Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 22. Tyrwhitt, the Restorer of Chaucer

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

X. The Literary Influence of the Middle Ages

§ 22. Tyrwhitt, the Restorer of Chaucer

At the same time as Thomas Warton, another Oxford man, Tyrwhitt of Merton, was working at old English poetry. He edited the Rowley poems. His Essay on the Language and Versification of Chaucer and his Introductory Discourse to the Canterbury Tales (“printed before Mr. Warton’s book was published”) are the complement of Warton’s work. Warton is not very careful about prosody; his observations on the stanza of The Faerie Queene are dull and inaccurate. Tyrwhitt was interested in the history of verse, as Gray had been, and, from his grammatical knowledge and critical sense, he made out the rule of Chaucer’s heroic verse which had escaped notice for nearly 400 years. No other piece of medieval scholarship in England can be compared with Tyrwhitt’s in importance. Chaucer was popularly known, but known as an old barbarous author with plenty of good sense and no art of language. The pieces of Chaucer printed at the end of Dryden’s Fables show what doggerel passed for Chaucer’s verse, even with the finest judges, before Tyrwhitt found out the proper music of the line, mainly by getting the value of the e mute, partly by attending to the change of accent.

Tyrwhitt is the restorer of Chaucer. Though the genius of Dryden had discovered the classical spirit of Chaucer’s imagination, the form of his poetry remained obscure and defaced till Tyrwhitt explained the rule of his heroic line and brought out the beauty of it. The art of the grammarian has seldom been better justified and there are few things in English philology more notable than Tyrwhitt’s edition of Chaucer.