Langlandian Loose Leaves and Lost Histories
In his monograph The Lost History of Piers Plowman, Lawrence Warner proposed that L wrote an original ‘ur-B’ PPl that lacked the final two passus and other key passages, including Anima’s lines on the Donation of Constantine. That ‘ur-B’ version was contaminated, Warner claims, by early C-text drafts on loose leaves. Warner bases his argument on the state of the text in National Library of Wales, 733B (N), more usually considered an AC splice contaminated by comparison with a B-text copy. In a recent defence of his earlier claims, Warner asserts that the argument for N’s contamination by a B-text manuscript relies on assuming ‘unprecedented’ forms of scribal activity. As the present essay demonstrates, however, the most dramatically conflated PPl manuscript, Huntington Library, HM 114 (Ht), with which N shares a number of readings, also offers parallels for the kind of scribal behaviour that Warner has called ‘unprecedented’ or ‘impossible’. Warner’s suggestion that Ht and N might both witness the same early draft materials circulating independently of the C version is unsupported by any textual evidence. His preoccupation with the idea of the discrete draft passage on a loose leaf means that Warner fails to take account of the individual readings of any of the passages that he proposes as early authorial drafts. Like John Manly’s theory of multiple authorship, which also depended on a hypothesized ‘lost leaf’, Warner’s arguments against the integrity of PPl B might urge a more intense formal, rather than textual, analysis of the poem.