, which we are now unable to determine with certainty.’ He adds that he is in doubt whether the pilgrims are here supposed to be riding from or towards Canterbury; but afterwards thinks that ‘the manner in which the Yeman expresses himself in ver. 16091, 2 [i. e. ll. 623, 624] seems to shew that he was riding to Canterbury.’
It is really very easy to explain the matter, and to tell all about it. It is perfectly clear that these two lines express the fact that they were riding to Canterbury. It is even probable that every one of the extant Tales refers to the outward journey: for Chaucer would naturally write his first set of Tales before beginning a second, and the extant Tales are insufficient to make even the first set complete. Consequently, we have only to reckon backwards from Boughton (see l. 556) for a five-mile distance along the old Canterbury road, and we shall find the name of the place intended.
The answer to this is—Ospringe. The matter is settled by the discovery that Ospringe was, as a matter of fact, one of the halting places for the night of travellers from London to Canterbury. Dean Stanley, in his Historical Memorials of Canterbury, p. 237, quotes from a paper in the Archæologia, xxxv. 461, by Mr. E. A. Bond, to shew that queen Isabella, wife of Edw. II., rested in London on June 6, 1358; at Dartford on the 7th; at Rochester on the 8th; at Ospringe on the 9th; and at Canterbury on the 10th and 11th; and returned, on the 12th, to Ospringe again. See this, more at length, in Dr. Furnivall’s Temporary Preface to the Canterbury Tales (Chaucer Soc.), pp. 13, 14.
Dr. Furnivall quotes again from M. Douet-d’Arcq, concerning a journey made by king John of France from London to Dover, by way of Canterbury, in 1360. On June 30, 1360, king John left London and came to Eltham. On July 1, he slept at Dartford; on July 2, at Rochester; on July 3, he dined at Sittingbourne (noted as being thirty-nine miles and three-quarters from London), and slept at Ospringe; and on July 4, came to Canterbury (noted as being fifty-four miles and a half from London).
These extracts clearly shew (1) that the whole journey was usually made to occupy three or four days; (2) that the usual resting-places were (at least) Dartford, Rochester, and Ospringe; and (3) that Sittingbourne was considered as being about fifteen miles from Canterbury.
Now, in passing from Sittingbourne to Canterbury, we find that the distance is divided into three very nearly equal parts by the situations of Ospringe and Boughton, giving five miles for each portion. The distance from Ospringe to Canterbury, only ten miles, left very little to be done on the last day; but pilgrims liked arriving at Canterbury in good time. Chaucer says, as plainly as possible, that the pilgrims really did rest all night on the road, at a place which can only be Ospringe; see ll. 588, 589.
Mr. Furnivall also notes (Temp. Pref. p. 29), that Lydgate, in his Storie of Thebes (in Speght’s Chaucer, 1602, fol. 353 back, col. 2) makes the pilgrims, on their homeward-journey, return from Canterbury to Ospringe to dinner.
556.Boghton-under-Blee. Here Blee is the same as the blee in Group H, l. 3, which see. It is now called Blean Forest, and the village is called Boughton-under-Blean, in order to distinguish it from other villages of the same name. I find, in a map, Boughton Aluph between Canterbury and Ashford, Boughton Malherb between Ashford and Maidstone, and Boughton Monchelsea between Maidstone and Staplehurst.
557.A man, i.e. the Canon. This is an additional pilgrim, not described in the Prologue, and therefore described here in ll. 566–581, 600–655, &c.
‘The name of Canon, as applied to an officer in the Church, is derived from the Gk. κανών (kanôn) signifying a rule or measure, and also the roll or catalogue of the Church, in which the names of the Ecclesiastics were registered; hence the clergy so registered were denominated Canonici or Canons. Before the Reformation, they were divided into two classes, Regular and Secular. The Secular were so called, because they canonized in saeculo, abroad in the world. Regular Canons were such as lived under a rule, that is, a code of laws published by the founder of that order. They were a less strict sort of religious than the monks, but lived together under one roof, had a common dormitory and refectory, and were obliged to observe the statutes of their order. The chief rule for these [regular] canons is that of St. Augustine, who was made bishop of Hippo in the year 395. . . . Their habit was a long black cassock with a white rochet over it, and over that a black coat and hood; from whence they were called Black Canons Regular of St. Augustine.’—Hook’s Church Dictionary. And see Canon in the New E. Dictionary.
There were several other orders, such as the Gilbertine Canons of Sempringham in Lincolnshire, the Praemonstratenses or White Canons, &c. See also the description of them in Cutts’s Scenes and Characters of the Middle Ages, p. 19; and see Rock, Church of our Fathers, ii. 79, 84. At the latter reference, Dr. Rock says:—‘Some families of canons regular still require their members, whenever they go out of the house, to wear over their cassock a linen surplice, and above that a large, full, black canon’s cope.’
I should imagine, from the description of the Canon’s house in l. 657, and from the general tenor of the Tale, that Chaucer’s Canon was but a secular one. Still, their rule seems to have been less strict than that of the monks.
558. I have omitted to note that E. has wered a, where all the other MSS. read hadde a whyt.
561.priked myles three, ridden hard for three miles. The Canon and his yeoman may be supposed to have ridden rather fast for the first two miles; and then, finding they could not otherwise overtake the pilgrims, they took to the best pace they could force out of their horses for three miles more.
562.yeman, yeoman, attendant, servant. His face was all discoloured with blowing his master’s fire (ll. 664–667), and he seems to have been the more honest man of the two. He is the teller of the Tale, and begins by describing himself; l. 720.
565. ‘He was all spotted with foam, so that he looked like a magpie.’ The word He (like his in l. 566) refers to the Canon, whose clothing was black (l. 557); and the white spots of foam upon it gave him this appearance. The horse is denoted by it (l. 563), the word hors being neuter in the Oldest English. Most MSS. read he for it in l. 563, but there is nothing gained by it. Flecked, in the sense of ‘spotted,’ is still in use; see N. and Q. 7 S. i. 507, ii. 96.
566.male tweyfold, a double budget or leathern bag; see Prol. l. 694.
571. Chaucer tells us that the Pardoner’s hood, on the contrary, was not fastened to his cloak; see Prol. 680. Dr. Rock, in The Church of our Fathers, ii. 44, says:—‘Sometimes the hood of the cope was not only sewed to it, but stitched all round, and not allowed to hang with the lower part free; in such instances, the hood was necessarily left on the cope and folded with it.’
575. ‘Rather faster than at a trot or a foot-pace.’ Said ironically. Cf. Prol. 825.
577.clote-leef, the leaf of a burdock. Cotgrave has—‘Lampourde, f. the Cloot or great Burre.’ Also—‘Glouteron, m. The Clote, Burre Docke, or great Burre.’ And again—‘Bardane, f. the Clote, burre-dock, or great Burre.’
In the Prompt. Parv. we find—‘Clote, herbe; Lappa bardana, lappa rotunda.’ In Wyclif’s Version of the Bible, Hosea ix. 6, x. 8, we find clote or cloote where the Vulgate version has lappa. The Glossary to Cockayne’s ‘Leechdoms’ explains A.S. clāte as Arctium lappa, with numerous references. The A. S. clāte is related to G. Klette, a bur, a burdock; O. H. G. chletta; Mid. Du. kladde.
It is clear that clote originally meant the bur itself, just as the name of bur-dock has reference to the same. The clote is, accordingly, the Arctium lappa, or Common Burdock, obtaining its name from the clotes (i.e. burs or knobs) upon it; and one of the large leaves of this plant would be very suitable for the purpose indicated.
We may safely dismiss the suggestion in Halliwell’s Dictionary, founded on a passage in Gerarde’s Herball, p. 674 D, that the Clote here means the yellow water-lily. We know from Cockayne’s ‘Leechdoms’ that the name clāte sēo þe swimman wille (i.e. swimming clote) was sometimes used for that flower (Nuphar lutea), either on account of its large round leaves or its globose flowers; but in the present passage we have only to remember the Canon’s haste to feel assured, that he might much more easily have caught up a burdock-leaf from the road-side than have searched in a ditch for a water-lily.
578.For sweet, to prevent sweat, to keep off the heat. See note to Sir Thopas, B. 2052.
580. It is probable that stillatorie (now shortened to still) is really a shortened form of distillatorie. Both forms occur in the Book of Quintessence, p. 10, l. 24, p. 13, l. 10.
581.Were ful, that might be full, that might chance to be full. Were is the subjunctive, and the relative is omitted.
588.now, &c.; lately, in the time of early morning.
589. This shews that the pilgrims had rested all night on the road; see note to l. 555 above.
597.oght, in any way, at all. Cf. Kn. Ta., A. 3045; and Prioresses Tale, B. 1792.
599.ye, yea. There is a difference between ye, yea, and yis, yes. The former merely assents, or answers a simple question in the affirmative. The latter is much more forcible, is used when the question involves a negative, and is often followed by an oath. See note to Specimens of Eng. 1394–1579, ed. Skeat, sect. xvii. (D), l. 22; and note to ȝis in the Glossary to my edition of William of Palerne. See an example of ȝus (yes) after a negative in Piers the Plowman, B. v. 125. Similarly, nay is the weaker, no the stronger form of negation.
602. A note in Bell’s edition makes a difficulty of the scansion of this line. It is perfectly easy. The caesura (carefully marked in MS. E. as occurring after knewe) preserves the final e in knewe from elision.
And yé | him knéw | e, ás | wel ás | do I ∥
Tyrwhitt reads also for the former as; which is legitimate, because as and also are merely different spellings of the same word.
It is true that the final e in wondre, and again that in werke, are both elided, under similar circumstances, in the two lines next following; but the cases are not quite identical. The e in knewe, representing not merely the plural, but also the subjunctive mood, is essential to the conditional form of the sentence, and is of much higher value than the others. If this argument be not allowed, Tyrwhitt’s suggestion may be adopted. Or we may read knewen.
608.rit, contracted from rideth; see A. 974, 981. See also slit for slideth in l. 682 below.
611.leye in balaunce, place in the balance, weigh against it.
620.can, knows, knows how to exercise.
622. The Yeoman puts in a word for himself—‘and moreover, I am of some assistance to him.’
625.up-so-doun, i.e. upside doun, according to our modern phrase. Chaucer’s phrase is very common; see Pricke of Conscience, ed. Morris, l. 7230; P. Plowman, B. xx. 53; Gower, Conf. Amantis, i. 218, &c.
628.benedicite, pronounced ben’cite, in three syllables, as in B. 1170, 1974. See note to B. 1170.
632.worship, dignity, honour; here, respectable appearance.
633.oversloppe, upper garment. So in Icelandic, yfirsloppr means an outer gown; as, ‘prestar skrýddir yfirsloppum,’ i.e. priests clad in over-slops, Historia Ecclesiastica, i. 473. The word slop is preserved in the somewhat vulgar ‘slop-shop,’ i.e. shop for second-hand clothes.
635.baudy, dirty. to-tore, torn in half. So in Piers Plowman, B. v. 197, Avarice is described as wearing a ‘tabard’ which is ‘al to-torn and baudy.’
639. The second person sing. imperative seldom exhibits a final e; but it is sometimes found in weak verbs, tellen being one of them. The readings are—Telle, E. Cp. Pt. Hl.; Tel, Ln. Cm. Elsewhere, we find tel, as in D. 1298.
641.for, &c.; because he shall never thrive. The Yeoman blurts out the truth, and is then afraid he has said too much. In l. 644, he gives an evasive and politer reason, declaring that his lord is ‘too wise’; see l. 648.
645.That that, that which. In the margin of MS. E. is written—‘Omne quod est nimium, &c.’; which is probably short for—‘Omne quod est nimium uertitur in uitium.’ We also find—‘Omne nimium nocet.’ The corresponding English proverb is—‘Too much of one thing is not good’ (Heywood); on which Ray remarks—‘Assez y a si trop n’y a; French. Ne quid nimis; Terentius. Μηδὲν ἄγαν. This is an apothegm of one of the seven wise men; some attribute it to Thales, some to Solon. Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines; Horat. Sat. i. 1. 106. L’abbondanza delle cose ingenera fastidio; Ital. Cada dia olla, amargo el caldo; Spanish.’ We also find in Hazlitt’s English Proverbs—‘Too much cunning undoes.’—‘Too much is stark nought.’—‘Too much of a good thing.’—‘Too much spoileth, too little is nothing.’ See also the collection of similar proverbs in Ida v. Düringsfeld’s Sprichwörter, i. 37, 38.
648. Cf. Butler’s description of Hudibras:—
652.Ther-of no fors, never mind about that.
655. The adj. sly here appears in the indefinite form, and rimes with hertely; correctly. Lounsbury (Studies, i. 388) admits the fact, but immediately proceeds to rate Chaucer for using the form dry-e (dissyllabic) as an indefinite form! The attack, being founded on an error, ignominiously fails. It so happens that sly is, etymologically, a monosyllable, whilst drye is etymologically dissyllabic; see sleh and druye in Stratmann.
658. A blind lane is one that has no opening at the farther end; a cul de sac.
659.theves by kinde, thieves by natural disposition.
662.The sothe, the truth. The reader should carefully note the full pronunciation of the final e in sothe. If he should omit to sound it, he will be put to shame when he comes to the end of the next line, ending with tó thee. A very similar instance is that of tyme, riming with bý me, G. 1204 below. The case is the more remarkable because the A. S. sōð, truth, is a monosyllable; but the truth is that the definite adjective the sothe (A. S. þæt sōðe) may very well have supplied its place, the adjective being more freely used than the substantive in this instance. Chaucer has sothe at the end of a line in other places, where it rimes with the dissyllabic bothe; G. 168; Troil. iv. 1035.
We may remark that the sothe is written and pronounced instead of the sooth (as shewn by the metre) in the Story of Genesis and Exodus, ed. Morris, l. 74:—
‘He [they] witen the sothe, that is sen.’
665.Peter! by St. Peter; as in B. 1404, D. 446. The full form of the phrase—‘bi seynt Peter of Rome’—occurs in Piers the Plowman, B. vi. 3. The shorter exclamation—‘Peter!’ also occurs in the same, B. v. 544; see my note on that line. harde grace, disfavour, ill-favour; a mild imprecation. In l. 1189, it expresses a mild malediction.
669.multiplye. This was the technical term employed by alchemists to denote their supposed power of transmuting the baser metals into gold; they thought to multiply gold by turning as much base metal as a piece of it would buy into gold itself; see l. 677. Some such pun seems here intended; yet it is proper to remember that the term originally referred solely to the supposed fact, that the strength of an elixir could be multiplied by repeated operations. See the article ‘De Multiplicatione,’ in Theatrum Chemicum, iii. 301, 818; cf. 131. Cf. Ben Jonson’s Alchemist, ii. 1:—
686. To scan the line, accent yeman on the latter syllable, as in ll. 684, 701.
687. To scan the line, pronounce ever nearly as e’er, and remember that hadde is of two syllables. The MSS. agree here.
688.Catoun, Cato. Dionysius Cato is the name commonly assigned to the author of a Latin work in four books, entitled Dionysii Catonis Disticha de Moribus ad Filium. The work may be referred to the fourth century. It was extremely popular, not only in Latin, but in French and English versions. Chaucer here quotes from Lib. i. Distich. 17:—
See other quotations from Cato in the Nonne Preestes Tale, B. 4130; Merch. Ta., E. 1377; and see my note to Piers Plowman, B. vi. 316.
It is worth noticing that Catoun follows the form of the Lat. Catonem, the accusative case. Such is the usual rule.
694.dere abye, pay dearly for it. abye (lit. to buy off) was corrupted at a later date to abide, as in Shak. Jul. Caesar, iii. 1. 94.
703.game, amusement. In l. 708, it is used ironically. Cf. ernest, i.e. a serious matter, in l. 710. Cf. The Alchemist, ii. 1:—
‘Alchemy is a pretty kind of game,’ &c.