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

VI. John Gower



There is good evidence, derived from the original manuscripts which we possess of Gower’s works, that he had a regularly organised scriptorium, for the reproduction of his works under his own superintendence. As a result, the text of his books has come down to us in a remarkably correct state, though Confessio Amantis has suffered the usual fate of being printed from inferior manuscripts. The following copies may be regarded as having been prepared under the author’s own supervision:

Mirour de l’Omme, the unique MS. in the Camb. Univ. Libr. Add. 3035;

Vox Clamantis and other Latin poems: All Souls Coll. 98; Glasgow, Hunterian Museum, T. 2.17; Cotton, Tib. A. IV; and Harleian 6291.

Confessio Amantis: the Bodleian MS., Fairfax 3, and the so-called Stafford MS., in the possession of the Earl of Ellesmere.

The French ballades, both those on Marriage and the Cinkante Balades, together with the English poem In Praise of Peace: the MS. belonging to the duke of Sutherland, which was, till lately, at Trentham Hall. Original texts of the ballades on Marriage are also found in the Fairfax, All Souls and Glasgow MSS.

Besides these original MSS., there are six copies of Vox Clamantis, of which two give us the text which underlies the erasures of the author’s copies mentioned above; at least thirty-seven of Confessio Amantis, of which twentyfour give the earliest form of the text; and six of the ballades on Marriage (Traitiè pour essampler les Amantz Marietz). Of the Cinkante Balades and the poem In Praise of Peace, no other copies are known except those found in the Trentham MS.

The original copies of Vox Clamantis had, at the beginning, a picture of the author with a bow in hand, shooting arrows at the globe of the world, Ad mundum mitto mea iacula, and this is still found in the Glasgow and Cotton MSS. The All Souls MS., which has lost this leaf, has a miniature of abp Arundel attached to the epistle addressed to him, this being, no doubt, the actual presentation copy.

Confessio Amantis had, originally, two miniatures, one in the prologue, of the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar, and one near the beginning of the first book, of the confession. These are reproduced in many of the manuscripts. A few, also, of the later copies had illustrations throughout, as, for example, the New College MS. 266, and the Fountaine MS., which has recently been sold.

There is a record of a translation into Portuguese of Confessio Amantis, made in the author’s own life-time or very near it, which is represented by a prose version in Castilian existing in the library of the Escurial (g. ii. 19).


Confessio Amantis was published by Caxton in 1483. His text is a composite one, taken from at least three MSS., all rather inferior. Berthelette’s edition of 1532 was printed from a copy which, in form of text, resembled MS. Bodley 294, but was inferior to it in correctness: he supplied from Caxton’s edition what he found wanting in his own text, and gave the two alternative forms of the introductory lines, Prol. 24–92. His text is, on the whole, decidedly better than Caxton’s. In 1554, Berthelette published a second edition, a reprint of the first in different type, with a few errors corrected. The text given by Chalmers in his collection of British Poets, 1810, is that of Berthelette’s second edition. Reinhold Pauli, in 1857, published a handsomely printed edition, professing to follow Berthelette’s first edition, with some collation of MSS. No critical judgment, however, is shown in the selection of authorities for the text, and the result is that most of the errors of Berthelette’s edition remain uncorrected, and, though the conclusion of the author’s first recension is partly given (for the first time), it is left incomplete. H. Morley, 1889, followed Pauli’s text with conjectural alterations of his own. His edition is imperfect, many passages being omitted.

The poem In Praise of Peace was printed in Thynne’s edition of Chaucer, 1532, and reprinted in the subsequent folio editions of Chaucer, Gower being always named as the author. It has also been published by Wright, T., Political Poems (Rolls Series), and by Skeat, W. W., Chaucerian and other Pieces.

The two series of French ballades were printed in 1818 from the Trentham MS. by the Roxburghe Club. An edition has also appeared in Germany in the series of Ausgaben und Abhandlungen aus dem Gebiete der romanischen Philologie, ed. Stengel, 1886.

The Roxburghe Club also published Vox Clamantis, Cronica Tripertita and some other Latin pieces, in 1850, edited by H. O. Coxe. This edition follows the text of the All Souls MS., the deficiencies of which are, unfortunately, supplied from the inferior Digby MS. Cronica Tripertita and other Latin pieces were printed in Wright’s Political Poems (Rolls Series).

A small poem attributed in one MS., Ashmole 59, to Gower, beginning “Passe forth, thou pilgrim,” has been printed by Kuno Meyer and Max Förster, but it is certainly not Gower’s.


An edition of the whole of Gower’s works, edited by G. C. Macaulay, was published by the Clarendon Press, 1899–1902, in four volumes, of which the first contains the French, the second and third the English (these being also issued by the E.E.T.S. to its subscribers) and the fourth the Latin, works, with introductions, notes and glossaries. In this edition the Mirour de l’Omme was printed for the first time (see also Academy, XLVIII, 71 and 91), and Confessio Amantis was, for the first time, published from a trustworthy manuscript, with sufficient collation of other copies to display the original variations of text.

A full account of the MSS. and of the condition of the text of all Gower’s works to be found in the introductions to these volumes, and reference may also be made with regard to the text of Confessio Amantis to Easton’s Readings in Gower, 1895, and to the papers published in Englische Studien, XXVIII, 161–208, XXXII, 251–275 and XXXIV, 169–181. by H. Spies, from whom an edition is eventually to be expected.


On the relations of the Mirour de l’Omme to possible French sources and also to Gower’s other works, see the dissertation of Miss R. E. Fowler, Une Source française des poémes de Gower, 1905; and for the connections between Chaucer’s work and Confessio Amantis refer to L. Beck in Anglia, v, 313 ff., and to Lücke in Anglia, XIV.

For the bearing of the Mirour de l’Omme on the social conditions of the time, see E. Flügel in Anglia, XXIV, 437–508.

The language of Confessio Amantis has been illustrated by F. J. Child in his Observations on the Language of Gower’s Confessio Amantis, 1868 (see also Ellis, A. J., Early English Pronunciation, pt. III, 726–739), by G. Tiete in his dissertation on Gower’s vocabulary, Breslau, 1889, and by Fahrenberg in Herrig’s Archiv, LXXXIX, 392 ff.; and the metre is dealt with by Schipper in his Englische Metrik, 1, 279 ff., and by Saintsbury in his History of English Prosody.

For literary appreciations, see Warton’s History of English Poetry (he was the first to call attention to the ballades); Ellis, G., Specimens of Early English Poets, 1, 169–200; the British Quarterly Review, XXVII, I; Morley, H., English Writers, IV, 150 ff.; Ten Brink, History of English Literature, II, 99–103 and 132–8 (authorised translation); Courthope’s History of English Poetry, 1, 302–320 and Ker, W. P., Essays on Medieval Literature, 101–134. All the above subjects are also dealt with, more or less fully, in the introductions, notes and glossaries of Macaulay’s edition.

For biography, the reader may be referred to Leland, Script. Brit. 1, 414 f.; Thynne’s Animadversions; Todd, Illustrations of the lives and writings of Gower and Chaucer, 1810; H. N. Nicolas in the Retrospective Review, 2nd series, II, 103–117, 1828; the introductory essay of Pauli’s edition of the Confessio Amantis; K. Meyer’s dissertation, John Gower’s Beziehungen zu Chaucer und King Richard II, 1889, and the biographical matter in the fourth volume of the Clarendon Press edition. For Gower’s tomb, reference may be made to the preface of Berthelette’s edition of Confessio Amantis, to Stow, Survey of London, p. 450 (ed. 1633), to Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments, II, 24 and to Macaulay’s edition, vol. IV, pp. xix–xxiv.