Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vinsauf, Geoffrey de
VINSAUF, GEOFFREY de (fl. 1200), poet, called also ‘Anglicus,’ is said to have derived his name, ‘de Vino Salvo,’ from a treatise extant in manuscript at Caius College, Cambridge, on the keeping of the vine and other plants, which was attributed to him (Pits, De Illustr. Angl. Scriptt. p. 262). He was a loyal subject of Richard I, but of his personal history nothing is known, except from his book on the ‘Art of Poetry.’ He is thought to have travelled in Gaul and Italy, and is known to have visited Rome and enjoyed the favour of Innocent III. He certainly survived Richard I, and is mentioned by Trivet (Annales', p. 175, Engl. Hist. Soc.) in 1204; but after that, though one or two writers place him later, nothing more is known of him.
His chief and possibly his only known work is the ‘Art of Poetry,’ which has been multiplied into half a dozen different books, but is well known under three titles, namely, ‘Poetria Novella,’ ‘Nova Poetria,’ and ‘Ars Poetica.’ It was extremely popular during the middle ages, as the number of manuscript copies extant in the various libraries of Oxford, Cambridge, and London sufficiently attests (for a list of these cf. Tanner, Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 737; Cat. Bodl. MSS. passim). Until the revival of letters it was esteemed more highly than Horace's epistle on the same subject, and its influence may be seen in much of the Latin-verse writing of the thirteenth century. The book is itself a metrical treatise, opening with a high-flown panegyric upon Innocent III, to whom it is dedicated. As its title suggests, the work treats of the rules of poetical composition, of which it gives numerous illustrations. As an illustration or example of style suitable to the expression of grief, Vinsauf inserts the lament on King Richard containing the lines beginning ‘O Veneris lacrimosa dies’ (Leyser, Hist. Poet. et Poem. Med. Ævi, p. 882), which Chaucer satirises in the ‘Canterbury Tales’ (Aldine Poets: Chaucer, iii. 245) for its exaggerated affectation of grief (cf. Wright, Biogr. Brit. Lit. ii. 400, who quotes the two passages side by side). The work contains also (Hist. Poett. et Poemm. Med. Ævi, p. 976), as one of its three epilogues, the so-called ‘Carmen ad Imperatorem pro Liberatione Regis Angliæ Ricardi,’ which is printed separately by Martene and Durand (Amplissima Collectio, i. col. 1000), and is by them, and indeed generally, supposed to be a petition to the emperor, Henry VI, for the release of Richard I. Bishop Stubbs, however, gives good reason for supposing it to be a petition to Innocent III to be reconciled with John (Memorials of Richard I, vol. i. p. xlix, Rolls Ser.). Two poems on Richard I, of which Vinsauf also makes use in the book, are transcribed (with some differences) at the end of the manuscript copy of the ‘Itinerarium … Regis Ricardi’ contained in the public library at Cambridge, and are printed by Gale with the ‘Itinerarium’ (Hist. Angl. Scriptt. ii. 247 seq., 430 seq.). Bishop Stubbs thinks that it was from this juxtaposition of the poems with the ‘Itinerarium’ that there arose the mistake which Gale makes of attributing to Vinsauf the authorship of the ‘Itinerarium’ itself (loc. cit. pp. li seq.; cf. art. Richard de Templo, (fl. 1190–1229)), Gale, moreover, by a further error, identifies Vinsauf with Walter of Coutances (loc. cit. Præf., but cf. Stubbs, loc. cit. pp. liii seq.).
The most accessible edition of the ‘Poetria Novella’ seems to be the one above quoted, that, namely, of Leyser, ‘Historia Poetarum et Poematum Medii Ævi,’ Halæ Magdeb. 1721, at pp. 861–978; but Leyser published the work separately at Helmstedt in 1724. Pits (loc. cit. p. 262) mentions, without date, an early edition printed at Vienna by Wolfgang Lazius . Geoffrey has been frequently confused with other writers, and, owing probably to his widespread, even European, fame, many other works have been either admittedly erroneously, or on insufficient grounds, ascribed to him. Among the former may be mentioned the ‘De Promotionibus et Persecutionibus Galfredi Eboracensis Archiepiscopi’ of Giraldus Cambrensis, and a book on the corruptions of the Church of Rome, ‘De Officialibus Romanæ Curiæ,’ which is known to be of a later date; among the latter, the ‘De Rebus Ethicis.’ In addition to these Pits attributed to Vinsauf a book called the ‘Enchiridion,’ of which a manuscript existed at Caius College, Cambridge (loc. cit. p. 262).
[See, in addition to the chief authorities mentioned in the text, Leland's Commentarii de Scriptt. Brit. i. 231–2; Bale's Scriptt. Illustr. Cat. i. 239; Leyser's Introduction to the Poetria Novella in Hist. Poett. et Poemm. Med. Ævi, p. 855; Hardy's Descriptive Catalogue, ii. 524–5, Rolls Ser.]