- Chaucer’s Scribes: London Textual Production, 1384–1432 by Lawrence Warner
Scholarship has increasingly recognized the fluidity of the networks accommodating textual activity in an urban centre, where scribal and other forms of labour were needed for administrative records of many kinds just as much as for literary manuscripts. In late medieval London, the already flourishing business of textual production faced a new challenge as the demand for copies of long poems in English—especially of works by Chaucer, Gower, and Langland—made itself felt. Landmark studies of the production of manuscripts in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century London include a 1978 essay by A. I. Doyle and Malcolm Parkes, an account of London Literature 1300–1380 by Ralph Hanna (2005), and C. Paul Christianson’s directory of London stationers and book artisans (1990); but much about the commissioning, supply, and remuneration of scribal and other relevant labour, especially outside institutional contexts, has remained unclear. In Chaucer’s Scribes: London Textual Production, 1384–1432, Lawrence Warner assesses the plausibility of recent studies that have connected the scribal hands of certain manuscripts with named individuals at work in various London contexts, and have foregrounded the Guildhall, the city’s administrative hub, as a centre for the copying of literary works (the fullest expositions of these arguments are Linne Mooney’s 2006 article on ‘Chaucer’s Scribe’ and her 2013 book Scribes and the City, written with Estelle Stubbs). Warner’s book thus takes on claims that Adam Pynkhurst, whose name appears in the Scriveners’ Company Common Paper, worked closely with Chaucer, and was responsible for (among much else) the earliest and best-known manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales; that a further group of important city officers copied Chaucer’s and other literary works; and that Thomas Hoccleve, poet and privy seal clerk, had a significant position in this milieu.
Warner’s energetic immersion in this scholarship, and his terrier-like pursuit of the various strands of argument on which its central claims depend, is palpable. The evidence he brings forward from scrutiny of relevant documents and literary manuscripts, as from textual criticism and historical linguistics, lays the ground for reasoned and objective judgement, and he gives fair and often admiring accounts of the scholarly arguments that have to be summarized—many of which he nonetheless systematically dismantles across the course of his six chapters. The first of these picks apart the likelihood that Chaucer himself had anything to do with the single stanza addressed to an ‘Adam Scriveyn’ who has been taken to be Adam Pynkhurst. Next comes demolition on palaeographical grounds of the corpus of scribal work attributed to Pynkhurst/Adam Scriveyn, including the rejection from it of the copying of the Ellesmere and Hengwrt manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales. [End Page 397] Scribal idiolect is the focus of Chapter 3, which explores the extent to which scribes’ orthographic and linguistic habits were likely to be influenced by the practice of their exemplars, and looks at scribal consistency across the stints of copying that have been attributed to Pynkhurst and others.
The three chapters making up the second half of the book, while still to some extent concerned with hacking through the growth of previous scholarship, propose some directions for new research. The scribe responsible for the Langland/Chaucer manuscript Huntington HM 114, previously identified as Richard Osbarn, clerk of the chamberlain at the Guildhall, is in Warner’s view more likely to have been some-one associated with the Goldsmiths’ Company and with networks centred there: an argument that necessarily weakens the possibility that the Guildhall served as some kind of clearing house for the transmission of literary texts. A new look at the activities of Thomas Hoccleve rejects the likelihood that he was part of the Guildhall circle and Chaucer’s earliest editor, although it confirms his importance as an object of study. As a poet whose works survive partly in holograph manuscripts, a scribe who contributed to important copies of the poems of Chaucer...