« FöregåendeFortsätt »
From what we have said it will be seen that the publications of the Chaucer Society are preparing the way for a complete edition of Chaucer's works in the twofold direction of text and commentary. The requirements of such an edition are an authoritative text based on a comparison of the best manuscripts, and an adequate explanation in the shape of notes and commentary of Chaucer's learning and literary studies, his allusions, language, and versification. The first point is the text; and, in order to estimate fairly the work the Chaucer Society is doing in this respect, it is necessary to glance at the history of the printed texts down to the present time. Caxton printed the · Canterbury Tales' twice, the first time from a very corrupt manuscript, and the second time from a much better one. • Troilus and Cressid,' The House of Fame,' The Assembly of Fowls, and some minor pieces, were printed by Caxton's coadjutors and successors, 'Wyken de Worde and Pynson. The first edition of Chaucer's poetical works was that published in 1532, and edited by W. Thynne. In his curious dedication to Henry VIII., Thynne claims to have corrected, by comparison with the manuscripts, those parts of the poet's works already printed, and to have published the rest for the first time. He says :
* And as Bokes of dyvers Impryntes came unto my Handes, I easely, and withoute grete Study myght and have deprehended in them many Errours, Falsyties, and Depravacions, whiche evydently appered by the Contrarieties and Alteracions founde by Collacyon of the one with the other, wherby I was moved and styred to make dilygent Serche where I mighť fynde or recover anye trewe Copies or Ex. emplaries of the sayde Bookes, wherunto in Processe of Tyme, nat without Coste and Payne, I attayned; and nat onely unto such as seme to be very trewe Copes of those Workes of Geffray Chaucer, whyche before had ben put in Prynte, but also to dyvers other neuer tyll nowe imprinted, but remaynynge almoste unknowen and in Oblyvion.' As may be surmised from this extract, Chaucer did not benefit much from Thynne's supervision, his text of the Canterbury • Tales' being in some respects inferior to that of Caxton's second reprint, while the minor poems are crowded with verbal corruptions. Stowe, the next editor, added little to Thynne's work, except some miscellaneous poems, ‘now imprinted for * the first time,' which fill twenty pages of his massive folio. These poems are of doubtful authority, being more in Lidgate's manner than Chaucer's ; but the longest of them, “ The Court of Love,' has kept its place in the subsequent editions of the poet's works. The third chief edition published during the sixteenth century is that edited by Speight, and in many
respects he may fairly be regarded as the first editor, strictly so called, of Chaucer. Thynne and Stowe paid but little attention to the text; and neither of them attempted anything in the way of illustration or commentary. Speight attended in a manner to both these departments of an editor's duty; and, though his alterations in the text are comparatively few and unimportant, they are still in the main improvements. But his claims as an editor rest mainly on his explanations of Chaucer's language. He is the first that attempted any detailed explanation of archaic words and phrases; and his glossary, with all its imperfections, entitles him to the grateful remembrance of Chaucer students. . This gratitude would have been still stronger had Speight told the whole story of · Wade and his
bote called Guingelot, as also his straunge exploits in the same,' instead of simply passing it over as being long and • fabulous. The story was undoubtedly connected with the northern mythology, and abounded in marvellous incident. And it is certainiy one of the curiosities of literary history that a story of this nature, so well-known in the beginning of the seventeenth century that an editor, in noticing Chaucer's allusions to it, thinks even an outline needless, should now have so completely perished that no fragment of it can be recovered. Possibly, however, some detailed reference to the story may yet be found in some early English manuscript hitherto unpublished, or perhaps in the broken-down form of chap-book stories which have escaped the hands of the collectors. Speight's compact folio, first published in 1598, again in 1602, with some improvements, and a third time in 1687, with a few trifling additions, continued to be the standard edition of Chancer throughout the whole of the seventeenth century. Down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, indeed, the collected works of our more celebrated poets generally appeared in the folio form, and the folio belongs to the pre-critical period of our literary history. Urry's ambitious work, which appeared in 1721 and has the distinction of being the tallest of all the Chaucer folios, is certainly no exception. The licentious alterations of the text, in which Urry habitually indulged, have simply made it perversely corrupt in every part. The truth is that Urry, though in some respects an accomplished man and a lover of our early literature, was altogether ignorant of Chaucer's language and versification; and the arbitrary alterations by which he claims to have in a great 5 measure restored and perfected the text,' have in numberless lines destroyed both the grammar and the metre, and in many the sense as well.
The first editor of any part of Chaucer's works who displayed anything like the spirit and power of genuine criticism was undoubtedly Dr. Thomas Morell, best remembered perhaps by his learned • Thesaurus,' which long held its place as a standard lexicon of the Greek poets, and has been referred to by recent scholars as a work of immense labour and research. Dr. Morell was however an English as well as a classical scholar, having edited Spenser, and commenced the publication of the Canterbury Tales' on a thoroughly complete and satisfactory plan. The only matter of regret is that he did not carry out his admirable scheme and finish the work he had so well begun. The first volume of the projected work, and we believe the only one ever issued, appeared in 1737, and was entitled • The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer in the ori'ginal, from the most authentic manuscripts, with references to authors ancient and modern, various readings, and explanatory notes.' This volume contains the · Prologue’ and the • Knight's Tale,' a modern version of each being appended to the original text. Tyrwhitt refers to it in terms of high but just praise; and it appears from his reference to have been the only part of the work that had been published. Mr. Robert Bell, however, in his introduction to the edition of Chaucer in the Annotated English Poets, says that the “ Canterbury
“ Tales” were published in 1740 by Dr. T. Morell;' and that “this is the edition to which Mr. Tyrwhitt gives the date of • 1737.' The last part of the statement is certainly inaccurate, as the volume of 1737 lies before us, and is evidently that to which Tyrwhitt refers, and which he used in preparing his own edition for the press. And we feel convinced that the first part of Mr. Bell's statement is also inaccurate, and that the volume of 1737 is the only part of Dr. Morell's projected work that ever appeared. This part is, however, quite sufficient to show that in undertaking to edit Chaucer Dr. Morell took a just and comprehensive view of the work to be done, and that he possessed many of the higher qualities essential to its successful execution. His plan includes minute attention both to text and commentary; and in dealing with the text • he set out,' says Tyrwhitt,“ upon the only rational plan, that
of collating the best manuscripts and selecting from them the 'genuine readings.' For this purpose he examined no fewer than fifteen manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales ;' and, while adopting the best and most authoritative readings in the text, he gave all the more important manuscript variations in the shape of a separate textual appendix. This full and accurate exhibition of various readings gives indeed to Dr. Morell's
work a more scholarly character and a higher critical value than belongs to any other edition of the Prologue' and • Knight's Tale.' And so great is his respect for the authority of the best manuscripts, that he sometimes gives a reading from them, even although he does not fully understand it. Thus in the description of the knight he was the first to adopt the manuscript reading of the line
'In Lettowe hadde he reysed and in Ruce.' The previous editions had ridden, but Dr. Morell, while mistaking its meaning, restored reysed (journeyed, travelled) on the authority of the great majority of the ancient manuscripts, and in this he has been followed by subsequent editors. Though the noun reyse is found, this is, we believe, the only known example of the verb in our literature, and the restoration is thus of some etymological interest. Dr. Morell had also studied with care Chaucer's language and versification, and his knowledge of both enabled him to point out whole classes of blunders vitiating innumerable lines in Urry's adulterated text. Two remarks of his on Chaucer's versification are worth quoting, not only as acute in themselves and of permanent value, but as anticipating the special criticism of later Chaucerian metrists. In reply to Urry's claim that Chaucer's lines are marked by perfect syllabic regularity, Dr. Morell points out that his verses, while always musical, have sometimes a syllable too much, and sometimes a syllable too little :
His numbers, however,' he says, "are by no means so rough and inharmonious as some people imagine ; there is a charming simplicity in them, and they are always musical whether they want or exceed their complement: the former case, I have observed, when it happens, is generally at the beginning of a verse, when a pause is to be made, or rather two times to be given to the first syllable, as v. 368 :
"Not in Purgatory, but in Hell." Mr. Urry, to make out his ten syllables, reads it, right in hell, which right, though I am no great admirer of a pun, is wrong, as it renders the verse very harsh and dissonant. But this is only one verse among hundreds that are false accented in Mr. Urry's edition, as may be seen by any one that thinks it worth while to consult the various readings annexed to this.'
This passage anticipates one of the most important points insisted on by Mr. Skeat in his excellent supplement to Tyrwhitt's Essay on Chaucer's versification. Again, in noticing Chaucer's metrical use of the final e, Dr. Morell says :But give me leave to observe that he has never used it in
place, except the 2nd, where it is allowable, especially if the accent be strong upon the 4th.
“ Whanné that Apryl,” v.
“ Thatté no Drop,” v. 131. I say that the final e (and I believe I might say the sanie of the plural es or is, especially of monosyllables, v. 174, &c.) is never used in the 4th, 6th, 8th, or last syllable of the verse, which is a fault that most injudiciously runs through Mr. Urry's edition.' This statement is indeed virtually combated by Mr. Ellis in his elaborate work on Early English Pronunciation. He
• points out that in French poetry the weak or final e may occupy almost any of the even or strong places of the verse; and he gives examples of its use in others besides the second, adding that if the text is correct we find the same use in Chaucer. But apart from the question of textual corruption, the three examples Mr. Ellis gives are at most but occasional exceptions to an important rule of Chaucer's verse first generalised by Dr. Morell.
We can only glance at Dr. Morell's scheme of illustration, which is as judicious and complete as his method of dealing with the text. It includes brief notes at the foot of the page, explaining archaic words, phrases, and allusions, and often containing parallel passages from the poets ancient and modern, and a commentary in the shape of an appendix explaining at greater length the historical allusions of the text, as well as its references to contemporary life and manners. The explanation of obsolete words is sometimes inaccurate, and the etymology often erroneous; but considering the low state of English philology at the time, this part of the work is well done, and generally, both in conception and execution, the volume is well entitled to Tyrwhitt's praise of being infinitely ' preferable to any of those that preceded it.' It
indeed even yet be favourably compared with some that have followed it, and that have had the good fortune to become better known.
Tyrwhitt comes next as an editor of Chaucer, and his edition of the Canterbury Tales' is so well known that it is needless to specify its merits and defects in detail. In our judgment, the merits of the work far outweigh its defects, although in the present state of our knowledge the text must no doubt be regarded as seriously defective. Still on the whole Tyrwhitt has done more for Chaucer than any other single editor. . It is no doubt true that he was unacquainted with the niceties of Chaucer's grammar, and their intimate connexion with the mechanism of his verse; and Mr. Wright, in the introduction