Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Hoccleves Hands: The Mise-En-Page of the Autograph and Non-Autograph Manuscripts

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Hoccleves Hands: The Mise-En-Page of the Autograph and Non-Autograph Manuscripts

Article excerpt

Among the many titles given to Thomas Hoccleve--political poet, princely advisor, poor clerk, melancholic, drunk (1)--we rarely consider one of the aspects that makes Hoccleve distinct among late medieval authors: that we have copies of his texts in his own hand. Durham, MS Cosin V.III.9 and San Marino, Huntington Library MSS HM111 and HM744 have the potential to offer a glimpse into the production of literary manuscripts in a way that is not available for other authors, (2) yet they have rarely been studied together. (3) The autograph manuscripts put Hoccleve in a rare position: he is both author and scribe. They are useful in two ways: first, based on the organization of the manuscript page, the autograph manuscripts offer insights into Hoccleve's own interests in his texts and his desires for his readers' interpretation of them; second, a comparison with non-autograph manuscripts makes possible the examination of the readings and interpretations of his scribes and so of how Hoccleves first readers responded to his poetry. This article examines all three of Hoccleve's autograph manuscripts together, along with other, non-autograph copies, in order to compare the authorial with the scribal presentations of these texts. (4) This comparison reveals whether the author and the scribes valued, and so depicted on the manuscript page, the same poetic qualities in Hoccleve's texts. The way in which these scribes represented Hoccleve's literary form on the manuscript page has wider implications for the way in which they understood and presented poetic texts more generally.

One of the limitations of analyzing scribal readings has been our uncertainty over whether a change in a manuscript is purely the scribal interpretation of the text or an imitation of a previous scribal interpretation in an exemplar. Scribes were, of course, supposed to copy out texts accurately, and for this reason Chaucer writes about his frustration over his scriveyn damaging his text through "negligence and rape." (5) Chaucer's Canterbury Tales manuscripts were produced from a muddle of disparate exemplars, and so each of them varies in some way from the next with no demonstrable authorial control. In Hoccleve's case, however, we have unique samples against which we may compare scribal copies and revisions. Importantly, the end look of the manuscript page was a complex affair and a combination of numerous factors: not only the scribe's own training and practices inherited from older manuscript exemplars, which both informed and set boundaries for what he might offer on the page, but also the influence of the network of producers--limners and decorators, for example--who collaborated on the end look of the page, as well as patron demands. (6)

Hoccleve, as both author and scribe, had control over each of these factors: he produced his own manuscript pages and so his mise-en-page--the positioning of the text and paraphs, initials, borders, rubrics, and running titles on the manuscript page--embodies each of these numerous influences. (7) As this article demonstrates, Hoccleve's autograph manuscripts display two simultaneous concerns: he lays out his text on the manuscript page in order that the reader sees lucid meaning; at the same time, he demonstrates a concern with representing clearly his literary form--the structure and complexity of his verse. Conversely, the scribes of the non-autograph manuscripts prioritize only one of these two concerns: they choose form over meaning.

Hoccleve's Autograph Manuscripts

Hoccleve, a scribe by profession, copied numerous documents for the privy seal. .(8) We also know from his participation in the Trinity Gower manuscript (Trinity College, Cambridge MS R.3.2), a copy of the Confessio Amantis, that he also produced literary manuscripts other than his own. A. I. Doyle and M. B. Parkes describe Hoccleve's contribution to this manuscript as "small" and go on to say, rather unsympathetically, that:

   he can hardly have been the entrepreneur who engaged the
   other scribes, because his own failure to complete the book
   or to supervise its production is more marked than that of
   others. … 
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