Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose

By Kenneth Sisam | Go to book overview
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III
MICHAEL OF NORTHGATE'S AYENBYTE
OF INWYT

A.D. 1340.

Michael of Northgate was a monk of St. Augustine's, Canterbury. From a library catalogue of the monastery it appears that he was a lover of books, for he is named as the donor of twenty- five MSS., a considerable collection for those days. Their titles show a taste not merely for religious works, but for science-- mathematics, chemistry, medicine, as they were known at the time. Four of these MSS. have been traced, and one of them, British Museum MS. Arundel 57, is Michael's autograph copy of the Ayenbyte. On folio 2 of the MS. are the words: Þis boc is Dan Michelis of Northgate, ywrite an Englis of his oʒene hand, þet batte 'Ayenbyte of Inwyt'; and is of the boc-house of Saynt Austines of Canterberi, mid þe lettres .CC. 'CC.' is the press-mark given in the catalogue. A note at the end of the text shows that it was finished on October 27, 1340:

Ymende þet þis boc is uolueld ine þe eue of þe holy apostles Symon an Iudas [i.e. Oct. 27] of ane broþer of the cloystre of Sauynt Austin of Canterberi, in the yeare of oure Lhordes beringe 1340.

The Ayenbyte has been edited for the Early English Text Society by R. Morris. The title means literally 'Remorse of Conscience', but from the contents of the work it would appear that the writer meant rather 'Stimulus to the Conscience', or 'Prick of Conscience'. It is in fact a translation from the French Somme des Vices et des Vertues, compiled by Friar Lorens in 1279 for King Philip le Hardi, and long held to be the main source of Chaucer Parson's Tale. Caxton rendered the Somme into English prose as The Royal Book. It treats of the Commandments, the Creed, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Petitions of the Paternoster, and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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