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The Scribe of the Hengwrt and Ellesmere Manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales M. L. Samuels University ofGlasgow TSINGULAR numb« of the word "scr;be" ;n the ,;rie is intentional. Recently R. Vance Ramsey1 has questioned the view of A. I. Doyle and M. B. Parkes2 that on palaeographical grounds these two manuscripts are the work of a single scribe and insists that they are by separate scribes. He admits that the hands are "identical" and states that they are so because his two scribes received identical training. He quotes no parallels for such a phenomenon, and it is doubtful whether he could do so for any but Chancery-trained scribes. Suffice it here to say that he is not arguing with the palaeographers; he has conceded them their case and has chosen to argue his own purely from spelling practices. So be it. He has chosen his position, but it is a difficult one, for it places the onus on him to prove that these texts could not have been written by one man, while taking full account of, first, what is known about the spelling practices of scribes in the later Middle English period and, second, what is known and to be expected by way of variation or standardization in the London language of a particular period, 1390 to 1420. Ramsey inherits from Manly and Rickert the notion that the early manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales are "standardized"3 and assumes 1 R. Vance Ramsey, "The Hengwrt and Ellesmere Manuscripts ofthe Canterbury Tales: Different Scribes," SB 35(1982):133-54. 2 A. I. Doyle and M. B. Parkes, "The Production ofCopies of the Canterbury Tales and the Confessio Amantis in the Early Fifteenth Century," in M. B. Parkes and A.G.Watson, eds., Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts andLibraries: Essayspresented to N. R. Ker (London: Scolar Press, 1978). 3 Ramsey, "The Hengwrt and Ellesmere Manuscripts," p. 134, with reference there made to John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, eds., The Text ofthe Canterbury Tales (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), 1.558. 49 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER from that that the rest of their language, apart from the points of dif­ ference that form his case, can be taken for granted. But this procedure is unjustifiable, for much more is now known about the language of London in this period than was available to Manly and Rickert. As I have shown elsewhere, there was no standardization in London to the degree that he postulates until the emergence, ca. 1430, of what I have termed Chancery Standard, or typeIV.4 Before that time there are three other types that may be considered, but ofthese only type I (Central Midland Standard) comes anywhere near the kind of homogeneity postulated by Ramsey, and ob­ viously our scribe does not partake of it, whereas typesII andIII are terms of convenience that embrace a series of heterogeneous London texts in the period 1340 to 1420, including our scribe as one of the evidently separate and individual contributors to type III.5 During this whole period, apart from type I, the spelling of each scribe is idiosyncratic, and can be distinguished as such from every other by application of a special question­ naire of at least one hundred common variables in spelling that was devised for the MiddleEnglish Dialect Survey at the Universities ofEdinburgh and Glasgow.6 The result, for the whole survey, is some 3,500 linguistic "profiles" of separate scribes.7 When the questionnaire was applied to the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts, they were found to agree for all variables except a few in which there was a difference of emphasis in the proportion of variants found in each manuscript, e.g., agayn/ayeyn, askelaxe, heighelhye, hundredlhondred, muryelmyrie, neighlny, noghtlnoughtlnat, seigh/sawlsaugh, thoghlthough, thowsandlthou­ sand, weere(n)lwere(n). Since none of these forms was exclusive to one manuscript, the profiles for both manuscripts were regarded as those of a single scribe who had slightly changed his habits and/or had come under the influence of varying exemplars. Now when Ramsey states that the usages of individual MiddleEnglish scribes could not alter in this way, he is simply ignoring a great deal of...


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