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The Miller’s Tale was not considered worthy of a critical reception until well into this century. Chaucer’s contemporaries admired him first as a skilful writer of English; as a translator (of French poetry); and as a philosophical poet of love. In the Renaissance his eloquence and learning were again praised, and also his morality. John Dryden, the first true critic to write on Chaucer at any length (in his Perface to the Fables, published in 1700), admired the poet’s ‘wonderful comprehensiveness of nature’. Of the Canterbury Tales he said famously, ‘here is God’s plenty’, and in the Fables he put some of the Tales into modern English; but he omitted the fabliaux as indecent, though he admitted they would amuse many readers. It was at the end of the seventeenth century that the popular image of Chaucer as a ‘merry’, rather rude, poet began to gain currency. In his youthful Imitations of the Poets Alexander Pope chose pseudo-Chaucerian couplets as the proper vehicle for a bawdy little story. And it was at this time that the Tales came to replace Troilus and Criseyde as Chaucer’s most popular work.
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