Reference > Cambridge History > The End of the Middle Ages > The Beginnings of English Prose > John Trevisa
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

III. The Beginnings of English Prose.

§ 3. John Trevisa.


John Trevisa, a Cornishman, had made himself somewhat notorious at Oxford. He was a Fellow of standing at Exeter College in 1362, and Fellow of Queen’s, in 1372–6, when Wyclif and Nicholas Hereford were also residents, at a time when Queen’s was in favour with John of Gaunt, and, perhaps, a rather fashionable house. The university was then, like other parts of England, a prey to disorder. Factions of regulars and seculars, quarrels between university authorities and friars, rivalry amongst booksellers and a revolt of the Bachelors of arts, produced petitions to parliament and royal commissions in quick succession. Amongst these dissensions had occurred a quarrel in “Quenehalle,” so violent that the archbishop of York, visitor of the college, had intervened and, in 1376, in spite of resistance and insult, had expelled the Provost and three Fellows, of whom one was Trevisa, “for their unworthiness.” It is possible that Wyclifite leanings caused this disgrace; for the university was already in difficulties on the reformer’s account, and both Exeter and Queen’s are believed to have been to some extent Wyclifite, while Trevisa’s subsequent writings betray agreement with Wyclif’s earlier opinions. 1  The ejected party carried off the keys, charters, plate, books and money of their college, for which the new Provost was clamouring in vain three years later. Royal commissions were disregarded till 1380, when Trevisa and his companions at length gave up their plunder. No ill-will seems to have been felt towards the ejected Fellows, for Trevisa rented a chamber at Queen’s between 1395 and 1399, probably while executing his translation of Bartholomaeus. Most of his subsequent life, however, was spent as vicar of Berkeley in Gloucestershire and chaplain to Thomas, Lord Berkeley, reputed to have been a disciple of Wyclif. He also, like Wyclif, held a non-resident canonry of the collegiate church of Westbury-on-Trym. At some earlier date, Trevisa had travelled, for he incidentally mentions his experiences at Breisach on the Rhine, Aachen and Aix-les-Bains, but he had not seen Rome.   4

Note 1. The old suggestion of Henry Wharton, rejected by Forshall and Madden, that Trevisa might be the author of the general prologue to the second Wyclifite Bible, has been lately repeated, on the ground of the likeness of their expressed opinions on the art of translation. But, apart from other arguments, the style is not Trevisa’s, nor its self-assertion, nor its vigorous protestantism. Trevisa’s anti-papal remarks are timid and he never finds fault with the secular clergy. The same principles of translation were in the literary atmosphere, and it is open to doubt whether Trevisa’s scholarship would have been equal to the full and precise explanations of the prologue. [ back ]

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