Chaucer died in 1400. Manuscripts of his works, or at least of his later works, circulated for reading during his lifetime, as we may deduce from his little poem to Adam, his scribe, from ‘Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton’, and from Deschamps’ poem (Vol. 1, No. 1); but all the manuscripts we now have were written in the fifteenth century. In number they vary from the eighty-odd complete or fragmentary copies of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ through the twenty-odd complete or fragmentary copies of ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ to the unique copy of ‘Adam Scriveyn’. Some are splendid compilations fit for a king, others are solid bookshop products, some others (of short poems) are copies by interested amateurs. The shorter poems are sometimes placed in small groups, but no manuscript aims to put together the complete Works—the very concept did not exist.
Caxton first printed ‘The Canterbury Tales’ about 1478, and reprinted it about 1484. Wynkyn de Worde and Pynson, his successors, reprinted it again. Similarly Caxton and his successors reprinted separately a number of other works by Chaucer. Copies of these editions are now exceedingly rare.
(1) 1532, ‘The Workes of Geoffrey Chaucer’, etc., folio blackletter, edited by W. Thynne, printed by T. Godfray.