Chaucer’s “Troilus.” An unsigned review of The Book of Troilus and Criseyde, by Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Robert Kilburn Root
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[ 807 Chaucer’s “Troilus”1 An unsigned review of The Book of Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer. Edited from all the known manuscripts by Robert Kilburn Root London: Humphrey Milford, 1926. Pp. lxxxix + 573. Times Literary Supplement, 1281 (19 Aug 1926) 547 There would be every reason for welcoming a new edition of Chaucer’s Troilus even were it far less scholarly and critical than Dr. Root’s. Within the last ten or fifteen years our attitude towards Chaucer has changed; it is one of those inconspicuous but important changes which are not immediately registered in the manuals of literary history. The nominal position of Chaucer has always been high enough, and is hardly affected. But it has been similar to that of the “medieval” philosophers, whose works have so long been summarized but not read; even some of his admirers have hampered his appreciation by their devotion to medievalism and to that illegible font of type known as black-letter.2 But we are becoming slowly more aware of Chaucer as a part of English literature, at the same time that we are learning to take the “medieval” a little more seriously. And accordingly we are becoming aware that the whole stock of critical commonplaces about Chaucer must be reinventoried. Those who approach Chaucer in this new spirit recognize that the centre for critical judgment of Chaucer is not the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (of which, like the Illiad and the Aeneid, everybody can quote the first line), but decidedly Troilus and Criseyde. Hence the importance of a new edition of this poem by itself. Dr. Root, who by his thoroughgoing methods would appear to have been a pupil of George Lyman Kittredge, has apparently superannuated all previous editions.3 Dr. Root reminds us that Skeat recognized two main “families” of manuscripts, but objects that the manuscripts closely collated by Skeat were of the same “family” (Cl. and Cp.).4 He pays acknowledgment to Sir William McCormick, the editor of Troilus in the Globe edition :5 “In this edition, for the first time, the text of the poem rests on a 1926 808 ] thorough examination of all the MSS.” [lxx]; and justifies his own edition (apart from certain differences of opinion of the relative value of manuscripts ) on the ground that the Globe was a popular edition, and that therefore only a minimum of critical apparatus was possible. Dr. Root’s book, with text, apparatus, notes, and introductions, amounts to 573 pages. He has not stinted himself; he has made an admirable edition. For this we should be very grateful. There are few literary reputations more in need of revision than that of Chaucer, or than that of Troilus relative to his other work. And for this revision the mere physical aid of possessing this poem in a separate volume – were the volume even merely an ordinary text, and not the fine critical text which Dr. Root has given us – is of great value. What is needed now is an edition of the works of Chaucer separately and in small convenient volumes, somewhat like the Temple edition of Shakespeare.6 Many of us, probably, owe our personal opinions of the plays of Shakespeare partly to the opportunity to take one play at a time, as in the Temple and other editions, and study it by itself: and the work of Chaucer would gain in the same presentation. Until such an edition is made, the Troilus of Dr. Root will be necessary, not only to the literary specialist but to every serious student of English literature. Undoubtedly Troilus and Criseyde has suffered for other reasons than the lack of a separate volume. It is a narrative poem, and a long one. It has no picaresque or romantic interest; it is not a “tale.” It has no anecdote or neat point: an acquaintance with the Canterbury Tales is no preparation for such a book. Its sobriety and restraint are extreme: few brilliant lines are detachable from the weft of the work. A knowledge of Stendhal might provide the best introduction; but the majority of readers of novels have their taste impaired by an indulgence in visual detail. And Chaucer suffers from another handicap due to his place and time. He was an English Catholic long before the Reformation – superficially more remote from us in religious sensibility than either Dante or Shakespeare. For Dante remains continuous with a religious tradition which persists, however modified; and Shakespeare (whatever his personal allegiance...