The London Book-Trade and the Lost History of Piers Plowman
The essay examines the conflated text of PPl in National Library of Wales MS 733B, tracing its relationships with other conflated texts of the poem, which Adams and Turville-Petre locate as products of the metropolitan book trade. The A-text section of MS 733B, with its passages intruded from the C text, link it to Borthwick MS Additional 196. Its C text section pairs up with the C text passages from the most thoroughly conflated of all texts of PPl, Huntington MS HM 114. These two manuscripts record a C text many generations removed from the original. Lastly, Adams and Turville-Petre compare readings shared by MS 733B with the beta branch of the B text. An investigation of all these features is intrinsically valuable, but added interest derives from Lawrence Warner’s proposal that the B readings in MS 733B actually survive from a good early draft of the C text and were only subsequently introduced into the B tradition. We argue that this is an impossible hypothesis. Instead, we suggest that MS 733B, though of no value for determining L’s text, illustrates a very different ‘lost history’ from the one proposed by Warner: the circulation of passages from the poem among professional London scribes keen to provide as complete a version of PPl as possible.