The Vision of Piers Plowman. In A Contemporary London Binding

Langland, William (1330?-1400?)

The vision of Pierce Plowman, nowe the seconde time imprinted by Roberte Crowley dwellynge in Elye rentes in Holburne. Whereunto are added certayne notes and cotations in the mergyne, geuynge light to the reader. And in the begynning is set a briefe summe of all the principall matters spoken of in the boke. And as the boke is deuided into twenty partes called passus: so is the summary diuided, for euery parte hys summarie, rehearsynge the matters spoken of in euerye parte, euen in suche order as they stande there.

Imprinted at London: by [Richard Grafton for] Roberte Crowley, dwellyng in Elye rentes in Holburne, The yere of our Lord, 1550


Quarto: 19 x 14 cm. [8], Cxvii leaves. Collation: *4 [par.]4 A-Z4, Aa-Ff4, Gg2 (with the final blank leaf present)

SECOND EDITION; preceded by the first edition, also printed in 1550 and published by Robert Crowley; this is the variant with “tyme” in the title.

An excellent copy in 16th c. English blind-tooled calfskin, joints rubbed, small losses. The boards are tooled with medallion portrait rolls separated by decorative architectural and floral flourishes. The roll is apparently Oldham’s no. 782, used on London bindings between 1530 and 1569. Spine with later gilding. The text is in lovely condition with only a few short marginal tears and the odd stain. The text is printed in Black Letter. A fine, unpressed copy of this rare and early edition.

“Few poems of the Middle Ages have had a stranger fate than those grouped under the general title of “The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman.” Obviously very popular in the latter half of the fourteenth century, the time of their composition, they remained popular throughout the fifteenth century, were regarded in the sixteenth by the leaders of the Reformation as an inspiration and a prophecy, and, in modern times, have been quoted by every historian of the fourteenth century as the most vivid and trustworthy source for the social and economic history of the time. ...

“The author, William Langland, was born circa 1332 at Cleobury Mortimer and educated in the school of the Benedictine monastery in the Malvern hills. Whether he was the son of freemen (Skeat’s view) or of serfs (Jusserand’s view), he was, at any rate, educated for the church and probably took minor orders; but, because of his temperament, his opinions, his marriage, or his lack of influential friends, he never rose in the church. At some unknown date, possibly before 1362, he removed to London. “‘Piers the Plowman’ consists of three visions supposed to come to the author while sleeping beside a stream among the Malvern hills. The first of these, occupying the prologue and ‘passus’ (cantos) I–IV, is the vision of the field full of folk—a symbol of the world—and Holy Church and Lady Meed; the second, occupying ‘passus’ V–VIII, is the vision of Piers the Plowman and the crowd of penitents whom he leads in search of Saint Truth; the third, occupying ‘passus’ IX–XII, is a vision in which the dreamer goes in search of Do-well, Do-better and Do-best. In the A version of the poem, Piers is attacked by hunger and fever and dies ere his quest is accomplished. In the B-text [the text used for the early printed editions] the author replaces the imaginary account of Piers’ death with a continuation of the vision of Do-well, Do-better and Do-best longer than the whole of the original version of the poem.” (John Matthews Manly)

“Because of the large number of manuscripts, it is clear that ‘Piers Plowman’ was exceptionally popular and widely disseminated in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It first became available in printed form in 1550 when Robert Crowley published his edition of the B-text [the considerably longer version of the poem, as opposed to the ‘A-text’]. Because Crowley’s edition was based on a B-text manuscript which is now lost, it is extremely valuable to modern editors. … After Owen Rogers’ 1561 edition, no edition of ‘Piers Plowman’ was printed for more than two hundred years.” (Colaianne)

STC 19907; Grolier, Langland to Wither, No. 154; cf. Pforzheimer 798 (the other “Second Edition” of 1550). For the binding, see Oldham, English Blind-Stamped Bindings, Plate XLVII, Roll no. 782.