Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Gower's Confessio Amantis: A 'New' Manuscript

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Gower's Confessio Amantis: A 'New' Manuscript

Article excerpt

What follows is a description of a manuscript, consisting of excerpts from Gower's Confessio Amantis, which is in private ownership and has hitherto gone unnoticed. Datable to the first quarter of the fifteenth century, it is among the earliest of the surviving compilations from the Confessio. It also witnesses an interestingly atypical selection of material from Gower's poem: one which suggests that the compiler understood the poem not as entertainment, but as a regiminal work.

The manuscript consists of two quires of eight parchment leaves each, plus a singleton, also of parchment. The latter has a tab that wraps around the quires to form a stub of an inch in width preceding the first leaf. There is no cover. The leaves measure 211 x 286 mm. The text is double column, with the columns ruled very lighdy in ink. Each column measures 73 mm by 220 mm; the total written area is 157 mm by 220 mm. There are 34 lines per page. Latin verses and glosses appear in red in the text column. Space has been left for a capital initial two lines high after each of the verses, and in many cases the relevant letter has been lighdy inked in, in lower case, but decorated initials have not been supplied. The first letters of all other lines are rubricated. Catchwords 'and sith' and 'of such' appear on fol. 8V and fol. i6v respectively.1 There are no signature marks.

The quires and the singleton are held together by four primary tackets, two of which are formed of parchment thongs and two of which are of relatively modern bookbinder's thread.2 The parchment tackets are those nearest to the head and tail. Each consists of two stitches of 22 mm in length: in each quire a parchment thong has been threaded through two holes in the spine fold from the inside of the quire to the outside, and the two thongs are twisted together and tied off close to the spine fold on the face of the stub that wraps the quires.3 The tacket nearest to the tail has a prominent knot with two long ends; the one nearer the head is smaller, without obvious ends. The two thread tackets appear to be later additions. The one nearer to the head secures the second quire to the singleton; the other does the same for the first quire.4 Both thread tackets are tied off near the spine fold on the face of the stub that wraps around the quires, just as the parchment ones are.

It appears that the manuscript has been in its current form for a significant length of time; the wear on the outermost leaves is considerable. There may, however, be a trace of yet earlier sewing in a needle-hole in the first quire, 34 mm from the head: that is, in approximately the position where a kettle-stitch would be expected in all-along sewing. This, together with the singleton (which suggests the compilation was not planned as a pamphlet complete in itself), raises the possibility that this manuscript was originally part of a much larger volume. As I shall argue below, its contents support that hypothesis. Against it, however, is the absence of other needle-holes in the spine folds, which suggests that the tacketing is the original sewing of the manuscript.5

The hand is a formal one; it might be classified as an early form of Bastard Secretary with anglicana influence. Letter-forms are primarily Secretary, with broken strokes in , the lobe of , and kidney-shaped ; breaking is otherwise not especially pronounced. The ascenders vary in height and in form; some are relatively long, others short; some are hooked, while others have small loops. The duct is upright, and there is litde splay. Exceptions to the Secretary graphs are found in the numerous instances of long , and a single instance of a long-tailed anglicana .6 Thorn is rarely used except on fols i6v -i7v. It is, on the whole, a careful copy; there are a number of errors in copying, primarily the omission of single words and occasionally of a whole line, but many of these have been corrected in the margins, apparendy by the scribe. …

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