Gower Bibliography

John Gower

Macaulay, George Campbell. "John Gower." In The Cambridge History of English Literature. Ed. Ward, A. W. and Waller, A. R. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1908, pp. 133-155.


Macaulay opens his biographical account of Gower's life and oeuvre by situating him within the history of vernacular English. Whereas it was above all Chaucer who reconciled the English language with French tastes, Gower also had some small part to play. Since Chaucer's wide reading of continental literature can hardly be regarded as typical, the "normal development of English literature in its progress towards general acceptance" can better be illustrated by Gower, "though he is a man of talent only, not of genius" (134). Macaulay provides a brief biography of Gower's life, during which he argues that there is insufficient evidence of a quarrel with Chaucer. He further suggests that the development of Gower's political opinions may best be traced in his writing. Of note is Gower's revision of Book 6 of the VC to put more blame on Richard II. In the recensions of the CA we also gradually witness Gower become "more and more embittered" (137) with Richard's self-indulgence and arbitrary rule. Finally, the CT brings new hope in the person of Henry IV. The longest part of Macaulay's essay introduces Gower's three major works and their literary, as opposed to didactic, qualities. The MO, first of all, describes the virtues and vices "to such inordinate length that the effect of unity is almost completely lost, and the book becomes tiresome to read" (141). After noting some redeeming features, and providing a brief description of Gower's French verse style, Macaulay argues that the most valuable part of the MO consists of the review of the various classes of society. Similarly, the most interesting part of the VC is the description of the Peasants Revolt, even though this portion (the Visio) may have been added to the manuscript as "an afterthought" (144). The VC develops the doctrine of man as microcosm introduced in the MO, and dwells in more detail on contemporary politics. When it comes to language and meter, Gower's practice of borrowing couplets and longer passages from other authors means that "we must be cautious in giving him credit for any particular passage" (144). Next, Macaulay suggests that Gower's decision to write the CA may have been caused not necessarily by the meeting with Richard on the Thames, but also by the stimulus of Chaucer's recent work in the vernacular. Macaulay denies the influence of Gower's work on The Legend of Good Women and posits that the opposite is rather true. The most noteworthy aspect of the CA is its partial renunciation of didacticism. However, the unity of the CA is marred by a series of unnecessary digressions, the most egregious being the interpolation of Book 7. Another blemish is Genius's awkward characterization as both moralist and the high-priest of love. After a discussion of Gower's sources and their adaptation, as well as praise for the "taste for simplicity" (152) evident in Gower's poetical style, Macaulay concludes with a brief appraisal of the minor works. [CvD]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Minor Latin Poetry
Cinkante Balades
Cronica Tripertita
Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
In Praise of Peace
Vox Clamantis
Biography of Gower
Traité pour Essampler les Amants Marietz
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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