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Much critical discussion of the collection of poems that survives as London, British Library MS Harley 682 (H), has focused on the question of its authorship. In the early twentieth century the authorship debate was taken up by Henry Noble MacCracken, who attributed the poems to William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk. The case for Charles’s authorship was convincingly argued by the editors of the EETS edition. Along with various kinds of linguistic evidence in favour of the duke's authorship, Robert Steele drew attention to the importance of the relationship between H and the duke's autograph collection of his French poetry, now Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS fr. 25458 (O): ‘The close connexion between Charles's personal manuscript (which never went out of his possession) and the relative portions of Harl. 682 is of prime importance in determining the authorship of these latter poems.’ Building upon this suggestion, Mary-Jo Arn's detailed comparison of the two codices led her to conclude that the format and layout of H was deliberately modelled upon the features of O. These similarities suggest that a single individual was responsible for overseeing the production of both books, and therefore also the production of the texts themselves: ‘In short, H is more like O in significant details than it is like other manuscripts of courtly verse written in England in the first half of the fifteenth century. This argues for one mind at work on both manuscripts – and if on both manuscripts, then by necessity on both bodies of poetry.’ In this way, the similarities between the two manuscripts came to function as important pieces of evidence in the authorship debate that occupied much scholarly assessment of the poems of H. In this chapter I will move beyond the evidence that H and its relationship to O brings to the authorship question, to consider what light these two manuscripts can shed upon the production, circulation, and ownership of copies of Charles's verse in fifteenth-century England.
I will begin my assessment of the two manuscripts with a consideration of their appearance, starting with the scripts in which the texts were copied.The main text of H was written using a mixed script of the mid-fifteenth century, combining features proper to the anglicana and secretary scripts.
The eighty-four surviving manuscripts containing all or part of the Canterbury Tales present something of a headache for modern editors of the work, who must select from among these competing authorities in order to present the work in a single form. But this large number of diverse copies, and the nine extant fragments that probably attest to once-complete MSS, can tell us much about the way Chaucer’s work was read and repackaged in the century following his death. When we look beyond the famous Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts, early and authoritative witnesses to Chaucer’s text, we discover that just as valuable are the so-called “bad texts,” with their abundance of scribal readings, linking passages, and rearrangements of the tales; copies like these have much to tell us about scribal attitudes to Chaucer’s work and its reception and about the development and professionalization of the London book trade.
We must begin with names. ‘Tony Edwards’ is the person to whom this volume is dedicated, but it is not a name that everyone will immediately recognize, particularly those who know him only from his published work, for he has made himself known in public, from the first, as A. S. G. Edwards. When he began his career, this was the manner in which most scholars, most men at least, named themselves. Fashions have changed, and given names, one, two, or more, are now almost universal. But Tony has held on tenaciously to his initials, perhaps because he has three of them. We do not believe that he did so in any spirit of emulation of or desire to align himself with ‘Edwards A. S. G.’, the Edwards Active Strain Gauge well known to Google, an advanced form of technical engineering equipment which guarantees the vacuum conditions needed for the manufacture of certain precision instruments, such as aircraft engine turbine blades. It seems strangely apt as an analogous form of ‘A. S. G.’, whether one thinks of the ‘active strain’ involved as what he exerts upon himself or upon other people. The analogy fails, of course, when one comes to the creation of vacuum, where it works back to front, for Tony's work has essentially been to fill the vacuum that once existed in the study of manuscript history.
Beaupré Bell was born in 1704 into an ancient family whose seat was at Beaupré Hall in Norfolk. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1725 and MA in 1729. Beaupré Bell inherited the ancient manor of Outwell and Upwell from his father of the same name, whose eccentric behaviour and neglect of his estates had allowed the manor house to fall into disrepair. Beaupré Bell senior is reported to have been ‘one of the strangest of mortals, letting his wild colts and cattle of twenty or thirty years old come into the very house, which was quite uncovered and every other way suitable, in a very ruinous condition’. The younger Beaupré Bell remained unmarried and without issue; at his death the manor passed to his sister Elizabeth, who married William Greaves of Fulbourn. Despite his father's neglect of his estates, Beaupré Bell inherited sufficient lands to indulge fully his diverse antiquarian interests. His particular obsession was medals and coins; he devoted much energy to a study of the coins of the Roman emperors, which remained unpublished at his death in 1741. A proposal for a publication by subscription of his work on Roman coins, with the title Tabulae Augustae, was issued by Cambridge University Press in 1734; a copy of this proposal, accompanied by collections and notes towards this work, is now bound with other materials as Trinity College MS R.10.10.