NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Yale University has received what it calls the largest and most comprehensive privately owned collection of Middle English texts, including the last three privately held copies of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales."
Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya gave his collection of manuscripts to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale on long-term loan to allow researchers and students to study it.
Assembled over 40 years, the collection has 51 medieval English vernacular texts of literary, historical, scientific and cultural significance, Yale officials said.
"His decision to lend these manuscripts is an enormous boon to medieval scholarship at Yale and throughout the world," said Ray Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at Beinecke.
"The Canterbury Tales" is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century about pilgrims who tell tales on a journey to Canterbury Cathedral. They were written before the printing press was invented and early copies are in manuscript form.
The three 15th century copies have not been studied extensively and allow scholars to have a complete picture of Chaucer's landmark work and shed light on the period and different social classes that valued the literature, Clemens said.
One manuscript includes a lavishly illuminated picture of Chaucer and is a very large book with expensive parchment, reflecting a high status owner, while another is smaller and known as a "gentleman's copy" because it contains bawdy tales, Clemens said.
"It tells us about a very different view of Chaucer and his work," Clemens said. "Each one of them is a witness onto what Chaucer may or may not have intended `The Canterbury Tales' to be."
The 83 known manuscripts of "The Canterbury Tales" are ordered in 27 different sequences, said Ardis Butterfield, an English professor at Yale.
"I think they give us a more complete picture of how Chaucer's work was read by his very early readers," Butterfield said of the Yale collection. "There's so many puzzles about `The Canterbury Tales' that need solving."
She said the collection brings researchers closer to understanding the order Chaucer wrote the stories, decisions he made while putting them together, and questions about the meter he wrote in.
The collection also includes a copy of Chaucer's Astrolabe, a treatise on a navigation tool that he wrote, a rare copy of "The Travels of Sir John Mandeville," several Wycliffite Bibles that were among the first translations of the Bible into English, the B-version of the William Langland's "Piers Plowman," and several copies of John Lydgate's "Fall of Princes."
Takamiya, professor emeritus at Japan's Keio University, said he is impressed by the Beinecke Library's research program and thinks it has the proper expertise to study the collection.
"Now that I have had the satisfaction of collecting and studying these manuscripts for so long, it is high time to think of their future in a secure home, where they will be easily accessible to international scholars and students," Takamiya said.
The works are available for public viewing and can be found in the library's electronic catalog at orbis.library.yale.edu.