Good’ and ‘Bad’ Manuscripts: Texts and Critics.
An editor’s procedures are necessarily affected by the distinctive situation posed by almost every ME text, the state of the text as a composition (completed, left incomplete, one of a series of revisions), and the state of preservation of the text. Unconscious scribal substitution that produced plausible variations often gives the appearance of intention and design. With both Chaucer and WL the poet’s distinctive style and usus scribendi are largely intact and recoverable: the archetypal text of PPl B contained merely 760 unoriginal readings, i.e., corruption in 11 per cent of its 7200 lines. Manuscript traditions originate when an author (or, in the case of the C text, his executor) allows his personal copy to be reproduced, thus losing control of reproduction; such traditions prove that authorial texts are not modern editorial ideas, but tangible, readable objects. Even “bad” MSS. full of scribal substitution are valuable evidence of those historical events an editor wishes to recover.
SAC Proceedings 2 (1986). Fifth International Congress of the New Chaucer Society. 20-23 March 1986. Philadelphia, PA. Ed. John V. Fleming and Thomas J. Heffernan. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee, 1987. 137-46.