Chaucers wordes unto Adam his owne scriveyn
Adam scriveyn, if ever it thee bifalle
Boece or Troylus for to wryten newe,
Under thy long lokkes thou most have the scalle,
But after my makyng thow wryte more trewe;
So ofte adaye I mot thy werk renewe,
It to correcte and eke to rubbe and scrape,
And al is thorugh thy negligence and rape.
This poem comes to us from two sources, the manuscript known as Trinity College, Cambridge, R.3.20, and John Stowe's 1561 printed edition. Because Stowe's version differs only slightly in its title (omitting "Adam"), he may have added this poem to his main source text (William Thynne's 1532 printed edition) by copying it from the manuscript. Chaucer describes what he does as "my makyng," echoing his other descriptions of English authors of his day as "makers" (see Sidney's "Defense of Poesy"). The difficult relationship between author and scribe are interestingly described in the phrases "to wryten newe" (i.e., to miscopy, not "to be original"!) and "wryte more trewe" (in the sense of "write loyally by following my copy," rather than "write more truthfully"). Imagine what would happen if MS-Word or your printer spontaneously changed what you had written when you attempted to reproduce it on paper. (Hmmm...maybe that already happens?) In any event, Chaucer faces a far more laborious task when he wants to correct ink errors on calf skin (vellum) than modern writers face when editing a document. Finally, note that the overall rhetorical purpose of the poem is to pronounce a formal curse upon the scribe should he persist in miscopying. Imagine being made to copy that.