Chaucer’s Works, Volume 4 — The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer







Litt.D., LL.D., D.C.L., Ph.D.

* * * *


‘Let every felawe telle his tale aboute,

And lat see now who shal the soper winne.’

The Knightes Tale; A890






 FrontispieceCambridge MS. (Gg. 4. 27). Prol. 326-342






Introduction.—§ 1. The Present Text. § 2. The MSS.—I. In the British Museum. II. In Oxford. III. In Cambridge. IV. In other Public Libraries. V. In private hands. § 3. The Printed Editions. § 4. Plan of the present Edition. § 5. Table of symbols denoting MSS. § 6. Table showing various ways of numbering the lines. § 7. The four types of MSS.

The Canterbury Tales

Group A. The Prologue

The Knightes Tale

The Miller’s Prologue

The Milleres Tale

The Reeve’s Prologue

The Reves Tale

The Cook’s Prologue

The Cokes Tale

Group B. Introduction to the Man of Law’s Prologue

Man of Law’s Prologue

The Tale of the Man of Lawe

The Shipman’s Prologue

The Shipmannes Tale

The Prioress’s Prologue

The Prioresses Tale

Prologue to Sir Thopas

Sir Thopas

Prologue to Melibeus

The Tale of Melibeus

The Monk’s Prologue

The Monkes Tale:—Lucifer; Adam; Sampson; Hercules;

Nabugodonosor; Balthasar; Cenobia; De Petro Rege Ispannie;

De Petro Rege De Cipro; De Barnabo de Lumbardia;

De Hugelino Comite de Pize; Nero; De Oloferno;

De Rege Anthiocho; De Alexandro; De Iulio Cesare; Cresus


The Prologue of the Nonne Prestes Tale

The Nonne Prestes Tale

Epilogue to the Nonne Prestes Tale

Group C. The Phisiciens Tale

Words of the Host

Prologue of the Pardoners Tale

The Pardoners Tale

Group D. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe

The Friar’s Prologue

The Freres Tale

The Somnour’s Prologue

The Somnours Tale

Group E. The Clerk’s Prologue

The Clerkes Tale

The Merchant’s Prologue

The Marchantes Tale

Epilogue to the Marchantes Tale

Group F. The Squieres Tale

Words of the Franklin

The Franklin’s Prologue

The Frankeleyns Tale

Group G. The Seconde Nonnes Tale

The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue

The Chanouns Yemannes Tale

Group H. The Manciple’s Prologue

The Maunciples Tale

Group I. The Parson’s Prologue

The Persones Tale

Appendix to Group A. The Tale of Gamelyn



§ 1. The Present Text.

The text of the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ as printed in the present volume, is an entirely new one, owing nothing to the numerous printed editions which have preceded it. The only exceptions to this statement are to be found in the case of such portions as have been formerly edited, for the Clarendon Press, by Dr. Morris and myself. The reasons for the necessity of a formation of an absolutely new text will appear on a perusal of the text itself, as compared with any of its predecessors.

On the other hand, it owes everything to the labours of Dr. Furnivall for the Chaucer Society, but for which no satisfactory results could have been obtained, except at the cost of more time and toil than I could well devote to the subject. In other words, my work is entirely founded upon the splendid ‘Six-text’ Edition published by that Society, supplemented by the very valuable reprint of the celebrated ‘Harleian’ manuscript in the same series. These Seven Texts are all exact reproductions of seven important MSS., and are, in two respects, more important to the student than the MSS. themselves; that is to say, they can be studied simultaneously instead of separately, and they can be consulted and re-consulted at any moment, being always accessible. The importance of such opportunities is obvious.

§ 2. The Manuscripts.

The following list contains all the MSS. of the existence of which I am aware. As to their types, see § 7.[viii]

I. MSS. in the British Museum.

1. Harl. 7334; denoted here by Hl. By Tyrwhitt called ‘C.’ A MS of the B-type (see below). Printed in full for the Chaucer Society, 1885. Collated throughout.

A MS. of great importance, but difficult to understand or describe. For the greater clearness, I shall roughly describe the MSS. as being of the A-type, the B-type, the C-type, and the D-type (really a second C-type). Of the A-type, the best example is the Ellesmere MS.; of the B-type, the best example is the Harleian MS. 7334; of the C-type, the Corpus and Lansdowne MSS.; the D-type is that exhibited by Caxton and Thynne in the early printed editions. They may be called the ‘Ellesmere,’ ‘Harleian,’ ‘Corpus,’ and ‘Caxton’ types respectively. These types differ as to the arrangement of the Tales, and even MSS. of a similar type differ slightly, in this respect, among themselves. They also frequently differ as to certain characteristic readings, although many of the variations of reading are peculiar to one or two MSS. only.

MS. Hl. contains the best copy of the Tale of Gamelyn, for which see p. 645; this Tale is not found in MSS. of the A-type. Moreover, Group G here precedes Group C and a large part of Group B, whereas in the Ellesmere MS. it follows them. In the Monk’s Tale, the lines numbered B 3565-3652 (containing the Tales called the ‘modern instances’) immediately follow B 3564 (as in this edition), whereas in the Ellesmere MS. these lines come at the end of the Tale.

The ‘various readings’ of this MS. are often peculiar, and it is difficult to appraise them. I take them to be of two kinds: (i) readings which are better than those of the Six-text, and should certainly be preferred, such as halfe in A 8, cloysterlees in A 179, a (not a ful) in A 196, and the like; and (2) readings due to a terrible blundering on the part of the scribe, such as fleyng for flikeringe in A 1962, greene for kene in A 1966, and the like. It is, in fact, a most dangerous MS. to trust to, unless constantly corrected by others, and is not at all fitted to be taken as the basis of a text. For further remarks, see the description of Wright’s printed edition at p. xvi.

As regards age, this MS. is one of the oldest; and it is beautifully written. Its chief defect is the loss of eight leaves, so that ll. 617-1223 in Group F are missing. It also misses several lines in various places; as A 2013-8, 2958, 3721-2, 4355, 4358, 4375-6, 4415-22; B 417, 1186-90, 1355, 1376-9, 1995, 3213-20, 4136-7, 4479-80; C 299, 300, 305-6, 478-9; D 575-584, 605-612, 619-626, 717-720; E 2356-7; F 1455-6, 1493-8; G 155, 210-216; besides some lines in Melibee and the Persones Tale. Moreover, it has nine spurious lines, D 2004 bc, 2012 bc, 2037 bc 2048 bc, F 592. These imperfections furnish an additional reason for not founding a text upon this MS.

2. Harl. 7335; by Tyrwhitt called ‘A.’ Of the B-type. Very imperfect, especially at the end. A few lines are printed in the Six-text edition to fill up gaps in various MSS., viz. E 1646-7, F 1-8, 1423-4, 1433-4, G 158, 213-4, 326-337, 432-3, 484. Collated so far.


3. Harl. 7333; by Tyrwhitt called ‘E.’ Of the D-type. One of Shirley’s MSS. Some lines are printed in the Six-text edition, viz. B 4233-8, E 1213-44, F 1147-8, 1567-8, G 156-9, 213-4, 326-337, 432. It also contains some of the Minor Poems; see the description of MS. ‘Harl.’ in the Introduction to those poems in vol. i.[1]

4. Harl. 1758, denoted by Harl. at p. 645; by Tyrwhitt called ‘F.’ In Urry’s list, i. Of the D-type, but containing Gamelyn. Many lines are printed in the Six-text, including the whole of ‘Gamelyn.’ It is freely used to fill up gaps, as B 1-9, 2096-2108, 3049-78, 4112, 4114, 4581-4636, &c.

5. Harl. 1239; in Tyrwhitt, ‘I.’ In Urry’s list, ii. Imperfect both at beginning and end.

6. Royal 18 C II; denoted by Rl.; in Tyrwhitt, ‘B.’ In Urry, vii. Of the D-type, but containing Gamelyn. Used to fill up gaps in the Six-text; e.g. in B 1163-1190 (Shipman’s Prologue, called in this MS. the Squire’s Prologue), 2109-73, 3961-80, E 65, 73, 81, 143, G 1337-40, I 472-511. The whole of ‘Gamelyn’ is also printed from this MS. in the Six-text.

7. Royal 17 D xv; in Tyrwhitt, ‘D.’ In Urry, viii. Of the D-type, but containing Gamelyn. Used to fill up gaps in the Six-text; e.g. in B 2328-61, 3961-80, 4112, 4114, 4233-8, 4637-51, D 609-612, 619-626, 717-720, E 1213-44, F 1423-4, 1433-4, H 47-52; and in the Tale of Gamelyn.

8. Sloane 1685; denoted by Sl. In Tyrwhitt, ‘G.’ In Urry, iii. Of the D-type, but containing Gamelyn. In two handwritings, one later than the other. Imperfect; has no Sir Thopas, Melibee, Manciple, or Parson. Very frequently quoted in the Six-text, to fill up rather large gaps in the Cambridge MS.; e.g. A 754-964, 3829-90, 4365-4422, &c. Gamelyn is printed from this MS. in the Six-text, the gaps in it being filled up from MS. 7 (above).

9. Sloane 1686; in Tyrwhitt, ‘H.’ In Urry, iv. Of the C-type; containing Gamelyn. A late MS., on paper. Imperfect; no Canon’s Yeoman or Parson.

10. Lansdowne 851; denoted by Ln. In Tyrwhitt, ‘W,’ because at that time in the possession of P. C. Webb, Esq. Used by Mr. Wright to fill up the large gap in Hl., viz. F 617-1223, and frequently consulted by him and others. Printed in full as [x]the sixth MS. of the Six-text. Of the C-type; containing Gamelyn. Not a good MS., being certainly the worst of the six; but worth printing owing to the frequent use that has been made of it by editors.

11. Additional 5140; in Tyrwhitt, ‘Ask. 2,’ as being one of two MSS. lent to him by Dr. Askew. It has in it the arms of H. Deane, Archbp. of Canterbury, 1501-3. Of the A-type. Quoted in the Six-text to fill up gaps; e.g. B 3961-80, 4233-8, 4637-52, D 2158-2294, E 1213-44, 1646-7, 2419-40, F 1-8, 673-708, G 103, I 887-944, 1044-92.

12. Additional 25718. A mere fragment. A short passage from it, C 409-427, is quoted in the Six-text, to fill up a gap in Ln.

13. Egerton 2726; called the ‘Haistwell MS.’; in Tyrwhitt denoted by ‘HA,’ and formerly belonging to E. Haistwell, Esq. Of the A-type, but imperfect. The Six-text quotes F 679, 680: also F 673-708 in the Preface.

II. MSS. in Oxford.

14. Bodley 686; no. 2527 in Bernard’s list; in Tyrwhitt, ‘B α.’ A neat MS., with illuminations. Of the A-type; imperfect. The latter part of the Cook’s Tale is on an inserted leaf (leaf 55), and concludes the Tale in a manner that is not Chaucer’s. After the Canterbury Tales occur several poems by Lydgate.

15. Bodley 414; not noticed by Tyrwhitt. Given to the library by B. Heath in 1766. A late MS. of the D-type, and imperfect. No Cook, Gamelyn, Squire, or Merchant.

16. Laud 739: no. 1234 in Bernard’s list; in Tyrwhitt, ‘B β.’ A poor and late MS. of the D-type, but containing Gamelyn; imperfect at the end; ends with Sir Thopas, down to B 2056.

17. Laud 600; no. 1476 in Bernard’s list; in Tyrwhitt, ‘B γ.’ Imperfect; several leaves ‘restored.’ Apparently, of the B-type; but Group D and the Clerk’s Tale follow Gamelyn. Some extracts from it are given in the Six-text, viz. B 2328-61, D 717-20 (no other Oxford MS. has these scarce lines), F 673-708.

18. Arch. Selden B 14; no. 3360 in Bernard’s list; in Tyrwhitt, ‘B δ.’ Perhaps the best and earliest of the Bodleian MSS., but not very good. Sometimes here quoted as Seld. Apparently of the A-type, having no copy of Gamelyn; but it practically [xi]represents a transition-state between the A and B types, and has one correction of prime importance, as it is the only MS. which links together all the Tales in Group B, making the Shipman follow the Man of Law. Frequent extracts from it occur in the Six-text; e.g. A 1-72, B 1163-1190, &c. In particular, a large portion of the Parson’s Tale, I 290-1086, is printed from this MS. in the same.

19. Barlow 20; no. 6420 in Bernard’s list; in Tyrwhitt, ‘B ζ‘ A clearly written MS. of the D-type, including Gamelyn; imperfect after Sir Thopas, but contains a portion of the Manciple’s Tale. It contains the somewhat rare lines F 679, 680, which are quoted from it in the Six-text.

20. Hatton, Donat. 1 (not the same MS. as Hatton 1); no. 4138 in Bernard’s list; in Tyrwhitt, ‘B ε.’ The Tales are in great disorder, the Man of Law being thrust in between the Reeve and the Cook, as in no other MS. It contains Gamelyn. Lines F 679, 680 are quoted from it in the Six-text; and a few lines are again quoted from it at the end of the Parson’s Tale.

21. Rawlinson Poet. 149. Apparently of the D-type, but it is very imperfect, having lost several leaves in various places. A late MS.

22. Rawlinson Poet. 141. Not a bad MS., but several Tales are omitted, and the Shipman follows the Clerk. Groups C and G do not appear at all. The Latin side-notes are numerous.

23. Rawlinson Poet. 223; the same as that called Rawl. Misc. 1133 in the Six-text ‘Trial-table.’ No copy of Gamelyn. The Tales are strangely misplaced. Slightly imperfect here and there.

24. Corpus Christi College (Oxford), no. 198; denoted by Cp. The best of the Oxford MSS., printed in full as the fourth MS. in the Six-text edition. Of the C-type; collated throughout. It contains a copy of Gamelyn, which is duly printed. It is rather imperfect from the loss of leaves in various places; the gaps being usually supplied from the Selden MS. (no. 18 above).

25. Christ Church (Oxford), no. 152. Contains Gamelyn. The Tales are extraordinarily arranged, but the MS. is nearly perfect, except at the end. A large part of the Parson’s Tale, after I 550, being lost from the Hengwrt MS., the gap is supplied, in the Six-text, from this MS. and Addit. 5140. The Second Nun follows the Shipman. Of the A-type.


26. New College (Oxford), no. 314; called ‘NC’ in Tyrwhitt. Of the D-type; imperfect at the beginning. No copy of Gamelyn.

27. Trinity College (Oxford), no. 49; containing 302 leaves; formerly in the possession of John Leche, temp. Edw. IV. It contains Gamelyn. The Tales are misplaced; the Pardoner and Man of Law being thrust into the middle of Group B, after the Prioress.

III. MSS. at Cambridge.

28. University Library, Gg. 4. 27, not noticed by Tyrwhitt; here denoted by Cm. Also denoted, in vol. iii., by C.; and in vol. i., by Gg. A highly valuable and important MS. of the A-type, printed as the third text in the Six-text edition. The best copy in any public library. See the description of ‘Gg.’ in vol. i.; and the full description in the Library Catalogue.

29. University Library, Dd. 4. 24; in Tyrwhitt, ‘C 1.’ Quoted as Dd. A good MS. of the A-type, much relied upon by Tyrwhitt, who made good use of it. Has lost several leaves. The whole of the Clerk’s Tale was printed from this MS. by Mr. Aldis Wright. The passage in B 4637-52 occurs only in this MS. and a few others, viz. Royal 17 D xv, Addit. 5140, and the Chr. Ch. MS. It also contains the rare lines D 575-84, 609-12, 619-26, 717-20, all printed from this MS. in the Six-text. Lines E 1213-44 are also quoted, to fill a gap in Cm.

30. University Library, Ii. 3. 26; in Tyrwhitt, ‘C 2.’ Of the D-type, including Gamelyn; but the Franklin’s Tale is inserted after the Merchant. Contains many corrupt readings.

31. University Library, Mm. 2. 5. The arrangement of the Tales is very unusual, but resembles that in the Petworth MS., than which it is a little more irregular. A complete MS. of the D-type, including Gamelyn.

32. Trinity College (Cambridge), R. 3. 15; in Tyrwhitt, ‘Tt.’ In quarto, on paper. Some leaves are missing, so that the Canon’s Yeoman, Prioress, and Sir Thopas are lost. Of the D-type, without Gamelyn.

N.B. This MS. also contains the three poems printed as Chaucer’s (though not his) in the edition of 1687, and numbered 66, 67, and 68, in my Account of ‘Speght’s edition’ in vol. i. It also contains the best MS. of Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, edited by me from this MS. in 1867.


33. Trinity College (Cambridge), R. 3. 3; in Tyrwhitt, ‘T.’ A folio MS., on vellum; of the D-type, without Gamelyn; but several Tales are misplaced.

IV. In other Public Libraries.

34. Sion College, London. A mere fragment, containing only the Clerk’s Tale and Group D.

35. Lichfield Cathedral Library; quoted as Lich. or Li. Of the D-type, omitting Gamelyn. The Tale of Melibee is missing. As the Hengwrt MS. has no Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, lines G 554-1481 are printed from this MS. in the Six-text.

36. Lincoln Cathedral Library; begins with A 381. Resembles no. 42.

37. Glasgow; in the Hunterian Museum. Begins with A 353; dated 1476.

38. MS. at Paris, mentioned by Dr. Furnivall. Of the B-type.

39. MS. at Naples, mentioned by Dr. Furnivall.[2]

V. MSS. in Private Hands.

These include some of the very best.

40. The ‘Ellesmere’ MS., in the possession of the Earl of Ellesmere; denoted by E. It formerly belonged to the Duke of Bridgewater, and afterwards to the Marquis of Stafford. The finest and best of all the MSS. now extant. Of the A-type; printed as the first of the MSS. in the Six-text, and taken as the basis of the present edition.

It contains the curious coloured drawings of 23 of the Canterbury Pilgrims which have been reproduced for the Chaucer Society. At the end of the MS. is a valuable copy of Chaucer’s Balade of ‘Truth’; see vol. i. At the beginning of the MS., in a later hand, are written two poems printed in Todd’s Illustrations of Gower, &c., pp. 295-309, which Todd absurdly attributed to Chaucer! They are of slight value or interest. It may suffice to say that, at the beginning of the former poem, we find revyved rimed with meved, and many of the lines in it are too long; e.g.—’I supposed yt to have been some noxiall fantasy.’ In the latter poem, a compliment to the family of Vere, by rimes with auncestrye, and quarter with hereafter; and the lines are of similar over-length, e.g.—’Of whom prophesyes of antiquite makyth mencion.’

41. The ‘Hengwrt’ MS., no. 154, belonging to Mr. Wm. W. E. Wynne, of Peniarth; denoted by Hn. A valuable MS.; [xiv]it is really of the A-type, though the Tales are strangely misplaced, and the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale is missing. The readings frequently agree so closely with those of E. (no. 40) that it is, to some extent, almost a duplicate of it. Printed as the second MS. in the Six-text. It also contains Chaucer’s Boethius (imperfect).

42. The ‘Petworth’ MS., belonging to Lord Leconfield; denoted by Pt. A folio MS., on vellum, of high value. Formerly in the possession of the Earl of Egremont (Todd’s Illustrations, p. 118). Of the D-type, including Gamelyn; but the Shipman and Prioress wrongly precede the Man of Law. Printed as the fifth MS. in the Six-text.

43. The ‘Holkham’ MS., noted by Todd (Illustrations, p. 127) as then belonging to Mr. Coke, of Norfolk, and now belonging to the Earl of Leicester. The Tales are out of order; perhaps the leaves are misarranged. Imperfect in various places; has no Parson’s Tale.

44. The ‘Helmingham’ MS., at Helmingham Hall, Suffolk, belonging to Lord Tollemache. On paper and vellum; about 1460 A.D. For a specimen, see the Shipman’s Prologue, printed in the Six-text, in the Preface, p. ix*. Either of the C-type or the D-type.

45-48. Four MSS. in the collection of the late Sir Thos. Phillipps, at Cheltenham, viz. nos. 6570, 8136, 8137, 8299.

Two of these are mentioned in Todd’s Illustrations, p. 127, as being ‘now [in 1810] in the collection of John P. Kemble, Esq., and in that belonging to the late Duke of Roxburghe; the latter is remarkably beautiful, and is believed to have been once the property of Sir Henry Spelman.’ No. 8299 contains the Clerk’s Tale only.

49-52. Four MSS. belonging to the Earl of Ashburnham; numbered 124-127 in the Appendix. Of these, no. 124 wants the end of the Man of Law’s Tale and the beginning of the Squire’s, and therefore belongs to either the C-type or D-type. Nos. 125 and 126 are imperfect. No. 127 seems to be complete.

53. A MS. belonging to the Duke of Devonshire, at Chatsworth; and formerly to Sir N. L’Estrange. (Of the A-type.)

54. A MS. belonging to Sir Henry Ingilby, of Ripley Castle, Yorkshire. (Of the A-type.)

55. A MS. belonging to the Duke of Northumberland, at Alnwick; and formerly to Mrs. Thynne. (Of the A-type.)


56. A MS. now (in 1891) in the possession of Lady Cardigan.

57-59. Tyrwhitt uses the symbol ‘Ask. 1’ to denote a MS. lent to him by the late Dr. Askew. He also uses the symbols ‘Ch.’ and ‘N.’ to denote ‘two MSS. described in the Preface to Urry’s edition, the one as belonging to Chas. Cholmondeley, Esq. of Vale Royal, in Cheshire, and the other to Mr. Norton, of Southwick, in Hampshire.’ Of these, ‘Ch.’ is now Lord Delamere’s MS., described by Dr. Furnivall in Notes and Queries, 4 Ser. ix. 353. The others I cannot trace.

§ 3. The Printed Editions.

In the first five editions, the Canterbury Tales were published separately.

1. Caxton; about 1477-8, from a poor MS. Copies are in the British Museum, Merton College, and in the Pepysian Library (no. 2053).

2. Caxton; about 1483, from a better MS. A perfect copy exists in St. John’s College Library, Oxford. Caxton bravely issued this new edition because he had found that his former one was faulty.

3. Pynson; about 1493. Copied from Caxton’s 2nd edition.

4. Wynkyn de Worde; in 1498. In the British Museum.

5. Pynson; in 1526. Copied from Caxton’s 2nd edition.

After this the Canterbury Tales were invariably issued with the rest of Chaucer’s Works, until after 1721. Some account of these editions is given in the Preface to the Minor Poems, in vol. i.; which see. They are: Thynne’s three editions, in 1532, 1542, and 1550 (the last is undated); Stowe’s edition, 1561; Speght’s editions, in 1598, 1602, and 1687; Urry’s edition, in 1721.

Two modernised editions of the Canterbury Tales were published in London in 1737 or 1740, and in 1741.

Next came: ‘Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, to which is added, an Essay on his Language and Versification; an introductory discourse; notes, and a glossary. By Thomas Tyrwhitt, London, 1775-8, 8vo, 5 vols.’ A work of high literary value, to which I am greatly indebted for many necessary notes. Reprinted in 1798 in 4to, 2 vols., by the University of Oxford; and again, at London, in 1822, in post 8vo, 5 vols.; (by Pickering) in 1830, 8vo, 5 vols.; [xvi]and (by Moxon) in 1845, in 1 vol. imp. 8vo. The last of these adds poor texts of the rest of Chaucer’s Works, from old black-letter editions, with which Tyrwhitt had nothing to do. In Tyrwhitt’s text, the number of grammatical errors is very large, and he frequently introduces words into the text without authority. For some account of the later editions of Chaucer’s Works, see the Introduction to the Legend of Good Women, in vol. iii. I may note, by the way, that the editions by Wright, Bell, and Morris are all founded on MS. Harl. 7334, a very unsafe MS. in some respects; see p. viii (above).

It is necessary to add here a few words of warning. Wright’s edition, though it has many merits, turns out, in practice, to be dangerously untrustworthy. He frequently inserts words, borrowed from Tyrwhitt’s edition (which he heartily condemns as being full of errors in grammar), without the least indication that they are not in the MS. This becomes the more serious when we find, upon examination, that Tyrwhitt had likewise no authority for some of such insertions, but simply introduced them, by guess, to fill up a line in a way that pleased him. For example, A 628 runs thus, in all the seven MSS.:—

‘Of his visage children were aferd.’ It is quite correct; for ‘viság-e’ is trisyllabic. Tyrwhitt did not know this, and counted the syllables as two only, neglecting the final e. The line seemed then too short; so he inserted sore before aferd, thus ruining the scansion. Wright follows suit, and inserts sore, though it is not in his MS.; giving no notice at all of what he has done. Bell follows suit, and the word is even preserved in Morris; but the latter prints the word in italics, to shew that it is not in the MS. Nor is it in the Six-text.

I shall not adduce more instances, but shall content myself with saying that, until the publications of the Chaucer Society appeared, no reader had the means of knowing what the best MS. texts were really like. All who have been accustomed to former (complete) editions have necessarily imbibed hundreds of false impressions, and have necessarily accepted numberless theories as to the scansion of lines which they will, in course of due time, be prepared to abandon. In the course of my work, it has been made clear to me that Chaucer’s text has been manipulated and sophisticated, frequently in most cunning and plausible ways, to a far greater extent than I could have believed to be possible. This is not a pleasant subject, and I only mention it for the use of scholars. Such variations fortunately seldom affect the sense; but they vitiate the scansion, the grammar, and the etymology in many cases. Of course it will be understood that I am saying no more than I can fully substantiate.

It is absolutely appalling to read such a statement as the following in Bell’s edition, vol. i. p. 60. ‘All deviations, either from Mr. Wright’s edition, or from the original MS., are pointed out in the footnotes for the ultimate satisfaction of the reader.’ For the instances in which this is really done are very rare indeed, in spite of the large number of such deviations.

Of Tyrwhitt’s text, it is sufficient to remark that it was hardly possible, at [xvii]that date, for a better text to have been produced. The rules of Middle English grammar had not been formulated, so that we are not surprised to find that he constantly makes the past tense of a weak verb monosyllabic, when it should be dissyllabic, and treats the past participle as dissyllabic, when it should be monosyllabic: which makes wild work with the scansion. It is also to be regretted that he based his text upon the faulty black-letter editions, though he took a great deal of pains in collating them with various MSS.

On the other hand, his literary notes are full of learning and research; and the number of admirable illustrations by which he has efficiently elucidated the text is very great. His reputation as one of the foremost of our literary critics is thoroughly established, and needs no comment.

Mr. Wright’s notes are likewise excellent, and resulted from a wide reading. I have also found some most useful hints in the notes to Bell’s edition. Of all such sources of information I have been only too glad to avail myself, as is more fully shewn in the succeeding volume.

§ 4. Plan of the Present Edition.

The text of the present edition of the Canterbury Tales is founded upon that of the Ellesmere MS. (E.) It has been collated throughout with that of the other six MSS. published by the Chaucer Society. Of these seven MSS., the Harleian MS. 7334 (Hl.) was printed separately. The other six were printed in the valuable ‘Six-text’ edition, to which I constantly have occasion to refer, in parallel columns. The six MSS. are: E. (Ellesmere), Hn. (Hengwrt), Cm. (Cambridge, Gg. 4. 27), Cp. (Corpus Coll., Oxford), Pt. (Petworth), and Ln. (Lansdowne). MSS. E. Hn. Cm. represent the earliest type (A) of the text; Hl., a transitional type (B); Cp. and Ln., a still later type (C); and Pt., the latest of all (D), but hardly differing from C.

In using these terms, ‘earliest,’ &c., I do not refer to the age of the MSS., but to the type of text which they exhibit.

In the list of MSS. given above, Hl. is no. 1; E., Hn., Cm., are nos. 40, 41, and 28; and Cp., Pt., Ln., are nos. 24, 42, and 10 respectively.

Of all the MSS., E. is the best in nearly every respect. It not only gives good lines and good sense, but is also (usually) grammatically accurate and thoroughly well spelt. The publication of it has been a very great boon to all Chaucer students, for which Dr. Furnivall will be ever gratefully remembered. We must not omit, at the same time, to recognise the liberality and generosity of the owner of the MS., who so freely permitted such full use of it to be made; the same remark applies, equally, to the [xviii]owners of the Hengwrt and the Petworth MSS. The names of the Earl of Ellesmere, Mr. Wm. W. E. Wynne of Peniarth, and Lord Leconfield have deservedly become as ‘familiar as household words’ to many a student of Chaucer.

This splendid MS. has also the great merit of being complete, requiring no supplement from any other source, except in the few cases where a line or two has been missed. For example, it does not contain A 252 b-c (found in Hn. only); nor A 2681-2 (also not in Hn. or Cm.); nor B 1163-1190 (also not in Hn. or Cm.); nor B 1995 (very rare indeed).

It is slightly imperfect in B 2510, 2514, 2525, 2526, 2623-4, 2746, 2967. It drops B 3147-8, C 103-4, C 297-8 (not in Hn. Cm. Pt.), E 1358-61, G 564-5; and has a few defects in the Parson’s Tale in I 190, 273, &c. In the Tale of Melibeus, the French original shews that all the MSS. have lost B 2252-3, 2623-4, which have to be supplied by translation.

None of the seven MSS. have B 4637-4652; these lines are genuine, but were probably meant to be cancelled. They only occur, to my knowledge, in four MSS., nos. 7, 11, 25, and 29; though found also in the old black-letter editions.

On the other hand, E. preserves lines rarely found elsewhere. Such are A 3155-6, 3721-2, F 1455-6, 1493-9; twelve genuine lines, none of which are in Tyrwhitt, and only the first two are in Wright. Observe also the stanza in the footnote to p. 424; with which compare B 3083, on p. 241.

The text of the Ellesmere MS. has only been corrected in cases where careful collation suggests a desirable improvement. Every instance of this character is invariably recorded in the footnotes. Thus, in A 8, the grammar and scansion require half-e, not half; though, curiously enough, this correct form appears in Hl. only, among all the seven MSS. In very difficult cases, other MSS. (besides the seven) have been collated, but I have seldom gained much by it. The chief additional MSS. thus used are Dd.= Cambridge, Dd. 4. 24 (no. 29 above); Slo. or Sl. = Sloane 1685 (no. 8); Roy. or Rl. = Royal 18 C 2 (no. 6); Harl. = Harleian 1758 (see p. 645); Li. or Lich. = Lichfield MS. (no. 35), for the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale; and others that are sufficiently indicated.

I have paid especial attention to the suffixes required by Middle-English grammar, to the scansion, and to the pronunciation; and I suppose that this is the first complete edition in which the [xix]spelling has been tested by phonetic considerations. With a view to making the spelling a little clearer and more consistent, I have ventured to adopt certain methods which I here explain.

In certain words of variable spelling in E., such as whan or whanne, than or thanne, I have adopted that form which the scansion requires; but the MS. is usually right.

E. usually has hise for his with a plural sb., as in l. 1; I use his always, except in prose. E. has hir, here, for her, their; I use hir only, except at the end of a line.

E. uses the endings -ight or -yght-inde or -ynde; I use -ight -inde only; and, in general, I use i to represent short i, and y to represent long i, as in king, wyf. Such is the usual habit of the scribe, but he often changes i into y before m and n, to make his writing clearer; such a precaution is needless in modern printing. Thus, in l. 42, I replace the scribe’s bigynne by biginne; and in l. 78, I replace his pilgrymage by pilgrimage. This makes the text easier to read.

For a like reason, where equivalent spellings occur, I select the simpler; writing couthe (as in Pt.) for kowthesote for sootesege for seege, and so on. In words such as our or oureyour or yourehir or hireneuer or neuere, I usually give the simpler forms, without the final -e, when the -e is obviously silent.

For consonantal u, as in neuer, I write v, as in never. This is usual in all editions. But I could not bring myself to use j for i consonant; the anachronism is too great. Never for neuer is common in the fifteenth century, but j does not occur even in the first folio of Shakespeare. I therefore usually keep the capital i of the MSS. and of the Elizabethan printers, as in Ioye (=joye) where initial, and the small i, as in enioinen=enjoinen) elsewhere. Those who dislike such conservatism may be comforted by the reflection that the sound rarely occurs.

The word eye has to be altered to  at the end of a line, to preserve the rimes. The scribes usually write eye in the middle of a line, but when they come to it at the end of one, they are fairly puzzled. In l. 10, the scribe of Hn. writes Iye, and that of Ln. writes yhe; and the variations on this theme are most curious. The spelling ye (=) is, however, common; as in A 1096 (Cm., Pt.). I print it ‘yë’ to distinguish it from ye, the pl. pronoun.

These minute variations are, I trust, legitimate, and I have not recorded them. They cause trouble to the editor, but afford ease [xx]to the reader, which seems a sufficient justification for adopting them. But the scrupulous critic need not fear that the MS. has been departed from in any case, where it could make any phonetic difference, without due notice. Thus, in l. 9, where I have changed foweles into fowles as being a more usual form, the fact that foweles is the Ellesmere spelling is duly recorded in the footnotes. And so in other cases.

The footnotes do not record various readings where E. is correct as it stands; they have purposely been made as concise as possible. It would have been easy to multiply them fourfold without giving much information of value; this is not unfrequently done, but the gain is slight. With so good a MS. as the basis of the text, it did not seem desirable.

The following methods for shortening the footnotes have been adopted.

1. Sometimes only the readings of some of the MSS. are given. Thus at l. 9 (p. 1), I omit the readings of Cp. and of Cm. As a fact, neither of these MSS. contain the line; but it was not worth while to take up space by saying so. At l. 10 (p. 1), I again omit the readings of Cp. and of Cm., for the same reason; also of Ln., which is a poor MS., though here it agrees with Hl. (having yhe); also of Pt., which has eyghe, a spelling not here to be thought of. At l. 12, I just note that E. has pilgrimage (by mistake); of course this means that it should have had pilgrimages in the plural, as in other MSS., and as required by the rime.

2. At l. 23 (p. 2), the remark ‘rest was’ implies that all the rest of the seven MSS. specially collated have ‘was.’ The word ‘rest‘ is a convenient abbreviation.

3. When, as at l. 53, I give nacions as a rejected reading of E. in the footnote, it will be understood that naciouns is a better spelling, justified by other MSS., and by other lines in E. itself. E.g., naciouns occurs in Hl. and Pt., and Cm. has naciounnys.

4. I often use ‘om.‘ for ‘omit,’ or ‘omits‘ as in the footnote to l. 188 (p. 6).

5. At l. 335 (p. 11), I give the footnote:—’ever] Hl. al.’ This means that MS. Hl. has al instead of the word ever of the other MSS. It seemed worth noting; but ever is probably right.

6. At l. 520 (p. 16), the note is:—’All but Hl. this was.’ That is, Hl. has was, as in the text; the rest have this was, where the addition of this sadly clogs the line.

With these hints, the footnotes present no difficulty.

As a rule, I have refrained from all emendation; but, in B 1189, I have ventured to suggest physices[3], for reasons explained in the Notes. Those who prefer the reading Phislyas can adopt it.

For further details regarding particular passages, I beg leave to refer the reader to the Notes in vol. v.


§ 5. Table of Symbols denoting MSS.

Cm.—Cambridge Univ. Lib. Gg. 4. 27 (Ellesmere type). No. 28 in list.

Cp.—Carpus Chr. Coll., Oxford, no. 198. No. 24.

Dd.—Cambridge Univ. Lib. Dd. 4. 24 (Ellesmere type). No. 29.

E.—Ellesmere MS. (basis of the text). No. 40.

Harl.—Harl. 1758; Brit. Mus.; see p. 645. No. 4.

Hl.—Harl. 7334; British Museum. No. 1.

Hn.—Hengwrt MS. no. 154. No. 41.

Li. or Lich.—Lichfield MS.; see pp. 533-553. No. 35.

Ln.—Lansdowne 851; Brit. Mus. (Corpus type). No. 10.

Pt.—Petworth MS. No. 42.

Rl. or Roy.—Royal 18 C. II; Brit. Mus.; see p. 645. No. 6.

Seld.—Arch. Selden, B. 14; Bodleian Library. No. 18.

Sl. or Slo.—Sloane 1685: Brit. Mus.; see p. 645. No. 8.

§ 6. Table shewing the various ways of numbering the lines.

Six-text (as here)













Prose; not counted[8].

Prose; not counted.














Spurious; see p. 289, note.






D (2294 lines); E (2440); F(1624)






H—(362); I 1-74



Hence, to obtain the order of the lines in Tyrwhitt, see A-B 1162; D, E, F; p. 289, footnote; C; B 1163-2156, 3079-3564, 3653-3956, 3565-3652, 3957-4652; G, H, I.

Or (by pages), see pp. 1-164, 320-508, 289 (footnote), 290-319, 165-256 (which includes Melibeus), 259-268, 256-258, 269-289, 509-end.

To facilitate reference, the numbering of the lines in Tyrwhitt’s text is marked at the top of every page, preceded by the letter ‘T.’; lines which Tyrwhitt omits are marked ‘[T. om.‘, as on p. 90; and his paragraphs (all numbered in this edition) are carefully preserved in Melibeus and the Parson’s Tale, which are in prose. In the Prologue, after l. 250, his numbering is given within marks of parenthesis.

The lines in every piece are also numbered separately, within marks of parenthesis, as (10), (20), on p. 26. This numbering (borrowed from Dr. Murray) agrees with the references given in the New English Dictionary. It also gives, in most cases, either exactly or approximately, the references to Dr. Morris’s edition, who adopts a similar method, with a few variations of detail. The lines in Bell’s edition are not numbered at all.

To obtain the order in Wright’s edition, see pp. 1-164, 320-554, 289 (footnote), 290-319, 165-289, 555-end. The variations are fewer.

Some may find it more convenient to observe the names of the Tales.


Tyrwhitt’s order of the Tales is as follows[11]:—Prologue, Knight, Miller, Reeve, Cook—Man of Lawe—Wife, Friar, Somnour—Clerk, Merchant—Squire, Franklin—Doctor (Physician), Pardoner—Shipman, Prioress, Sir Thopas, Melibeus, Monk[12], Nun’s Priest—Second Nun, Canon’s Yeoman—Manciple—Parson.

§7. The four Leading Types of the MSS.

The four leading types of MSS. usually exhibit a variation in the order of the Tales, as well as many minor differences. I only note here the former (omitting Gamelyn, which is absent from MSS. of the A-type, and from some of the D-type).

A.—1. Prologue, Knight, Miller, Reeve, Cook.

2. Man of Lawe.

3. Wife of Bath, Friar, Sompnour.

4. Clerk, Merchant.

5. Squire, Franklin.

6. Doctor, Pardoner.

7. Shipman, Prioress, Sir Thopas, Melibeus, Monk, Nun’s Priest.

8. Second Nun, Canon’s Yeoman.

9. Manciple, (slightly linked to) Parson.

B.—Places 8 before 6. Order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 6, 7, 9.

C.—Not only places 8 before 6 (as B), but splits 5 into 5 a

(Squire) and 5 b (Franklin), and places 5 a before 3. Order: 1,

2, 5 a, 3, 4, 5 b, 8, 6, 7, 9.

D.—As C, but further splits 4 into 4 a (Clerk), and 4 b

(Merchant), and places 4 b after 5 a. Order: 1, 2, 5 a, 4 b, 3, 4 a,

b, 8, 6, 7, 9. (D. is really a mere variety of C., with an external


Observe the position of the Franklin. Thus: A. Squire, Franklin, Doctor. B. Squire, Franklin, Second Nun. C. Merchant, Franklin, Second Nun. D. Clerk, Franklin, Second Nun.

For further remarks on this subject, see vol. v.



N.B. The following are all the Errata that I have observed. Those marked with an asterisk should be noticed. The rest are unimportant.

P. 14. A 467. Perhaps the full stop at the end of the line should be a colon.

P. 15. Footnote to A 503. For ‘Hl. alone‘ read ‘Tyrwhitt.’

P. 85. A 3016. For eye read yë

*P. 110. A 3822. For celle read selle

*P. 131. B 59, 60. For eek and seek read eke and seke

P. 133. B 115. Insert marks of quotation at the beginning and end of the line.

P. 133. B 120, 121. Insert marks of quotation at the beginning of l. 120 and at the end of l. 121.

P. 134. In the headline; for T. 4454 read T. 4554.

P. 146. B 540, 541, 547. For cristen read Cristen

P. 146. B 544 For cristianitee read Cristianitee. So also at p. 525; G 535.

P. 194. B 2043. Deleafter spicerye

P. 202. B 2222. For yevynge read yevinge

P. 205. B 2253. For owe read ow

P. 207. B 2303. For se read see

P. 219, footnotes. For 2251 and 2252 read 2551 and 2552

*P. 222. B 2624. For Iurisdicctioun read Iurisdiccioun

P. 232, ll. 9, 10. Dele the quotation-mark after certeyne, and insert it after another.

*P. 245. B 3230. For my read ny

*P. 253. B 3490. For warre read werre

P. 271. B 4011. For stope a better reading is stape

P. 285. B 4510. For charitee perhaps read Charitee

P. 285. B 4541. For chide read chyde

P. 299. C 291. Either read advocas, or note that the t in advocats is silent.

*P. 309. C 601. For opinoun read opinioun

P. 318. C 955. For Thay read They

P. 338. In the headline; for 6225 read 6235.

P. 339. In the headline; for 6226 read 6236.

P. 344. D 846. For But if read But-if

P. 345. D 859. For All read Al

P. 354. Footnotes; last line. For 1205 read 1204

P. 355. D 1219, 1227. For Chese and chese read Chees and chees.

P. 363. D 1436. For But if read But-if

P. 387. D 2242. Perhaps insert a comma after himself

P. 419. E 994. For gouernance read governance

P. 428. E 1304, 1306. Insert quotation-mark at the end of l. 1304, instead of the end of l. 1306.

P. 438. E 1635. For Saue read Save

P. 444. E 1866. Insert Auctor opposite this line.

P. 449. E 2058. For scorpion read scorpioun; as the last syllable is accented.

P. 459. E 2418. For bless read blesse

P. 461. F 20. After all, the right reading probably is that given by E. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl., but with the form pietous for pitous as in Troilus, iii. 1444, and v. 451. Read—And piëtous and Iust, alwey y-liche.

P. 468. F 266. For Cambynskan read Cambinskan. So also at p. 480, first line.

P. 474. F 462. For sle read slee

P. 505, footnotes. For 1527 read 1526

P. 527. G 558, footnote. The real reading of E is

And vndernethe he wered a surplys

P. 543. G 1107. For shall read shal

*P. 545. G 1171. For torned read terved. [The reading in E is really terued=terved, i.e. stripped, flayed. The reading torned is a poor substitution.]

*P. 548. G 1274. For torne, read terve,

*P. 560. H 144. For hept read kept

P. 626. Footnotes; last line. For E. Seld. Ln. beauteis; read E. Seld. Ln. beautees;

P. 634. I 955. For Daniel, read David. [N.B. MSS. E. Cm. Danyel; the rest, Dauid. Probably Chaucer wrote ‘Daniel’ at first, and afterwards corrected it (by the original) to ‘David.’ Nevertheless, ‘Daniel’ is a good reading.]

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