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REVIEW CHAUCER AT OXFORD AND AT CAMBRIDGE* These four essays represent the Alexander Lectures delivered at the University of Toronto in December 1970. The jacket note states their theme well; they explore 'the correspondences between the literary cities [of Oxford and Cambridge ] and their citizens and the historical ones,' drawing on the references to the two universities in Chaucer's works, illuminating those passages of Chaucer's poetry. The importance of these lectures to literary scholars is difficult to estimate . To an historian like the present reviewer, they are full of delight. Dr Bennett has stumbled on the rich but relatively little-known cache of archival material from medieval Oxford published in the volumes of the Oxford Historical Society. He has blended his findings there with material in A.B. Emden's biographical registers of the two universities, in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society and similar studies and collections to construct an intricate and fascinating portrait of the university world which Chaucer undoubtedly knew, and which forms the living background to the product of his creative imagination. Except for the late W.A. Pantin's annual Report on the Oxford University Archives printed each year in the University Gazette, and later gathered together and revised by him for publication as Oxford Life in Oxford Archives (1972), there is nothing else in print 50 vivid and informative about the life of the medieval university in England. The first essay on 'Life and Learning in Rolls and Records' uses the evidence of inventories, household accounts and a vast array of literary sources to illustrate the domestic circumstances of students and townsmen. In doing so, the author sets the scene for the following chapter, 'Town and Gown,' for which the Miller's Tale is the principal inspiration. The relations between scholars living in town and their landlords are well described, as are the physical provisions for life in such a house as that inhabited by Nicholas. The work of Dr Pantin on medieval halls and houses in Oxford is used well and fully. The life of Absolon too is fleshed out in a well-informed study of the duties of a medieval parish clerk (a part-time occupation) who also functions as a barber-surgeon. At Oxford, the members of this guild were 'privileged persons,' servants of the university community who were officially recognized and enjoyed the privilege of jurisdiction in the Chancellor's Court. The third essay on 'The Men of Merton' deals with the community of scholars that produced two important historical figures named by Chaucer, 'philosophical Strode' and Bishop Bradwardine. This theme allows Dr Bennett to explore the intellectual world of the Mertonians J.A.W. Bennett, Chaucer at Oxford and at Cambridge. University of Toronto Press 1974. Pp. x, 1:;1. $7.50 92 JAMES K. MCCONICA and to demonstrate the presence at the university in Chaucer's day of 'a culture not very different from that in which fifteenth-century humanism was to flourish' (p 69). At the same time, we are informed about the contemporary set~ ting for Chaucer's own learning. One theme is predictably prominentj 'One by one every astronomical trail in Chaucer leads us to Oxford, and in Oxford to Merton' (p 75). The final essay, 'A Jolly Miller,' derives from the role of the Reeve in the Prologue and from the role of the mills in both university towns. This is the chapter with the largest Cambridge content, since the Reeve came from Bawdswell in Norfolk, and the author offers King's Hall, Cambridge, as an historical counterpart of Soler Hall in the tale. There is much delightful erudition about colleges and their mills, all underscored by close perception of the continuing differences between the two university towns; 'Oxford has remained a tradesman 's city, Cambridge a market town.' By moving easily within their historical precincts, Dr Bennett has shown that, 'In these tales Chaucer is grinding the rough grain of fabliau into the fine flour of local character and local story: The result of the author's reflections - and recreation - is delightful, gracious, and immensely informative. Three appendices on 'Poor Scholars/ 'Mills and Milling' and 'Merton and Cambridge' supplement the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 91-92
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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