Gower Bibliography

What Do These Numbers Mean? A Textual Critic's Observations on Some Patterns of Middle English Manuscript Transmission

Sargent, Michael G. "What Do These Numbers Mean? A Textual Critic's Observations on Some Patterns of Middle English Manuscript Transmission." In Design and Distribution of Late Medieval Manuscripts in England. Ed. Connolly, Margaret and Mooney, Linne R. [York]: York Medieval Press, 2008, pp. 205-44. ISBN 9781903153246


Sargent seeks to determine "how we can use the evidence of numbers of surviving manuscripts as a way to deduce information about what was being made available to read in English from the end of the fourteenth century to the early sixteenth (205). His speculations have relevance for Gower studies, as the sixty-three manuscripts of Gower's Confessio Amantis, as Sargent counts them ("fifty-three originally complete copies, ten extracted tales or groups of tales, plus one manuscript each of a Portuguese and a Castilian Spanish translation of the complete work and one manuscript containing a Latin abridgement of the tale of Constance" [206]), make Gower's poem the fifth most common Middle English work in manuscript, behind the Wycliffite bible (250+ MSS), Brut (181 MSS), Prick of Conscience (123 MSS), Canterbury Tales (81 MSS). More specifically, Sargent notes a distribution pattern that "shows a rising rate of production for a period of a quarter- to a half-century, followed by a leveling off when some form of 'market saturation' was achieved" (243). The CA, Sargent finds, mirrors this conclusion exactly: "the book-length text most commonly produced by scribes participating in the early fifteenth century London book trade in vernacular manuscripts was John Gower's Confessio Amantis. Two manuscripts of the complete text are datable paleographically to the end of the fourteenth century, Huntington Library MS E126.A.17 and Bodleian MS Fairfax 3; one is datable to the beginning of the fifteenth century, Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 67; a further twenty-six manuscripts are datable to the first quarter of the fifteenth century, fourteen to the second quarter, seven to the third quarter, one to the final quarter of the century, and two to the sixteenth century. One manuscript of the first half of the fifteenth century, Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.358, contains a Latin abridgement of the story of Constance based on both the Latin and English of Gower's text; four manuscripts of extracts can be dated to the second half of the century, one to the last quarter, and two to the early sixteenth century. The overall pattern shows that the Confessio Amantis was particularly popular in the first quarter of the fifteenth century, but dropped off gradually over the rest of the century" (235-36). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 28.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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