contributor.author: Matthew Boyd Goldie

title.none: Blyth, ed.,Thomas Hoccleve (Goldie)

identifier.other: baj9928.0008.005 00.08.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Matthew Boyd Goldie, Rider University, mgoldie@mindspring.com

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Blyth, Charles R. Thomas Hoccleve: The Regiment of Princes. Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. Pp. vii, 278. $40.00. ISBN: 1-580-44023-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.08.05

Blyth, Charles R. Thomas Hoccleve: The Regiment of Princes. Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. Pp. vii, 278. $40.00. ISBN: 1-580-44023-1.

Reviewed by:

Matthew Boyd Goldie
Rider University
mgoldie@mindspring.com

One of the better-known features of Thomas Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes remains the marginal portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, whose outstretched arm points back to the stanza where Hoccleve explains he has produced Chaucer's "liknesse" of the "firste fyndere of our fair langage" as a "remembrance" for his audience (4978-98). Hoccleve's picture and description of Chaucer, like his other references to his master, are pieces of a complicated stratagem. In this case they are embedded in the context of discussions about Wycliffite opposition to images in churches and against the background of Lancastrian attempts to gain legitimacy by sponsoring and identifying as closely as possible with a linguistic nationalism.

To a certain extent Charles R. Blyth has reproduced Hoccleve's complex gesture in his edition of the Regiment by creating a likeness of Hoccleve's poem of advice to a prince. For, as he explains in his introduction, the corpus of surviving Hoccleve manuscripts offers editors of his texts exceptional opportunities. This is not the case with the Regiment manuscripts when taken alone, where circumstances are relatively familiar. Blyth, continuing a project begun some years ago by an evolving team, examined the forty-three complete or near-complete manuscripts of the Regiment for this edition, all written out by a number of different scribes. He acknowledges that the absence of an authorial copy suggests the appropriateness of a genealogical approach in order to create an archetypal text. On the other hand, holograph manuscripts of Hoccleve's writings, including the Epistle of Cupid, La Male Regle, ballads, The Remonstrance against Oldcastle, and parts of the Series, offer an occasion to observe Hoccleve's habitual spelling and metrics, and in both cases he was remarkably consistent. Blyth's likeness of Hoccleve's poem remembers both the genealogy of the Regiment manuscripts and Hoccleve's customary usages in these other writings. This Middle English Texts Series volume is a combination: it is based on the earliest manuscripts with spelling and meter emended to conform to Hoccleve's regular practices in holograph copies. It offers, therefore, an example of an unusual text, one sufficiently complicated to present engaging issues for the classroom, a principal object of the Series.

The Regiment and this edition are also important for study and teaching for a number of other reasons. Written in 1411 for Prince Henry, the poem consists of nearly 5,500 lines of rhyme royal stanzas (excluding three eight-line stanzas as an envoi), of which two-fifths comprise a Prologue in the form of a dialogue between Hoccleve and an old man. In typical Hoccleve style the Prologue works according to an unfamiliar logic, and Blyth's introduction offers a sound analysis of how the dialogue moves among registers such as Boethian consolatio, condemnations of Wycliffitism, observations about excessive clothing among courtiers, complaint about personal and national finances, and moralizations about love and lust. In the remainder of the stanzas Hoccleve draws on the Secreta Secretorum, the De regimine principium of Egidius Romanus (Giles of Rome), and the Chessbook of Jacob de Cessolis for his series of exempla about a Prince's responsibilities. Most recently Paul Strohm and Larry Scanlon, among others, have attempted to answer the central question Blyth posits: "just how is the Prince to take this poem, and how are we?" The answer he offers is appropriately sophisticated: that there appears to be some parallelism between the ideas in the Prologue and the advice in the poem. (5-11) This symmetry, I believe, makes the problems of logic and tone even more complicated, troubling, and tantalizing for all who study Hoccleve. What comprises the set of conditions that enables or compels Hoccleve to set his problems up as in some way equal to a Prince's or at least worthy of his attention? Blyth offers some suggestions and provides a good bibliography of select textual, historical, and critical sources for further reference.

Given the pedagogical design of the series, what might be the benefits of paying attention to this volume in a course beyond the curious nature of the edition? One answer is linguistic. An advantage of the editorial decisions and procedures is, as Blyth points out, that the text becomes easier to read because of the consistent spelling if one overlooks Hoccleve's recurrent confusing inversion of word order (23, 27). Blyth's marginal glosses offer good single definitions of difficult words and help to clarify unclear or awkward phrasing and syntax. For teachers who puzzle over which text to use as a way of introducing students to reading and comprehending Middle English, the fifteenth century is a good place to start in general, and the Regiment offers consistency and regularity. Even instructors of a Chaucer course could begin here, perhaps with passages where Hoccleve names and more importantly describes Chaucer (such as 1958-74 or 4982-5005). In addition, these passages, along with the marginal illumination, offer a way of introducing Chaucer as he was perceived immediately after his death: associated with the world of London scribes and politics; the nation's poet; praiseworthy for eloquence, knowledge, and wisdom; and an object of veneration. These are issues of historicism, the politics of poetry's style, and canonicity that appeal to and are intelligible to students.

Another reason to teach this text beyond the editorial, linguistic, and Chaucerian matters is the historical significance of the poetry itself, and again attention will probably begin at the Prologue where Hoccleve describes and comments on his contemporary world in a realistic style and with specific language. The dream-vision opening frame quickly disappears, and the fictional dialogue form enables rather than impedes discussions of Lollardy, idealizing portraits of the Prince, criticisms of sumptuary excess, descriptions of John of Gaunt, recounting of youthful overindulgence, and complaints about the fiscal destitution of the Privy Seal clerks. Blyth's explanatory notes provide helpful background to these matters as well as references to the bibliographies.

Many of Hoccleve's concerns in the Regiment appear in his other works. This circumstance suggests that another pedagogical possibility is to teach more than one Hoccleve text. The usual question arises in designing a syllabus as to whether one has the time to commit, but putting the Regiment side by side with the La Male Regle or the Series has advantages. Such selections allow for opportunities to discuss the remarkable appearance of an autobiographical style as well as the intersection of the personal with the economic, spiritual, moral, masculine, and urban that are literally on the edges of Chaucer's and Gower's works but that may be closer to Thomas Usk's Testament of Love or William Langland's Piers Plowman. Juxtaposing Hoccleve's poems also can lead to interesting comparisons and contrasts with the works of his contemporary John Lydgate, the contemplative writings of Margery Kempe and others, anonymous political poems, and even certain of the plays. Obviously, this selection also makes possible analysis of the poetry itself such as its tone, structure, and verse form. What is perhaps most noteworthy when one considers this opportunity is that Hoccleve's poetry is available, 1999 being an unprecedented year. Along with J. A. Burrow's EETS publication of the Complaint and Dialogue with a Friend, there appeared substantial excerpts in Derek Pearsall's reorienting anthology Chaucer to Spenser (instead of Chaucer then Spenser) from Blackwell and inclusion in the important collection The Idea of the Vernacular from The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Forty-three manuscripts and the use of spelling and meter from holograph texts make for some logistical decisions in the presentation of the text, and in the main, Blyth has created an eminently useful edition. Only in only two related cases might the additional constraint of the series' pedagogical intentions obscure rather than make plain what is before readers. Ultimately, British Library MS Arundel 38 (A) was used as the principal copy text except for the leaf containing the portrait, which was cut out of Arundel but survives in MS Harley 4866, another manuscript contemporary with the poems' completion in 1411. Blyth states that later witnesses were called upon where an "arguably better reading" occurred or in order to correct "error[s]" in Arundel. (17) The textual notes indicate where and often how emendations were made beyond the spelling and meter, but in the majority of the notes it is unclear which manuscripts or even how many manuscripts disagreed with the copy text. Space and readability may be the reason for phrases such as the following, that emendations were based on "a minority of MSS", "a minority of MSS of diverse lineage", "a few closely related MSS", "Harley and two other MSS", "five MSS", "a sizeable and diverse number of MSS", or "the great majority of MSS". Despite the "conservative stability" of the manuscripts (16), whether there are groups or lineages is information only suggested rather than made explicit, which makes indistinct the impetus for some emendations. Sometimes the reader is only presented with "A's reading is emended for meter" or "A's reading is emended for sense". Perhaps a slightly more detailed description of manuscript affiliations would have allowed for increased clarity while avoiding the addition of extensive notes.

The second obscurity the publication policies may have engendered is that not only did the lines in the edition never exist in manuscript form (the Riverside Chaucer is the same after all), but the text as a whole is more than a combination of the non-holograph manuscripts of the Regiment with holograph copies of other poems. The third ingredient that informs the edition lies with us, the teachers and readers, and in this case the text differs from a Hoccleve or even a fifteenth-century likeness. As Blyth states, a principal advantage of emending the words in the poem is its improved readability. He also indicates that the increased regularity of meter supports the more recent idea that Hoccleve is a "better poet". (21) However, as is the case suggested by the textual notes, this additional consideration of readership and valuation pulls the edition in a third direction. Charles Blyth has managed an eloquent balancing feat or an uncommon logic for the Regiment. Perhaps we arrive, ironically, at a text even more like the product of Hoccleve's own inclinations, one that partakes simultaneously of distinct discourses: of manuscript substantives, authorial orthography, and reader abilities and expectations.