The Works of Geoffrey ChaucerCHAUCER, Geoffrey (ed. John Urry)
Compared with the many Former Editions, and with many valuable MSS. Out of which , Three Tales are added which were never before Printed; by John Urry, Student of Christ-Church, Oxon,. Deceased: Together with a Glossary, by a Student of the same College. To the Whole is prefixed The Author’s Life, newly written, and a Preface, giving an Account of this Edition.
London: Printed for Bernard Lintot. 1721.
First Urry Edition. Folio (395x250mm). pp. , 626, 81 glossary, [1, errata]. Engraved portraits of Urry and Chaucer by Pigné and Vertue respectively. Each of The Canterbury Tales is illustrated with an engraving of the pilgrim and throughout, there are very pretty headpieces, tailpieces, fleurons and initials. Contemporary panelled calf, decorated in blind, recently and expertly rebacked. Spine lavishly decorated and lettered ("Chaucer's Works") in gilt, six raised bands and seven compartments. The contents are very good. The front pastedown has the armorial bookplate of Lord Kennet of the Dene. Kennet, has made pencil notes in the margins in a few places where he has taken exception to a biographical note or an editorial decision. In particular "Certaine Balades" are noted to be "Not Chaucer" or "Why Here?" and he flatly contradicts Urry's claim that Chaucer was at Cambridge and disputes the date of birth which Urry gives as 1328 (it is 1343). He has also written (in pencil) on the ffep a note listing those works in the book not by Chaucer. This is an excellent, fresh, tight copy of Urry's celebrated and perhaps notorious edition of Chaucer which was the first to use Roman rather than Gothic type. The three added stories are The Coke's Tale of Gamelyn; The Merchant's Second Tale, or the History of Beryn; and The Adventure of the Pardoner and Tapster at the Inn at Canterbury.
Before the early century, Chaucer scholarship and biography was incomplete and haphazard. Urry’s edition was the first that took all published versions of Chaucer’s work and all available manuscripts and collated the various versions to establish what was thought to be Chaucer’s intent. It was also one of the first full biographies of Chaucer and remained the standard “Life” until Sir Harris Nicolas’s biography in 1844. Urry received the license to publish this edition in 1714, but died before completing it. Thomas Ainsworth took on the project, but also died. Timothy and William Thomas finished it, with Timothy assembling the preface explaining the scholarship and the glossary “explaining the obsolete and difficult words in Chaucer.” This frequent passing of the editorial baton clearly affected the quality of the work and Urry’s edition has long been criticised for its somewhat fast and loose approach to the texts. However, this an important book in the history of Chaucer scholarship and this copy is a particularly fine example.