Reference > Cambridge History > The End of the Middle Ages > Chaucer > Canon of Works
  Chaucer’s Life Early Editions  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

VII. Chaucer.

§ 2. Canon of Works.


We must, however, now make a further advance, and turn from the “Chaucer” who figures in records, and the “Chaucer” who is eulogised as a poet, to that other sense of “Chaucer” which indicates the work, not the man—the work which gained for the man the reputation and the eulogy. Uncritically accepted, and recklessly amplified during more than three centuries, it has, since the masterly investigations of Tyrwhitt in the latter part of the eighteenth century, been subjected to a process of severe thinning, on principles which will be referred to again. Of external, or rather positive, evidence of early date, we have some, but not a very great deal—and that not of the most unexceptionable kind. The help of the MSS. is only partial; for no one of them is accepted by anyone as an autograph, and no one of them contains all the pieces which the severest methods of separation have left to Chaucer. But, in two of these pieces, which themselves as wholes are undoubted, there are lists, ostensibly by the poet, of his own works, and cross-references in other places. The fullest of these—the list contained in the palinode or retraction at the end of The Parson’s Tale and The Canterbury Tales generally—has, indeed, been suspected by some, apparently without any reason, except that they would rather Chaucer had not repented of things of which, as it seems to them, he had no reason to repent. But, even in case of forgery, the forger would, probably, have taken care to be correct in his attribution. This list contains Troilus; The book [House] of Fame; The book of the XXV Ladies [Legend of Good Women]; The book of the Duchess; The book of St. Valentine’s day of the Parliament of Birds [Fowls]; The Canterbury Tales themselves, where the repentance extends only to those that “sounen into sinne";The book of the Lion; and many others which he cannot remember, while Baece is specified as requiring to repentance. All these exist except The book of the Lion. Further, in the body of the Tales, in the introduction to The Man of Law’s Prologue, Chaucer is mentioned by name with an unmistakably autobiographical humility, whether serious or humorous; and the Legend is again acknowledged under the general title of “the Seintes Legende of Cupyde.” Now, in the Legend itself, there is another list of works claimed by the author in which Troilus, The House of Fame, The book of the Duchess [Death of Blanche], The Parliament of Fowls and Boece reappear, and The Rose, Palamon and Arcite and divers smaller works named and unnamed are added. This, however, does not exhaust the list of contemporary testimony, though it may exhaust that of Chaucer’s own definite claim to the works specified. Lydgate, besides referring to a mysterious “Dant in English,” which some have identified with The House of Fame, specifies the A B C, Anelida and Arcite, The Complaint of Mars and the Treatise on the Astrolabe. But there is another witness, a certain John Shirley, who seems to have passed his first youth when Chaucer died, and not to have died himself till the fifteenth century was more than half over. He has left us copies, ascribed by himself to Chaucer, of the three poems last mentioned as ascribed also by Lydgate, and of the minor pieces entitled The Complaint unto Pity, The Complaint of Venus, Fortune, Truth, Gentilesse, Lack of Steadfastness and the Empty Purse . The epistles (or “envoys”) to Scogan and Bukton, the Rosemounde ballade, The Former Age and one or two scraps are also definitely attributed to the poet in early MSS.   5

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  Chaucer’s Life Early Editions  
 
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