Gower Bibliography

The History of English Poetry from the Close of the Eleventh to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century

Warton, Thomas. "The History of English Poetry from the Close of the Eleventh to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century." London: [Dodsley], 1778

Review

Warton's chapter on Gower occurs on pp. 1-31 of volume 2 of his classic work. Warton opens with a broad assessment of Gower's achievement: "If Chaucer had not existed, the compositions of John Gower, the next poet in succession, would alone have been sufficient to rescue the reigns of Edward the third and Richard the second from the imputation of barbarism" (1). After mention of Gower's reform of the English language, and a description of his three great works, Warton dwells briefly on Gower's biography. In particular, he argues that Gower's piety is demonstrated by his contributions to the Priory of St. Mary Overeys. The rest of the chapter enumerates the probable sources of the CA, and describes each in some detail. Warton suggests that Gower's immediate model for the CA was likely the Romance of the Rose. Gower, however, lacks Jean de Meun's warmth of personification. He "seldom attempted to imitate the picturesque imageries, and expressive personifications, of that exquisite allegory" (4). Instead, Gower rationally enumerates the qualities of his personifications (Avarice, Neglicence, etc.), borrowing additional maxims and narratives from his "common-place book" (4). Warton further praises Gower for his scientific knowledge (in Book 4 of the CA) and suggests that "Gower very probably conducted his associate Chaucer into these profound mysteries" (5). Next, Warton turns his attention to Book 7, which he criticizes for its lack of ornamentation. Perhaps the only exception is the description of the chariot and crown of the sun, from which Warton quotes at some length. Warton notes Book 7's indebtedness to the Secreta Secretorum, but argues that Gower's most important source for the CA's exempla is Godfrey of Viterbo's Pantheon. Gower also used the latter's Speculum Regum and borrowed extensively from other comprehensive medieval chronicles. Three additional sources that Warton mentions are Guido della Collone, the Romance of Sir Lancelot, and the Gesta Romanorum. Gower's use of the Gesta is clear from a number of references to the old "gestes." One of the tales Gower borrows from the Gesta Romanorum is the tale of the "Two Coffers" (CA 5.2273-2390). Warton relates this tale and its source to a similar incident in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. Given Gower's extensive knowledge of literature and science, Warton is amused to find him make some mistakes: "It is pleasant to observe the strange mistakes which Gower, a man of great learning, and the most general scholar of his age, has committed in this poem, concerning books which he never saw, his violent anachronisms, and misrepresentations of the most common facts and characters" (20). Warton takes issue, for instance, with the names Gower mentions as examples of the first authors and chroniclers (4.2407-12) and with his telling of the story of the "Jew and the Pagan" in Book 7. After a series of other brief references to biblical, classical and medieval sources, Warton tries to situate the CA in relation to the work of Chaucer. He suggests that the CA must have been written after Chaucer's TC, because reference is made to reading the story of Troilus (CA 4.2795). The CA must also have been written after the Floure and the Leafe, which Warton ascribes to Chaucer. Gower's imitation of this work is most evident in the tale of "Rosiphelee," in Book 4 of the CA, although Gower makes reference to this courtly debate elsewhere as well. Finally, Warton believes that Gower's "affection of appearing learned" (31) is typical of the early poets. By contrast, Chaucer is the exception to this rule. His "original feelings were too strong to be suppressed by books" and his "learning was overbalanced by genius" (31). Gower instead strove too hard to be a scholar. [CvD]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Vox Clamantis
Biography of Gower
Confessio Amantis
Influence and Later Allusion
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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