We were recently called upon to digitize selected portions of the UCLA Clark Library's First Edition of the Collected Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1532.
Here are some fun facts about Geoffrey Chaucer and the first edition of his collected works:
• The first edition was printed about 80 years after Gutenberg’s invention of his moveable type printing system.
• Another copy of the first edition recently sold at a Sotheby’s auction for USD $87,500.00.
• From Sotheby’s Catalogue Note: “First complete collected edition of Chaucer and the first attempt to collect into a single volume the complete writings of an English author. Putting aside Pynson's three separate publications of ca. 1526, Godfray's publication "was the first attempt at a critical edition and for over 200 years provided the standard text of The Canterbury Tales" (Hayward). It was edited by William Thynne, clerk of the kitchen and of the green cloth to Henry VIII, and recipient of numerous grants and appointments. His dedication to Henry VIII (actually written by Sir Brian Tuke) is noteworthy for its remarks on the development of language and on the editor's collection of printed and manuscript works of Chaucer. As the Pforzheimer catalogue remarks, Thynne's enthusiasm may have outstripped his critical capacity, since more than half of the poems he included were spuriously attributed to Chaucer—giving this work a claim to the title of the earliest English poetical miscellany.”
• That the book was printed in a Blackletter typeface helps to establish its age, as most printers were using Roman type by about 1590. The switch made for much easier reading!
• The printed description of the book pasted inside the front cover lists Chaucer’s birth year as 1328. Although his actual birth date is not known, it’s now thought to be around 1343.
• Chaucer had a number of supporters among the English nobility, and must have been quite adept at navigating court politics, as he was appointed to positions and/or given pensions by Edward III, Richard II, and Henry IV. Edward III even paid a ransom for Chaucer’s release after he was taken prisoner by the French in the Hundred Years’ War.
• The mysterious circumstances of Chaucer’s death in 1400, at age ~57, have led to speculation that he was murdered. Perhaps his positions overseeing the collection of taxes on wools, skins, and hides, and later on taxes on wine, made enemies of some people.
• Chaucer was the first poet to be buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, London. However, he would have been buried in the Abbey, even if he had not been a poet, as he was leasing a house in the Abbey’s garden, when he died.
• Chaucer was noted for his interest in science, having written, for example, a treatise on the astrolabe for his younger son, Lewis. This work was based on Latin translations of the writings of Masha'allah ibn Atharī, a Persian Jewish astrologer and astronomer from Basra, who lived from approximately 740-815 CE. When only in his 20s, Mashallah helped found the city of Baghdad for Caliph Al-Mansur. The lunar crater, Messala, is named after him, and since we are Luna Imaging, this fact provides our (admittedly a bit remote) connection to Geoffrey Chaucer!