Title Background

Two Professional Readers of Chaucer and Langland: Scribe D and the HM 114 Scribe.

Two Professional Readers of Chaucer and Langland: Scribe D and the HM 114 Scribe.

This article studies “differing attitudes towards texts by Chaucer and Langland during the first three decades of the fifteenth century” as exemplified in the work of scribes. Bowers begins by detailing the work of Scribe D, who has a hand in at least twelve major Middle English manuscripts. Hailing from the Worcester region, like L himself in his later career, Scribe D’s Ilchester copy of PPl (I or J; University of London Library, MS S.L.V.88) is a remarkable version not much known or copied in London despite its “manufacture in the metropolis around 1400” (116). There follows a somewhat detailed discussion of the lollares material from C.9 that is interpolated into the Prologue of the Ilchester copy. Following Pearsall and Cole, Bowers suggests that Scribe D’s location in Worcester, a “provincial battlefield” (118), where L and others engaged in “Lollard/Wycliffite controversies [leads to his] producing a unique Prologue that gave immediate attention to Langland’s version of lolleres lif” (119). Towards the end of his career, however, Scribe D’s projects move away from controversy towards the copying of “official books of the Lancastrian tradition,” works by Chaucer and Gower, since the demand for fashionable manuscripts by these poets would have been set, at least initially, by the court (119-20). Scribe D’s work on the two Chaucer manuscripts not only highlights his evident literary connections but also the professional way in which he responds to the authorial text: for instance, he uniformly identifies Chaucer as the poet in colophons and running titles, or leaves gaps to copy additional Canterbury Tales material, evincing his knowledge of its incomplete status. Bowers suggests that Scribe D’s turn away from contentious Langlandian projects towards more authoritative projects like the Canterbury Tales or the Trinity Gower project can be read as a response to Arundel’s “campaign of intimidation” and the more orthodox tastes of the Lancastrian court (129). The Hm 114 scribe worked in the decade following the death of Henry V. This unimpressive manuscript book contains “six very different items, none identified by author,” ranging from older fashioned alliterative works to Mandeville’s Travels, a conflated PPl, and an alpha version of Troilus and Criseyde. This scribe’s hand has also been identified in BL Harley MS 3943 and Lambeth Palace MS 491, with Hm 114 being perhaps the last of these. Bowers suggests that this scribe, whose dialect exhibits features of southeast Essex, worked inclusively to choose disparate texts and produce a cheaper compilation “to reflect the diverse interests of London readers around 1430” (133). Bowers states further that, pace Skeat and Kane and Donaldson, he has “singled out [the Hm 114] scribe for privileged consideration” because of his manipulation of the PPl text (135). His conflated ABC version represents perspicacious fifteenth-century editing in recognizing the existence of three distinct versions; in choosing to use a B version as his exemplar, he made the same choice that modern readers make in preferring a complete version. Additionally, like the Ilchester copy, the Hm 114 text is also important in containing some passages that closely resemble each other and might represent a textual tradition for an intermediate version between B and C, possibly even from L’s own draft “left behind [in London]” before his relocation to Worcester, thus constituting “a distinctive “metropolitan” C text available to Scribe D around 1400 and still available . . . a quarter-century later” (137). There follows a consideration of the Hm 114 scribe’s version of the Chaucer text, which, again, according to Bowers, might represent distinct textual traditions attributable to the poet himself.


Studies in the Age of Chaucer 26 (2004): 113-46.


Bowers, John M.