John Gower

Portret van Jogn Gower

Hieronder het artikel uit Chambers’s cyclopædia of English Literature uit 1886 over John Gower.


Letter JOHN GOWER is supposed to have been born about the year 1325. He was consequently a few years older than Chaucer, whom he survived eight years.

Gower was a member of a knightly family, an esquire of Kent, and possessed of estates in several counties. In 1368 the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Robert Gower of Multon, in Suffolk, conveyed to the poet the manor of Kentwell. In 1399 Gower had, as he himself states, become old and blind. He made his will in August 1408, and must have died shortly afterwards, as his widow administered to his effects in October of that year.

From his will it appears that the poet possessed the manors of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, and Multon in Suffolk. He also left his widow a sum of £100, and made various bequests to churches and hospitals. He was ineterred in the church of St.Mary Overies – now St.Saviour’s – in Southwark, where he had founded a chantry. His monument, containing a full-length figure of the poet, is still preserved, and was repaired in 1832 by the Duke of Sutherland, head of the ancient family of Gower, settled in Yorkshire, so early as the twelfth century.

The principal works of Gower were the Speculum Meditantis, the Vox Clamantis, and the Confessio Amantis, 1393. The first of these was in French, but it is now lost; the second is in Latin, and the third in English. This English poem was printed by Caxton in 1483, and was again printed in 1532 and 1554. It was chiefly taken from a metrical version in the Pantheon, or Universal Chronicle of Godfrey of Viterbo, as admitted by Gower. In this work is the story of Appolinus, the Prince of Tyre, from which Shakespeare took part of the story of his Pericles, if we assume that Shakespeare was the original or sole author of that drama.

The Confessio Amantis is a dialogue between a lover and his confessor – a grave discussion of the morals and metaphysics of love. Dr.Pauli, the able editor of the poem (1857), describes it as “a mixture of classical notions, principally borrowed from Ovid, and of the purely medieval idea, that, as a good Catholic, the unfortunate lover must state his distress to a father confessor.” In the poem, Venus is enjoined to “greet well” Chaucer,

As my disciple and my poete;

and the greater poet, inscribed his Troilus and Cressida to his friend as “moral Gower”, a designation which has ever since been applied to him.

The general style of Confessio Amantis is grave and sententious, and its enormous length (above thirty thousand lines) renders it tedious; but it is occasionally relieved by stories and episodes drawn from medieval history and romance, and from the collection of novels known as the Gesta Romanorum. He says:

Full oft time it falleth so
My ear with a good pittance
Is fed, with reading of romance
Of Isodyne and Amadas
That whilom were in my case;
And eke of other many a score,
That loved long ere I was bore:
For when I of their loves read,
Mine ear with the tale I feed;
And with the lust of their histoire
Sometime I draw into memoire,
How sorrow may not ever last,
And so hope cometh in at last.