The Cradle of English Literature Discovered ~ Too Late to Kill Latin Grammarians

The London Guildhall.  Note the cantilevered roof line to the left of the
door.  Some people, especially grammarians, never know when to
leave well enough alone.  Hockey pucks. 
The cradle of English? 

There have been times in my dubious writing career that I wished some merciful person had killed the language in its cradle.  Or at least stifled those self-important dolts determined to impose Latin grammar on a language derived from middle-German, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, French, Elvish, and a soupçon of about fifty other languages including Martian. Oh, I forgot ig-Pay atin-Lay.  Definitely a healthy dose of that.

Okay, so you have to know the rules to break them.  Fine.  But a Latin-based grammar?  Come on, people.  Haven't you got something better to do than spend hours, days and weeks one-upping the working writer who has a hard enough time trying to communicate clearly?

No wonder so many writers, authors, screenwriters, advertising copywriters and journalists drink to excess. 

Wouldn't you if you had no idea where the next grammar ambush awaited?  It's never another published or produced writer or even a working editor that comes after you.  It's always some twit who got A's in grammar back in grade school and wants to rub it in.

Okay.  Rant over.

Here's a fascinating story about the London Guildhall where some of the seminal writers in English worked.  My favorite is Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales, considered by most as the first book written in true English (whatever that is).  If you haven't read Chaucer I heartedly recommend the Nun's Priest's Confessor's Aunt's Step-son's Pet Lemming's Tale.  Very bawdy stuff.  Too bad Chaucer in the original isn't taught in grade, middle and high school.  We would have more readers clogging up bookstores than we'd know what to do with, though personally, I'd try to sell them a book or two.

Here's the story:

London Guildhall: Cradle of English literature

Researchers have found evidence that the London Guildhall served as the cradle of English Literature in the late Middle Ages. It was the home to scribes who copied the first manuscripts of works by fourteenth-century authors Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower, as well as early copies of other Middle English authors including William Langland and John Trevisa.

Professor Linne Mooney and Dr Estelle Stubbs, of the Centre for Medieval Studies at York, discovered evidence of the identities of several scribes of Middle English literature who were members of the civic secretariat at the London Guildhall.

They include John Marchaunt, the Common Clerk of the City from 1399 to 1417, who copied two of the four earliest manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. He also copied all or parts of eight manuscripts of Gower's Confessio Amantis ('The Confession of the Lover') as well as manuscripts of works by William Langland and John Trevisa.

Richard Osbarn, the Clerk of the Chamber of the City from 1400 to 1438, copied two early manuscripts of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. He also copied manuscripts of works by William Langland and anonymous authors based in the north and west of England whose writings were apparently brought to London for dissemination.

The discoveries were the result of painstaking research in the London Metropolitan Archives, where the York scholars matched the handwriting of scribes copying important early English literary manuscripts with the hands of Guildhall clerks copying documents and custumals.

The names and dates of Guildhall officers were already known, and research into their roles identified certain entries for which they would have been responsible. For instance, Marchaunt and Osbarn both served as Clerks of the Chamber at different times. The Chamber Clerk was responsible for recording in the Letter Books the decisions of the Chamberlain regarding the care of the orphans of Freemen of the City. The dates at which entries regarding orphans match the hands of literary manuscripts coincide with the dates when Marchaunt and Osbarn each served as Chamber Clerk.
Osbarn, in particular, appears to have been responsible for writing copies that would be kept at the Guildhall to be lent out for further copies to be made (the equivalent of publishing in the pre-print era).

These findings confirm Professor Mooney's discovery six years ago that Adam Pinkhurst, the scribe who worked directly for Chaucer and wrote two early copies of his Canterbury Tales, also worked in a clerical position in the City. Professor Mooney and Dr Stubbs have now also discovered his hand in documents of the City, including its Letter Books recording the decisions of Mayor and Aldermen, demonstrating that he, too, worked in some capacity for the City as well as for the Mercers' Company.

Osbarn also took on clerical work for the Goldsmiths' Company, and another Middle English copyist worked in this capacity for the Skinners' Company.

Professor Mooney said: "Our findings show that not only did major authors of early English literature live in London, but their works were disseminated by the clerks who worked for the City's Mayor and Aldermen, supported by the City itself through its governing body and through its guilds."

The work is part of a major Arts and Humanities Research Council project, 'Identification of the Scribes Responsible for Copying Major Works of Middle English Literature', in which Professor Mooney and Dr Stubbs are collaborating with Dr Simon Horobin, of Magdalen College, Oxford.

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    Story Source: Materials provided by University of York. University of York. "London Guildhall: Cradle of English literature." ScienceDaily. 10 August 2010. 


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