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THE HENGWRT CHAUCER is the oldest known manuscript of The Canterbury Tales. Yesterday here at SimanaitisSays, I shared several tidbits of Christopher De Hamel’s encounter with the Hengwrt at the National Library of Wales in the Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth. Today, we learn more about Adam Pinkhurst, who might have been Geoffrey Chaucer’s principal scribe. Or maybe it was another guy named Adam.
Pinkhurst the Scribe. In his book Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, Christoper De Hamel writes, “Pinkhurst was an early member of the late fourteenth-century Company of Scriveners, a municipal trade guild for scribes and document writers which still flourishes as one of the ancient livery companies in the heart of the City of London.”
As part of his admission to the guild, Adam Pinkhurst wrote and signed an oath of allegiance. This document is written in Latin, not the English of the time that has come to be known as Middle English. It provides clues, nonetheless, to the style and personality of Adam Pinkhurst.
Linne Mooney is the specialist who made headlines in 2004 for claiming that Pinkhurst was Chaucer’s hitherto unnamed Scribe B. De Hamel writes, “Linne Mooney isolates twelve particular letterforms which occur consistently in both scripts, together with two specific forms of decorative flourishing above the lines of writing, found sometimes in literary manuscripts by Scribe B and in abundance in Adam Pinkhurst’s subscription to his oath. She describes the flourishes as being ‘so distinctive to Pinkhurst as to be virtually a signature.’ ”
De Hamel notes that palaeographers come to recognize the “aspect” or ductus of a scribe’s hand. He says of Pinkhurst’s, “To judge from its flamboyance and loquaciousness, one can envisage Pinkhurst as a kind of extrovert who today could have worn a bow tie and bright blazer with a silk handkerchief in its pocket.”
Chaucer’s Chiding—or Tease? Here’s another tantalizing tidbit: a short poem generally attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer that chides, or possibly teases, “Adame his owen scryveyne.”
Rephrased in modern English, the poem reads in part, “Adam, scrivener, if ever it happens to you to copy Boece or Troilus again, may you have scabs under your long hair unless you write more accurately in accordance with my composition; I must redo your work so often in the day to correct it and also to erase and scrape, and all this is through your carelessness and haste.”
De Hamel observes, “We cannot guess whether the criticism of Adam’s work is a joke or whether it means that he really was an atrocious copyist. If he was truly bad, it is not likely that Chaucer would have imagined using him again (and unless it is humorous, it seems a pointless poem). The Hengwrt scribe shows no evidence of carelessness and haste, but rather the opposite.”
On the other hand, De Hamel observes, “There are those who challenge whether this verse is actually by Chaucer at all….”
An Unsettled Matter. So, to use De Hamel’s term, is Adam Pinkhurst, “without the slightest margin of doubt,” really Chaucer’s Adam? Is Pinkhurst really Scribe B? De Hamel observes that this is still an open question among palaeographers.
Indeed, De Hamel shares a colleague’s tale: “He imagines getting to Heaven, where he will finally meet the scribes to whom he has devoted his academic life on earth. “Was I right?’ he will ask them; ‘Was it you?’ ”
“I am afraid,” the colleague says, “that some will reply, ‘Do you know, it was all a long time ago and I really can’t remember.’ ” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019