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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

I. “Piers the Plowman” and its Sequence

§ 22. The Author of the C-text

The date usually assigned to the C-text is 1393–8. The only evidence of any value is the passage IV, 203–210, in which the author warns the king of the results of his alienation of the confidence and affection of his people. This, Skeat takes to be an allusion to the situation after the quarrel between the king and the Londoners in 1392; and, consequently, he selects 1393 as the approximate date of the poem, though he admits that it may be later. Jusserand argues that this local quarrel, which was soon composed, does not suit the lines of the poem as well as does the general dissatisfaction of 1397–9; and he, therefore, suggests 1398–9 as the date. Jusserand’s view seems the more probable; but, even so early as 1386, parliament sent to inform the kingthat

  • si rexnec voluerit per jura regni et statuta ac laudibiles ordinationes cum salubri consilio dominorum et procerum regni gubernari et regulari, sed capitose in suis insanis consiliis propriam voluntatem suam singularem proterve exercere, extunc licitum est eis.… regem de regali solio abrogare.
  • (Knighton, II, 219.)
  • Of the changes and additions made by C we can here say very little, mainly for the reason that they are numerous, and small, and not in pursuance of any well-defined plan. There are multitudinous alterations of single words or phrases, sometimes to secure better alliteration, sometimes to get rid of an archaic word, sometimes to modify an opinion, but often for no discoverable reason, and, occasionally, resulting in positive injury to the style or the thought. Certain passages of greater or less length are entirely or largely rewritten, rarely for any important modification of view; never, perhaps, with any betterment of style. At times, one is tempted to think they were rewritten for the mere sake of rewriting, but many whole pages are left practically untouched. Transpositions occur, sometimes resulting in improvement, sometimes in confusion. Excisions or omissions may be noted which seem to have been made because C did not approve of the sentiments of the omitted passages; but there are other omissions which cannot be accounted for on this ground or on that of any artistic intention. The additions are all of the nature of elaborations or expansions and insertions. Some of these have attracted much attention as giving information concerning the life and character of the dreamer or author; these will be dealt with below. Others give us more or less valuable hints of the views and interests of the writer; such are: the passage accusing priests of image worship and of forgoing miracles; an account of the fall of Lucifer, with speculations as to why he made his seat in the north; an attack on regraters; the long confused passage comparing the two kinds of meed to grammatical relations. Still others modify, in certain respects, the opinions expressed in the B-text. For example, XV, 30–32 indicates a belief in astrology out of harmony with the earlier condemnation of it; the attitude on free-will in XI, 51–55 and XVII, 158–182 suggests that, unlike B, and the continuator of A, C rejected the views of Bradwardine on grace and predestination; several passages on riches and the rich show a certain eagerness to repudiate any such condemnation of the rich as is found in B; and, finally, not only is the striking passage in B, cited above, in regard to the poor, omitted, but, instead of the indiscriminate almsgiving insisted upon by B, C distinctly condemns it and declares that charity begins at home—“Help thi kynne, Crist bit (bids), for ther begynneth charite.”

    On the whole, it may be said that the author of the C-text seems to have been a man of much learning, of true piety and of genuine interest in the welfare of the nation, but unimaginative, cautious and a very pronounced pedant.