Gower Bibliography

Ben Jonson's English Grammar and John Gower's Reception in the Seventeenth Century.

Yeager, R.F. "Ben Jonson's English Grammar and John Gower's Reception in the Seventeenth Century." In The Endless Knot: Essays on Old and Middle English In Honor of Marie Boroff. Ed. Tavormina, M. Teresa and Yeager, R.F.. Cambridge: Brewer, 1995, pp. 227-239. ISBN 0859914801


A total of 32 of the 118 quotations with which Jonson illustrated his "English Grammar" are drawn from CA, 6 more than from Chaucer and far more than from any other source. That number is itself an indication of Gower's standing in the early seventeenth century. Yeager examines Jonson's work more closely in order to assess some of the reasons for that esteem. Gower appears in Jonson in the company of some illustrious names: Chaucer, Lydgate, Fox, Jewell, Norton, More, Lambert, Ascham, Cheke, Lord Berners, and the King James Bible (pp. 229-30). The quotations, Yeager suggests, are chosen to illustrate and to advance a certain notion of style, privileging a plain vernacular. Thus Chaucer is represented by the "lower range of his poetic voice" (p. 231); and Gower appears even plainer, and seems to have been a better example of Jonson's ideal style than any of the other authors from whom he quotes. Jonson almost certainly knew CA from one of Berthelette's editions rather than from Caxton's, and may have been influenced in his view of Gower by the emphasis on editorial and linguistic correctness in Berthelette's letter to his readers, and by the printer's praise of the poet's "olde englishe wordes and vulgars" in the dedication to Henry VIII (p. 233). Berthelette's praise of CA's "potential to effect moral improvement" (p. 234) also no doubt appealed to the humanist in Jonson, and justified the poet's appearance in the company of Ascham and the Bible. The perception of Gower as a proto-humanist may also have been aided by Berthelette's account of Gower's sources, which resembles the range of writers that Jonson himself drew upon for his Grammar, and by his Latinity, emphasized in Berthelette's printing of the Latin verses and prose glosses in the same column as the English text. Jonson gave considerable attention to the models he drew upon, Yeager argues, because of the circumstances under which the Grammar as we know it was composed, late in his life, after the loss of a considerable body of his work in a fire in 1623, and "when so much of posterity's assessment must have seemed to him to teeter in the balance" (p. 237). For the conception of the Grammar itself, Jonson was heavily indebted to de la Ramée ("Ramus"), whose own work is studded with examples from the most illustrious Latin authors. Jonson's choice of the twelve English authors that he cites indicates that he held them in equivalent esteem. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 17.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Influence and Later Allusion

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