Why does Henry Hudson say that "Chaucer was not in any sense a poet of the people," in relation to his indifference to contemporary events and his broad human sympathy?If possible, can you mention...

Why does Henry Hudson say that "Chaucer was not in any sense a poet of the people," in relation to his indifference to contemporary events and his broad human sympathy?

If possible, can you mention a comparison of Chaucer to Gower and Langland on this point?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You seem to be referring to a mix of quotations or paraphrases. Henry Hudson wrote "Chaucer was not in any sense a poet of the people" in An Outline History of English Literature. Moody and Lovett wrote of Chaucer (1343-1400) that "the suffering of the poor was a matter of the utmost indifference" in A History of English Literature. Robert Huntington Fletcher wrote "Chaucer is an artist of broad artistic vision" in A History of English Literature. If you have specific sources for "indifference to contemporary events" and "broad human sympathy," the Moody/Lovett and Fletcher quotations will serve to achieve the needed answer to your question.

Hudson's point about Chaucer is that he lived a charmed life at court as an agent of the nobility going on diplomatic missions and having court appointments as did other courtiers. He was by position and by personality removed from the daily strife of the common people, strife like the plague of 1300-1348. [Even though he was five-years-old at the end of the plague, the suffering and struggle and famine it caused continued for a long while afterward.]

As a consequence, Hudson asserts that Chaucer did not write about the common people or for them. Instead, he wrote for the amusement and interests of the court. He wrote about the life he saw as a man of world travel. He wrote about the political and religious concerns, like the corruption of the clergy, that he was exposed to at court. He wrote about the intellectual interests that held the attention of the privileged classes, thus his French and Italian periods before his English period.

Chaucer was not in any sense a poet of the people. He was a court poet, who wrote for cultured readers and a refined society. The great vital issues of the day never inspired his verse. He [wrote for] the favoured few, who wanted to be amused ... or moved by romantic sentiment, but who did not wish to be disturbed by painful reminders .... Thus, though he holds the mirror up to the life of his time, the dark underside of it is nowhere reflected by him. (Hudson)

The second quote or paraphrase, "indifference to contemporary events," refers to what critics historically interpret as Chaucer's lack of interest in the life struggles of the common people. It might be successfully argued, though, that this does not indicate indifference but a privileged refuge from those struggles and a description of the life and issues he does live and see (similar to Jane Austen's later approach).

The third quote or paraphrase, "his broad human sympathy," indicates that  Chaucer's exclusion of contemporary issues is no indication of his having a mean spirit or character: he is a poet of broad sympathies or "broad artistic vision." This encompassing accord with humanity and breadth of vision gives the charm universally attributed to his poetry in which we glimpse Chaucer's own personality and humor.

Briefly, according to Moody and Lovett, Gower was antithetical to Chaucer. His poetry reflects the style and interests of the Medieval period, with an emphasis on Greek and Latin, though his last work was in English, Confessio Amantis. Gower had a bitter resolve to speak out against uprisings against the aristocracy. Langland was also very different but was dedicated to expressing a deep concern for moral and religious instruction in his allegorical works, like the dream vision Piers Plowman.