Gower Bibliography

John Gower: Confessio Amantis. Volume 1.

Peck, Russell A., ed. "John Gower: Confessio Amantis. Volume 1." Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2000


This is the first volume in a projected three-volume edition of the complete Confessio Amantis published by the Medieval Institute for the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages (TEAMS) as part of their series of Middle English Texts. This volume contains the Prologue and Books 1 and 8; volume 2 will contain Books 2-4 and volume 3 Books 5-7. At first glance a somewhat bizarre arrangement, this way of dividing up the poem is actually an ingenious solution to the problem of presenting the Confessio to the primary audience of this edition, undergraduate and graduate students who are reading Gower for the first time. We have in volume 1 the indispensable elements for understanding the structure of the whole Confessio. This volume can be used alone or in conjunction with either one or both of the other volumes when they become available. It is possible, though perhaps less likely, that one might assign one or both of the other volumes without volume 1 as well. We will thus have six different ways of presenting extended portions of the poem in addition to the choice to teach it in its entirety. In doing so, we will be able to assign entire books instead of the selected passages (almost always from the tales) of the only other editions that have been available for classroom use (including Peck’s own edition of 1968, which the present edition will probably replace), and all at a very reasonable price: this first volume lists for just $20. The appearance of this edition will thus be welcomed by everyone who has taught the poem in the past or who looks forward to doing so in the future. The version of the poem that Peck presents will also be familiar to those who choose to teach it, since he has followed Macaulay in his choice of manuscript both for the main body of the text (Bodleian Fairfax 3, Macaulay's F) and for the two alternative passages in the Prologue, lines 24-92 (Bodley 294, Macaulay's B), and in the epilogue, 8.2941 ff. (Bodley 902, Macaulay's A). (For some reason the former is presented with the main text, en face, but the latter is included only in the notes.) Peck claims (p. 44) also to have consulted Macaulay's MSS J, S, and delta, but there is no evidence for that in the Textual Notes (pp. 356-58). There he lists some 40 departures from Fairfax. Nine of these record editorial choices (e.g. the division of compounds such as "noman" into two words). All of the rest simply follow Macaulay (including eight for which Macaulay is not cited: Prol. 917, 1.293, 574 vv. 1, 593, 2680 vv. 5, 3398; 8.1687, 2970) without any reference to the MS authority upon which Macaulay's emendations are based. Peck also cites some 30 departures from Macaulay's text, divided roughly equally between corrections of Macaulay's mistranscriptions and rejections of his emendations, but again without reference to any authority other than the MS that serves as his base. Peck's presentation of the text (of which he gives an incomplete account in his Preface, p. x) follows Macaulay in the silent expansion of abbreviations, in the regularization of u/v and i/j, and in transcribing thorn as "th," but then goes a few steps further than Macaulay does in modernizing its appearance. Peck has completely regularized the capitalization; he adds an accent to a long final e (e.g. "humilité"); he inserts an apostrophe into contractions (e.g. "th'emperour," 1.762); and he provides quotation marks for the conversation between Amans and Genius, so that the entire main body of the poem is now punctuated as a dialogue. Nothing here will cause alarm. But he has also chosen silently to transcribe the manuscript's yogh as "g" rather than "y" in such words as "3iven" and its derivatives, "for3eten" and "a3ein" (though not in "3e," "3it," or "3owþe," for which he uses "y"), which some will feel is an unnecessary falsification of Gower's dialect. As a test of accuracy, I checked a passage of 500 lines (1.501-1000) both against Macaulay and against Fairfax. I found one transcription error ("Although" for "Althogh," 1.738); another that he shares with Macaulay and did not correct ("seemeth" for MS "semeþ," 1.665); an extra closing quotation mark (at the end of 1.707); one mistaken use of "é" (on "poverté," 1.613, ruining the rhyme with "decerte" in 614), and three instances in which MS "þe" (the pronoun) has been presented as "thee," either by mistake or, much more likely, as a deliberate but silent alteration (1.584, 587, 941). I also found nine differences in punctuation from Macaulay's text. Three of these (in 1.596, 723, 853-54) result in a slight alteration of the sense, in each case, in my judgment, for the worse. The other six (1.568, 594, 601, 825, 883, 884) do not affect the sense but represent a welcome attempt to bring Macaulay's punctuation more in line with modern conventions. Here it is to be regretted that Peck has not done more. One minor but constant irritation of Macaulay's edition is that it is over-punctuated, and his use of the colon in particular doesn't correspond to contemporary usage. The unintended effect is to make Gower seem even more dated that he is. But as one reads Peck's text alongside Macaulay's, one finds one line after another in which Peck has simply followed the example of his mentor. His practice here is consistent with what one might deduce from the textual notes about how this edition actually came into being. Rather than being based upon Fairfax, it is perhaps more accurate to describe it as being based upon Macaulay and checked against Fairfax, with some updating of the punctuation (the quotation marks, the apostrophe, the "é") and a small number of corrections, but if the sample I chose is representative, with at least an equal number of errors and silent emendations of its own. The apparatus to this edition consists of an 43-page introduction to the poem, a "Select Bibliography," a "Chronology of Gower's Life and Works" (taken almost verbatim from Peck's 1968 edition), 73 pages of explanatory notes, the textual notes, and a 5-page glossary. Peck provides five reproductions of the illustrations (of Amans confessing to Genius and of Nebuchadnezzar's dream) from the three MSS from which the text has been taken. He also provides extensive vocabulary glosses in the right margin of the page. In addition, Andrew Galloway has provided a complete translation of the Latin apparatus, which must certainly be counted as one the principal attractions of this edition. Galloway's prose translations of the Latin verses (which appear at the bottom of the page) are very helpful: they replicate to the extent that it is possible the difficult syntax of the original and they can therefore sometimes be more difficult to read than the freer verse translations of Echard and Fanger, but they provide a far more useful crutch for anyone who is trying to approach the Latin. The prose marginalia (which are placed, together with their translations, in the notes at the back of the volume) pose fewer challenges, but I suspect that the students will not be the only ones who are glad to have Galloway's clear and precise English renderings and I expect to see them appearing in the footnotes to scholarly articles on the poem in the near future. Galloway has also provided valuable notes to both the verse and the prose which can be used profitably alongside those of Macaulay and of Echard and Fanger. The rest of the apparatus is a mixed bag, and at this point one has to stop and sympathize with the editor. With the thousands of decisions that one must make in presenting an edition of this sort, one cannot possibly hope to satisfy every user. To begin with the glosses: one has to try to provide enough assistance for the readers with no experience in Middle English without distracting either them or the more experienced readers from the actual text. Some will feel that Peck has been too accommodating: the glossing is far more extensive than in his 1968 edition, especially at the beginning of the volume, but even at the end, many fairly common words are glossed that one might feel that a student who is reading the poem in Middle English ought to become familiar with, by recourse to a glossary if necessary. The glosses that I checked are sometimes a bit freer than one might wish, but are generally accurate (though on the very first page, "ensampled of" in Prol. 7 surely means "taught by" rather than "exemplified by"; cf. Prol. 47). The introduction is another matter. There, Peck's impulse to guide the reader is equally manifest, but not in a way that will be as useful to the novice. Instead of a true "introduction," what we are given is an argument for a very particular reading of the poem, taken over in large part from Peck's 1968 edition. From the very beginning, it assumes a familiarity with the whole poem and its structure, with the content of the tales, and with the context in which they are addressed by one character to another, and it launches into an abstruse discussion of Augustine's theory of knowledge, of the relationship between memory and history, and of "reading as therapy." When he finally gets to discussing the poem itself, Peck offers an interpretation of its moral structure that is grounded on a single-minded view of Amans' role as being a lost sinner: "in his fantasy, [he] has set himself apart from the mutual pleasures of Nature's domain in hope of enjoying singular pleasure. His main desire is to pamper his secretive emotions. The piercing of his heart by Cupid's dart clinches his loss of natural freedom. He is trapped in his amorous confusion, and many tales will pass before he returns home from spiritual exile" (p. 28; cf. Peck’s 1968 edition, p. xiii). Peck also allows this reading to slip into the notes from time to time (e.g. at 8.2224 ff.). The basic question is whether or not this is an appropriate function for the introduction and notes to an edition with the intended audience of this one: should the editor be guiding the student to a particular reading, or providing the materials with which the students may construct a reading of their own? We might have done instead, for instance, with some more background on the several different genres of which the poem partakes and on Gower's own earlier poetry. (As it is, the only comments on MO and VC in this edition are hidden in the "Chronology of Gower's Life and Works.") We might have gotten some remarks on the complexity of Amans’ role, or on the difficulties in interpreting Gower’s use of such terms as "nature," "will," and "reason." We might also have been given some comments on the range of response that the poem has provoked, but there is nothing in the introduction to indicate that Peck's views are not shared by all other modern readers. The issue of appropriateness will obviously be most important for those who take a different view of the poem than Peck does (among whom I count myself), and in teaching the poem from this edition, we will each simply have to make our own choice on whether or not to assign the introduction. It is also a bit disappointing to note that there is some carelessness and inconsistency in the presentation of the apparatus. To begin with a trivial matter: in the "Selected Bibliography," under the heading "Editions (in chronological order)," Peck includes both Echard and Fanger's translations of the Latin verses and Stockton's translation of VC, which are not editions, and they are not listed in chronological order. He omits, moreover, Wilson's translation of MO, which is found, however, along with Stockton, in the notes to the colophon on p. 279. The bibliography of criticism (pp. 49-59) is also a bit of a puzzle. It is presented in simple alphabetical order, and it is very difficult to see what principles guided the selection. Recent work seems to be favored over older pieces, and thus some familiar and influential titles are missing. Works that treat the poem in general rather than a specific portion of it seem to be favored, but there are several exceptions there. In general, works that support the view of the introduction appear more prominently than those that do not. But no guidance is offered on where a student might best begin her own research on the poem, and what can one say about a bibliography on Gower that makes room for a book entitled An Illustrated History of Brain Function but that does not include either Pickle and Dawson's concordance or JGN? Somewhat more seriously: in his discussion of the manuscripts on p. 44, Peck gives a very misleading account of the relation among the versions of the poem that Macaulay labeled "recensions," implying that the revision of Prol. 24-92 and the replacement of the tribute to Chaucer in 8.2941-70 first appear in "third recension" copies (the former appears in all but one existing copy of "recension two," the latter in all "recension two" copies that are not damaged at the end), and making no reference to the revision of the epilogue that follows the Chaucer passage (8.2171 ff.). He also gives far more specific dates for the various stages of revision than the evidence allows; see Astell’s discussion of the problems of dating the different versions in the book discussed above. In the same paragraph, he refers to the Spanish translation of the Confessio, "which purports to be based upon a Portuguese translation of the poem," apparently unaware that a MS of the Portuguese translation is also extant; see JGN 20, no. 1, 15-17. His description of MO on page 60 still omits (as it did in 1968) any reference to the survey of the estates that occupies the middle of the poem. And on page 28 (note 61), in his account of the opening of Book 1, his statement that "the romance devices here--the wandering in May, the music of the birds, the woeful frustration of the lovesick persona, the encounter with Venus and Cupid, and Cupid's fiery, captivating dart--are all found in the opening section of Guillaume de Lorris' Roman de la Rose" is a mischaracterization both of the Roman and of Gower’s much more complicated relation to French courtly poetry. There are other smaller problems of this sort that one could point to in the introduction and notes. Peck and Galloway deserve our gratitude for, each in his own way, making the English and Latin texts of the poem so much more accessible, but it will nonetheless be worthwhile for both professor and student to use this edition with a bit of caution. With Latin Translations by Andrew Galloway.[PN. Copyright by the John Gower Society. JGN 20.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations
Confessio Amantis

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