Discovering Wadham’s Chaucer

21st January 2016

News, Student news, Alumni news

When Keeley Fellow, Seth Lerer discovered an annotated first edition of Chaucer’s complete works in the Wadham library he became very excited.

The book, published in 1598, was annotated by Wadham alumnus Richard Warner after he acquired the book in 1758.  Warner was planning to write a Shakespeare glossary and was in correspondence with actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick, whose support he wanted for his project. To understand the vocabulary of Shakespeare, Warner was studying earlier works, such as this Chaucer volume, to see how language and idioms had changed. His annotations reveal a wealth of information.

For Seth, a scholar in the reception of Chaucer – how his poetry and authorship has shaped the history of English literature – this discovery in Wadham library was momentous. “I am primed for something like this,” he said.

In this film, recorded at Wadham, he describes this remarkable first edition with its glossary text in black letter, detailing why Warner’s Shakespeare Glossary was possibly one of the greatest abandoned projects of all time.

Play Chaucer book

'The workes of our antient and lerned English poet Geffrey Chaucer', newly printed [ed. T. Speght] (London, 1598), was left to Wadham College in Richard Warner’s will along with many other precious books including four Shakespeare folios. Richard Warner did his BA at Wadham in 1734. He was a zoologist and was well known as an empirical scientist – language was a hobby for him.

Seth Lerer is Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego.