University of Virginia Library

Printer's Copy for the two Speght editions: Prose Sections

Since the 1602 edition contains revised versions of much of the preliminary matter from the 1598 edition and two texts not in Stow's 1561 edition ("Chaucer's Dream" and "Flower and the Leaf," fols. 355-368), some form of the 1598 text served as printer's copy for these sections in 1602. If we consider the 1602 edition alone, it might seem improbable that Speght would use the 1598 edition to set these sections, then use a 1561 edition as printer's copy for the remainder of the edition. Yet the bibliographical evidence from prose


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sections proves that he did precisely that. And even though there is no a priori reason to assume Speght acted rationally, if Speght had a copy of the 1561 edition readily available--the one used to set the 1598 edition--this procedure makes perfect sense.

Because the collations so far done by Lounsbury and by Variorum editors have been confined to the verse sections, the only kind of printing influence that has been detected is a "page-by-page" set-up or what Andrew calls "articulation" (meaning, I think, headings, section breaks, etc.). It is easy enough to determine, say, that the 1598 edition is set from the 1561 edition (since the page length is the same), but since the 1602 edition employs a longer column, it seems to have no relation in terms of page layout to the earlier editions.[7]

A comparison of the uncollated prose sections is, however, decisive. Throughout most of the prose, the 1598 edition is a perfect, line-by-line reprint of the 1561 edition. And since the 1561 and 1598 editions are so similar, any apparent relation of the 1602 edition to either seems to prove nothing. Consequently, some Chaucerians have concluded that the printer's copy cannot be determined for individual sections (so Plummer, Summoner's Tale, 85). Yet examination of the compositing details in these prose sections proves absolutely that the 1602 edition used the edition of 1561 as a printer's copy, just as did the 1598 edition.

Although the 1598 edition is a line-by-line reprint of the 1561 edition, at the end of sections of prose, that line-by-line correspondence occasionally grows slack. The reason is fairly obvious. The purpose of a line-for-line reprint is not primarily to aid a compositor (that it actually interfered with the 1598 compositor's work is shown by the erratic spacing between words occasionally necessary to keep that line-by-line correspondence).[8] It is rather an aid for the printer in casting off copy--something that can be done very precisely if compositors are instructed to reproduce the copy line for line. A compositor working this way can relax when approaching a section break, since there will be some leeway in the setting of the final line preceding a new paragraph. Consequently, in prose sections, the line-for-line correspondence between the 1598 and 1561 editions every few pages tends to drift apart toward the end of paragraphs and section divisions. I have checked those particular sections where the two editions differ, and here, the 1602 edition


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often comes into perfect line-for-line correspondence with the edition 1561.[9] (Had the 1602 edition been set from a copy of the 1598 edition, we would expect the two to agree in line composition against the 1561 edition at the end of paragraphs; but they do not.)

In determining printer's copy, the evidence from line composition is more decisive than evidence from accidentals or substantives. In the prose sections, Speght indisputably printed from a copy of the 1561 edition in 1602 just as he did in 1598. Any agreement in accidentals grouping the 1598 and 1602 editions against the 1561 edition is thus the result of the same compositorial or house style being imposed on the printer's copy of both; any agreement in substantives producing these same groupings (SP1 and SP2 against ST) must be coincidental or the result of contamination--either the result of specific corrections introduced from the 1598 edition into a copy of the 1561 edition, which in turn served as printer's copy for the 1602 edition, or, more probably, the result of a correction introduced into the copy of the 1561 edition that was then used as printer's copy for both the 1598 and 1602 editions.

The preliminary matter of the two editions presents a different situation, since much of this appears only in the 1598 edition and not in that of 1561. The Life of Chaucer and all sections in roman type of the preliminaries of the 1602 edition are set directly from 1598. Although the 1602 edition is not a line-for-line reprint, specific correspondences in layout can be seen in the italicized marginal notes (see for both editions sig. b2r and the marginal note on Canterbury College at the top of sig. b3r). These show that the printer's copy for the 1602 edition was a copy of the 1598 edition, not, say, the manuscript that was itself the basis of that earlier edition.

One might assume, then, that all the preliminary matter in the 1602 edition would be set from the 1598 edition, but that, surprisingly, is not the case. Much of the preliminary matter differs in content (for example, the dedicatory letter to Cecil and the section "To the Readers"). Clearly, behind these is a manuscript, not the 1598 printed text. More surprising is the case of the introductory letter from Thynne to Henry VIII (reprinted in all sixteenth-century folio editions since the 1532 edition), where Speght follows what seems an unnecessarily complicated procedure. The number of lines per column in 1602 is different from the number of lines in 1598 and 1561. Comparing the 1550, 1561, 1598 and 1602 editions shows very clearly that the 1602 edition used the 1598 edition for its heading--a margin-to-margin heading in three sizes of roman type: both the typeface and the layout are identical in the two. In addition, the ornament running across the top of the page is the same (the 1602 version having an additional section). It seems preposterous that Speght in 1602, after using the 1598 edition for the Life of Chaucer and for the very heading to the letter of Thynne, then shifted to a 1561 edition for the printer's copy of the text of that letter; yet he did precisely that. The


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evidence from the layout and line composition is unambiguous. Unlike prose in the rest of the volume, the preliminaries of the 1598 edition are not reprinted line for line from the 1561 edition. And for the most part, the three editions of 1561, 1598, and 1602 vary in layout here. But at the end of paragraph sections in the letter to Thynne on sig. C5v, the line lengths and breaks for the 1602 edition are identical to those of 1561 and bear no relation to those of 1598. This cannot be fortuitous; the prose of the 1602 edition, both in text and in its preliminaries, was set from the 1561 edition whenever a 1561 text was available. The only reasonable explanation for this is a readily available copy of the 1561 edition already in the possession of the press.

As noted earlier, variation in substantives and accidentals[10] is less important in determining printer's copy than matters of page layout and line composition. And as far as I know, none of these prose sections--either those of the text or the preliminaries--has been thoroughly collated for such variation. In those prose sections I have collated, I have found no substantive disagreements in the three editions (although I presume they exist, and that the Variorum editors will in the future find them). If and when such disagreement is found, it will indicate something other than printer's copy: because the 1561 and 1598 editions generally correspond line for line, any corrector set to the task of introducing the readings from a copy of one into a copy of the other would have a relatively easy time of it.[11] As for accidentals, the only pattern of variation that could challenge the above hypothesis would be the overwhelming agreement of SP1 and SP2 against ST. The collations I have done show only what is expected: general agreement of SP1 and SP2 in accidentals; general agreement of both with ST; numerous cases of ST and SP1 against SP2; numerous cases of ST and SP2 against SP1.