The 1807 Chaucer


A few years ago I identified an edition of The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1807, that seems to have gone unnoticed by scholars. At best, early scholars of Chaucer seem to have thought it was a reprint of Bell’s 1783 edition. In fact, it is a new edition, and my research has focused on identifying exactly how it is different from previous editions. Here’s a quick summary of what I have found:

  • The anonymous editor claims that she/he is following the editorial practices of Thomas Tyrwhitt. Tyrwhitt edited The Canterbury Tales in 1775. In his edition, he wrote copious notes about Chaucer’s works, including identifying how Chaucer’s metre operated. He is usually credited with being the first to have figured this out (although it seems that Thomas Gray had done so earlier, but didn’t publish this discovery). A second edition of Tyrwhitt’s Canterbury Tales appeared in 1798 (after Tyrwhitt’s death in 1786), and apparently this is what our editior has used as a model.
  • This edition imitates Tyrwhitt’s Canterbury Tales, but then deviates substantially for all of the other poems, preferring to use John Urry’s 1721 edition and William Thynne’s 1532 edition as models.
  • The punctuation in this edition is particularly interesting, because it does not agree with any previous edition. Rather, it seems to comply with contemporary nineteenth-century punctuation practices.
  • The edition, for the first time, removes nearly all of the poems that are likely to have been authored by others. Prior to the discovery of this edition, it was thought that Walter W. Skeat’s edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1898) was the earliest to make this distinction.

I’m currently writing a monograph that identifies and explains all of these features of the 1807 Chaucer.