Dryden identifies the essence of Chaucer’s talent as a writer. It has never been said better.
Chaucer is the “…father of English poetry….”
Chaucer lived in the “infancy” of our poetry.”
Of Chaucer’s faults: “We must be children before we grow to men.” In other words, we have to learn before we excel.
“A satirical poet is the check of the layman on bad priests.”
Chaucer “…must have been a man of a most wonderful comprehensive nature, because…he has taken into the compass of his Canterbury Tales the various manners and humours…of the whole English nation in his age. Not a single character has escaped him. All his pilgrims are severally distinguished from each other….”
“The matter and manner of their tales, and of their telling, are so suited to their different educations, humours and callings, that each would be improper in any other mouth.”
“We have our forefathers and great-grand-dames all before us as they were in Chaucer’s days; their general characters are still remaining in mankind…for mankind is ever the same….”
The Oxford Book of Essays. Ed. John Gross. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 29-33.