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INTRODUCTION TO THE NOTES. - Geoffrey Chaucer, Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5) 
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. 5.
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INTRODUCTION TO THE NOTES.
In the brief Introduction to vol. iv. I have given a list of the MSS. of the Canterbury Tales; some account of the early printed editions; and some explanation of the methods employed in preparing the present edition. I propose here to discuss further certain important points of general interest. And first, I would say a few words as to the Canon of Chaucer’s Works, whereby the genuine works are separated from others that have been attributed to him, at various times, by mistake or inadvertence.
Canon of Chaucer’s Works.
This has already been considered, at considerable length, in vol. i. pp. 20–90. But it is necessary to say a few words on the whole subject, owing to the extremely erroneous opinions that are so widely prevalent.
Sometimes a poem is claimed for Chaucer because it occurs ‘in a Chaucer MS.’ There is a certain force in this plea in a few cases, as I have already pointed out. But it commonly happens that such MSS. (as, for example, MS. Fairfax 16, MS. Bodley 638, and others) are mere collections of poetry of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, from which nothing can safely be inferred as to the authorship of the poems which they contain, unless the scribe distinctly gives the author’s name1 . As a rule, however, the scribes not only omit to mention names, but they frequently omit the very title of the poem, and thus withhold such help as, in many cases, they might easily have afforded.
The celebrated first edition of ‘Chaucer’s Works,’ edited by William Thynne in 1532, made no attempt to establish any canon. Thynne simply put together such a book as he believed would be generally acceptable; and deliberately inserted poems which he knew to be by other authors. Some of these poems bear the name of Lydgate; one has the name of Gower; and another, by Hoccleve, is dated 1402, or two years after Chaucer’s death. They were tossed together without much attempt at order; so that even the eleventh poem in the volume is ‘The Floure of Curtesie, made by Ihon lidgate.’ The edition, in fact, is a mere collection of poems by Chaucer, Lydgate, Gower, Hoccleve, Robert Henrysoun, Sir Richard Ros, and various anonymous authors; and the number of poems by other authors almost equals the number of Chaucer’s. The mere accident of the inclusion of a given piece in this volume practically tells us nothing, unless it happens to be distinctly marked; though we can, of course, often tell the authorship from some remark made by Chaucer himself, or by others. And the net result is this; that Thynne neither attempted to draw up a list of Chaucer’s genuine works, nor to exclude such works as were not his. He merely printed such things as came to hand, without any attempt at selection or observance of order, or regard to authorship. All that we can say is, that he did not knowingly exclude any of the genuine pieces. Nevertheless, he omitted Chaucer’s A.B.C., of which there must have been many copies in existence, for we have twelve still extant.
The mere repetition of this collection, in various reprints, did not confer on it any fresh authority. Stowe indeed, in 1561, added more pieces to the collection, but he suppressed nothing. Neither did he himself exercise much principle of selection; see vol. i. p. 56. He even added The Storie of Thebes, which he must have known to be Lydgate’s. Later reprints were all edited after the same bewildering fashion.
The first person to exercise any discrimination in this matter was Thomas Tyrwhitt, who published a new edition of the Canterbury Tales in five volumes, 8vo., in 1775–8; being the first edition in which some critical care was exercised. After Tyrwhitt had printed the Canterbury Tales, accompanied by a most valuable commentary in the shape of Notes, it occurred to him to make a Glossary. He had not proceeded far before he decided that such a Glossary ought to be founded upon the whole of Chaucer’s Works, instead of referring to the Tales only; since this would alone suffice to shew clearly the nature of Chaucer’s vocabulary. He at once began to draw up something in the nature of a canon. He rejected the works that were marked with the names of other poets, and remorselessly swept away a large number of Stowe’s very casual additions. And, considering that he was unable, at that date, to apply any linguistic tests of any value—that he had no means of distinguishing Chaucer’s rimes from those of other poets—that he had, in fact, nothing to guide him but his literary instinct and a few notes found in the MSS.—his attempt was a fairly good one. He decisively rejected the following poems found in Thynne’s edition, viz. no. 4 (Testament of Criseyde, by Henrysoun); 11 (The Floure of Curtesie, by Lydgate); 13 (La Belle Dame, by Sir R. Ros); 15 (The Assemblee of Ladies); 18 (A Praise of Women); 21 (The Lamentacion of Marie Magdaleine); 22 (The Remedie of Love); 25 (The Letter of Cupide, by Hoccleve); 26 (A Ballade in commendacion of our Ladie, by Lydgate); 27 (Jhon Gower to Henry IV); 28 and 29 (Sayings of Dan John, by Lydgate); 30 (Balade de Bon Conseil, by Lydgate); 32 (Balade with Envoy—O leude booke); 33 (Scogan’s poem, except the stanzas on Gentilesse); 40 (A balade . . ., by Dan John lidgat); and in no single instance was he wrong in his rejection. He also implied that the following had no claim to be Chaucer’s, as he did not insert them in his final list; viz. no. 6 (A goodlie balade of Chaucer); and 38 (Two stanzas—Go foorthe, kyng); and here he was again quite right. It is also obvious that no. 41 (A balade in the Praise of Master Geffray Chauser) was written by another hand; and indeed, the first line says that Chaucer ‘now lith in grave.’ It will at once be seen that Tyrwhitt did excellent service; for, in fact, he eliminated from Thynne’s edition no less than nineteen pieces out of forty-one; leaving only twenty-two1 remaining. Of this remainder, if we include The Romaunt of the Rose, all but three are unhesitatingly accepted by scholars. The three exceptions are nos. 17, 20, and 31; i. e. The Complaint of the Black Knight1 ; The Testament of Love2 ; and The Cuckoo and the Nightingale.
When Tyrwhitt came to examine the later editions, the only other pieces that seemed to him sufficiently good for the purpose of being quoted in his Glossary were the six following, viz. Chaucer’s A.B.C. (in ed. 1602); The Court of Love (in ed. 1561); Chaucer’s Dreme (in ed. 1598); The Flower and the Leaf (in ed. 1598); Proverbes by Chaucer (in ed. 1561); and Chaucer’s Words to his Scrivener Adam (in ed. 1561). Of these, we may accept the first and the two last; but there is no external evidence in favour of the other three. He also added that the Virelai (no. 50, in ed. 1561) may ‘perhaps’ be Chaucer’s.
In 1810 we find an edition of Chaucer’s Works, by A. Chalmers, F.S.A., in the first volume of the ‘English Poets,’ collected in twenty-one volumes. In this edition, some sort of attempt was made, for the first time, to separate the spurious from the genuine poems. But this separation was made with such reckless carelessness that we actually find no less than six poems (nos. 36, 38, 39, 42, 43, 44, in vol. i. 32, 33, above) printed twice over, once as being genuine, and once as being spurious3 . It is obvious that we cannot accept a canon of Chaucer’s Works of such a character as this.
In 1845 appeared the edition in which modern critics, till quite recently, put all their trust; and no student will ever understand what is really meant by ‘the canon of Chaucer’s Works’ until he examines this edition with something like common care. It bears this remarkable title:—‘The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. With an Essay on his Language and Versification, and an Introductory Discourse; together with Notes and a Glossary. By Thomas Tyrwhitt. London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 18551 .’
In this title, which must be most carefully scanned, there is one very slight unintentional misprint, which alters its whole character. The stop after the word ‘Glossary’ should have been a comma only. The difference in sense is something startling. The title-page was meant to convey that the volume contains, (1) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (comprising Tyrwhitt’s text of the Canterbury Tales, the remaining poems being anonymously re-edited); and that it also contains, (2) an Essay, a Discourse, Notes, and a Glossary, all by Thomas Tyrwhitt. Such are the facts; and such would have been the (possible) sense of the title-page, if the comma after ‘Glossary’ had not been misprinted as a full stop. But as the title actually appears, even serious students have fallen into the error of supposing that Tyrwhitt edited these Poetical Works; an error of the first magnitude, which has produced disastrous results. A moment’s reflection will shew that, as Tyrwhitt edited the Canterbury Tales only, and died in 1786, he could not have edited the Poetical Works in 1845, fifty-nine years after his death. It would have been better if a short explanation, to this effect, had been inserted in the volume; but there is nothing of the kind.
It must therefore be carefully borne in mind, that this edition of 1845, on the title-page of which the name of Tyrwhitt is so conspicuous, was really edited anonymously, or may even be said not to have been edited at all. The Canterbury Tales are reprinted from Tyrwhitt; and so also are the Essay, the Discourse, the Notes, and the Glossary; and it is most important to observe that ‘the Glossary’ is preceded by Tyrwhitt’s ‘Advertisement,’ and by his ‘Account of the Works of Chaucer to which this Glossary is adapted; and of those other pieces2 which have been improperly intermixed with his in the Editions.’ The volume is, in fact, made up in this way. Pages i-lxx and 1-209 are all due to Tyrwhitt; and contain a Preface, an Appendix to the Preface, an Abstract of Passages of the Life of Chaucer, an Essay, an Introductory Discourse to the Tales, and the Tales themselves. Again, pp. 441–502 are all due to Tyrwhitt, and contain an Advertisement to the Glossary, an Account of Chaucer’s Works (as above), and a Glossary. Moreover, this Glossary contains a large number of words from most of Chaucer’s Works, including even his prose treatises; besides a handful of words from spurious works such as ‘Chaucer’s Dream.’
In this way, all the former part and all the latter part of the volume are due to Tyrwhitt; it is the middle part that is wholly independent of him. It is here that we find no less than twenty-five poems, which he never edited, reprinted (inexactly) from the old black-letter editions or from Chalmers. It thus becomes plain that the words ‘By Thomas Tyrwhitt’ on the title-page refer only to the second clause of it, but have no reference to the former clause, consisting of the words, ‘The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.’ It remains to be said that the twenty-five poems which are here appended to the Canterbury Tales are well selected; and that the anonymous editor or superintendent was guided in his choice by Tyrwhitt’s ‘Account of the Works.’
This somewhat tedious account is absolutely necessary, every word of it, in order to enable the reader to understand what has always been meant (since 1845) by critics who talk about some works as being ‘attributed to Chaucer.’ They really mean (in the case, for example, of The Cuckoo and the Nightingale) that it happens to be included in a certain volume by an anonymous editor, published in 1845, in which the suggestions made by Tyrwhitt in 1778 were practically adopted without any important deviation. In the case of any other author, such a basis for a canon would be considered rather a sandy one; it derives its whole value from the fact that Tyrwhitt was an excellent literary critic, who may well be excused for a few mistakes, considering how much service he did in thus reducing the number of poems in ‘Chaucer’s Works’ from 64 to little more than 261 . Really, this was a grand achievement, especially as it clearly emphasised the absurdity of trusting to the old editions. But it is an abuse of language to say that ‘The Cuckoo and Nightingale’ has ‘always been attributed to Chaucer,’ merely because it happens to have been printed by Thynne in 1532, and had the good luck to be accepted by Tyrwhitt in 1778. On the contrary, such a piece remains on its trial; and it must be rejected absolutely, both on the external and on the internal evidence. Externally, because no scribe or early writer connects it with him in any way. Internally, for reasons given in vol. i. p. 391 ; and for other reasons given in Lounsbury’s Studies in Chaucer.
The chief value of the anonymous edition in 1845 is, that it gave practical expression to Tyrwhitt’s views. The later editions by Bell and Morris were, in some respects, retrogressive. Both, for example, include The Lamentation of Mary Magdalene, which Tyrwhitt rightly denounced in no dubious terms; (see vol. i. above, pp. 37, 38). But, of late years, the question of constructing a canon of Chaucer’s genuine works has received proper attention, and has been considered by such scholars as Henry Bradshaw, Bernhard ten Brink, Dr. Koch, Dr. Furnivall, Professor Lounsbury, and others; with a fairly unanimous result. The whole question is well summed up in Lounsbury’s Studies in Chaucer, Chapter IV, on ‘The Writings of Chaucer.’ His conclusion is, that his ‘examination leaves as works about which there is no dispute twenty-six titles.’ By these titles he means The Canterbury Tales, Boethius, Troilus, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, The Astrolabe, and the nineteen Minor Poems which I denote by the numbers I-XI, XIII-XX (no. XX being counted as two). His examination did not at first include no. XII (To Rosemounde); but, in his Appendix (vol. iii. pp. 449, 450), he calls attention to it, and accepts it without hesitation. He also says of no. XXII, that ‘it may be Chaucer’s own work.’
I may add a few words about the other Minor Poems which I now print, numbered XXI, XXIII, and XXIV-XXVI; the last three of which appear in vol. iv. pp. xxv-xxxi.
As regards no. XXI, or ‘Against Women Unconstaunt,’ I observe that Mr. Pollard, in his ‘Chaucer Primer,’ has these words. The authenticity of this poem ‘has lately been reasserted by Prof. Skeat, on the triple ground that it is (1) a good poem; (2) perfect in its rhymes1 ; (3) found in conjunction with poems undoubtedly by Chaucer in two MSS.’ This account, however, leaves out my chief argument, viz. its obvious dependence upon a Ballade by Machault, whom Chaucer is known to have imitated, and who is not known to have been imitated by any other Englishman. I also lay stress on the very peculiar manner in which the poem occurs in MS. Ct. See above, vol. i. p. 88. It should also be compared with the Balade to Rosemounde, which it resembles in tone. It seems to me that the printing of this poem in an Appendix is quite justifiable. We may some day learn more about it.
As regards no. XXIV (vol. iv. p. xxv), the external evidence is explicit. It occurs in the same MS. as that which authenticates no. VI (A Compleint to his Lady); and the MS. itself is one of Shirley’s. Internally, we observe the great peculiarity of the rhythm. Not only is the poem arranged in nine-line stanzas, but the whole is a tour de force. In the course of 33 lines, there are but 3 rime-endings; and we may particularly notice the repetition of the first two lines at the end of the poem, just as in the Complaint of Anelida, which likewise begins and ends with a line in which remembraunce is the last word. We have here a specimen of the kind of nine-line stanza (examples of which are very scarce) which Hoccleve endeavoured to imitate in his Balade to my Lord of York2 ; but Hoccleve had to employ three rimes in the stanza instead of two. The poem is chiefly of importance as an example of Chaucer’s metrical experiments, and as being an excellent specimen of a Complaint. There is a particular reason for taking an interest in all poems of this character, because few Complaints are extant, although Chaucer assures us that he wrote many of them.
As to the poems numbered XXIII (A Balade of Compleynt), XXV (Complaint to my Mortal Foe, vol. iv. p. xxvii), and XXVI (Complaint to my Lodesterre, vol. iv. p. xxix), there are two points of interest: (1) that they are Complaints, and (2) that they have never been printed before. That they are genuine, I have no clear proof to offer; but they certainly illustrate this peculiar kind of poem, and are of some interest; and it is clearly a convenience to be able to compare them with such Complaints as we know to be genuine, particularly with no. VI (A Complaint to his Lady). They may be considered as relegated to an Appendix, for the purposes of comparison and illustration. I do not think I shall be much blamed for thus rendering them accessible. It may seem to some that it must be an easy task to discover unprinted poems that are reasonably like Chaucer’s in vocabulary, tone, and rhythm. Those who think so had better take the task in hand; they will probably, in any case, learn a good deal that they did not know before. The student of original MSS. sees many points in a new light; and, if he is capable of it, will learn humility.
The text of the Canterbury Tales.
On this subject I have already said something above (vol. iv. pp. xvii-xx); and have offered a few remarks on the texts in former editions (vol. iv. pp. xvi, xvii; cf. p. viii). But I now take the opportunity of discussing the matter somewhat further.
It is unfortunate that readers have hitherto been so accustomed to inaccurate texts, that they have necessarily imbibed several erroneous notions. I do not hereby intend any reflection upon the editors, as the best MSS. were inaccessible to them; and it is only during the last few years that many important points regarding the grammar, the pronunciation, and the scansion of Middle-English have been sufficiently determined1 . Still, the fact remains, and is too important to be passed over.
In particular, I may call attention to the unfortunate prejudice against a certain habit of Chaucer’s, which it taxed all the ingenuity of some of the editors to suppress. Chaucer frequently allows the first foot of his verse to consist of a single accented syllable, as has been abundantly illustrated above with respect to his Legend of Good Women (vol. iii. pp. xliv-xlvii). It was a natural mistake on Tyrwhitt’s part to attribute the apparent fault to the scribes, and to amend the lines which seemed to be so strangely defective. It will be sufficient to enumerate the lines of this character that occur in the Prologue, viz. ll. 76, 131, 170, 247, 294, 371, and 391.
Tyrwhitt alters Al to Alle, meaning no doubt Al-le (dissyllabic), which would be ungrammatical. For That, he has Thatte, as if for That-te; whereas That is invariably a monosyllable. For Gingling, he has Gingeling, evidently meant to be lengthened out to a trisyllable. For For, he prints As for. For Twenty, he has A twenty. The next line is untouched; he clearly took Everich to be thoroughly trisyllabic; which may be doubted. For In, he has All in. And the same system is applied, throughout all the Tales. The point is, of course, that the MSS. do not countenance such corrections, but are almost unanimously obstinate in asserting the ‘imperfection’ of the lines1 .
The natural result of altering twenty to A twenty (not only here, but again in D. 1695), was to induce the belief in students that A twenty bookes is a Chaucerian idiom. I can speak feelingly, for I believed it for some years; and I have met with many who have done the same2 . And the unfortunate part of the business is, that the restoration of the true reading shocks the reader’s sense of propriety. This is to be regretted, certainly; but the truth must be told; especially as the true readings of the MSS. are now, thanks to the Chaucer Society, accessible to many. The student, in fact, has something to unlearn; and he who is most familiar with the old texts has to unlearn the most. The restoration of the text to the form of it given in the seven best MSS. is, consequently, in a few instances, of an almost revolutionary character; and it is best that this should be said plainly3 .
The editions by Wright and Morris do not repeat the above amendments by Tyrwhitt; but strictly conform to the Harleian MS. Even so, they are not wholly correct; for this MS. blunders over two lines out of the seven. It gives l. 247 in this extraordinary form:—‘For to delen with such poraile’; where the omission of no renders all scansion hopeless. And again, it gives l. 371 in the form:—‘Euery man for the wisdom that he can’; which is hardly pleasing. And in a great many places, the faithful following of this treacherous MS. has led the editors into sad trouble.
The Harleian MS. The printing of this MS. for the Chaucer Society enables us to see that Mr. Wright did not adhere so closely to the text of the MS. as he would have us believe. As many readers may not have the opportunity of testing this statement for themselves, I here subjoin a few specimens of lines from this MS., to shew the nature of its errors.
Bet than a lazer or a beggere; A. 242.
So in Wright; for beggere read beggestére.
But al that he might gete and his frendes sende; A. 299.
Corrected by Wright.
For eche of hem made othur to wynne; A. 427.
Wright has ‘othur for to wynne.’ This is correct; but the word for is silently supplied, without comment; and so in other cases.
Of his visage children weren aferd; A. 628.
For weren, read were; or pronounce it wer’n. I cite this line because it is, practically, correct, and agrees with other MSS., it being remembered that ‘viság-e’ is trisyllabic. But readers have not, as yet, been permitted to see this line in its correct form. The black-letter editions insert sore before aferd. Tyrwhitt follows them; Wright follows Tyrwhitt; and Morris follows Wright, but prints sore in italics, to shew that there is here a deviation from the MS. of some sort or other.
A few more quotations are here subjoined, without comment.
These examples shew that the Harleian MS. requires very careful watching. There is no doubt as to its early age and its frequent helpfulness in difficult passages; but it is not the kind of MS. that should be greatly trusted.
The Ellesmere MS. The excellence of this MS. renders the task of editing the Tales much easier than that of editing The House of Fame or the Minor Poems. The text here given only varies from it in places where variation seemed highly desirable, as explained in the footnotes. As to my general treatment of it, I have spoken above (vol. iv. pp. xviii-xx).
One great advantage of this MS., quite apart from the excellence of its readings, is the highly phonetic character of the spelling. The future editor will probably some day desire to normalise the spelling of Chaucer throughout his works. If so, he must very carefully study the spelling of the Ellesmere and Hengwrt MSS., which resemble each other very closely. By their help, it becomes possible to regulate the use of the final e to a very great extent, which is extremely helpful for the scansion of the lines.
This matter is best illustrated by referring, for a while, to the old black-letter editions; moreover, the whole matter will appear in a clearer light if we consider, at the same time, the remarkable argument put forward by Prof. Morley (Eng. Writers, v. 126) in favour of the genuineness of The Court of Love.
‘Chaucer (he says) could not have written verse that would scan without sounding in due place the final -e. But when the final e came to be dropped, a skilful copyist of later time would have no difficulty whatever in making the lines run without it . . . If Chaucer wrote—“But that I liké, may I not come by”1 —it was an easy change to—“But that I like, that may I not come by.” With so or and, or well, or gat, or that, and many a convenient monosyllable, lines that seemed short to the later ear were readily eked out.’ He then proceeds to give a specimen from the beginning of the Canterbury Tales, suggesting, by way of example, that l. 9 can easily be made to scan in modern fashion by writing—‘And when the small fowls maken melodye.’
Such a theory would be perfectly true, if it had any basis in facts. The plain answer is, that later scribes easily might have eked out lines which seemed deficient; only, as a matter of fact, they did not do so. The notion that Chaucer’s lines run smoothly, and can be scanned, is quite a modern notion, largely due to Tyrwhitt’s common sense. The editors of the sixteenth century did not know that Chaucer’s lines ran smoothly, and did not often attempt to mend them, but generally gave them up as hopeless; and we ought to be much obliged to them for doing so. Whenever they actually make amendments here and there, the patching is usually plain enough. The fact is, however, that they commonly let the texts alone; so that if they followed a good MS., the lines will frequently scan, not by their help, but as it were in spite of them.
Let us look for a moment, at the very edition by Stowe (in 1561), which contains the earliest copy of The Court of Love. The 9th line of the tales runs thus:—‘And smale fowles maken melodie,’ which is sufficiently correct. We can scan it now in the present century, but it is strongly to be suspected that Stowe could not, and did not care to try. For this is how he presents some of the lines.
Redie to go in my pilgrimage; A. 21.
For him, wenden or wende was a monosyllable; and go would do just as well.
The chambres and stables weren wyde; A. 28.
He omits the before stables; it did not matter to him. So that, instead of filling up an imperfect line, as Prof. Morley says he would be sure to do, he leaves a gap.
To tel you al the condicion; A. 38.
Tel should be tel-le. As it is, the line halts. But where is the filling up by the help of some convenient monosyllable?
I add a few more examples, from Stowe, without comment.
It is needless to proceed; it is obvious that Stowe was not the man who would care to eke out a line by filling it up with convenient monosyllables. And it is just because these old editors usually let the text alone, that the old black-letter editions still retain a certain value, and represent some lost manuscript.
One editor, apparently Speght, actually had an inkling of the truth; but he was promptly put down by Dryden (Pref. to the Fables). ‘The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not harmonious to us; . . . there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect. It is true, I cannot go so far as he who published the last edition of him; for he would make us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there were really ten syllables in a verse where we find but nine; but this error is not worth confuting; it is so gross and obvious an error1 , that common sense (which is a rule in everything but matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader, that equality of numbers in every verse which we call Heroic, was either not known, or not always practised in Chaucer’s age. It were an easy matter to produce some thousands of verses, which are lame for want of half a foot, and sometimes a whole one, and which no pronunciation can make otherwise.’ We cannot doubt that such was the prevalent opinion at that time.
For such readers as do not wish to study the language or the grammar of Chaucer, but merely wish to read the text with some degree of comfort, and to come by the stories and their general literary expression with the least possible trouble, the Ellesmere MS. furnishes quite an ideal text. Such a reader has only to observe the following empirical rules1 .
These three simple rules will go a long way. An attentive reader will thus catch the swing of the metre, and will be carried along almost mechanically. The chief obstacle to a succession of smooth lines is the jerk caused by the occasional occurrence of a line defective in the first foot, as explained above. Perhaps it may be further noted that an e sometimes occurs, as a distinct syllable, in the middle of a word as well as at the end of it. Exx.: Eng-e-lond (A. 16); wod-e-craft (A. 110); sem-e-ly (A. 136).
We must also remember that the accentuation of many words, especially of such as are of French origin, was quite different then from what it is now. A word like ‘reason’ was then properly pronounced resóun (rezuun), i. e. somewhat like a modern ray-zóon; but even in Chaucer’s day the habit of throwing back the accent was beginning to prevail, and there was a tendency to say réson (reezun), somewhat like a modern ráy-zun. Chaucer avails himself of this variable accent, and adopts the sound which comes in more conveniently at the moment1 . Thus while we find resóun (rezuun) in l. 37, in l. 274 we find résons (reezunz).
I give a few examples of the three rules stated above.
The following words are properly dissyllabic, in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales:—(l. 1) shou-res, so-te; (2) drogh-te, Mar-che, per-ced, ro-te; (3) ba-thed, vey-ne; (5) swe-te; (7) crop-pes, yon-ge, son-ne; (8) half-e; (9) sma-le, fow-les, ma-ken; (10) sle-pen, o-pen, y-ë; (13) straun-ge, strond-es; (14) fer-ne, hal-wes, lon-des; (15) shi-res, end-e; and so on.
In the same way, there are three syllables in (1) A-pril-le; (4) en-gend-red; (5) Zéph-i-rús; (6) In-spi-red; (8) y-ron-ne; &c. And there are four syllables in (9) mél-o-dý-ë; (12) pil-grim-á-ges.
Elision takes place of the e in drogh-te and of the e in couth-e in l. 14; of the e in nyn-e in l. 24; &c. In such cases, the words may be read as if spelt droght, couth, nyn, for convenience. There are some cases in which the scribe actually fails to write a final e, owing to such elision; but they are not common. I have noted a few in the Glossarial Index.
The final e is ignored, before a consonant, in were (59, 68, 74, 81); and even, which is not common, in hope (88) and nose (152).
As examples of accents to which we are no longer accustomed, we may notice A-príl-le (1); ver-tú (4); cor-á-ges (11); á-ven-túre (25); tó-ward (27); re-sóun (37); hon-óur (46); hon-óur-ed (50); a-rý-ve (60); sta-tú-re (83); Cur-téys (99).
The lines were recited deliberately, with a distinct pause near the middle of each, at which no elision could take place. At this medial pause there is often a redundant syllable (as is more fully explained in vol. vi). Thus, in l. 3, the -e in veyn-e should be preserved, though modern readers are sure to ignore it. Cf. carie in l. 130; studie in l. 184; &c.
By help of the above hints, some notion of the melody of Chaucer may be gained, even by such as adopt the modern English pronunciation. It is right, however, to bear in mind that most of the vowels had, at that time, much the same powers as in modern French and Italian; and it sometimes makes a considerable difference. Thus the word charitable in l. 143 was really pronounced more like the modern French charitable; only that the initial sound was that of the O. F. and E. ch, as in church, not that of the modern French ch in cher. For further remarks on the pronunciation, see vol. vi.
The feeble suggestion is sometimes made that Chaucer’s spelling ought to be modernised, like that of Shakespeare. This betrays a total ignorance of the history of English spelling. It is not strictly the case, that Shakespeare’s spelling has been modernised; for the fact is the other way, viz. that in all that is most essential, it is the spelling of Shakespeare’s time that has been adopted in modern English. The so-called ‘modern’ spelling is really a survival, and is sadly unfit, as we all know to our cost, for representing modern English sounds. By ‘modernising,’ such critics usually mean the cutting off of final e in places where it was just as little required in Elizabethan English as it is now; the freër use of ‘v’ and of ‘j’; and so forth; nearly all of the alterations referring to unessential details. Such alterations would have been useful even in Shakespeare’s time, and would not have touched the character of the spelling. But the spelling of Chaucer’s time refers to quite a different age, when a large number of inflections were still in use that have since been discarded; so that it involves changes in essential and vital points. As it happens, the spelling of the Ellesmere MS. is phonetic in a very high degree. Pronounce the words as they are spelt, but with the Italian vowel-sounds and the German final e, and you come very near the truth. If this is too much trouble, pronounce the words as they are spelt, with modern English vowels (usually adding a final e, pronounced like a in China, when it is visibly present); and, even so, it is easy to follow. The alteration of a word like quene to queene does not make it any easier; and the further alteration to queen destroys its dissyllabic nature. Besides, those who want the spelling modernised can get it in Gilfillan’s edition.
Surely, it is better to stick to the true old phonetic spelling. Boys at school, who have learnt Attic Greek, are supposed to be able to face the spelling of Homer without wincing, though it is not their native language; and the number of Englishwomen who are fairly familiar with Middle-English is becoming considerable.
As regards the Notes in the present volume, it will be readily understood that I have copied them or collected them from many sources. Many of those on the Prologue and Knightes Tale were really written by Dr. Morris; but, owing to the great kindness he shewed me in allowing me to work in conjunction with him on terms of equality, I should often be hard put to it to say which they are. A large number are taken from the editions by Tyrwhitt, Wright, and Bell; but these are usually acknowledged. Others I have adopted from the various works published by the Chaucer Society; from the excellent notes by Dr. Köppell, Dr. Kölbing, and Dr. Koch that have appeared in Anglia, and in similar publications; and from Professor Lounsbury’s excellent work entitled Studies in Chaucer. I have usually endeavoured to point out the sources of my information; and, if I have in several cases failed to do this, I hope it will be understood that, as Chaucer’s fox said, ‘I dide it in no wikke entente.’ Perhaps this may seem an unlucky reference, for the fox was not speaking the strict truth, as we all know that he ought to have done. If I may take any credit for any part of the Notes, I think it may be for my endeavour to hunt up, as far as I could, a large number of the very frequent allusions to Le Roman de la Rose1 , and to such authors as Ovid and Statius; besides undertaking the more difficult task involved in tracing out some of the mysterious references which occur in the margins of the manuscripts. For the Tale of Melibeus, I naturally derived much help and comfort from the admirable edition of Albertano’s Liber Consolationis by Thor Sundby, and the careful notes made by Mätzner. As for the references in the Persones Tale, I should never have found out so many of them, but for the kind assistance of the Rev. E. Marshall. To all my predecessors in the task of annotation, and to all helpers, I beg leave to express my hearty thanks. For further remarks on this and some other subjects, see vol. vi.
As it frequently happens that it is highly desirable to be able to recover speedily the whereabouts of a note on some particular word or subject, an Index to the Notes is appended to this volume.
[1 ]The scribe is usually right. I only remember observing one MS. in which the scribe is reckless; see vol. i. p. 47.
[1 ]To which add, as a twenty-third, the three stanzas on Gentilesse quoted in Scogan’s poem (no. 33).
[1 ]Now known to be Lydgate’s; see vol. i. p. 35, note 3.
[2 ]I have lately made a curious discovery as to the Testament of Love. The first paragraph begins with a large capital M; the second with a large capital A; and so on. By putting together all the letters thus pointed out, we at once have an acrostic, forming a complete sentence. The sentence is—MARGARET OF VIRTW, HAVE MERCI ON TSKNVI. Of course the last word is expressed as an anagram, which I decipher as KITSVN, i. e. Kitsun, the author’s name. The whole piece is clearly addressed to a lady named Margaret, and contains frequent reference to the virtues of pearls, which were supposed to possess healing powers. Even if ‘Kitsun’ is not the right reading, we learn something; for it is quite clear that TSKNVI cannot possibly represent the name of Chaucer. See The Academy, March 11, 1893; p. 222.
[3 ]No. 38 is not noticed in the Index, on its reappearance at p. 555.
[1 ]Originally (I understand)1845. I have only a copy with a reprinted title-page and an altered date.
[2 ]It should be—‘and of some of those other pieces’; for the ‘Account’ does not profess to be exhaustive.
[1 ]See the pieces numbered 1-68, in vol. i. pp. 31–45. But four pieces are in prose, viz. Boethius, Astrolabe, Testament of Love, and Jack Upland. Of course Tyrwhitt rejected Jack Upland. He admitted, however, rather more than 26, the number in the edition of 1845.
[1 ]The false rime of now with rescowe in st. 46 may be got over, it is suggested, by a change in the readings. On the other hand, I now observe a fatal rhyme in st. 17, where upon and ron rime with mon, a man. When such a form as mon (for man) can be found in Chaucer, we may reconsider his claim to this poem. Meanwhile, I would note the curious word grede in st. 27. It does not occur in Chaucer, but is frequent in The Owl and the Nightingale.
[1 ]Exception may be taken to the riming of mene (l. 20) with open e, and grene with close e.
[2 ]Hoccleve’s Poems; ed. Furnivall, p. 49; cf. p. 56.
[1 ]See the admirable remarks on this subject in Lounsbury’s Studies in Chaucer, i. 305–28. Much that I wish to say is there said for me, in a way which I cannot improve.
[1 ]MS. Lansdowne (the worst of the seven) has Alle, and Gyngelinge; Cm. has Gyngelyn; Hl. has Euery man; and that is all.
[2 ]The phrase wel a ten (F. 383) is not precisely parallel.
[3 ]Thus, the Parson calls his Tale ‘a mery’ one (I. 46). Tyrwhitt has ‘a litel tale.’
[1 ]Ielousye cannot rime with me.
[2 ]The latter line answers to A. 2018; lines 2012–7 being wholly omitted.
[1 ]Which, by the way, makes come monosyllabic.
[1 ]Dryden had some reason; for whenever (as often) the editors omitted some essential word, the line could not possibly be right.
[1 ]The explanation of these rules depends upon Middle-English grammar and pronunciation; for which see the Introduction to vol. vi.
[1 ]A word like taverne is ta-vér-ne, in three syllables, if the accent be on the second syllable; but when it is on the first, it becomes táv-ern’, and is only dissyllabic.
[1 ]Many of them were discovered by Dr. Köppell.