Richard Osberg

title.none: Forni, ed., Chaucerian Apochrypha (Richard Osberg)

identifier.other: baj9928.0606.016 06.06.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard Osberg, Santa Clara University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Forni, Kathleen. The Chaucerian Apocrypha: A Selection. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005. Pp. 169. ISBN: $15 1-58044-096-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.06.16

Forni, Kathleen. The Chaucerian Apocrypha: A Selection. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005. Pp. 169. ISBN: $15 1-58044-096-7.

Reviewed by:

Richard Osberg
Santa Clara University

Interest in the reception of Chaucer's poetry has never been higher; Chaucer: An Oxford Guide (Ellis, 2005), for instance, devotes one sixth of its pages to "Afterlife", tracing the reception of Chaucer's poems from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, a reception history that included many works, The Plowman's Tale and Thomas Usk's The Testament of Love for instance, erroneously attributed to Chaucer--the so-called Chaucer apocrypha. Like certain incidents in the Chaucer biography (Chaucer's retirement to Woodstock for example), some poems in the Chaucer apocrypha had a tenacious and protracted hold on the poet's reputation long after their attribution had been proven false or the incident shown to be mere invention. Ellis has noted the persistence of what he calls the "flower and the leaf" school, associating it with pre-Raphaelite romanticism. Despite all evidence to the contrary, and Furnivall's scorn, Swinburne persisted in ascribing to Chaucer The Court of Love , "Chaucer's most beautiful of young poems", as late as 1906, (Ellis, Chaucer at Large , 2) and in 1902 appeared C. R. Ashbee's elegant numbered edition of Chaucer's Flower and the Leaf from the Essex House Press, an enterprise Ashbee viewed as a successor to but not an imitator of Morris's Kelmscott Press.

This resistance to scholarship suggests that what Stephanie Trigg has called the "cultural formation and institutional force of Chaucer" in the nineteenth century--that is, the Chaucer represented, for instance, in the Aldine edition--was significantly different from that of the twentieth-century Chaucer embodied in the Riverside edition. Perhaps the most important of the apocryphal poems in this history of disputed attribution--the two poems added to the Collected Works by Speght in his edition of 1598, The Floure and the Leafe and The Isle of Ladies (Chaucer's Dreame ) as well as The Assembly of Ladies , first printed by Thynne (1532) but closely associated with The Floure and the Leafe --are available in a TEAMS volume edited by Derek Pearsal (1990).

Professor Forni's selection from the Chaucer apocrypha (a rather elastic term, including as it does here poems never attributed to Chaucer either in manuscript or in print and in other cases poems attributed to Lydgate and Gower) comprises 17 texts, ten of which are selected from the 19 pieces added by Stowe to his edition of 1561 under the rubric "Here foloweth certaine woorkes of Geffray Chauser, whiche hath not heretofore been printed, and are gathered and added to this booke by Ihon Stowe" (Skeat, I, 33). These ten poems are all recorded in Cambridge, Trinity College MS R.3.19, which may have been Stowe's copy text, as well as in other fifteenth-century miscellanies of material associated with Chaucer like British Library MS Harley 2251 and British Library MS Additional 34360, both copied by the so- called "Hammond Scribe". Thynne's edition of 1532 is represented by Lydgate's "The Floure of Curtesye", John Gower's "In Praise of Peace", "Scogan's Moral Balade" (also printed in Caxton's Temple of Brass ) and "Eight Goodly Questions and their Answers". This last poem, along with the 19 printed by Stowe, were all reprinted in the nineteenth century, either in Robert Bell's The Poets of Great Britain or in Alexander Chalmers The Works of the English Poets , and so continued to influence Chaucer's biography and reputation. Wynken de Worde is represented by one poem, "Duodecim Abusiones", from Lydgate's Temple of Glass , not again reprinted until Skeat's Chaucerian and Other Pieces , as was also the poem "Prophecy", printed by Caxton.

The edition is organized thematically. Following The Court of Love are three sections ("The Literature of Courtly Love", "The Antifeminist Tradition", and "Good Counsel, Wisdom, and Advice") and a final poem: "A Balade in the Praise and Commendacion of Master Geffray Chauser for his Golden Eloquence" from Stowe's Works . The poems are all edited either from manuscript or from early printed editions when manuscripts are not available. Lydgate's "Beware of Deceitful Women" is edited from the heretofore unpublished Rome College MS English 1405 olim 1306. Each section has an "Introduction", offering a synopsis of the poems and a summary of critical discussion; the texts are followed by explanatory and textual notes. An extensive bibliography is provided, and the brief glossary is amply supplemented by marginal glosses and footnotes for the more difficult words and phrases. All of this work meets the highest standards of editing and scholarship.

"The General Introduction" offers an overview, arguing that many of these "aureate" pieces are worthy of study not merely as examples of vernacular poetry that survived by association with Chaucer's name, examples of what Seth Lerer calls the "anthologisitc impulse", but meriting study in their own right as well. While it is true that Chaucer's name acted as a textual magnet, attracting non-Chaucerian texts into the canon, it is equally true, though less often noted, that the process worked the other way as well, as Chaucerian texts like "The Prioress's Tale" moved out of the Chaucer canon into miscellany anonymity. "Courtly" and "aureate" as many of these poems are, they do compare favorably with those lyrics printed by Rossell Hope Robbins in Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries . It should be noted, however, that the general impression of secularity occasioned by this selection is somewhat misleading with regards to the general composition of fifteenth-century miscellanies, for, as Fletcher notes, surviving fifteenth-century secular miscellanies are extremely rare (Manuscript Trinity R.3.19: A Facsimile , xv). Postmodernism and hip-hop lyrics are perhaps less valuable in contextualizing honorific pastiche than might be the venerable tradition in Latin verse of the cento, a patchwork of passages from earlier poets, Proba's Vergilianus for example. A similar non- Chaucerian example may be found in the poems of the fifteenth-century Gawain epigone, Sir Humphrey Newton.

This edition begs one question, which is that of context. Are these poems to be considered Chaucer apocrypha because they exist (and are edited from) manuscript miscellanies associated with Chaucer's poems (MS Harley 2251, for instance, whose scribe apparently had access to the manuscripts of John Shirley, the London scribe who preserved minor poems of Chaucer and his contemporaries)? Are they Chaucer apocrypha because they were printed in the early black letter Works ? Are they Chaucer apocrypha because they are printed in nineteenth- century editions like those of Bell and Chalmers, even though Tyrwhitt (1775-1778) and later Moxon had excluded all of Stowe's additions except The Court of Love ? As noted above, The Court of Love exerted a tenacious hold on the canon whereas the poem entitled "Prophecy" was excluded early on. By virtue of their selection and presentation here, however, all these poems seem to command an equal, if unmerited gravitas in the history of Chaucer reception.

The two poems least likely to be associated with Chaucer ("The Lovers' Mass" which was never attributed to him, and the "Prophecy", never attributed to Chaucer after Caxton) are written in rhymed tetrameter couplets. With one exception ("Scogan's Moral Balade", written in the so-called Monk's Tale stanza, ababbcbc, but containing Chaucer's "Gentilesse", three stanzas of rhyme royal), the remaining pieces are in rhyme royal stanzas--their affiliation with Chaucer, or at least with the notion of "courtly" poetry, is in part stylistic. Gower, for instance, wrote only rarely in rhyme royal, but those stanzas are the ones most likely to be associated with Chaucer. There is, however, a wider range of forms than this selection suggests. Among the nineteen pieces added by Stowe, for instance, but not included here is a Virelai (besides The Court of Love the only one of Stowe's additions not rejected by Tyrwhitt).

One error is worth correcting. The Craft of Lovers is extant in three manuscripts and Stowe's 1561 edition, where it is dated 1348. In the note to line 159, Professor Forni observes that both MS Harley 2251 and MS Additional 34360 provide the much more probable date, 1459, while the third manuscript, Cambridge, Trinity College MS R.3.19 (Stowe's copy text) records the date as 1458 (with Stowe's marginal note that Chaucer died in 1400). Professor Forni accounts for this one year discrepancy in the manuscripts by suggesting that the scribe of TC MS R.3.19 had confused viiii and viii . However, the date recorded in TC MS R.3.19 is actually 1448 ("CCCCXL & Viii", Fletcher, Facsimile , f. 156r), a date which makes Stowe's alteration to 1348 rather less mad-hatter than it might otherwise seem.

For those interested in the early reception of Chaucer and the contexts in which his reputation as a poet was created, this is an intelligent and useful book, meticulously edited and continuing the high standards of the TEAMS series.