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easily accessible, a few lines only, taken from the commencement, will
Thanpe gan I meten
A merveillous swevene,
That I was in a wildernesse
Wiste I nevere where,
And as I biheeld into the eest
An heigh to the sonne,
I seigh a tour on a toft
A deep dale bynethe,
A dongeon therinne,
With depe diches and derke
And dredfulle of sighte.
A fair feeld ful of folk
Fond I ther bitwene,
Of allo manere of men
The meene and the riche,
Werehynge and wandrynge
As the world asketh.
It sweyed so murye. Bishop Percy enumerates four different editions of this work, in black letter, 4to, of which three were printed by Robert Crowley in 1550.
The present is a copy of the first, and has the title in a neat architectural compartment with the sun at the top, and two cupids, and the cypher of Edward Whitchurch at the bottom. This is followed by the printer's important and modest address, in which he briefly states the pains he had taken in consulting all the manuscript copies of the poem he could meet with, and also such persons as he knew were better versed in the study of antiquities than he himself was, as to the author of the work, and the probable time of its composition. Crowley was himself a poet, had received a university education, and was vicar of St. Giles's, Cripplegate. Imbued with a similar zeal with the author of Pierce Plowman for the reformation of the many vices and abuses in the monastic institutions of the country, and of the errors and corruptions of the Romish church, he was, like him, a determined follower of Wickliffe, and is deserving of our grateful commendation and remembrance for having been the first to recover from obscurity this very curious and remarkable poem. Concerning the merits of this first edition by Crowley, it is somewhat singular that so great a difference of opinion should VOL, V. PART I.
prevail in the minds of two persons, both of them so well qualified by the nature of their studies and pursuits, to decide on such points. For whilst Mr. Collier remarks, “it is acknowledged that Crowley printed from a manuscript containing a very incorrect text," Mr. Wright, on the other hand, observes, in the introduction to his new edition, “ It is clear that Crowley had obtained an excellent manuscript ; the printer has changed the orthography at will, and has evidently altered a word at times, but upon the whole this printed text differs very little from the one we now publish" (Introd., p. xliv). And in this opinion he is confirmed by the last editor of Warton's Hist. Eng. Poet., who says that “ Crowley's manuscript appears to have been a very excellent one," vol. ii, p. 103, note.
It is singular also, that of a writer in whom is found so remarkable a specimen of the language and traces of the manners of that early age so favourably received by all classes, and popular for such a long period, one who is believed to have preceded the writings of Chaucer, and therefore, perhaps, more justly considered to be deserving of the title of the father of our English poetry — the whole notice by Mr. Hallam, in his account of our early English literature, should be summarily dismissed in two lines. Dr. Dibdin also, in his account of our early poets, and the various early editions of their works in his Library Companion, has entirely omitted all mention of this valuable poem, which, as Mr. Wright justly remarks, “is peculiarly a national work, and the most remarkable monument of the public spirit of our forefathers in the middle, or, as they are often termed, dark ages.”
The work appears to have been known to Spenser, who, in the epilogue to his Shepheards Calender, 1591, 4to, addressing his book, thus honourably alludes to Pierce Ploughman :
Goe little Calender, thou hast a free pasporte
But follow them farro off, and their high steps adore. Tityrus here being a well-known appellation given to Chaucer by Spenser, and the writer of the vision, in his wanderings on the Malvern Hills, being the pilgrim.
The manuscripts existing of this poem are very numerous, there being no less than ten in the Bodleian library, i.e., eight in the general library, and two in the Douce collection, eight in the British Museum, besides many others in the various libraries at Oxford (three only at Oxford, one in the library at Corpus Christie College, one in the Oriel College, and one in the University College) and Cambridge. They are most of them written in the latter part of the fourteenth century, and “the circumstance,” says the last editor, that they are seldom executed in a superior style of writing, and scarcely ever ornamented with painted initial letters, may be taken as a proof that they were not written for the higher classes of society,” and likewise shews the great popularity of the poem.
It may be worth noticing, that a modern version of the Vision of Pierce Ploughman was attempted some years ago by Mr. Dupré, but it was never printed. A portion of this manuscript version is preserved among the collection of Francis Douce, Esq., in the Bodleian library, see Cat. of MSS., p. 323. Mr. Wright also notices an attempt at a modernization or translation of this poem, of which he gives a few lines as a specimen, but whether this is the same with that by Mr. Dupré, the editor is unable to say.
The reader who desires to see more upon this subject may consult the following works: Warton's Hist. Eng. Poet., vol. ii, p. 101, sect. viii; Warton on Spenser, vol. ii, p. 246; Percy's Reliques, vol. ii, p. 300, edition 1812; Ellis's Specimens, vol. i, p. 147; Ritson's Bibliog. Poet., p. 26; Hartshorne's Book of Rarities, p. 207; Herbert's Ames, p. 758; Brit. Bibliog., vol. i, p. 443; Cens. Liter., vol. iii, pp. 385, 400, 403; Tyrwhitt's Essay; Campbell's Essay on Eng. Poet., vol. i; Godwin's Life of Chaucer, vol. ii, p. 402 ; Collier’s Bridgewater Cat., p. 234; and the introductions to the editions by Dr. Whitaker and Mr. Wright.
Copies of this first edition exist in the British Museum, with manuscript collations by Mr. Tyrwhitt; in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, with manuscript notes by Hearne; and in that of King's College, Cambridge. And two copies, printed upon Vellum, are known, one in the library at Althorpe, and the other in that of Mr. Grenville, now in the British Museum, both erroneously stated by Lowndes to be of the second edition. The present is a fine and beautiful copy.
Bound in Russia, gilt leaves.
Pierce Plowman. The vision of Pierce Plowman, nowe the
seconde time imprinted by Roberte Crowley dwellynge in Elye rentes in Holburne. Whereunto are added certayne notes and cotations in the mergyne, geuynge light to the Reader. And in the begynning is set a briefe summe of all the principall matters spoken of in this boke. And as the boke is deuided into twenty partes called Passus : so is the Summary diuided, for euery parte hys summarie, rehearsynge the matters spoken of in euery parte, euen in suche order as they stande there.
Imprinted at London by Roberte Crowley, dwellyng in Elye rentes in Holburne. The yere of our Lord M.D.L. (1550.) 4to, pp. 250, blk. lett.
Cum priuilegio ad imprimendum solum.
According to the description which Bishop Percy has given of the different variations which distinguish the three impressions of Pierce Plowman, published by Crowley in 1550, this appears to be the third. For although it is mentioned in the title-page as being "nowe the seconde time imprinted," it is certain that there were two impressions printed with the above title, but containing numerous variations in almost every page. From this circumstance it would seem that the work was so popular on its first appearance in print, that no less than three impressions were called for in one year, a striking proof that this remarkable poem, notwithstanding the difficulty and obscurity of its language, and the abstruseness and dullness of its allegory, made a deep and touching impression on the minds and feelings of the people.
After the title occurs Crowley's address, “ The Printer to the Reader," as in the first edition, in which he has given all the information he could collect from “such men as he knew to be more exercised than himself in the studie of antiquities” respecting the supposed author, and then follows, what is not in the first edition, a sort of table of contents, entitled “A brief sume of the principall poyntes that be spoken of in tlıys boke," filling six leaves, and the poem itself occupies the remainder of the volume. The Colophon is an exact transcript of the imprint, and therefore need not be repeated. This edition varies little from the first, except occasionally in the orthography, and now and then a word has been altered by the printer, otherwise the contents of each page are the same in both. Copies of this edition are not at all uncommon, though priced in the Bibl. Ang. Poet., No. 512, at the sum of 141. 14s. A copy with the autograph of Lord Fauconberg, who married the Lady Mary, daughter of Oliver Cromwell, was sold at Sir Mark M. Sykes's sale, pt. iii, No. 97, for 31. 18.; and at the sale of Mr. Heber's library, pt. iv, No. 1218, was again sold for 21. 158.
Bound in Russia, with joints.
Pierce PLOWMAN.- The vision of Pierce Plowman, newlye im
prynted after the authours olde copy, with a brefe summary of the principall matters set before euery part called Passus. Whereunto is also annexed the Crede of Pierce Plowman, neuer imprinted with the booke before.
Imprynted at London, by Owen Rogers, dwellyng neare unto great saint Bartelmewes gate, at the sygue of the spred Egle. The yere of our Lorde God, a thousand, fyue hundred, thre score and one. The xxi daye of the Moneth of Februarye. 1561. 4to, pp. 286, blk. lett.
Cum priuilegio ad imprimendum solum.
The present is the fourth and last of the older editions of the Visions of Pierce Plowman, when the impulse given by the change of religion on the death of Mary and the accession of Elizabeth may have contributed to call forth a new edition of this work, still popular among the people.
This edition varies from the former ones of Crowley in not having the folios marked or paged, and in being without the address of “The Printer to the Reader.” It commences with “a briefe summe of the pryncypall poyntes that bee spoken of in this booke.” This “briefe summe,” however, contains only the arguments of the first three Passus; the remainder being, as the title states, “set before every part.” This arrangement seems to have been an after thought of the printer, who apologises, in a marginal note, for the first three arguments not being printed like the rest, before each Passus: “Here note these thire summaries shold haue been set before ye iii firste partes called Passus." These three summaries are slightly altered from those in the former editions in order to comprehend them within one page. The remaining seventeen are exactly the same. With the cxception of a word here and there differently spelt or modernized, this edition of the poem