95.04.03, Burrow, Thomas Hoccleve

Main Article Content

Christopher A. Healy

The Medieval Review baj9928.9504.003


Burrow, John A.. Thomas Hoccleve. Series: Authors of the Middle Ages: English Writers of the Late Middle Ages; no. 4. Aldershot, Hants: Variorum, 1994. Pp. iv + 60. ISBN: 0-86078-419-3.

Reviewed by:
Christopher A. Healy
Louisiana State University

As the fourth volume in a series of studies on Middle English authors— numbers 1-3 examine, in order, Sir John Mandeville, John Trevisa, and William Langland—this study of Thomas Hoccleve seems best suited to the series' goal of presenting "an account of the facts of a particular author's life." We know a great deal about Hoccleve both from documentary sources of his public life and from literary references to his private life found in his poetry, more, in fact, "than about most vernacular writers of the period" (1). In his Speculum (69.4, 1271-2) review of the first series volume, Iain Higgins questions what possible biographical information can be presented about Langland or the Gawain-poet (covered in the second series) and what need beyond "updating the bibliographies" to be found in existing sources the series fills. The Hoccleve volume, at least, is a valuable tool for certain Hoccleve researchers. The first thirty-one pages of the book are dedicated to a written account of the poet's life and work, both literary and professional, with the next eighteen consisting of a table of dates and a citation of the sixty-one known contemporary documents referring to Hoccleve. Finally, the work ends with a bibliography that includes all known manuscripts of Hoccleve's works, modern editions, and a selective bibliography of secondary sources.

The strength of this book is not, for the most part, in the newness of any of the material to be found in its pages. Burrow takes what is already known or speculated and constructs a quite readable account of Hoccleve's life. And even if the basic material is already published in various sources, one need only begin with this volume to get an overview of the present state of Hoccleve studies, after which, using Burrow's bibliography and the earlier two by Jerome Mitchell (1968; 1984) and one by William Matthews (1972)—all three pointed out by Burrow—one can begin more in-depth research. Yet Burrow's work is not simply repetitious review of previous scholarship, for he interprets what has been said into a chronology and a reading based upon the often contradictory foregoing studies. Moreover, Burrow makes valid observations about Hoccleve criticism, such as his assertion that"The Formulary, representing as it does the substance of Hoccleve's working life, has interest for readers of his poetry as well as for historians" since "the frequency of complaint and petition in Hoccleve's poetry . . . conformsY, albeit often in distinctive style, to the common practice of the time" (5-6).

The Appendix consists of sixty-nine references to Hoccleve in contemporary documents, including the fifty-three printed by Furnivall in 1892 and the seven additional references included in Mitchell and Doyle's 1970 revision of Furnivall's work. The nine other citations (nos. 3, 9, 12, 13, 23, 60, 67, 68, and 69) come from more recent scholarship, such as that of Paul Strohm or A. L. Brown (n. 13 and n. 118). In all, these references combine to create a timeline for the poet's public life and make up the basis for the life Burrow paints in the previous section, as well as some of the dating of Hoccleve's poems.

Burrow's Bibliography is easy to follow in its listing of manuscripts, and it updates that in A Manual of Writings in Middle English, including as it does the Yale manuscript, which was discovered several years after Matthews' bibliography appeared. The presentation is also easier to follow than Matthew's unwieldy system. Burrow heads each section with the work's title, then subdivides by subgroup, conflation, extract, and fragment. The list of Early Printed Editions and Modernizations and that of Modern Editions looks to be complete, but it does neglect to mention the facsimiles of the Bodleian Library MSS. Fairfax 16 and Tanner 346.

The slight shortcoming of this volume is in the section on Secondary Sources. Burrow says that "The bibliography is selective for the period up to 1965," as well it can afford to be considering Mitchell's exhaustive previous work; and Mitchell's later follow-up leaves about only thirteen years uncovered. Consulting the MLA International Bibliography using "Hoccleve" as a keyword, I found eight citations for this period not included in Burrow's own bibliography. Two of these are from 1993, however, and though Burrow does include citations from that year, these two may have come out too late to be included. In Burrow's favor it should be pointed out that he lists works that do not come up with the keyword, more than those he excludes.

One who has done much work with Hoccleve will, admittedly, find little new material in this book, but the scholar approaching Hoccleve for the first time could not do better than to start with this work. Furthermore, the currency of its bibliography and its citation of all known contemporary records referring to Hoccleve make it useful for even the veteran Hoccleve researcher.

Article Details

Author Biography

Christopher A. Healy

Louisiana State University