John Marlin

title.none: Burrow, ed.,Thomas Hoccleve's Complaint and Dialogue (Marlin)

identifier.other: baj9928.0007.011 00.07.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John Marlin, College of St. Elizabeth,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Burrow, J. A., ed. Thomas Hoccleve's Complaint and Dialogue. Early English Text Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. x, 137. $65.00. ISBN: 0-197-22317-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.07.11

Burrow, J. A., ed. Thomas Hoccleve's Complaint and Dialogue. Early English Text Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. x, 137. $65.00. ISBN: 0-197-22317-6.

Reviewed by:

John Marlin
College of St. Elizabeth

The study of fifteenth-century English poetry has experienced a small revival recently: academic presses have released a light flurry of classroom editions of works by Hoccleve, Henryson, and Lydgate, with more forthcoming, anthologies devoted to Middle English literature are giving greater presence to these writers, and even the introductory anthologies of British literature are bringing the period into play in introductory college courses. While none of these poets has in his own right the enduring or penetrating qualities of their master, Chaucer, they are worthy of this renewed interest on a number of counts, some of which are engendered by developments in literary theory: the reception and development of Chaucerian poetics, the relationship of poet and patron, the entanglements of poetry and politics.

If this renaissance in fifteenth-century studies is to endure, it will require the production of new critical editions. The existing critical texts of many crucial works are in some cases over a hundred years old, prepared by the founders of the Early English Text Society (EETS) in the great age of Middle English philology, but now needing revision in light of intervening philological research. An important contribution to this enterprise is this new EETS edition of Thomas Hoccleve's Complaint and Dialogue, prepared by J.A. Burrow, one of our foremost scholars of Middle English.

The Complaint and Dialogue make up the first two poems of Hoccleve's larger work, the Series, which also includes Jereslaus' Wife, Learn to Die, and Jonathas, prepared for Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester around 1420. Because the work largely exists in a holograph copy made for Joan Neville, Countess of Westmoreland (Durham Univ. Library MS Cosin V. iii. 9), editing the text should be easy, restricted to modernizing punctuation and correcting those obvious moments of authorial miscopying of his own work (Burrow detects ten such cases, obvious slips of the eye such as "it" for "is" or "good" for "God" that lead to failures of sense).

The editorial challenge arises, however, out of the absence of the original first two quires of the Durham manuscript, including all of the Complaint and the first 252 lines of the Dialogue. Those quires were replaced at some point with a transcript of the missing material made by Tudor antiquarian John Stow. Burrow's collation of the five surviving scribal copies, as well as what is known of Hoccleve's scribal practices, demonstrates the Stow transcription's compatibility with neither the rest of the holograph nor with the surviving scribal copies. Yet the previous critical editions of the Series, one by EETS founder F.J. Furnivall in 1892 (reprinted 1970) and one by Mary Ruth Pryor in her 1968 doctoral dissertation, rely on Stow's text to provide the missing parts of the work. Burrow, for the first time, attempts to replace the Stow transcription with a text compatible with the rest of the holograph, normalized in terms of Hoccleve's prosody, orthography, morphology, and scribal conventions. In other words, the newly edited text offers to be closer to what Hoccleve actually wrote--a daunting, some might say overreaching editorial task, especially in a day when the theory of textual criticism speaks much of the 'mouvance' of medieval texts and focuses on the role of works in discrete manuscript contexts for specific communities.

One can hardly criticize the resulting composite text on those grounds, however, because it is not an attempt to recreate some ethereal Ur-text or authorial intent, but rather an attempt to reconstruct a manuscript that had real existence, a 'textual moment' at some point. That the manuscript happened to be a holograph makes the effort all the more worthwhile.

Burrow's edition does not merely collate the surviving manuscripts (five scribal copies plus the Stow transcription) and adopt the best readings, and therein lies its strength and innovation--and perhaps some occasion for controversy. Burrow begins by comparing the scribal copies against the Durham MS's holograph section of the Dialogue, from which he concludes that none of the scribal copies derived either from each other or from the holograph itself. He then reasons that the scribal copies most probably descended from a scribal archetype of what he calls a "Variant Original" of the Series, an authorial copy other than the one Hoccleve used to copy out the Durham holograph. This is a complicated and, as Burrow himself says, "awkward" hypothesis, but it accounts persuasively for the untidy state of the corpus of surviving MSS.

One further step that Burrow takes in reconstructing the missing quires of the work is to consider what is known about Hoccleve's own scribal preferences. Other Hoccleve works survive in holograph, which reveal that the poet has a remarkably regular system of metre, orthography and morphology (one must wonder if this consistency derives from his career as a scribe at the Privy Seal), a system to which Burrow normalizes his reconstruction of the holograph's missing quires. In particular, Hoccleve seems almost invariably to write a ten-syllable line (allowing for a number of routine elisions, which Burrow enumerates), a rule that leads to dozens of emendations.

For the non-holograph portion of the work (pp. 2-51), the edited text is placed on the right-hand pages and, for purposes of comparison, on the left stands the text of the Selden MS (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Selden Supra 53), which Burrow deems the earliest descendent of the scribal archetype. The best measure of this edition's achievement is to compare the two versions, as invited, and especially to read both aloud a few pages before and a few pages after the holograph portion begins (p. 52). Between the Selden version and the holograph, the seam is obvious to both eye and ear. The Selden copy's conventions in spelling and morphology lead to metrical changes that ultimately project a voice and rhythm mildly but patently at odds with the holograph. The transition between Burrow's edited text and the holograph, by comparison, appears almost seamless (aside from the sudden appearance of the holograph's punctuation, which Burrow sensibly does not attempt to recreate in his edited text).

This achievement comes with a handful of somewhat controversial emendations. At a few moments, Burrow chooses one MS variant over the consistent readings of four other witnesses, and at more than one spot he decides on his own variant despite the unanimous agreement of all five scribal copies plus the Stow transcription. These interventions are generally benign in terms of sense, for instance at Complaint line 269, the substitution of editorial "syn" for a unanimous "sithen" in the MSS, but occasionally they involve dropping a minor qualifier like "moost" or "now." These editorial emendations are usually offered as consistent with Hoccleve's habits of spelling and metre ("syn" is chosen as "sithen" leads to an 11-syllable line). A few other emendations are more troubling. At C236, Burrow substitutes "souerain" for the "moost souerain," the reading of all the witnesses, and at D90 he likewise substitutes "Ihesu" for "curteis Ihesu." While in each case dropping the adjective preserves metre, it also alters slightly the sense. To me this seems a too arbitrary application of Hoccleve's ten-syllable line; while I'm comfortable with the sense-neutral emendations that preserve metre, in these latter cases I'm more inclined to give the manuscripts the benefit of the doubt. Likewise problematic is C308, which adopts Stow's "dreeme" for the "deem" of all five scribal copies, on account of "dreeme's" usage in analogous situations in Middle English poetry. But Burrow does none of this in secret: between his introduction and his notes he explains and justifies each of these moments, and calls attention to several of them, openly admitting where his emendations are open to challenge. And as all the variant readings are provided at the foot of each page, the reader is free to make his own choices.

The volume's introduction includes discussions of the surviving manuscripts, Hoccleve's language, and the background to the Series' production, as well as an ample bibliography and glossary. There are three concluding excursuses: one discusses another Hoccleve holograph of Lerne to Die, one provides the text of one of Hoccleve's sources, and one outlines the arcane issue of 'falsing of coin', the subject of one of the Dialogue's digressions.

This new edition is valuable on several counts. First, because Hoccleve is one of the few Middle English poets with an extensive holograph corpus, critical editions of his work yield evidence which can teach much about scribal practice in the fifteenth century, as Burrow points out. (x) Whatever we learn of those practices may help us edit and re-edit other Middle English texts. Second, Hoccleve is, while not first rank, an interesting poet in his own right. His inwardness, subjectivity, autobiographical matter, plaintive voice, and psychological musings are idiosyncratic for his age, and point at what Chaucerian poetry might have become had it not been for Lydgate and the rise of aureate diction. The Dialogue is a particularly challenging poem: its conversation rambles from subject to subject, almost like a stream of consciousness, but one finds, as in Chaucerian dream poetry, an underlying thematic current that unifies the disparate surface material and reveals psychological progress in the narrator. This new critical edition of two of his important works may help bring this writer the wider recognition he deserves.

My only complaint about this otherwise admirable edition is that it stops with the Dialogue, without providing the rest of the Series. Burrow declines to provide the remainder, however, as it is available in the Furnivall edition, based on a holograph and therefore not susceptible to much further editorial work. All the same, it would be convenient to have the entire work available in a single volume, and it might be interesting to see if findings about Hoccleve's linguistic habits--the basis for many of Burrow's emendations--affect Furnivall's text.

That notwithstanding, this new critical edition should be welcome by all who study Middle English poetry, and while its methods of establishing the text will undoubtedly occasion some debate, it will do its part to enrich our accelerating interest in the fifteenth century.