The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive is a collaborative project devoted to publishing in electronic form documentary and color facsimile texts of all the relevant medieval and renaissance witnesses to William Langland's Piers Plowman. In addition, we intend to construct the archetypal (and where necessary, hyparchetypal) texts of each of the three canonic versions, and eventually, to create critical editions. The initial stage of the project consists of close transcriptions of the primary documents. In this, the first volume of the Archive, we offer three editions in one. The first is a diplomatic transcription—almost a type facsimile—of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 201 (henceforth F), in which we attempt to represent as literally as possible in modern type the readings and significant physical features of the manuscript. We offer at the same time a color facsimile edition of the entire manuscript, hypertextually linked to the diplomatic transcription and critical text. Finally, as a kind of textual experiment, we attempt here to edit critically the work of an editorial scribe between the final copying represented in F and the scribe whose efforts created the alpha recension of the B text.NSee the "Editorial Method" section of the Introduction for discussion of the textual history of the manuscript.

Choosing F to begin the Archive was a fortunate accident, since it immediately presented us with a large number of the problems to be faced by editors in an electronic medium. It is one of the most eccentric, and at the same time, most important of the witnesses to the B Version of William Langland's Piers Plowman. Its importance is unquestionable. It is one of only two witnesses to the alpha family of the B version. George Kane and E. T. Donaldson are, moreover, convinced that its scribe (or some other scribe in its textual tradition) had access to and occasionally used a manuscript closer to Langland's original than the immediate archetype of all the other witnesses to B.NGeorge Kane and E. T. Donaldson, eds., Piers Plowman: The B Version, 2d ed. (London: Athlone Press; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 165-72. If so, F would clearly have an authority unique among B manuscripts. That claim is complicated, however, by the fact that its intelligent and deeply engaged scribal editor also felt it necessary to make literally hundreds of large and small changes to the text. We discuss and illustrate this point in the introduction and throughout the textual notes. Furthermore, the codex, the physical object in which the text survives, is itself of more than passing interest. Most Piers Plowman manuscripts are, at least in comparison, clearly down-market, prepared for owners less wealthy, probably less genteel, than those for whom the manuscripts of Chaucer and Gower were copied. Manuscript F is interesting for its odd combination of deluxe features and indicators of penny pinching. For example, it begins with an illuminated and gold limned initial with a portrait of the sleeping Dreamer, and the scheme of marking verse paragraphs in alternating blue and red, or green and red, ink is more steadily executed than is common among Piers manuscripts. At the same time, it is written on an uneven quality of vellum, some of it so thin that bleed through of ink makes the text almost illegible. Furthermore, its very curious, almost patched up, quire structure in which quires were steadily made up with the addition of two singleton leaves represents a peculiar economy at this time in codex production.NSuch a procedure, whilst reflective of very ancient methods of English manuscript production [see Neil R. Ker, Catalogue of manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), p. xxiv, I (b)], is rare as a normal production feature of late medieval English vernacular manuscripts. Its text is far more often abbreviated than most Piers manuscripts. Together, these factors combine to make F a challenging first volume for the series. We have had much to learn about SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), about exotic fonts, about imaging and linking images to text, about various new software programs, as well as about this text as text.

We have attempted to make as close a transcription of the manuscript text as possible, a text that will later serve as a base for machine collation with all of the other B witnesses. This edition, which users of this CD-ROM will access using the "F-Scribe" style sheet, is intended to represent the manuscript as closely as print permits. Suspensions and abbreviations are resolved, but alternating italic and roman type distinguish them from characters that are fully written out. Color and changes of font indicate changes of ink or style of hand in the text. However, when we realized that the immediate scribe who wrote the manuscript is not to be identified with the adventurous scribal editor who changed the passus structure and revised some thousands of lections, we decided to attempt to reconstruct as much as we practically could of that revisor's text. It is both in theory and practice a text which can only be approximated, but the attempt proved sufficiently interesting and, we think, valuable, that we have presented a lightly edited text of the revisor's work. That text is accessible using the F-Critical style sheet. This model is not likely to prove useful in editing other B manuscripts, and we have already adopted other editorial practices to display the salient features of those other texts. Necessarily, much in this edition of F must be provisional, subject to change as we transcribe the only other alpha witness, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson Poetry 38, and the other manuscripts from the beta family. The capacity to change an edition as additional information becomes available will, we think, prove to be one peculiar advantage of electronic textual scholarship. Therefore, to that end we welcome comment and criticism from our users.

In the process of preparing this edition, we have accumulated much indebtedness, and it is our first pleasure to express our gratitude to those institutions whose support has made this and other forthcoming Piers Plowman editions possible. We each owe substantial thanks to our own universities. Grant supported work on the Archive began in 1993 when I was made a Fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), which generously supplied me with equipment, travel monies, and funds for purchasing color images of the manuscripts. The edition was substantially pushed forward by three semesters of research leave and travel monies given by my colleague, Professor Raymond J. Nelson, then Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Gustavus Adolphus College provided travel funds for Eric Eliason to spend January, 1995, checking our transcriptions against the manuscript in Oxford, and later for a sabbatical year's research in 1995-96 in England, when he worked on the transcriptions and critical notes to this and other Piers texts. Robert Adams was given one-quarter course relief in 1995-1996 by Sam Houston State University. The University of Nottingham granted study-leave for the autumn of 1997 to Thorlac Turville-Petre. Each of us is indebted to his own university for administrative and other support, often including sophisticated computers, computer equipment and software.

We are particularly indebted to the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. In 1992, IATH, funded by the University, the IBM Corporation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation, began its work of exploring and expanding the potential of information technology as a tool for humanities research. To that end, it has every subsequent year provided a series of faculty Fellows with equipment, extensive consultation, technical support, applications programming, and networked publishing facilities. Cultivating partnerships in humanities computing initiatives with libraries, publishers, information technology companies, scholarly organizations, and others interested in the intersection of computers and cultural heritage, IATH has transformed humanistic computing at the University of Virginia. Without its assistance, much of this edition simply could not have been created.

Though the greatest part of the work on this edition took place in the years before the NEH began its support of the Archive, we are grateful for the last weeks of proofreading paid for by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency.

We have been fortunate to have worked in the company of computer specialists who have understood the particular needs of English professors whose computer literacy was often patchy. First and most profound thanks are offered to Professor John Unsworth, my colleague in the English Department and Director of IATH, whose support for the Archive has been both generous and unstinting. He has provided equipment, software, space, and monies for research assistants. Even more, he has given us his personal time and shared with us his vast knowledge of both hardware and software. I have been welcomed to his home, and he has come to mine, at odd hours on holidays and weekends to solve my problems. On too many occasions to detail, he has saved me from the consequences of my ignorance and folly. Other members of his staff have, moreover, been unfailingly generous with their time and knowledge, especially Daniel Pitti, Project Director of IATH, who has also worked overtime to solve my problems. Thanks are due also to former Associate Director Thornton Staples, to systems man Oludotun Akinola, to UNIX specialists Karen Dietz, Susan Gants, and Susan Munson, whose Perl scripts simplified many a complicated task we could not have done on our own, as well as to Robert W. Bingler, Shawn Carnell, Rosser Wayland, Peter Yadlowsky, and David Cosca, all of whom helped us over many technical and conceptual hurdles, some of our own creation, with unfailing competence, courtesy, and charity. Jason Haynes and Joy Shifflette, Program Support Technicians at IATH, helped us in innumerable ways. Special gratitude is due as well to David Seaman, Director of The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia, and his helpful staff, for assisting with the production of images from the flatbed scanner and for answering endless questions about SGML markup. When we began this work, we were not aware of the importance to our endeavor of John Price-Wilkin, who long before he joined the editorial team helped to create a DTD for both The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive and SEENET, taught us to appreciate the elegant complexities of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), and shepherded us through a myriad of other problems. It finally became obvious that though John's primary interests were not in Middle English philology, his general knowledge of computer technology and his special mastery of SGML meant that his intellectual contribution to the edition was at least equal to that of the philologists. We are glad that he consented to join us. Marilyn Deegan and Peter Robinson have been generous in time and technical advice at all stages in this project. We owe our ability to display non-standard characters such as yoghs, punctus elevatuses, raised points, etc., to my colleague Peter Baker's permitting us to use his Old English fonts, and I am personally indebted to Peter for his helpful technical advice on various aspects of humanistic computing. To Nigel Kerr of the Humanities Text Initiative at the University of Michigan we are grateful for his conversion of our SGML markup to HTML so that MAC users can make use of this edition. Bjarne Melin of the Finnish firm Citec Software LTD Oy, makers of Multidoc Pro, has been extraordinarily helpful and patient in helping us work out various problems related to display.

We are grateful to the Bodleian Library for providing us, free of charge, the digital images of the manuscript as part of the "Early Manuscripts at Oxford University" project funded as part of the Specialized Research Collections in the Humanities initiative supported by the Higher Education Funding bodies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under the direction of the Non-Formula Funding Committee. We wish specially to thank Dr. David Cooper, who in his capacity as Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, provided us both access to the manuscript and to the Internet, making communication faster and easier. Later at the Bodleian Library, Dr. Cooper produced the archival-quality digital images upon which our color facsimile edition is based. Special thanks are due to Mrs. Christine Butler, Assistant Librarian at Corpus Christi College, whose unfailingly cheerful greeting and expert advice made our frequent visits to the manuscript vault a steady pleasure. We are grateful to Ms. Linda Lee of Litchborough, Northamptonshire, who in addition to restoring and rebinding the manuscript, consented to let us publish with this edition her "Conservator's Report" to the Librarian on that job, providing photographs of the manuscript in various stages of its disassembly and renewal. Dr. A. I. Doyle informed us of his discovery of the Ushaw College binding fragment written by the scribe who copied Corpus Christi College, MS 201 and increased our indebtedness by permitting us to publish in this edition his descriptive essay on that fragment. The late Dr. Jeremy Griffiths generously made his collational notes on the manuscript available to us, though he did not live to see that generosity recorded here.

No one who works with Piers Plowman can fail to be indebted to Professor George Kane and his collaborators in editing the Athlone Piers Plowman. First, the Athlone texts were produced to an almost impossibly high standard of transcriptional and collational accuracy. In nearly every instance, we have found their apparatus both full and reliable. Simple transcriptional accuracy is by far the hardest, most demanding, as well as one of the most important tasks facing any editor. After several years of checking their apparatus in a variety of contexts, we can say that it is practically perfect. They have set a high standard. Moreover, they have laid out in their detailed introductions—with an explicitness and transparency unparalleled in editions of Middle English texts—their reasons for hundreds of their editorial decisions. We are accustomed to textual notes for such purposes, notes that call attention to difficult cases and that serve as synecdoches for the full process of editorial reasoning. By publishing these arguments in their introductions, the Athlone editors have austerely placed upon their readers the severe burden of recapitulating at least portions of their editorial project. They have laid out explicitly the evidence they take to be relevant to their editorial decisions, and they invite their readers to challenge their reasoning or their argument of the evidence. More than is usually the case the Athlone editors have played fair with their readers. We are grateful to them for their achievement and their example.

We have failed in repeated entreaties to Joseph Wittig to persuade him to bring his formidable knowledge of the poem and its text to editing the Archive, but he has contributed thoughtful advice on many occasions. We are grateful to him for reading drafts of the introduction and for vetting the occasional note as well as for his encouragement. To our editor at the University of Michigan Press, Dr. Ellen Bauerle, we are grateful for her encouragement and steady support of the project. She and Press Director Colin Day saw the point of electronically editing old texts when others in university presses did not.

We thank the President and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who gave us prolonged access to the manuscript, permission to make digital images of the entire manuscript when that was quite a new and even daring thing to do, and permission to publish the facsimile edition. For photocopies of manuscripts, we thank the staffs of the manuscript departments of the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; The British Library, London; Cambridge University Library, Cambridge; and Trinity College, Cambridge. We are grateful to the President and Fellows of Ushaw College, Durham, for providing the color slides from which our digital images were made and for their generous permission to publish them here. For manifold kindnesses beyond any professional responsibility, grateful thanks are given to Mr. D. J. Hall, Senior Under-Librarian, Cambridge University Library; to Mr. David J. McKitterick, Librarian, Trinity College, Cambridge; to Dr. Andrew Prescott, Curator, The British Library; and to Dr. Patrick Zutshi, Keeper of Manuscripts and University Archives, Cambridge University Library.

Finally, I have accumulated a number of personal debts. First, I wish to thank the graduate research assistants who have worked here in Charlottesville with me on F and another dozen manuscripts of Piers Plowman. Those competent and energetic young scholars are named on the title page for their part in preparing this text. In 1997 I presented a discussion of our editorial policy as a Founder's Day address at Centenary College of Louisiana, and it was published as "On Constructing Documentary Texts for The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive," in Rationality and the Liberal Spirit: A Festschrift Honoring Ira Lee Morgan, ed. Stephen Shelbourne and members of the English Department of Centenary College. I am grateful to the editors and to Dr. Kenneth L. Schwab, President of Centenary College, for permission to publish a revised version here. Gail and I are deeply grateful to friends and frequent hosts who made our extended trips to England to work with the manuscripts comfortable and comforting. For their hospitality, special gratitude is due Michael Gilsenan, Tom and Giti Paulin, Geoffrey and Anabel Hemstedt, William and Victoria Hemstedt, and Thorlac and Elisabeth Turville-Petre.

Hoyt N. Duggan

Charlottesville, 18 March 1999