Gower Bibliography

The Account Book and the Treasure: Gilbert Maghfeld's Textual Economy and the Poetics of Mercantile Accounting in Ricardian Literature

Galloway, Andrew. "The Account Book and the Treasure: Gilbert Maghfeld's Textual Economy and the Poetics of Mercantile Accounting in Ricardian Literature." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 33 (2011), pp. 65-124. ISSN 0190-2407


Gilbert Maghfeld, "ironmonger, credit broker, and moneylender" (65), is already known to literary scholars for his financial dealings with both Chaucer and Gower. He was also cited by Manly as the possible model for Chaucer's satiric portrait of the Merchant. Galloway takes a broader view, using Maghfeld's surviving account book (which records his transactions with the two poets) as the starting point for an investigation of the ways in which mercantile practices and "technologies" (69) inform late fourteenth-century English poetry, even when the poets are not directly discussing either merchants or commerce. After summarizing Maghfeld's career, pointing out the many connections between his and Chaucer's worlds, Galloway discusses the metaphors of credit, debt, and accounting in "Piers Plowman," suggesting that Langland had a more sophisticated understanding of mercantile commerce than he has been given credit for, and he examines Chaucer's use of the vocabulary of accounting and moneylending, particularly in the Wife of Bath's and Shipman's Tales. The points of intersection between Maghfeld and Gower are provided by Maghfeld's 1392 loan to Gower to purchase a "cheste" and Maghfeld's acceptance of a copy of Brunetto Latini's "Trésor" as security on a loan to a certain Francis Winchester in 1393. Only in the "Mirour de l'Omme," Galloway notes, might Gower have directly addressed members of the merchant class regarding their profession. The "Confessio Amantis" contains little direct reference either to London or to commerce, and its references to money and contracts, "the basic technologies of mercantilism" (106), are not marked by satire or even by direct connection to the mercantile class in which they arose. The poem "participates more dynamically in such technology," Galloway asserts (106), in its repeated references to "chestes" or "cofres," the basic tool for both security and shipment at that time. In the discussion of Avarice, the "cheste" becomes the focus for the meditation on "use" versus hoarding. In the tale of "The Two Coffers," the grumbling courtiers are cast as "nervous merchant venturers," equally concerned with making the correct choice and with the profit that they might thereafter win. And in "Apollonius of Tyre," the "cheste" is a coffin, but it becomes the means of transporting the treasure that it contains, not without regard to the risk that is entailed. Gower may have viewed his own poem as a type of "treasure," imitating the form and purpose of Latini's "Trésor." It is also a type of account book, of "love's winnings" (110); and in its use of rhetoric, it demonstrates a power of language analogous to a merchant's, to commute and transform the experience with which it is concerned. In his final section, Galloway discovers an important biographical connection between Maghfeld and Thomas Usk, who in his previously undocumented role as sheriff's clerk served four writs upon the moneylender in 1383. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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