Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION - The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. 4 (The Canterbury Tales)
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INTRODUCTION - Geoffrey Chaucer, The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. 4 (The Canterbury Tales) 
The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited from numerous manuscripts by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat (2nd ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899). 7 vols. Vol. 4.
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The Present Text.
The text of the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ as printed in the present volume, is an entirely new one, owing nothing to the numerous printed editions which have preceded it. The only exceptions to this statement are to be found in the case of such portions as have been formerly edited, for the Clarendon Press, by Dr. Morris and myself. The reasons for the necessity of a formation of an absolutely new text will appear on a perusal of the text itself, as compared with any of its predecessors.
On the other hand, it owes everything to the labours of Dr. Furnivall for the Chaucer Society, but for which no satisfactory results could have been obtained, except at the cost of more time and toil than I could well devote to the subject. In other words, my work is entirely founded upon the splendid ‘Six-text’ Edition published by that Society, supplemented by the very valuable reprint of the celebrated ‘Harleian’ manuscript in the same series. These Seven Texts are all exact reproductions of seven important MSS., and are, in two respects, more important to the student than the MSS. themselves; that is to say, they can be studied simultaneously instead of separately, and they can be consulted and re-consulted at any moment, being always accessible. The importance of such opportunities is obvious.
The following list contains all the MSS. of the existence of which I am aware. As to their types, see § 7.
MSS. in the British Museum.
MSS. in Oxford.
MSS. at Cambridge.
In other Public Libraries.
MSS. in Private Hands.
These include some of the very best.
The Printed Editions.
In the first five editions, the Canterbury Tales were published separately.
After this the Canterbury Tales were invariably issued with the rest of Chaucer’s Works, until after 1721. Some account of these editions is given in the Preface to the Minor Poems, in vol. i.; which see. They are: Thynne’s three editions, in 1532, 1542, and 1550 (the last is undated); Stowe’s edition, 1561; Speght’s editions, in 1598, 1602, and 1687; Urry’s edition, in 1721.
Two modernised editions of the Canterbury Tales were published in London in 1737 or 1740, and in 1741.
Next came: ‘Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, to which is added, an Essay on his Language and Versification; an introductory discourse; notes, and a glossary. By Thomas Tyrwhitt, London, 1775-8, 8vo, 5 vols.’ A work of high literary value, to which I am greatly indebted for many necessary notes. Reprinted in 1798 in 4to, 2 vols., by the University of Oxford; and again, at London, in 1822, in post 8vo, 5 vols.; (by Pickering) in 1830, 8vo, 5 vols.; and (by Moxon) in 1845, in 1 vol. imp. 8vo. The last of these adds poor texts of the rest of Chaucer’s Works, from old black-letter editions, with which Tyrwhitt had nothing to do. In Tyrwhitt’s text, the number of grammatical errors is very large, and he frequently introduces words into the text without authority. For some account of the later editions of Chaucer’s Works, see the Introduction to the Legend of Good Women, in vol. iii. I may note, by the way, that the editions by Wright, Bell, and Morris are all founded on MS. Harl. 7334, a very unsafe MS. in some respects; see p. viii (above).
It is necessary to add here a few words of warning. Wright’s edition, though it has many merits, turns out, in practice, to be dangerously untrustworthy. He frequently inserts words, borrowed from Tyrwhitt’s edition (which he heartily condemns as being full of errors in grammar), without the least indication that they are not in the MS. This becomes the more serious when we find, upon examination, that Tyrwhitt had likewise no authority for some of such insertions, but simply introduced them, by guess, to fill up a line in a way that pleased him. For example, A 628 runs thus, in all the seven MSS:—
‘Of his visage children were aferd.’ It is quite correct; for ‘viság-e’ is trisyllabic. Tyrwhitt did not know this, and counted the syllables as two only, neglecting the final e The line seemed then too short; so he inserted sore before aferd, thus ruining the scansion. Wright follows suit, and inserts sore, though it is not in his MS.; giving no notice at all of what he has done. Bell follows suit, and the word is even preserved in Morris; but the latter prints the word in italics, to shew that it is not in the MS. Nor is it in the Six-text.
I shall not adduce more instances, but shall content myself with saying that, until the publications of the Chaucer Society appeared, no reader had the means of knowing what the best MS. texts were really like. All who have been accustomed to former (complete) editions have necessarily imbibed hundreds of false impressions, and have necessarily accepted numberless theories as to the scansion of lines which they will, in course of due time, be prepared to abandon. In the course of my work, it has been made clear to me that Chaucer’s text has been manipulated and sophisticated, frequently in most cunning and plausible ways, to a far greater extent than I could have believed to be possible. This is not a pleasant subject, and I only mention it for the use of scholars. Such variations fortunately seldom affect the sense; but they vitiate the scansion, the grammar, and the etymology in many cases. Of course it will be understood that I am saying no more than I can fully substantiate.
It is absolutely appalling to read such a statement as the following in Bell’s edition, vol i. p. 60. ‘All deviations, either from Mr. Wright’s edition, or from the original MS., are pointed out in the footnotes for the ultimate satisfaction of the reader.’ For the instances in which this is really done are very rare indeed, in spite of the large number of such deviations.
Of Tyrwhitt’s text, it is sufficient to remark that it was hardly possible, at that date, for a better text to have been produced. The rules of Middle English grammar had not been formulated, so that we are not surprised to find that he constantly makes the past tense of a weak verb monosyllabic, when it should be dissyllabic, and treats the past participle as dissyllabic, when it should be monosyllabic which makes wild work with the scansion. It is also to be regretted that he based his text upon the faulty black-letter editions, though he took a great deal of pains in collating them with various MSS.
On the other hand, his literary notes are full of learning and research; and the number of admirable illustrations by which he has efficiently elucidated the text is very great. His reputation as one of the foremost of our literary critics is thoroughly established, and needs no comment.
Mr. Wright’s notes are likewise excellent, and resulted from a wide reading. I have also found some most useful hints in the notes to Bell’s edition. Of all such sources of information I have been only too glad to avail myself, as is more fully shewn in the succeeding volume.
Plan of the Present Edition.
The text of the present edition of the Canterbury Tales is founded upon that of the Ellesmere MS. (E.) It has been collated throughout with that of the other six MSS. published by the Chaucer Society. Of these seven MSS., the Harleian MS. 7334 (Hl.) was printed separately. The other six were printed in the valuable ‘Six-text’ edition, to which I constantly have occasion to refer, in parallel columns. The six MSS. are: E. (Ellesmere), Hn. (Hengwrt), Cm. (Cambridge, Gg, 4. 27), Cp. (Corpus Coll., Oxford), Pt. (Petworth), and Ln. (Lansdowne). MSS. E. Hn. Cm. represent the earliest type (A) of the text; Hl., a transitional type (B); Cp. and Ln., a still later type (C); and Pt., the latest of all (D), but hardly differing from C.
In using these terms, ‘earliest,’ &c., I do not refer to the age of the MSS., but to the type of text which they exhibit.
In the list of MSS. given above, Hl. is no. 1; E., Hn., Cm., are nos. 40, 41, and 28; and Cp., Pt., Ln., are nos. 24, 42, and 10 respectively.
Of all the MSS., E. is the best in nearly every respect. It not only gives good lines and good sense, but is also (usually) grammatically accurate and thoroughly well spelt. The publication of it has been a very great boon to all Chaucer students, for which Dr. Furnivall will be ever gratefully remembered. We must not omit, at the same time, to recognise the liberality and generosity of the owner of the MS., who so freely permitted such full use of it to be made; the same remark applies, equally, to the owners of the Hengwrt and the Petworth MSS. The names of the Earl of Ellesmere, Mr. Wm. W. E. Wynne of Peniarth, and Lord Leconfield have deservedly become as ‘familiar as household words’ to many a student of Chaucer.
This splendid MS. has also the great merit of being complete, requiring no supplement from any other source, except in the few cases where a line or two has been missed. For example, it does not contain A 252 b-c (found in Hn. only); nor A 2681-2 (also not in Hn. or Cm.); nor B 1163-1190 (also not in Hn or Cm.); nor B 1995 (very rare indeed).
It is slightly imperfect in B 2510, 2514, 2525, 2526, 2623-4, 2746, 2967. It drops B 3147-8, C 103-4, C 297-8 (not in Hn. Cm. Pt.), E 1358-61, G 564-5; and has a few defects in the Parson’s Tale in I 190, 273, &c. In the Tale of Melibeus, the French original shews that all the MSS. have lost B 2252-3, 2623-4, which have to be supplied by translation.
None of the seven MSS. have B 4637-4652; these lines are genuine, but were probably meant to be cancelled. They only occur, to my knowledge, in four MSS., nos. 7, 11, 25, and 29; though found also in the old black-letter editions.
On the other hand, E. preserves lines rarely found elsewhere. Such are A 3155-6, 3721-2, F 1455-6, 1493-9; twelve genuine lines, none of which are in Tyrwhitt, and only the first two are in Wright. Observe also the stanza in the footnote to p. 424; with which compare B 3083, on p. 241.
The text of the Ellesmere MS. has only been corrected in cases where careful collation suggests a desirable improvement. Every instance of this character is invariably recorded in the footnotes. Thus, in A 8, the grammar and scansion require half-e, not half; though, curiously enough, this correct form appears in Hl. only, among all the seven MSS. In very difficult cases, other MSS. (besides the seven) have been collated, but I have seldom gained much by it. The chief additional MSS. thus used are Dd. = Cambridge, Dd. 4. 24 (no. 29 above); Slo. or Sl. = Sloane 1685 (no. 8); Roy. or Rl. = Royal 18 C 2 (no. 6); Harl. = Harleian 1758 (see p. 645); Li. or Lich. = Lichfield MS. (no. 35), for the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale; and others that are sufficiently indicated.
I have paid especial attention to the suffixes required by Middle-English grammar, to the scansion, and to the pronunciation; and I suppose that this is the first complete edition in which the spelling has been tested by phonetic considerations. With a view to making the spelling a little clearer and more consistent, I have ventured to adopt certain methods which I here explain.
In certain words of variable spelling in E., such as whan or whanne, than or thanne, I have adopted that form which the scansion requires; but the MS. is usually right.
E. usually has hise for his with a plural sb., as in l. 1; I use his always, except in prose. E. has hir, here, for her, their; I use hir only, except at the end of a line.
E. uses the endings -ight or -yght, -inde or -ynde; I use -ight, -inde only; and, in general, I use i to represent short i, and y to represent long i, as in king, wyf. Such is the usual habit of the scribe, but he often changes i into y before m and n, to make his writing clearer; such a precaution is needless in modern printing. Thus, in l. 42, I replace the scribe’s bigynne by biginne; and in l. 78, I replace his pilgrymage by pilgrimage. This makes the text easier to read.
For a like reason, where equivalent spellings occur, I select the simpler; writing couthe (as in Pt.) for kowthe, sote for soote, sege for seege, and so on. In words such as our or oure, your or youre, hir or hire, neuer or neuere, I usually give the simpler forms, without the final -e, when the -e is obviously silent.
For consonantal u, as in neuer, I write v, as in never. This is usual in all editions. But I could not bring myself to use j for i consonant; the anachronism is too great Never for neuer is common in the fifteenth century, but j does not occur even in the first folio of Shakespeare. I therefore usually keep the capital i of the MSS. and of the Elizabethan printers, as in Ioye ( = joye) where initial, and the small i, as in enioinen = enjoinen) elsewhere. Those who dislike such conservatism may be comforted by the reflection that the sound rarely occurs.
The word eye has to be altered to ye at the end of a line, to preserve the rimes. The scribes usually write eye in the middle of a line, but when they come to it at the end of one, they are fairly puzzled. In l. 10, the scribe of Hn. writes Iye, and that of Ln. writes yhe; and the variations on this theme are most curious. The spelling ye ( = ye) is, however, common; as in A 1096 (Cm., Pt.). I print it ‘yë’ to distinguish it from ye, the pl. pronoun.
These minute variations are, I trust, legitimate, and I have not recorded them. They cause trouble to the editor, but afford ease to the reader, which seems a sufficient justification for adopting them. But the scrupulous critic need not fear that the MS. has been departed from in any case, where it could make any phonetic difference, without due notice. Thus, in l. 9, where I have changed foweles into fowles as being a more usual form, the fact that foweles is the Ellesmere spelling is duly recorded in the footnotes. And so in other cases.
The footnotes do not record various readings where E. is correct as it stands; they have purposely been made as concise as possible. It would have been easy to multiply them fourfold without giving much information of value; this is not unfrequently done, but the gain is slight. With so good a MS. as the basis of the text, it did not seem desirable.
The following methods for shortening the footnotes have been adopted.
With these hints, the footnotes present no difficulty.
As a rule, I have refrained from all emendation; but, in B 1189, I have ventured to suggest physices1 , for reasons explained in the Notes. Those who prefer the reading Phislyas can adopt it.
For further details regarding particular passages, I beg leave to refer the reader to the Notes in vol. v.
Table of Symbols denoting MSS.
Cm.—Cambridge Univ. Lib. Gg. 4. 27 (Ellesmere type). No. 28 in list.
Cp.—Corpus Chr. Coll., Oxford, no. 198. No. 24.
Dd.—Cambridge Univ. Lib. Dd. 4. 24 (Ellesmere type). No. 29.
E.—Ellesmere MS. (basis of the text). No. 40.
Harl.—Harl. 1758; Brit. Mus.; see p. 645. No. 4.
Hl.—Harl. 7334; British Museum. No. 1.
Hn.—Hengwrt MS. no. 154. No. 41.
Li. or Lich.—Lichfield MS.; see pp. 533-553. No. 35.
Ln.—Lansdowne 851; Brit. Mus. (Corpus type). No. 10.
Pt.—Petworth MS. No. 42.
Rl. or Roy.—Royal 18 C. II; Brit. Mus.; see p. 645. No. 6.
Seld.—Arch. Selden, B. 14; Bodleian Library. No. 18.
Sl. or Slo.—Sloane 1685: Brit. Mus.; see p. 645. No. 8.
Table shewing the various ways of numbering the lines.
Hence, to obtain the order of the lines in Tyrwhitt, see A-B 1162; D, E, F; p. 289, footnote; C; B 1163-2156, 3079-3564, 3653-3956, 3565-3652, 3957-4652; G, H, I.
Or (by pages), see pp. 1-164, 320-508, 289 (footnote), 290-319, 165-256 (which includes Melibeus), 259-268, 256-258, 269-289, 509-end.
To facilitate reference, the numbering of the lines in Tyrwhitt’s text is marked at the top of every page, preceded by the letter ‘T.’; lines which Tyrwhitt omits are marked ‘[T. om.’, as on p. 90; and his paragraphs (all numbered in this edition) are carefully preserved in Melibeus and the Parson’s Tale, which are in prose. In the Prologue, after l. 250, his numbering is given within marks of parenthesis.
The lines in every piece are also numbered separately, within marks of parenthesis, as (10), (20), on p. 26. This numbering (borrowed from Dr. Murray) agrees with the references given in the New English Dictionary. It also gives, in most cases, either exactly or approximately, the references to Dr. Morris’s edition, who adopts a similar method, with a few variations of detail. The lines in Bell’s edition are not numbered at all.
To obtain the order in Wright’s edition, see pp. 1-164, 320-554, 289 (footnote), 290-319, 165-289, 555-end. The variations are fewer.
Some may find it more convenient to observe the names of the Tales.
Tyrwhitt’s order of the Tales is as follows1 :—Prologue, Knight, Miller, Reeve, Cook—Man of Lawe—Wife, Friar, Somnour—Clerk, Merchant—Squire, Franklin—Doctor (Physician), Pardoner—Shipman, Prioress, Sir Thopas, Melibeus, Monk2 , Nun’s Priest—Second Nun, Canon’s Yeoman—Manciple—Parson.
The four Leading Types of the MSS.
The four leading types of MSS. usually exhibit a variation in the order of the Tales, as well as many minor differences. I only note here the former (omitting Gamelyn, which is absent from MSS. of the A-type, and from some of the D-type).
A.—1. Prologue, Knight, Miller, Reeve, Cook.
2. Man of Lawe.
3. Wife of Bath, Friar, Sompnour.
4. Clerk, Merchant.
5. Squire, Franklin.
6. Doctor, Pardoner.
7. Shipman, Prioress, Sir Thopas, Melibeus, Monk, Nun’s Priest.
8. Second Nun, Canon’s Yeoman.
9. Manciple, (slightly linked to) Parson.
B.—Places 8 before 6. Order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 6, 7, 9.
C.—Not only places 8 before 6 (as B), but splits 5 into 5 a (Squire) and 5 b (Franklin), and places 5 a before 3. Order 1, 2, 5 a, 3, 4, 5 b, 8, 6, 7, 9.
D.—As C, but further splits 4 into 4 a (Clerk), and 4 b (Merchant), and places 4 b after 5 a. Order: 1, 2, 5 a, 4 b, 3, 4 a, 5 b, 8, 6, 7, 9. (D. is really a mere variety of C., with an external difference.)
Observe the position of the Franklin. Thus: A. Squire, Franklin, Doctor. B. Squire, Franklin, Second Nun. C. Merchant, Franklin, Second Nun. D. Clerk, Franklin, Second Nun.
For further remarks on this subject, see vol. v.
[1 ]Not the same MS. as that called ‘Harl.’ in the foot-notes to Gamelyn.
[1 ]It only contains the Clerk’s Tale; see Reliquiae Antiquae, ii. 68. The Longleat MS. no. 25, belonging to the Marquis of Bath, contains both the Knight’s Tale and the Clerk’s Tale.
[1 ]i. e. the gen. case of physice; ‘Magister Artium et Physices’ occurs in Longfellow’s Golden Legend, § vi.
[1 ]The dash (—) shews where the Groups end or are interrupted
[2 ]The order of the divisions of this tale is different. The ‘modern instances,’ viz. Peter of Spain, Peter of Cyrus, Barnabo of Lombardy, and Ugolino of Pisa are placed at the end instead of coming in the middle