Gower Bibliography

A Concordance to John Gower's Confessio Amantis.

Pickles, J.D. and Dawson, J.L., eds. "A Concordance to John Gower's Confessio Amantis." Publications of the John Gower Society, 1 . Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1987

Review

The publication of this much needed concordance to the Confessio Amantis is perhaps the most important single event in Gower scholarship since the appearance of Macaulay's edition in 1900-1901, and certainly no better beginning could have been chosen for the John Gower Society Publications. The largest part of this book is a 764-page concordance to what Pickles and Dawson call the "main text" of the poem, Macaulay's edited "recension three" (the English portion alone). The editors have also provided a separate alphabetical listing of the vocabulary of this text; a reverse spelling list of the same vocabulary; a listing by frequency of all words that appear more than 12 times, with statistical analysis; a separate concordance, vocabulary list, and reverse spelling list for the "variant text" (the passages from the "first" and "second" recensions in the Prologue and Books 5, 7, and 8 that are printed at the foot of the page in Macaulay's edition); and in four appendices, a complete concordance to four of the 45 most frequent words omitted from the main concordance ("al," "alle," "love" [which appears in the main text a total of 855 times], and "man"), sample citations of the remaining most frequent words, a rhyme index (combining the "main" and "variant" texts), and a combined index of capitalized words. All is contained in a handsome volume of 1124 closely printed but easily legible pages, only slightly larger than a single volume of Gower's works. The editors report (p. ix) that they relied heavily on a computer for their work, and the volume that they have produced reveals both the advantages and disadvantages of the computer-aided analysis of a literary text. The broad array of material presented here would have been difficult and time-consuming to compile by hand, to be sure. The limitation of the computer, however, is that it works strictly on the basis of spelling. Thus with the single exception of "the," article, and "the," pronoun, the editors have made no attempt to distinguish homonyms or even different parts of speech. Under an entry such as "hold," for instance, one finds both "Demetrius was put in hold" and "Forthi, mi Sone, hold up thin hed." At the same time, both variant spellings and different inflectional forms of the same word receive separate entries: thus "thyng" is listed separately from "thing," and there are also entries for "thinge" and "thinges." Some adjustment will be necessary for those already familiar with either Tatlock and Kennedy's Chaucer Concordance or Kottler and Markman's Concordance to Five Middle English Poems, in which homonyms are distinguished and the problem of variants is eliminated by listing all words under a modern spelling. The editors' scrupulosity over what may well be merely scribal variation does not extend to other details of the text, for they accept Macaulay's practice of modernizing i/j and u/v and replacing thorn and yogh where they occur. Their arrangement also calls into question the value of their elaborate word-frequency analysis. It is difficult to know what significance to attach to the 855 appearances of "love" since the figure includes both the noun and the verb. To find the frequency of the verb alone one must do one's own sorting of the list of examples, and then add in the separate entries for "loved," "lovede," "loveden," "loven," and "loveth." The total, however, would presumably be meaningful only if one has done the same sort of recalculation for every other verb. One cannot expect the editors to have anticipated every need of their future users, but somewhat more intervention in the work of the machine might have been called for. And if the concordance itself had necessarily to be based strictly on the spelling of the text, the separate alphabetical list of the vocabulary of this text, entirely redundant to the concordance, might have been replaced with a glossary list distinguishing the different parts of speech, giving total frequency for each glossary entry, and cross-listing the forms under which each item is concorded. Some objection might also be raised to the editors' treatment of the "main" and "variant" texts. It is not clear why the two concordances could not have been combined, especially since no distinction is made in the rhyme index and the list of capitalized words at the end, and the present arrangement makes it necessary to check in two places for each item. The editors have gone much further than Macaulay, moreover, in enshrining the Fairfax MS as the study text of the poem. They are correct in stating in their introduction (p. vii) that Macaulay's choice of this MS as the basis for his edition is unlikely to be bettered, but it is doubtful that any contemporary editor would treat this MS as uncritically as he. And no doubt under the influence of Macaulay's edition, they have chosen only the longest of the passages in the "variant" text for their concordance: no notice is made of the many shorter passages scattered throughout the poem in which recensions "one" and "two" differ from "recension three," some of which, the present reviewer has argued elsewhere, might perhaps represent scribal alteration in the Fairfax copy. Whatever reservations one might have about the editors' procedure, they have nonetheless produced a valuable, indeed indispensable tool for all future study of Gower's poem, and we will all be grateful to Pickles and Dawson for finally having filled so plain a need. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 7.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies
Bibliographies, Reports, and Reference

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata