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38 CHAPTER TWO The Transmission of Older Scots Literature Sally Mapstone The publication histories of the three greatest Older Scots makars, Robert Henryson (d. c. 1490), William Dunbar (1460?–1513x1530), and Gavin Douglas (c. 1476–1522), convey the range of pathways through which an author’s works could be transmitted as Scottish culture made its slow and often interrupted transition from manuscript to print. Each of these poets shows a strong consciousness of the medium of manuscript. Henryson’s poet-figure Mercury in The Testament of Cresseid is ‘With pen and ink to report all reddie’ (242), and his Aesop in the Fables has ‘Ane roll off paper in his hand’, and ‘Ane swannis pen stikand vnder his eir’ (1356–57).1 The narrator of Dunbar’s Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo records how at the end of the night he has spent listening to the three women talk ‘I all prevely past to a plesand arber, / And with my pen did report ther pastance most mery’ (B 3, 525–26).2 Entering the last stage of translating Virgil’s Aeneid, Douglas describes how he ‘hynt a scriptour [the case containing his pen] and my pen furth tuke, / Syne thus begouth of Virgill the twelt buke’ (XII, 305–06).3 The printed book is less immediately obvious in these writers’ poetry. Yet all of them experienced forms of print culture during their lifetimes. Each had the opportunity to read printed works, but only Dunbar saw his own work in print, as far as we are aware. In some crucial instances it is now unclear whether they are thinking of manuscript, print, or allowing for both. The term ‘quair’ which Henryson uses in the Testament both for Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and the ‘vther quair’ on which the Testament is said to be based (40, 61) was employed in Older Scots to refer both to manuscript and printed books. When Henryson was writing (1470s–1490s) it was more commonly used in the context of manuscript, frequently to indicate unbound quires, and that is probably what he has in mind, not least because his references to Troilus are confined to its fifth book.4 Dunbar’s only use of the word is within the 39 the transmission of older scots literature modesty topos at the end of his Goldyn Targe, one of the poems that was printed in his lifetime, c. 20 April 1508. Dunbar’s concern that his ‘lytill quair […] wele aucht […] be aferit of the licht’ (B 59, 271–79) is deliberately recalling Chaucer’s invocation to his ‘litel bok’ at the end of Troilus (V, 1786). But it could nonetheless suggest that Dunbar intended The Goldyn Targe to go to Walter Chepman (1471?–1528) and Andrew Myllar (fl. 1503–1508) for printing. Chaucer’s Troilus could have been available to both Henryson and Dunbar in either manuscript or print. They could have seen a manuscript like Oxford, Bodleian Library, Arch. Selden. B. 24, now the only surviving Chaucerian manuscript anthology from Scotland.5 Troilus was the first item copied into this manuscript (fols 1–118v ), in the late 1480s, for Henry third Lord Sinclair. But they could also have read Troilus in the printed edition produced by William Caxton in Westminster in 1483 (STC 5094). Some works printed by Caxton made their way to Scotland quickly, though demand could lead to their transmission back into the older medium: a manuscript copy of Caxton’s 1479 edition of Lord Rivers’ Cordial (STC 5758), and extracts from his 1480 edition of the Chronicles of England (STC 9991), for example, had been made in Scotland by 1485 (NRS, GD 112/71/1/1 and 2).6 That said, for Scottish poets to know Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, as Gavin Douglas clearly did (Eneados, I, 410–14, 445–48), they could only have done so in manuscript, since the poem was not printed until 1532. It was included in Arch. Selden. B. 24 (fols 152v –91v ).7 Print and script come memorably together when Douglas, in the prologue to the seventh book of his Eneados, writes that ‘And seand Virgill on a lettron stand, / To write onone I hynt a pen in hand’ (VII, 143–44). For we know that the Virgil from which he was working was the edition printed by Josse Badius Ascensius (1462–1535) in Paris in 1501, as one of his early publications there in association with the bookseller Jean Petit (fl...


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