Emending and Remembering

Chaucer was an early modern author. This statement is an acknowledgement of Chaucer's presence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Nowhere was this presence more visible than in the string of large folio editions of Chaucer's collected works. Chaucer's language may have been increasingly distant and difficult to understand, but, unlike his fellow Middle English poets, his works remained accessible and visible in print. So when Spenser lauded, and self-consciously claimed, the mantle of Chaucer, he was not only accessing the authority of the past -- of a domestic heritage of English "literature" -- but was also capitalizing on the authority of a contemporary.
This is the Iowa copy of Thomas Speght's 1598 edition of Chaucer (InfoHawk+ record here).

Speght's volume was the most ambitious and most important edition of Chaucer that had yet appeared -- and indeed, it may in fact be the most important edition of Chaucer to ever appear, since it has been credited with inventing, both figuratively and materially, the very idea of Chaucerian authorship -- if not vernacular literary authorship itself. Speght's edition, that is, defined Chaucer as the foundational author in a nascent English literary tradition, providing a model for what an author should look like in material form. The accoutrements of the title-page above, with its list of extensive supplementary material, usually accorded only to classical authors, is the most visible aspect of this act of invention.

Speght's time at Cambridge in the early 1570s overlapped with that of another, more famous Chaucer enthusiast, namely Edmund Spenser, and their respective investments in Chaucer would take different, yet still very similar, forms. I've written about the material forms of Spenser's works here (on the Shepheardes Calender) and here (on the title-page of his collected works) -- the Calender especially capitalizes on the potential of print technology by combining a number of different material forms, from woodcut illustrations to the faux-scholarly gloss of "E.K." Speght's goal with his edition of Chaucer was to provide a similar treatment, albeit one that took these various paratexts seriously.

Although Speght's edition largely reproduces the text of the previous major edition -- John Stow's of 1561 -- a number of key features were added, including a glossary for Chaucer's difficult language, annotations to the text, and a biography of Chaucer that would prove to be influential for over two centuries. The combined effect of these various paratexts made Chaucer into a more recognizable, humanist, early modern author, as opposed to the more distant medieval author encased in previous editions.

I'm more interested in the annotations left by Renaissance readers in their copies of Chaucer than in the printed paratexts in and of themselves--or, rather, in the ways those printed paratexts influenced the reactions of readers. This is an interest I share with Allison Wiggins, who surveyed over 50 printed copies of Chaucer, publishing her findings in an excellent and aptly named article: "What Did Renaissance Readers Write in their Printed Copies of Chaucer?"  Wiggins's valuable research (the fascinating details of which I urge you to read for yourself) confirm the conclusions of two broad, and often disparate, areas of inquiry: book history and literary history. As to the former, the copies she examined show a remarkable range of readers' marks, of the kind that historians have come to expect from the Renaissance: everything from engaged annotations and perceptive reactions to the text, to handwriting practice and household tasks entirely unrelated to the text. One of the more notable findings is that more women wrote in copies of Chaucer than you might expect, providing some crucial evidence for practices that are all too often invisible. The second major conclusion pertains more specifically to Chaucer: his reputation and fame as an auctor (a fame that is foundational to a literary approach to Chaucer) clearly influenced readers' annotations -- from the aforementioned engagement with the text, to the copying of the epitaph from Chaucer's tomb. As this last example shows, the kinds of memorializing and authorizing paratexts in the printed editions influenced reciprocal acts by the owners and readers of those books.

The copy at Iowa has three sets of readers' marks that accord well with the conclusions of Wiggins, and which perhaps more importantly, are enjoyably interesting in their own right. If you take a closer look at the top of the title-page, you will see two different instances in which the ownership of the book was marked:

There is the initial instance, in which someone wrote their name, and perhaps the date, and then a subsequent moment when someone else scratched out those names, rendering them illegible (the middle annotation might be a date of some kind -- the last two digits seem to be "22" -- while the name on the right seems to start "Tho:" -- but I'll confess to being unable to decipher any more than that, either in person or by magnifying the digital image).

Signing your name to a title-page was perhaps the most common (and effective) way of establishing and demonstrating ownership of a book -- and so it would make sense that subsequent owners would want to scratch out those marks as a way of claiming ownership for themselves.

The second example from this copy of Speght's Chaucer combines two strands of annotation that Wiggins identified: handwriting practice, and the act of memorializing the author. First, there are a few doodles at the bottom of Speght's prefatory letter:

A few pages later there is a copy of a poem, "The Reader to Geffrey Chaucer":

The "progenie" page on the right attempts to ensure Chaucer's elevated social status -- it goes out of its way to claim Chaucer as a Lancastrian descended from John of Gaunt (more on this in a moment). One particular reader, however, was more interested in the poem than in the genealogical picture, and on the verso of the illustrated page has copied out the first two stanzas of the poem, which can be seen below:

As you can see, there was a false start -- the first line has been partially erased, and below a more even (and more justified) first line is followed regularly by the rest of the two stanzas. I'll transcribe the handwritten copy here, which mostly accords with the printed version:

Where hast thou dwelt: good Ieffrey all this while 
Vnknowne to us saue onely By thy Bookes
In haulkes and hernes god wott & in Exile
Where none uouchsaft to yeeld me words or looks
till one which saw me there and knew my freinds
Did Bring me forth such grace sometimes god sends

But who is he that hath thy bookes repar:d
And added moe: whereby thou art more graced
The selfe same man that hath noe labour spard
To help what time and writters had defaced
And made old words which were unknowne of many
Soe Plaine ^that now^ thy may be knowne of any

The copy is generally correct, except for the lack of punctuation, which at times makes the poem a bit difficult to understand. The writer did have a few missteps, which may indicate that the copying was undertaken, at least in part, as a form of handwriting practice: most visibly in the fifth line ("which" is written over a mistaken and erased word), the ninth line (there is a mistaken letter scratched out in "labour"), the tenth line ("time" follows an erasure) and the last line (where "that now" is inserted above the line, making a mess out of the entire phrase).

The poem itself cleverly reanimates Chaucer so that he can sanction Speght's editorial enterprise, which is here characterized as an act of remembrance and of rescue, saving the author from "exile," and more importantly from the cruelty of "time" (not to mention the cruelty of other writers) which has "defaced" him and his works. The choice of this poem may have been practical -- a combination of its short length, and the availability of a nearby blank page -- but it is remarkably apt, since it perceptively performs the memorial intent of the edition. Indeed, as David Matthews argues in an essay in this collection, this particular poem has rarely been attended to by critics, even though it provocatively (and economically) articulates the acts necessary to textually resurrect Chaucer's authorial presence.

The copyist left out the final stanza, which fulsomely praises Speght, who "thinks no pains too much" in his labor of remembrance for Chaucer. There's no way to know the reason for this omission (there's plenty of room left on the blank verso) -- but it would prove to be peculiarly apt, particularly for the final couplet of that third stanza. This couplet breaks the pattern of the rest of the poem, and it also points to the manifest inadequacies of the edition: given more time, Speght would have "left no fault in prose nor rime." Speght's discontent with the edition was palpable -- on the final page of the volume he left a withering note blaming both the printer and the lack of time for his failure to provide all the desired supplementary material, and he would produce a second edition only four years later, in 1602, in which that final couplet of the poem was omitted. Once again, the copyist may have been working within practical bounds, but from our perspective the perceptiveness seems just a bit prophetic.

The third set of annotations in the Iowa copy show that the text did indeed need a bit more attention, for there are a number of emendations scattered throughout the book, most of which are clustered on the very first page of the Canterbury Tales:

The page on the left is on the verso of the ornate intertitle for The Canterbury Tales:

As I've written before here, sometimes an ornate title-page border is just that -- an object the printer happens to have available that looks suitably impressive enough to make an impact on readers. But this border is certainly intentional, since it reiterates the Lancastrian claims for Chaucer made on the "progenie" page. This border had been used in the previous 1561 edition of Chaucer, but it was first used on the title-page of Edward Hall's The Vnion of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre & Yorke (1550):

This book is now best-known as one of the sources used by Shakespeare for the plays depicting the Wars of the Roses -- and this image sums up this history, starting with rosebushes which emanate from John of Gaunt (the Lancastrian) and Edmund Langley (Duke of York), which wind their way upwards to Henry VIII at the top. Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales thus take a (literally) central role in this history. Despite this tangled act of political redefinition and recuperation, our reader was far more interested in the textual annotations to the General Prologue, using the verso to copy out the following note:

a Pilgrim had some dwellg place, a Palmer had none.

The line copied here explains the difference between a "Pilgrim" and a "Palmer" -- a distinction that threw off the writer, since the word "Palmer" is written over what appears to be the word "Pilgrim," the act of writing itself providing part of the confusion here. "Palmer" appears in the first few lines of the Prologue, and it's reasonable to want to gloss the word -- which Speght gladly did. His note on the difference between pilgrims and palmers is the very first one listed in the section of corrections and annotations included at the back of the volume:

The handwriting seems to be later than the copy of the poem a few pages prior, so these notes may have been inserted by a subsequent owner. A closer look at the marked-up page on the right shows that these are mostly explanatory annotations, defining some of the more difficult or unfamiliar words in the Prologue:

An even closer look shows some of the typical annotations on this page: "sweet" in the margin at the top left, glossing "sote," or, on the right next to "Tramissene" the note "a city in Barbary" (actually modern Tlemecen in Algeria, which is noted a few lines above, as well):

Beyond this first page of the Prologue, the annotations are few and far between, ranging from a fix to the running title, to more substantive textual emendations:

The second picture directly above once again inserts a correction prominently listed in the back of the volume. On the left here, the word "Hereos" has been replaced by "Eros," while "many" has been replaced by "Manie." Both corrections appear among the first listed for the Canterburie Tales in the back:

The "Manie" emendation fixes a misunderstanding, whereby a more familiar word is inserted for one that seems both similar and unfamiliar: "Manie" here means, as Speght notes, "frensie" -- the modern form of which is "Mania." The "Eros" emendation likewise inserts a more familiar word for the unfamiliar "Hereos." Speght reasons that it should be Eros, i.e. Cupid, and cites Lucian; however, although his reason for the emendation is explained at length, and does appear at first to be entirely plausible, it was incorrect: according to the Riverside Chaucer, "hereos" was a form of love sickness (the "louers malady") commonly discussed by medieval medical authorities (click here to get the full note). Our reader, then, has assiduously rectified the errors that Speght did not have time to fix himself (at least not until his revised edition of 1602, where many of the corrections were inserted straight into the text).

The most intriguing emendation in this copy comes on fol. 43, at the bottom of the page:

Yet again, a reader has inserted a correction listed in the back of the volume, changing "Ouide" to "Euclide" -- in fact, changing it twice, once in the margin at the right, once just above the crossed out word itself. This was a simple correction, and Speght gives the bare minimum in his note, simply "Ouide, read, Euclide." As you can see, though, there is another addition at the bottom of the page: "Thomas Allen emendauit."

Thomas Allen was a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and was renowned in his time as a collector of manuscripts. He is named twice in Speght's edition, once implicitly and once explicitly. In Francis Beaumont's prefatory letter to Speght (this is Speght's old college mate from Cambridge, not the the famous playwright, although they were related), he alludes to "that worthy man for learning, your good friend in Oxford," which presumably is a reference to Allen. On the very same page of corrections that the Ouide/Euclide mistake appears, in the back of the volume, appears a long note on "Valerie and Theophrast":

Here Speght cites a book that illuminates the problem, "which I haue seene in the studie of Master Allen of Oxford, a man of as rare learning as he is stored with rare books." The reader's note that "Thomas Allen emendauit" makes sense as an acknowledgment of the help he provided to Speght, which is in turn acknowledged in the corrections. However, as you can see in the image above, the citation of Allen comes in a note for fol. 35 -- but the reader's mark appears on fol. 43. This could simply be part of the vagaries of this reader's experience -- turning once again to the same page of corrections, and belatedly noticing (and then inserting) Allen's name.

This copy of Speght's Chaucer, then, shows the influence of his editorial and paratextual apparatus on at least one, and probably multiple, early readers. The memorial impulse of the edition is re-enacted in the copying of the prefatory poem, and the corrections listed at the back are inserted into the text. I do find it both entirely fitting and entirely frustrating that the person(s) who took the time to emend and to remember Chaucer remain anonymous to us, because of an act of erasure that is at the same time an act of ownership and contemporaneity. In this copy, Chaucer is certainly not defaced by "time and writers" but the owner and reader of the book who copied those words most certainly have been.