Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Chaucer, Geoffrey, was born in the year 1340, probably at London, but, his birthplace is not authenticated. Nor is anything known of his parentage. One Richard Chaucer, a vintner, has been supposed by some to have been father of the poet, but this is mere conjecture. The first accurate information that we have regarding Chaucer is the fact that he was from 1356 to 1359 a page to Elizabeth, wife of Prince Lionel, third son of Edward III. We know, from his own words, that he served as a soldier in his youth, and it is likely that he was with the English army in France in the autumn of 1359, when the imprisonment took place to which he himself refers. It cannot be determined whether he studied at any of the Universities, but he had been, at any rate, an acute and industrious student. He undoubtedly possessed a wide acquaintance with the general intellectual acquirements of the age in which he lived; he knew the classics, divinity, astronomy, and all that was then discovered about chemistry. We get the next definite light on Chaucer's career from an entry in the Issue Rolls of 1367, where reference is almost certainly made to him as one of the "valets of the king's chamber." At this time also the poet appears to have had that love affair, the result of which was the rejection of his suit, and then the composition of his first original poem, the Compleynte to Pite (pity). In 1369, on the death of Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt, the friend of Chaucer, he composed his memorial poem. The Death of Blaunche the Duchcsse. In 1370 Chaucer entered on the diplomatic engagements which seem to have been entrusted to him from time to time. During this year he was abroad in the king's service. In 1372 he formed one of a commission, with some citizens of Genoa, to arrange as to an English port which might be used for Genoese commercial purposes. He remained in Italy about a year, during which time he also visited Florence. It is possible, though not certain, that he now met Petrarch. Shortly after his return to England he received the distinction from the king of a daily grant of a pitcher of wine, changed in 1378 to a yearly payment of 20 marks. In the same year he was appointed controller of the customs and subsidy of wools, skins, and leather, in the port of London; and he was further enriched now by the receipt of a pension from the Duke of Lancaster. His Italian journey, and the consequent study of Italian literature, had a marked influence on the poet's work. His Troylus and Creseide, among others, indicates this. In 1377 Chaucer accompanied Sir Thomas Percy on a secret mission to Flanders, and it is supposed that he was also somewhat later in the year one of those sent to treat in regard to peace with Charles V. of France. On the accession of Richard II. in 1378 he was again appointed one of the royal esquires. He may have made two official journeys in the course of this year - one to France to discuss the marriage of Richard with the French king's daughter; the other to Lombardy, on a matter relating to the peace of England. Not only did Chaucer as formerly accomplish his missions successfully, but a marriage-poem, which he composed in honour of the young queen, enhanced his esteem at Court. In 1382 he was re-appointed to his former office as controller, but this time by deputy. In 1386 he was elected member of Parliament for Westminster. Chaucer's prosperity was now at its height. From this period dates the composition of his Canterbury Tales. Now, also, he wrote his Lwgende of Good Women. This season of good fortune, besides being productive of some of his best work in verse, also introduced him to several congenial friendships. There were now associated with him on intimate terms Gower, Lydgate, Occleve, and other men of note. A change in the lot of the poet, however, soon took place. Just when the ripest and best of his poetical work was being produced in the Canterbury Tales, he was met by business reverses. In place of his friend, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, had become the favourite of the young king; reforms and alterations took place under his management, and among these was the entire loss to Chaucer of his controllerships. There can be no doubt that the disaster arose not through his own fault, but from the fact that, he was an adherent of the Lancaster party. Following this loss came others. His pensions had had to be mortgaged, and were finally paid over to creditors. It is characteristic of the robust nature of the man that he still kept a good front to his difficulties, and it may well be that his noble Balade of Truth (" Flee fro' the press") was written at this time. His misfortunes were crowned by the death of his wife in 1387. A change for the better in Chaucer's affairs came in 1389. by the restoration of the Lancaster party to office. The poet was appointed clerk of the king's works at Westminster, at a salary equal to about £1 a-day of our money, This income, if it did not last long, was for the time helpful. In 1391 he wrote his treatise on the Astrolabe; most likely his Stedfastness and other shorter pieces were composed between this date and the year 1399. In 1394 Chaucer received a pension from the king of £20 a-year for life, but he does not appear to have been in very comfortable circumstances about this date. Four years later a still further mark of the king's goodwill was shown towards him by the grant of letters of protection against arrest. A distinct revival in the poet's prosperity ensued with the accession of the young king, Henry IV., son of the Duke of Lancaster: His pension was doubled, and he had a humorous fling of his poverty in his address To his Purse. Towards the close of 1399 Chaucer went to occupy a house he had leased in the garden of the Chapel of St. Mary, Westminster. There he died after a brief stay, October 25, 1400.

From the year 1868, when the Chaucer Society was founded, much has been done both in England and Germany to throw light on the life and work of the poet. In regard to his biography, not a little fresh knowledge has been obtained by researches in the Patent and Issue Rolls, while the scholarly investigations of Skeat, Morris, Furnivall, and others in Great Britain, and of Professor Ten Brinck in Germany, have virtually settled the authenticity of his poems and the purity of the text. Several pieces formerly attributed to Chaucer have thus been shown not to belong to him - The Court of Love, The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, The Flower and the Leaf, and, in all probability, the present version of the Romance of the Rose. Chaucer has been the subject of numerous essays. There can be little doubt of his place in English literature among the first four of our greatest poets. As a narrative writer in verse he is unequalled. No more than is essential to a story is given; no touch or episode is omitted that can stir the reader's attention to the close. Vivacity, picturesqueness, humour, he has them all in a remarkable degree. His first great distinction is his rare capability of interpreting a theme of romance. Among subordinate characteristics may be named as most striking his keen appreciation of outward nature. To read some of Chaucer's descriptions of this kind is to feel something of the charm and freshness of nature itself. Taken along with his delight in books, his world-wide charity, his supreme gift of lucid and musical expression, these qualities enable us, at least, to understand, if not to assent, to, the opinion of one of his ablest students when he calls him the "true father and founder of what is Characteristically English literature."