Gower Bibliography

The Minor Latin Works

Yeager, R.F., trans. and Livingston, Michael, trans. "The Minor Latin Works." Middle English Texts Series . Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005 ISBN 9781580440974

Review

This new volume is really two editions in one. Since "In Praise of Peace" arises out of very much the same political and biographical circumstances as the majority of Gower's short Latin poems, no one will object to the juxtaposition, but since the two parts have different editors, they will be treated separately here. The "Minor Latin Works," which occupy about two-thirds of the volume, include "De Lucis Scrutinio," "Carmen super multiplici viciorum pestilencia," and the poems such as "O Deus immense," "Ecce patet tensus," and "Rex celi deus," which we are accustomed to seeing referred to by their opening words since they do not bear titles in the MSS; plus Gower's prose colophon, "Quia unusquisque," and "Eneidos Bucolis," which the headnote in the MSS attributes to "quidam Philosophus." (In his headnote, Yeager points out that Macaulay prints the poem among Gower's other works while also conjecturing that it was written by Ralph Strode. Yeager himself presents the best case for believing that it was actually written by Gower, but he places it in an Appendix.) The fifteen poems (including "Eneidos Bucolis") range in length from 4 lines to 320, and they are of varying interest. But they are complete, and now, since in addition to Stockton, Echard and Fanger, and Wilson, we also have Andrew Galloway's translations of the complete Latin apparatus to the Confessio in Peck's new three-volume edition, almost everything that Gower wrote in a language other than English is now available in English (we lack only the shorter French works, the Traitié and the Cinkante Ballades), and those of us who have resisted the effort now have no excuse for remaining unfamiliar with these last bits and pieces of Gower's work. Yeager's text is based on the same MSS as Macaulay's, and in the passages I checked, it is virtually identical, except for editorial punctuation, the use of indentation, Yeager's use of boldface to indicate the larger capitals, and the rendering of u and v. The greatest difference from Macaulay's edition is that where his predecessor printed the poems in the order in which they normally appear in the MSS, Yeager has chosen to present them in the order of composition, as best this can be determined. He acknowledges the necessity of some uncertainty here (pp. 9-10), but the effort is consistent with the invitation that virtually all of these poems make to read them with reference to some specific event, either in English history or in the life of the poet. The translations, which appear en face of the Latin text, are meant to be useful to the largest possible number of readers. Yeager makes no effort to imitate the poetic qualities of the original, nor does he resort to prose: he does his best to translate the text line by line (though that's not always practical; cf. "Carmen" 13-14), but not word by word or by preserving Latin grammatical structure at the expense of English. Thus "Carmen" 1-2, "Non excusatur qui verum non fateatur, / Ut sic ponatur modus unde fides recolatur" becomes "He who does not confess the truth is not excused / From finding a way to act in good faith." The emphasis is on preserving the sense but in such a way as to direct the reader's attention back to the Latin whenever possible. It's a good compromise, and while the translator can't hope to please everyone all the time (I myself have a couple of very small quibbles), the effect overall is a great success. What truly makes this volume indispensable for any serious study, however, is the apparatus. Compared to Yeager, Macaulay gives these poems amazingly short shrift. There is virtually no notice of them in the prefatory material to volume 4 of his edition of Gower's works, and the notes at the back (which are roughly evenly split among textual notes, explanatory notes, and some comments on sources) occupy less than five pages. Yeager provides an excellent seven-page introduction, describing the stylistic qualities of Gower's Latin verse, placing these poems among Gower's other works, justifying their importance both as historical documents and for what they can tell us about the poet, and providing a brief but detailed account of the events leading up to Richard II's deposition and death that provide the setting in which most of these poems were written. He also provides 32 closely packed pages of notes. There he gives answers to every basic question about the text, the metrical form, the thematic structure, the sources, and the best guess for the date of each of these texts, plus explanations of the historical allusions and citations of similar passages in Gower's other works. Some of this information is drawn, of course, from the work of other scholars, who are duly cited. Yeager also preserves the most useful of Macaulay's notes, though he can also be found taking polite issue with him from time to time. Not all of the notes will be required by all users: the explanation of the Great Schism, for instance (p. 56, note to "De Lucis Scrutinio" 4), is clearly intended for students rather than scholars, consistent with the purposes of the series in which the volume appears. But Yeager is everywhere judicious and each note has a discernible value to some likely reader of this book, and most (such as his full account of the Biblical allusions in the poems) will, like his translations, be welcomed by professional users as well as by those we teach. "In Praise of Peace" is neither as inaccessible nor as poorly known as the shorter Latin works: Macaulay includes the 385-line poem in the second volume of his edition of the Confessio, his edition is sound and has an adequate if not extensive apparatus, and the poem is, after all, in Middle English rather than Latin. It has also received its fair share of comment, particularly from those who have been concerned to trace Gower's political allegiances during the last decade of his life. Livingston's task is rather different from Yeager's, therefore: there is much less basic work to be done, and he thus uses his new edition as an opportunity to offer his own detailed critical reading of the poem. The text poses few problems: there is only the Trentham MS plus Thynne's not very good 1532 print. For the comparison between MS and print Livingston refers the reader to Macaulay's notes (p. 105). His own textual notes (p. 133) are few: they include 12 instances in which he has chosen to follow the MS where Macaulay followed Thynne, 17 instances in which he has rejected Macaulay's emendation, and 4 other notes of miscellaneous character. Most of Livingston's differences from Macaulay are very minor and amount to little more than the inclusion or omission of a final -e. Livingston has also introduced some silent emendations of his own, consistent with the practice of the TEAMS series: for instance, thee for the (to distinguish the pronoun from the article; e.g. lines 3, 92) and for to in place of forto (e.g. lines 7, 33 – one of the very features for which Macaulay took Wright to task for his edition of the poem: Works 3.551). Like Peck, in his edition of CA, Livingston consistently transcribes yogh as g, even where y would almost certainly be more appropriate (e.g. give, line 190); and he also introduces modern capitalization (God, Y) and punctuation. The biggest differences from Macaulay in the presentation of the text, however, are in the inclusion of glosses to the "hard" words (he evidently anticipates readers with virtually no familiarity with Middle English) and in the numbering of the stanzas. Livingston has also included a much fuller apparatus: 16 pages of introduction and another 13 of notes, both of which are set into even greater relief by Yeager's comparative restraint. The introduction in particular reads more like a critical essay than like a guide to the study of the poem, as Livingston seeks to overturn some of what he terms the "simplistic reductions" of earlier criticism (p. 90). There is certainly abundant precedent (Peck may again have been the model here), but the result does tend to overwhelm the poem. Livingston argues that "In Praise of Peace" proceeds "in careful, logical steps" (p. 94) and that its division – into nine marked sections plus an additional stanza – has a numerological significance that is closely related to its theme; and as proof of its "subtle craft" (p. 101), he presents a detailed, four-page summary of the poem, section by section. His argument certainly deserves to be read, and while it may not fully overcome the impression that, like much of Gower's moral and political writing, the compendiousness of "In Praise of Peace" is organized more by free association than it is by logic, it will have served its purpose if it forces us to take a closer look at the poem. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 26.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:In Praise of Peace
Minor Latin Poetry
Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations

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