University of Virginia Library


In 1892, Lounsbury examined lines from the General Prologue, looking primarily for evidence of Speght's claim that he had consulted earlier manu-


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scripts. Although his conclusion was negative, in the process Lounsbury discovered many of the variants that provided an outline for the printing history of these editions, and in particular, the relation of the 1602 edition to the earlier editions of 1561 and 1598. Lounsbury concluded: "A full examination, which has never been made and hardly seems worth making, would be necessary to settle the matter beyond all dispute" (277). The examination "hardly worth making" has now, with the work of the Variorum editors, begun in earnest. Most of the collations confirm the evidence provided by details of layout and line composition, but the interest of editors in possible original manuscript readings contained in these late editions has obscured what the evidence for many of them shows and what Lounsbury suspected: clear and exclusive dependence of later editions on earlier editions whenever those editions were available.[28]

The examination of layout and composition suggests a few areas in which editorial language regarding sources for certain texts could be clarified. Manuscript sigla refer to readings contained in specific material objects. But the sigla for printed editions (TH, ST, SP)--sigla I have of necessity adopted here--refer to entire editions, individual copies of which have different readings, either due to ordinary press-variation, or more significantly to the intervention of an annotator. In the present case, one could imagine, say, a copy of the 1561 edition, in which all the readings of the 1598 edition had been entered, or in which numerous changes had been made that were eventually to become the 1598 version (in terms of textual substantives, the two might be identical). Any text copied closely from this might resemble the 1561 edition in details of layout and perhaps in accidentals, but in terms of substantives, it would duplicate the 1598 edition. A textual critic might reasonably claim that the 1598 edition served as 'copy-text' or 'base-text'. And under certain understandings of these terms, that could be the case. But it would not serve as 'printer's copy' in any sense--whether we mean by that phrase a physical object in the press room, or more abstractly an edition, one of whose representative copies is in the press room.

Evidence for actual printer's copy is more likely to come from extra-textual matters than from the level of textual substantives of interest to most editors--a level to which modern Chaucer editors have found themselves increasingly committed, especially since the publication of Manly and Rickert's Table of Variants in 1940. Yet the precise definition of a substantive, and the textual-critical value of such substantives varies considerably (the transposition he said/said he is common in Chaucer texts and by definition classi-


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fied as a substantive; but the textual-critical value of such variation is no more than that of accidentals).[29]

The books examined here show that details of layout persist quite apart from their textual or intellectual functions, just as the use of black-letter itself for medieval texts persisted as the implications of that typeface changed dramatically. Later printers were faced not only with making sense of a text growing increasingly archaic and inaccessible, but with making sense of at least one mystery of their own making.