The Mirour De L’Omme and Gower’s London Merchants

  • Roger A. Ladd
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Gower might not seem to belong in a study of this sort, because his critical reputation has generally been based on the Confessio Amantis, which makes little mention of merchants. Unlike the Confessio, the text of Gower’s that most directly addresses merchants, the Mirour de l’Omme (or Speculum Hominis or Speculum Meditantis), has long languished in obscurity. Even the discoverer and editor of the Mirour de l’Omme, G. C. Macaulay, dismisses that work as crushing Gower’s “better part…under mountains of morality and piles of deadly learning.”1 Derek Pearsall shows that avoidance of close engagement with Gower’s texts has a long tradition,2 but despite the astonishing growth in Gower studies in the past few decades, the Mirour remains in large part undiscovered country. For those willing to work with Gower’s non-English works, the fact that the Vox Clamantis has long had an available translation, while the Mirour de l’Omme waited until 1992, has led scholars of Gowerian satire to start with the more conventional Vox, with the result that the Mirour remained largely unstudied until the 1990s.3 Even scholars who briefly touch on that Anglo—French poem often simply conclude that Gower did not like anybody very much, including merchants.4 While Gower’s satires do critique society categorically by estate, a closer reading of the section of the Mirour assigned to merchants reveals that Gower’s satire of trade is far more complex in the Mirour, the satiric poem most readable for the merchant estate (see later discussion). Thus, while this chapter cannot undertake a comprehensive reading of the Mirour, which has a great deal going on beyond satirizing merchants, my reading of the poem’s antimercantile satire hopes to open up this poem somewhat, and encourage further detailed study.


Comprehensive Reading Business Register Potential Audience False Measure Rhetorical Move 
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© Roger A. Ladd 2010

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