De Confessione Amantis.
London: In Fletestrete by Thomas Berthelette printer to the kingis grace, 1532.
Folio: 29.6 x 20 cm. aa8, A-Z6, a-i6 -final blank (leaf i6).
SECOND EDITION (1st ed. 1483).
Bound in 19th c. russia, boards ruled by a triple filet, gilt. Spine ruled in compartments, author, title and date on spine, gilt. The title is printed within a decorative woodcut border copied from master printer Geoffroy Tory. Text in black letter, double columns. With 16th c. signatures of John Man, John Smyth and Edward Hertford, and a few 16th c. annotations; Ex libris John William Cole and W.R. Jeudwine, sold in the latter's sale as lot 71 on 18 September 1984; with bookplates.
A very nice, tall copy with minor scattered stains or light soiling. Small hole and repaired on blank margin of title, a tear on the same leaf entering the text (without loss) also mended; two clean marginal tears not affecting the text (lvs. K3, N2), a little worming in the gutter from gatherings M-Q, not affecting the text.
Along with works of Chaucer, Langland, and the Pearl poet, Gower's “Confessio Amantis” (“Lover's Confession”), is one of the most important works of 14th century Middle English poetry extant, often read alongside Gower’s friend’s “Canterbury Tales”. The poem, in which Venus guides and instructs a disconsolate lover with a series of 100 tales, reflects the influence of Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy” and Boccaccio’s “Decameron”. Among the tales of love and lovers “Confession” are a number inspired by the “Metamorphoses” of the “Grete Clerk Ovide”, including the stories of Apollo and Daphne, Vulcan and Venus, and Pyramus and Thisbe.
“This edition was printed from a manuscript, resembling MS. Bodley 294, but inferior in correctness, collated with Caxton's edition (1483) from which several passages lacking in the manuscript were supplied. In the prefatory note 'To the reder' Berthelet included the alternative form of the introductory lines (see beow), Prologue 24-92, also from Caxton's edition, so that on the whole this edition is textually an improvement over the earlier one. It is also a good example of workmanlike printing, much above the average English work of the period. The tale of Pericles under the name of 'Apollonius of Tyre' obtained by Gower from the Gesta Romanorum is found in the eighth book (verso fol.173 ff.). From it the plot for the Shakespearean Pericles was taken. In that play Gower himself is introduced as a chorus.”(Pforzheimer)
“Gower's poetic reputation has rested almost exclusively on the ‘Confessio amantis’. The number of manuscripts testify to its popularity... In the fifteenth century Gower's name is linked with that of Chaucer, and later Lydgate, as one of the ‘masters’ of English poetry. He continued to be praised in the sixteenth century: in Shakespeare’s ‘Pericles’ 'ancient Gower' is brought back from his ashes to introduce a play based on his story of Apollonius.
“The prologue of the ‘Confession’ announces that the book will be of love, 'which doth many a wonder'. The world nowadays is not as it was, and love has fallen into discord. Gower laments the depravity of rulers, clergy and commons, [insisting] that division is the cause of evil in man and in society. In the first of the eight books that follow, the Lover, the Amans of the title, is pierced by a fiery dart from Cupid. Venus instructs him to make his confession to her priest, Genius, who instructs him on the proper use of the senses and on the seven deadly sins, illustrating each in its various categories by a series of short tales—over 100 in all, deriving from Ovid and other sources.
“The adapting of the deadly sins to the doctrine of love requires a certain ingenuity. It is done in a way that is witty and entertaining for his courtly readers and also instructive. Like his other long poems it is encyclopedic, containing material on the religions of the ancient world, on philosophical knowledge, on the duties of kingship. It is educative, presenting a course of instruction for the Lover, for man, and for society. The stories present the extremes and the paradoxes of Love, which may ennoble its servants, or, if moderation is lacking, destroy them. An ideal of 'honeste love' emerges, with its proper part in nature, restoring concord and peace. The elegantly written tales (especially those that treat the pathos of love) show Gower's mastery of the art of narrative. The ending of the poem, in which Amans is healed by Venus and the fiery dart is removed is a haunting scene: he sees Cupid and his rout surrounded by companies of the famous lovers whose stories he has heard. His face is wrinkled by age, and Venus tells him to go 'ther moral vertu duelleth'. He goes 'homward a softe pas' and prays for the state of England.
“Gower wrote his major English poem, the ‘Confessio amantis’, of over 30,000 lines in octosyllabic couplets. The forty-nine surviving manuscripts seem to indicate three stages of revision. The original prologue and conclusion have a dedication to King Richard II. Gower says that while rowing on the Thames he met the king's barge, and the king invited him to an audience and bade him write 'some newe thing'. (But already some Latin lines at the end of the poem contain a kind of dedication to Henry of Lancaster, then earl of Derby.) No date is given in the text, but the date 1390 is written in the margin at line 331 of the prologue, and it is usually assumed that this is the date of the work's completion. The plan must have been conceived earlier, perhaps c.1386, about the time that Chaucer was completing ‘The Legend of Good Women’. The epilogue seems to have been revised within a few months: a section beginning with a prayer to the Creator for King Richard, who is spoken of in a laudatory vein, is changed to a prayer to set the land 'in siker weie … uppon good governance'. The date of this revised section is given in a marginal note as the fourteenth year of King Richard (21 June 1390–21 June 1391). Finally, no later than June 1393, the prologue was revised, with the story of the meeting with the king removed, and the statement that the poet proposed to make 'a bok for king Richardes sake' changed to:
A bok for Engelondes sake,The yer sextenthe of kyng Richard.
Gower now says that he will send the book:
unto myn oghne lord,Whiche of Lancastre is Henri named.(Complete Works, 1.2)
“It is not clear that any particular event occasioned this shift. It may well reflect some loss of confidence in Richard, but it would be rash to interpret it as a defiant act of disloyalty. Double dedications were not unknown, and the first version of the poem continued to circulate—in a larger number of copies (thirty-two manuscripts) than the other versions.”(Douglas Gray, Oxford DNB).
ESTC S106702; STC 12143; Pforzheimer 421; Grolier, Langland to Wither 96