Appendix to Chapter 4
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Appendix to Chapter 4 Beinecke MS 493 and the Survival of Hoccleve’s Series Beinecke MS 493 is a modestly sized manuscript (288 x 208 mm) of 134 folios , written on paper except for vellum leaves that encase most of the ten gatherings. It is written in an ungainly and cramped secretary book hand of the fifteenth century, dated by Malcolm Parkes to 1450–75.1 The manuscript contains three English poems of the fifteenth century, the period eloquently if now notoriously characterized by Eleanor Hammond as “an age lacking in enthusiasms and convictions, an age of dull senseperceptions and low creative power, that [tended] to the expression of those didactic and melancholic feelings which the torpid or the conventionalized mind considers ‘decorous.’”2 The first item in the manuscript is a five-part work by Thomas Hoccleve which Hammond entitled Series. Second is the Danse of Machabre by John Lydgate.3 And the last item is Hoccleve’s other major work, the Regiment of Princes. Until very recently the best that could be said about Hoccleve was that he was, in the words of the author of the only book about him, “a poet very much a product of 110 Patterson-04appen 9/17/09 3:59 PM Page 110 his age.”4 As for Lydgate, he has only recently, and only partially, recovered from the assessment offered by Derek Pearsall in 1970: “the torpor of his mind is stirred [only] when some favourite moral commonplace is threatened.”5 The manuscript lacks any illumination. It is lightly but intelligently rubricated for the first half, but then rubrication disappears almost entirely except for truncated Latin glosses. From here on the only guidance available to the reader are initials with illuminated champ sprays placed at what are evidently thought to be significant divisions in the text, but many of which are in fact quite random. On the other hand, clear divisions that are marked in other copies of the text are here ignored. With these contents, then, and given its unexciting format, MS 493 is one of the more modest treasures in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. But sometimes even unpromising materials provide an opening into a past whose existence would otherwise remain unsuspected. What follows is an inquiry both preliminary and speculative, despite the fact that paleography rightly privileges the conclusive and mistrusts speculation . This essay will be neither deeply erudite nor prudently cautious, but perhaps these infractions of scholarly decorum will find compensation in its attempt to rescue Beinecke 493 from the category of the mediocre. The obvious question to ask of the manuscript is one of arrangement: what is a small poem by Lydgate—the Danse of Machabre is only 672 lines long, a mere bagatelle for the usually otiose Lydgate—doing between Hoccleve’s only two major works?6 The five parts of the Series total over 3700 lines, plus two substantial stretches of prose, while the Regiment of Princes is over 5400 lines long. Moreover, it is by no means clear that the two Hoccleve poems would naturally have been grouped together, since one was extremely popular and the other something of an embarrassment. The Regiment of Princes, written in 1411–12 for Henry V while he was still Prince of Wales, was one of the most popular works of the fifteenth century , with forty-three extant manuscripts.7 This figure compares very favorably with the Canterbury Tales (57 mss), the three versions of Piers Plowman (50 mss), Gower’s Confessio Amantis (40), Lydgate’s Fall of Princes (30), and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (a mere 16). There were good reasons for the success of Hoccleve’s poem: it is written in a plain and unpretentious style, proffers the bromides of the age, and—perhaps as significant—includes encomia to the two heroes of what people living in the increasingly chaotic years of the later fifteenth century remembered Appendix to Chapter 4 111 Patterson-04appen 9/17/09 3:59 PM Page 111 as England’s golden age. One is Henry V himself, about whom there coalesced a powerful cult of political nostalgia as the disastrous reign of his son collapsed into civil war. Even the lightly rubricated Beinecke MS is careful to indicate in the margin that it is “Kyng henry πe fyfte” whom the poet is celebrating.8 The other hero is Chaucer, whom Hoccleve designates as his literary father, and whom the Lancastrians assiduously promoted as England’s first...

Subject Headings

  • Literature and society -- England -- History -- To 1500.
  • England -- Civilization -- 1066-1485.
  • Historical criticism (Literature).
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
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