Gower MSS - Royal 18.C.XXII

John Gower

MS Hunter 59 T-2-17 Portrait of Gower folio 6v John Gower Vox Clamantis Glasgow Univ Library www.lib.gla.ac.uk

Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Works of John Gower
Derek Pearsall


London, British Library, MS Royal 18.C.xxii
Confessio Amantis, with Latin addenda
London, s.xv, first quarter

(fols 1ra-205vb)  Confessio Amantis  Prol.1 - VIII.3114*end

Torpor hebes sensus scola parua [sic, with `labor' omitted] minimusque, &c. (6 lines of Latin verse).  Off hem þat writen vs to fore <> Oure ioye may been endeles. AMEN.

Book I (fol.8ra), Book II (fol.29rb), Book III (fol.51rb), Book IV (fol.68va), Book V (fol.91rb), Book VI (fol.138ra), Book VII (fol.152va), Book VIII (fol.186vb)

Text: collated by Macaulay (sigil R): Ic.  `A very fair MS. of its class, and almost absolutely typical', though with some `distinctively revised readings' (Macaulay, II.cxlviii).  The omission at fol.170vb of VII.2889-2916 (the story of Cambyses), noted by Macaulay, may be due to the scribe's tendency to use the Latin summaries in his exemplar as a guide, his eye straying to the next piece of English after the summary that caught his eye.  References to the Pope are erased (e.g. Prol.762, fol.5v, II.1539, fol.39ra), and systematically so in the story of Pope Boniface, fol.47 (II.2803, 2809, 2813, etc.). Such erasures are not uncommon in MSS that passed through Reformation hands. The line at I.161, where Gower names himself, ‘Ihon Gowere’, in the earlier versions (he becomes ‘a caitif’ in the later versions) is completely left out, which, since this is a MS of text- group I, looks like a deliberate omission.

(fol.205vb)  `Explicit iste liber'
            Explicit iste liber <> sub eo requiesce futurus
            Longer 6-line version with added dedication to Henry IV
            Macaulay, III.478

(fol.206ra)  `Quam cinxere freta'
            Quam cinxere freta <> stat sine meta
            With preceding rubric, `Epistola super huius'
            Macaulay, III.479
Macaulay suggests that Strode is the author of the 4 lines of Latin verse (III.550, IV.419)

(fol.206ra-rb)  `Quia vnusquisque'
            Quia unusquisque <> specialiter intitulatur
Long concluding prose rubric, first version, not unfavourable to Richard II
Macaulay, III.479-80


On fol.1ra there is a miniature in the 8-line initial O of the English text, portraying the Lover kneeling before the confessor Genius.  The O is blue, the inside background has red scrollwork with green grass below; the Lover, left, with short haircut and red cloak, kneels to the Confessor, right, with blue hood and with blue hem of gown protruding beneath white cloak, left hand pointing, right hand on shoulder of Lover.  This is the only MS in which the Confessor picture appears (inappropriately, it would seem) at the beginning of the Prologue (see Griffiths 1983:166-7).  On fol.4vb, before Prol.595, there is a 10-line miniature of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, much rubbed, especially the face, as if it were regarded as a pagan idol. The statue, with head, lower torso and upper legs white, the rest black, is set against a background of red scrollwork, with flower-besprinkled grass below; on the left, green cliffs in broken terrace form rise to the top of the picture, with a stone on the top ledge.  An `economy de luxe' MS, very consistent in presentation.  For comment on the pictures, see Scott 1996, II.109-10.


A full-page vinet, in gold, blue, purple and red, opens from the initial O miniature of fol.1r.  Books II-VIII are introduced with demi-vinets, in both normal form (border decoration in left margin and right across at top and bottom) and central form (a central column of decoration, with arms going both ways at top and bottom, and occurring where the initial is set in the right-hand column of text), in gold, blue, purple and red, opening from a 4 or 5-line initial.  The initials are quite elaborate, the borders somewhat less extensive than usual, the horizontal bars of normal demi-vinets sometimes extending no further than the middle of the page.  Central demi-vinets are made to accommodate running titles. Book I is introduced merely with a 6-line champ initial (capital `I'), a feature repeated with capital `I' elsewhere, e.g. I.2021 (fol.20va), II.1613 (fol.39va), the latter falling rather clumsily well below the base of the column of text.  The border work is attributed by Scott (1996, II.165) to a border artist whom she considers ‘one of the premier decorators of books in the first quarter of the fifteenth century’. He worked on two important early MSS of Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes, BL MS Arundel 38 and BL MS Harley 4866, and also on the Bedford Hours and Psalter, BL MS Add. 42131 (Scott 1996: II.130).  See also the description of Add.12043 (q.v.).

Two-line pen-flourished initials, gold, blue and purple, introduce major text-divisions; 1-line pen-flourished initials, blue on red, introduce most minor text-divisions, some Latin summaries in the column, and a very few Latin verse-headings, but not the shorter Latin notes and glosses. Quite often, guide-letters only appear instead of decoration for the Latin summaries in the column (e.g. Prol.34, V.6145, 6225, 6359, etc.). Paraphs are sometimes used for the shorter Latin notes and glosses that appear in the margin, especially in the sequences of such notes in Books V and VII, and occasionally, instead or as well, for the last word of such notes as it spills over onto the end of the next English line (e.g. V.773, 870, 1332).


I           Parchment, 360 x 250 mm. (Macaulay's 3¾ inches for the latter dimension is a mistake for 9¾.)

II         fols 206, later but not modern foliation (s.xviii?), with large heavy figures at both top right of recto and (in a similar hand) top left of verso.

III        Collation: i-xxv8, xxvi8 wants 7 and 8.  Catchwords in scribe's hand.

IV        Written space 280 x 170 mm.  44 lines per column, 2 columns per page.  Ruled, lines and margins. Running titles split across opening, except for `Prologus', on both verso and recto. Explicits and incipits on successive lines in slightly larger hand of scribe, without decoration.  Speech-headings often omitted, especially later in the poem; where they do appear, they are in the margin, at the end of the relevant line, or the nearest convenient i.e. short line (e.g. V.1083), occasionally with a paraph. Latin verse-headings and summaries in text-column in red in slightly more formal hand of scribe.  The Latin summaries are often introduced into the body of the English text-paragraph 2 or 4 or 6 lines late (e.g. Prol.499, I.390, 463, 481, etc.), and occasionally a one-line decorated initial is wrongly  introduced at the arbitrary point where the English text resumes (e.g. I.8, 99), as often happens in MSS of the Confessio, presumably because scribes copying MSS with summaries in the margin took in the Latin at the exact point where it lay beside the English line.  Shorter Latin notes and glosses, especially in Books V and VII, but also in sequences elsewhere (e.g. I.608, 626, 648, 3099, 3103, 3105), appear in the margin, in a more informal style, with more abbreviation. Sometimes, presumably where they arrived late, such notes are hung onto the end of the relevant English line (or a convenient line near to it) or strewn across the ends of two or three or four such lines (e.g. V.787, 835, etc.), or seven, as at V.773. The distinction that is observed in setting short notes in column or margin is sometimes not entirely clear (e.g. V.7719 and 7735 at fol.137ra, both of them straightforward glosses), and may be due to difficulties in accessing the material. Some of the Latin in these two books is missed out. It is difficult to attribute the irregularities in the ordinatio, in a general regular MS, either to unfamiliarity at the beginning or weariness at the end: patterns that are perceived are constantly disappearing.

V         A very neat and regular anglicana formata. The scribe is identified as scribe Delta by Doyle and Parkes (1978:178, 206-208), who give a list of the other MSS he is known to have copied. They suggest he was an associate, rival or pupil of scribe D (for whom see, e.g. the account of B.L. MS Egerton 1991, above). A corrector has been at work on some `Gowerisms' in the early folios, writing in the margins normal forms of what he considers to be dialectal (Kentish) forms in the text, e.g. `vnlered' for `vnliered' (Prol.233), and `stered' for `stiered' (Prol.234) on fol.2v. Elsewhere he writes in correct forms for what he deems to be mistakes, e.g.`his' for `here' (=`their') in Prol.696 (fol.5v).  See Smith (1983:112), where it is pointed out that the correction was done before the decoration, since at one point the decorator has painted over the marginal inscription. There is also the more usual correction by the scribe of minor errors, e.g. ‘riches’ with ‘s’ inserted above the line, with a caret, at III.2315 (fol.65va); ‘herkenene’ with dots under the second ‘ne’ to mark omission at III.2763 (fol.68rb); ‘ynne’ with ‘e’ inserted above the line, with a caret, at IV.1445 (fol.77va).

VI        A punctuation mark consisting of a punctus plus a virgule, joined in a figure resembling a question mark, and perhaps derived from the positura (a punctus plus a ‘7’-shaped mark: see Parkes 1993: 203)), is sometimes set, particularly in the early part of the poem, at the end of Latin summaries, and occasionally at the end of English paragraphs. Virgules, or raised points occasionally mark the line-end, and very occasionally mark prominent syntax breaks in the middle of the line (virgule, III.475, fol.54rb, III.1119, fol.58rb; raised point, V.388, fol.93vr), though many are ignored, e.g. V.6557, fol.130ra; inverted semi-colons are also occasionally, used at such syntax breaks, e.g. Prol.376 (fol.3rb)

VII      Sewn on 6 tabs, early 19th century straight-grained brown calf on millboards, a gold fillet around the edges, ‘M.B.’ in gold tooling in centre of front cover, gold crowns stamped on the compartments of the spine not containing gold lettering: GOWER'S \CONFESSIO \ AMANT.\\ COD.SEC.XV \LADY \ MARY. STRAINGE \\ MUS.BRIT. \ BIBL.REG. \ 18.C.XII P.287 \PLUT.XIII.1

2o fo  (fol.2r) Stonde in þis world vppon a were (Prol.143)


Daggers are frequently set in the margin (s.xv) to indicate notable sayings, e.g. fols 3r (Prol.321, 342, 352), 3v (Prol.412), 4r (Prol.489, 511, 546), 6r (Prol.787), 8r (I.51), 8v (I.126), 9v (I.273), 11v (I.533), 15v (I.1206), 16v (I.1342, Latin verses), 25v (I.2803), 26r (I.2943), 26v (I.3013), 28v (I.3309), 32r (II.404), 52r (III.116), 57r (III.955), 59v (III.1362, 1366), 61r (III.1602, 1623, 1629, 1638), 61v (III.1639, 1651), 62v (III.1795), 63r (III.1920), 64r (III.2121), 65v (III.2322), 66r (III.2419), 66v (III.2478), 67r (III.2591), 67v (III.2619, 2627), 68r (III.2765), 75r (IV.1090), etc.

fol.2v              in column centre (s.xv/xvi)   ‘vnlord/ stond’ (?)        
fol.92ra            at V.141, ‘nota bene
fol.145r           `not write' (s.xv) beside beginning of Latin heading after VI.1260, presumably for ‘not right’, some disagreement with the matter of 1225-60.


On the verso of fol.206 is an offset from a book stamp on the first of the two blanks that have been cut away of the last quire: `This boke appertayneth/ vnto the right honora/ble the Ladie Marga/ret Strange'. A version of this name, with `Mary' for `Margaret', appears, as has been seen, on the binding.  Macaulay (II.cxlviii, cxl) points out that the name appears also in Cambridge University Library MS Mm.2.21 (q.v.) in the form `Margareta Straunge'.  Warner and Gilson (1921: II.306) conjecture that the lady is perhaps Margaret Clifford (d.1596), daughter of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland, who had `a good library' (DNB, s.n. Clifford), and wife in 1555 of Henry Stanley (Lord Strange in 1559), whose succession as Earl of Derby in 1574 seems to provide a terminus ad quem for the inscription.  The identification is confirmed in Tuve 1940:152-3, 153, n.7, and Tuve 1964:24, n.25.  See also MS Bodley 902 (q.v.).  The MS is in the 1666 Catalogue of the Royal Library; its absence from Bernard (1697) is not significant, given that Bernard left out many MSS he considered to be of lesser importance (Warner and Gilson, I.xxvi).


Macaulay, II.cxlviii

Bernard, Edward (ed.), Catalogi Manuscriptorum Angliae et Hiberniae. Oxford, 1697.

Doyle, A.I., and Parkes, M.B., `The production of copies of the Canterbury Tales and the Confessio Amantis in the early fifteenth century', in M.B.Parkes and Andrew G.Watson (eds), Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts and Libraries: Essays presented to N.R.Ker (London: Scolar Press, 1978), pp.163-210.

Griffiths, Jeremy, `Confessio Amantis: The Poem and its Pictures', in Minnis, A.J. (ed.), Gower's Confessio Amantis: Responses and Reassessments  (Cambridge: D.S.Brewer, 1983), pp.163-78.

Parkes, M.B., Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.

Scott, Kathleen L., Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490 (A Survey of Manuscripts Illustrated in the British Isles, general editor, J.J.G.Alexander), 2 vols. London: Harvey Miller, 1996.

Smith, Jeremy J., `Linguistic Features of some Fifteenth-Century Middle English Manuscripts', in Derek Pearsall (ed.), Manuscripts and Readers in Fifteenth Century England: The Literary Implications of Manuscript Study (Cambridge: Brewer, 1983), pp.104-112.

Tuve, Rosemond, `Spenser and Some Pictorial Conventions', Studies in Philology, 37 (1940), Tuve, Rosemond, `Spenserus', in Millar Maclure and F.W.Watt (eds), Essays in English Literature from the Renaissance to the Victorian Age Presented to A.S.P.Woodhouse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), pp.3-25.

Warner, Sir George, and Gilson, Julius P., British Museum: Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the old Royal and King's Collections. 4 vols.  London, 1921

"I throw my darts and shoot my arrows at the world. But where there is a righteous man, no arrow strikes. But I wound those who live wickedly. Therefore let him who recognizes himself there look to himself."
Vox Clamantis

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