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The Scale of Perfection: Introduction


1 See John P. H. Clark and Rosemary Dorward, trans., Walter Hilton: The Scale of Perfection, p. 13 [hereafter cited as Clark].
2 For discussion of the English and Latin works, with full bibliographical information, see Lagorio and Sargent, pp. 3075-80.
3 See Clark, p. 16; Lagorio and Sargent, p. 3075.
4 See Underhill, pp. xliii-xlv; Gardner (1936), pp. 12-14.
5 For the versions of Aelred, see Ayto and Barratt; Ancrene Wisse, ed. Robert Hasenfratz for the Middle English Texts Series; for the English versions of the Meditationes, see Sargent (1992) and Lagorio and Sargent, pp. 3103-07.
6 See the METS editions of The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Patrick Gallagher; The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, ed. Georgia Crampton; and The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Staley.
7 The use of the phrase "I am nought" in Scale, Book II, chapter 21, has to do with the acquisition of humility.
8 See Scale, Book I, chapter 33.
9 See Clark, p. 163n36, for a discussion and reference to Rolle's Incendium amoris. There is also criticism of excessive materialism in Book II, chapter 32. Lagorio and Sargent (p. 3074), however, doubt that Hilton is directly criticizing Rolle.
10 See notes on chapter 3 and references given there.
11 See, for example, Statius who, in Purgatorio 22.73-93, is identified as a secret Christian - "per paura chiuso cristian fu'mi."
12 See Pierre Courcelle, Connais-toi toi-même: De Socrate à saint Bernard (Paris: Études Augustinennes, 1975); and R. Bultot, "Les 'Meditationes' pseudo-Bernardines sur la connaissance de la condition humaine: Problèmes d'histoire littéraire," Sacris Erudiri 15 (1964), 256-92.
13 On the term "stirring" in Margery Kempe, Rolle, and Julian, see Lynn Staley, The Book of Margery Kempe, p. 236; and Aers and Staley, The Powers of the Holy, pp. 107-78.
14 See Lagorio and Sargent, p. 3075, and the listing of manuscripts, pp. 3430-31; including collections of extracts and fragmentary texts, the total given is forty-nine manuscripts. Lagorio and Sargent has the most recent account of the manuscripts; slightly different counts are given in Clark, p. 33, following information from S. S. Hussey and A. J. Bliss. Ignoring the extracts, Hussey (1992, p. 101), counts forty-one manuscripts with Book I and 24 with Book II. Clark (p. 33) suggested that the simpler treatment of the subject in Book I contributed to its greater popularity.
15 Sargent (1983), pp. 189-90; see also Gardner (1936), pp. 27-28.
16 On the Latin translation, see Sargent (1983), pp. 189-90; Clark, pp. 56-57; Lagorio and Sargent, p. 3076, where it is noted that Fishlake's Latin version circulated also on the continent.
17 Gardner (1936), p. 11.
18 Book of Margery Kempe, 1.17 (ed. Staley, p. 51).
19 See Gardner (1936), pp. 25-26; Walter Hilton's Mixed Life, ed. Ogilvie-Thomson, pp. xii-xiv; Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, 1.118.
20 Inscription quoted and discussed by Ogilvie-Thomson, p. xii (fol. 260r).
21 More information on the common profit books and the succession of owners may be found in Sargent (1983), pp. 205-06.
22 See Moffat, "A Bibliographical Essay," pp. 31-36.
23 The editing of Middle English texts is a topic that has inspired much recent scholarly debate; much of this is admirably summarized in Moffat, "A Bibliographical Essay," pp. 25-57. All the essays in this volume, A Guide to Editing Middle English, may be consulted with profit; see also the important essays in Minnis and Brewer (1992), especially S. S. Hussey, "Editing The Scale of Perfection," pp. 97-107; and R. Allen Shoaf's Introduction to his edition of Thomas Usk's Testament of Love (1998), pp. 1-5.
24 For the EETS, the edition of Book I begun by A. J. Bliss is being completed by Michael Sargent; Book II is being edited by S. S. Hussey; see Clark, pp. 53-54; I am grateful to Michael Sargent for informing me of the present state of the EETS edition.
25 Underhill, p. xxvi.
26 See Gardner's (1936) critique, pp. 23-25; and Sargent (1983), p. 197.
27 Clark, p. 55; Gardner (1936, p. 26) notes among other evidence that the expansions are not in the Latin translation; see also Sargent (1983), p. 197.
28 See the Textual Notes, where the passage is identified.
29 On the classification and affiliations of the Lambeth manuscript, see Gardner (1936), pp. 15-18 (the Lambeth manuscript belongs to Gardner's type A); Sargent (1983), pp. 190-93.
30 Gardner (1936), pp. 25-26.
31 On the London origin of this version, see Gardner (1936), pp. 26-28; Hussey (1992, p. 106) agrees on the London (probably Carthusian) origin, but rejects Gardner's notion that the great houses near London, Sheen and Syon, could have been involved.
32 See Clark, pp. 53-56.
33 This is because it appears that the Lambeth manuscript followed two exemplars for different parts of the book, one with the expansions, and the other close to the Cambridge manuscript; this can be seen, for example, in the small number of variants in chapters 1-10; I owe this information to a personal communication from Michael Sargent.
34 Hussey (1992), p. 103.
35 Hussey (1992, p. 103) inclines to think that the revised version is at least in part authorial.
36 Sargent (1983), pp. 193-95; x and y include most of the existing manuscripts of The Scale II; the situation is further complicated because both x and y have several subgroups: Harley is subgroup a of the x group; Bodley is subgroup c of the x group; Lambeth is subgroup d of the y group; Hussey (1964), pp. 85-86. The textual complexities will presumably be addressed in the EETS edition.
37 See Hussey (1964), pp. 91-92.
38 Ogilvie-Thomson, pp. xii-xiii.
39 Ogilvie-Thomson, p. xlii.
40 Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, 1:118; 3:25-26 (the linguistic profile); 4:336 (the map location). See also Hideo Yamaguchi, "A Short Descriptive Study," pp. 110-71.
41 Clark, pp. 13-14.
42 Among the most frequently abbreviated words is the sacred name Jesus, almost lways rendered as ihu (Ihesu), as is customary scribal practice; on two occasions, however, the name is written in full as Jhesus, supporting the expansion in the edition as Jhesus rather than the more linguistically accurate Jesus.
43 The textual tradition of the tables and titles has its separate complexities; see Hussey (1992), p. 106.

Among the major religious treatises written in fourteenth-century England, The Scale of Perfection of Walter Hilton maintains a secure place. The Scale is a guide to the contemplative life in two books of more than 40,000 words each and is notable not only for the careful exploration of its religious themes, but as a principal monument of Middle English prose.

Although we know relatively little about the author of the treatise, we have more information about Walter Hilton than is known about many authors of medieval texts. He was a member of the religious order known as the Augustinian Canons, and died at the Augustinian Priory of Thurgarton in Nottinghamshire in 1396.1 There is reason to believe that he was trained in canon law and studied at the University of Cambridge. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but it is thought to be around 1343.

Besides The Scale of Perfection, Hilton is the author of a number of other surviving works in both English and Latin. Among the English works, all of which are much shorter than either of the books of The Scale, are a treatise On the Mixed Life, which deals in briefer form with some of the same topics taken up in The Scale; Eight Chapters on Perfection; Of Angels' Song; quite probably an English commentary on Psalm 90 (Vulgate), Qui habitat; and less certainly a commentary on Psalm 91, Bonum est.2 On the basis of the content of certain of his works it can be safely inferred that Hilton was actively involved in some of the religious controversies current in England in the 1380s and 1390s. His principal concern, which is present in The Scale, is to defend orthodox belief, especially in the conduct of the contemplative life. One treatise, the Conclusiones de imaginibus ("Conclusions Concerning Images"), which cannot unequivocally be assigned to him, suggests that he defended the veneration of images against the kind of critique characteristic of the heterodox movement known as Lollardy.3 The dates of Hilton's works cannot be known with certainty. In the case of The Scale of Perfection it is generally agreed, on the basis of the greater depth and maturity of approach in Book II, and the fact that manuscript evidence suggests that Book I circulated independently, that some time separated the writing of the two books. A date range for the composition of the whole from about 1380 to Hilton's death in 1396 seems reasonable.4

The title The Scale of Perfection, or in Latin Scala perfectionis, is found in several manuscripts; The Scale of the title has the proximate Latin meaning of ladder or stairway. The treatise itself is addressed to a female who has taken religious vows. It is thereby connected to an extensive Western European tradition of works of devotion or spiritual guidance directed at women, written either in Latin or the vernaculars. Representative of such works are the De institutione inclusarum ("Rule of Life for Recluses") of Aelred of Rievaulx (d. 1167), a work translated from Latin into Middle English in the fourteenth century, the Ancrene Wisse ("Guide for Anchoresses") written in English in the thirteenth century, and the extremely popular Meditationes vitae Christi ("Meditations on the Life of Christ") extant in several fifteenth-century English versions or adaptations from the original Latin of the late thirteenth century.5

Hilton's Scale of Perfection is always counted among the masterpieces that constitute the great efflorescence of English mystical writing of the fourteenth century and the early years of the fifteenth. Along with Hilton the other members of the canon of great mystical writers of the age are Richard Rolle (d. 1349); the unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing; Julian of Norwich (d. 1413); and Margery Kempe (d. ?1440) who has a less secure but steadily solidifying position in the roster.6 Although there are certainly similarities among them, Hilton is quite distinct from each of the others. In very general terms, his understanding of contemplation is less material, less dependent on imagery and sensation, than that of Richard Rolle, whose approach he seems to counter directly in The Scale. Despite some superficial similarities between the myrknesse ("darkness") and the cloud of forgetting or the cloud of unknowing of The Cloud author, Hilton's use of this imagery is quite different. Hilton's myrknesse is the darkness of sin and separation from God; there is no signifying of the pseudo-Dionysian annihilation of the self so prominent in The Cloud.7 Although both Hilton and Julian of Norwich are concerned with the recovery of the image of God and the meaning of sin, Hilton manages to be more orthodox and less innovative, and at the same time less personal and ultimately less theologically profound than Julian. Margery Kempe is justly said to be incomparable; nevertheless, one readily notices in Hilton's Scale that very little is said of the author's spiritual or mystical experiences (Hilton at one point declares that he is writing about prayer at a level that has been beyond him),8 experiences of a kind which are the heart and soul of The Book of Margery Kempe.

The two books of Hilton's treatise are quite different from each other. Book I is divided into 92 chapters, and although Book II is more than a quarter again as long, it has only 46. This difference is more than superficial. Hilton rarely develops a line of thinking for more than a few chapters in Book I, whereas in Book II several of the chapters, particularly those in the middle sections of the book on the reforming of the soul to the image of God, contain profound and detailed analyses of certain aspects of advanced stages of the contemplative life, some of which he had already examined in Book I. The obviously greater intellectual depth is the strongest internal evidence for the theory that the books were written at different times in Hilton's life.

Book I begins with definitions of the active and contemplative lives, and distinguishes three degrees of contemplation. The first is in knowledge of God through reason and learning only; the second is knowing God in the affections (or emotions) only; the third, and highest stage attainable on earth, lies in knowing God in both cognition and affection. This constitutes perfect knowledge and love of God and happens only when the soul is purged of sins and reformed to the image of Jesus. This is the "perfection" of the title.

Hilton also explains what contemplation is not, in a passage that is usually taken to be a direct criticism of the kind of spirituality advocated by Richard Rolle (whose name, of course, is not mentioned). Hilton notes that some persons would associate spiritual visions with bodily sensations, such as music in the ear, a sweet tasting in the mouth, or a heat that can be felt by the body. This enumeration corresponds closely with Rolle's celebrated trio, calor, dulcor, canor (heat, sweetness, song). Such physical sensations, Hilton says, are at best only secondary phenomena, and are not contemplation, which is exclusively spiritual (chapter 10).9

Hilton then considers how contemplation is initiated by reading of Scripture, meditation, and prayer. Since reading the Bible would not be a means ordinarily available to his female readership, Hilton concentrates on prayer and meditation, including the impediments and distractions that often stand in the way. The last half of the book takes up Hilton's major theme, one Hilton returns to in greater depth in Book II, the use of contemplation to assist in the recovery in the individual of the image of God that has been distorted by sin. The topic, and Hilton's treatment of it, is generally Augustinian, beginning with the analysis of the soul as a reflection of the Trinity (chapter 43). Hilton's thinking is appropriately consistent with his membership in an Augustinian order, but the ideas expressed are the general possession of late medieval intellectual life.

The last half of the book also gives advice about overcoming the seven deadly sins, advice which is specifically tailored to the circumstances of a person leading a contemplative life. This section of the book contains Hilton's brief excursions into practical advice of the kind that enlivens a work such as the Ancrene Wisse (Scale, Book I, chapter 83, tells an anchorite how she should handle an intrusive visitor). The importance of humility, charity, and self-knowledge is stressed and advice is given about how to control the senses. All this is necessary preparation for destroying what Hilton calls "the myrke image of synne" (chapter 84; "the dark image of sin"), which must be broken down before man can be reformed to the image of Jesus.

Hilton's second book is less wide ranging, focused on a smaller number of topics, and more logically arranged. He begins by explaining how the divine image in man was deformed by original sin and how only the sacrifice of Christ makes it possible for that image to be restored and reformed. Such reformation, and with it, salvation and eternal life, is open only to believers in Christ, and is not available to Jews and pagans. Hilton's stance on the question of the salvation of the heathen, a topic of active concern in the later Middle Ages, is distinctly hard line.10 It can be contrasted, for example, with Dante's more generous treatment of virtuous pagans in The Divine Comedy.11

Hilton then discusses how the restoration of the divine image can take place, distinguishing between reformation in faith and reformation in feeling. The process begins with the sacrament of baptism, which allows the image to be reformed from the distorting effect of original sin; the sacrament of penance allows reformation from the effects of sin actually committed by an individual. Hilton explains that some persons are reformed only in faith but not in feeling; the highest state, which corresponds to the limits of human perfection, is to be reformed in both faith and feeling. This state is reached only after a lengthy and often arduous process of spiritual growth, is limited to those leading a contemplative life, and is attained by very few. At the same time, Hilton makes clear that the attainment of such a state is not a requirement of salvation, which is open to all, learned and unlearned, whether leading a life in the world or a life of contemplation. This point is consistent with Hilton's defense of orthodoxy; he is very careful to avoid the appearance of advocating a special way to salvation that stands outside of or competes with the universal message of salvation proclaimed by a universal church.

Using the metaphor of a pilgrim going to Jerusalem, Hilton explains how the soul should attain restoration of the divine image, and the difficulties and obstacles that must be overcome. In this section (especially chapters 24-27) Hilton adopts paradoxical imagery of light and darkness that superficially resembles that used in The Cloud of Unknowing. In Hilton's usage, the brightness of day is a false light representing love of the world and is therefore evil. The night represents withdrawal from the world, a desire to love Jesus, and longing for spiritual fulfillment. It is therefore a good night and an illuminated darkness ("this is a gode nyght and a lighti merkenesse," chapter 24), because it blocks out love of the world, and enables love of Jesus, which in turn destroys in the soul all sinful impulses ("stirynges of synne," chapter 25). The soul must be careful to recognize the difference between the true light of knowledge sent from God and false illuminations that are the work of the devil. Chapter 30 articulates a familiar medieval theme, that knowledge of spiritual themes begins with knowledge of self, a theme treated also in Book I (chapter 42).12 Chapter 31 of Book II is especially important because it contains Hilton's explicit connection of his conception of reforming the soul in feeling with Pauline ideas of reformation and renewal, putting off the old man of sin and taking on the new man reformed in the image of God, ideas notably expressed in Colossians 3:9-10, verses which are quoted and commented upon by Hilton.

Once the soul is reformed in faith and feeling, the inner eye of the soul can be opened, which allows knowledge of God in perfect love for him. It is at this point that Hilton comes closest to describing what might be called a mystical vision of the deity. Hilton stresses that the vision is not to be equated with a picture formed in the imagination of Christ seated in majesty in the firmament. The vision is not physical or material, or capable of definition by images constructed by the human imagination, but it is spiritual only (chapter 32).

Hilton then affirms the importance of the love of Jesus for such reformed souls. Love is the greatest gift of Jesus to his followers; it helps to overcome sin and to achieve a quiet humility. Once Jesus is beheld through the opening of the inner eye, the soul increases in virtues, which are gifts of grace, but require spiritual striving as well.

The last section of the book (chapters 41-44) deals with the problems caused when the vision of Jesus is sometimes withdrawn from the soul. Even though the soul may feel his absence, Hilton affirms that Jesus is always present in the soul, but his presence or absence is a matter of his grace. Finally, Hilton explains that the opening of the spiritual eye to the vision of Jesus brings true wisdom, allowing the soul to recognize the difference between good angels and the reprobate, the distinction and unity of the persons of the Trinity, and to see that Jesus as man is above all creatures.

Knowledge of Hilton's spiritual vocabulary and terminology is important in understanding The Scale. Among Hilton's most frequently used words, goostly (or spiritual) is constantly contrasted with its opposite, worldly. Hilton makes frequent reference to his even Cristene ("fellow Christians"), a collocation also prominent in Julian's Revelations of Divine Love. Liknesse is the term usually used for the image of God in the soul that has been distorted by sin; merknesse ("darkness") is the consequence of sin and is used for any attachment to the things of this world. The word gracious in Hilton almost always carries the specific meaning of having to do with the operation of divine grace (for example: "He moste bicome man thorugh a gracious generacioun, bi wirkynge of the Holi Goost," II.57-58). Ransake ("ransack") is used to describe the act of making a thorough examination of the conscience in preparation for penance; ravysche ("carried off, ravish") is the Englishing of Latin raptus, used in St. Paul's account of his experience of being swept away into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2), and often in later writing on mysticism and contemplation. The goostly iye ("spiritual eye") is the means by which the soul receives knowledge of God, once the barrier of sin has been removed.

Among the most important terms in The Scale are those that describe the non-intellectual, non-rational aspects of the soul, or broadly speaking, the emotions. Affeccioun ("affection") is used often, and is the technical term derived from the affectio of Latin writing on the psychology of the soul; in Hilton, however, the word also sometimes assumes its modern meaning of affection or love. Hilton speaks of contemplation "in cognicion and in affeccion," which he defines as "in knowyng and in perfight lovynge of God" (I.147-48). Hilton's usual term is styringe ("stirring"), which means some kind of arousal of the emotions. The term most often describes a sinful impulse. Hilton speaks of fleshly stirrings, such as stirrings of pride and envy; but there are also stirrings to devotion and prayer, stirrings of meekness and charity, and stirrings of grace.13 Feelynge ("feeling") is the other major term, which is especially important in the second book. Feelynge again refers to the non-intellectual part of the soul, the source of love and desire for God. Reforming in feeling is contrasted to reforming in intellect through study and reason. The state of earthly perfection for Hilton is reformation of the soul in both intellect and in feeling, a state attained when God is both perfectly known and perfectly loved. Reformation in feeling is harder to describe and understand, but love of Jesus is at the base of it. It is for Hilton the chief reward of contemplation.

Hilton's Scale was one of the most popular religious texts of late medieval England. Its popularity is attested by the large number of manuscripts that survive - some forty-two containing one or both of the books, with a relatively large number of manuscripts with Book I alone, suggesting it may have been the more popular of the two.14 The manuscript evidence suggests a fairly broad readership for the work, which certainly extended beyond the female anchorites who were its putative first audience. Michael Sargent has gathered evidence to show that The Scale was a well-known text in monastic foundations in or near London, such as the Carthusian houses of London and Sheen and the important Brigittine abbey of Syon.15 Another sign of its popularity is that it was translated into Latin by the Carmelite monk Thomas Fishlake, perhaps around the turn of the fifteenth century.16 The Scale was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1494 and several times thereafter, and, as Helen Gardner notes, it was the first English mystical work to appear in print.17 Hilton's book clearly reached a lay as well as clerical audience. Margery Kempe was familiar with "Hyltons boke," and lists it with other spiritual classics.18 As we shall see, the manuscript that is the basis of the present edition is likely to have been prepared for a London merchant early in the fifteenth century.

About this edition

This edition is made from London, Lambeth Palace, MS 472, written early in the fifteenth century, possibly in London.19 The manuscript has been chosen because it contains a well-written text of a type that would have been read in early fifteenth-century London, but it is also significant for other reasons. The manuscript seems to be a purposely assembled collection or anthology of Hilton's work, although it is noteworthy that his name is not mentioned in a contemporary inscription, and none of the works is ascribed to any author. Besides both books of The Scale of Perfection, the manuscript includes Hilton's Mixed Life, Eight Chapters on Perfection, and work that is likely to be his, the commentaries on the psalms Qui habitat and Bonum est, and a commentary on the Benedictus. The manuscript can also be regarded as an interesting document reflecting the growth of lay piety in fifteenth-century England. The anthology appears to have been made for John Killum, a grocer of London, who died in 1416. An inscription in the manuscript describes it as a "common profit" volume, intended to benefit the spiritual welfare of its owner, then to be passed down to benefit another reader at his death, and so on from person to person "as longe as the booke endurith."20 Inscriptions in the manuscript indicate that such a procedure was followed by a series of London owners until the end of the fifteenth century.21

This is a scribal, not an authorial edition; that is, it does not seek to recover the words that Hilton actually wrote (if such a thing were possible). Neither should it be thought of as a "best-text" edition, as that term is usually defined.22 The edition represents a coherent text from a well-written manuscript as produced by a scribe (or scribes), with emendations made only to correct obvious mistakes or when necessary to preserve the sense. In my opinion, there are good theoretical reasons for preferring this editorial method, but the justification for such a procedure is also practical.23 As noted above, The Scale exists in many manuscripts, and the textual tradition is unusually complicated, so much so that an edition based on more comprehensive principles would be difficult to accommodate within the scope of this series. But the chief practical reason for the present procedure is that an edition is in progress for the Early English Text Society that will be based on an entirely different editorial method. That edition, for example, will be based on examination of the known manuscripts, and attempt, through the traditional methods of recension and collation, to recover a sound authorial text.24 The fact that this edition has been so long in progress and is still some time from completion indicates the complexity of the editorial task, and also, I believe, provides a warrant for the more modest undertaking presented here.

Most of the textual complexities of The Scale are found in Book I. Although a full discussion is not appropriate here, it should be noted that at least two versions of Book I were in circulation, the second being an expansion of the first, with alterations and additions that Evelyn Underhill described as "Christo-centric," for example the substitution of "Jesus Christ" for "God."25 By no means all of the changes, however, can be characterized in this way.26 Whether Hilton was responsible for the revisions or whether they were the work of a scribe or another reviser is a matter of doubt, but scholarly consensus leans to the view that they are not authorial.27 An exception to this conclusion is the long passage on the Holy Name of Jesus which has been added to the end of chapter 44 of Book I in many manuscripts, including the Lambeth manuscript edited here.28 This is widely accepted as Hilton's work, the result of conscious authorial revision.

The Lambeth manuscript is an example of the expanded version of Book I, including both the "Christo-centric" and other additions as well as the Holy Name passage.29 Not only that, Gardner notes that a feature of this manuscript is that there are slight expansions of the expansions, so that it appears there is little doubt that the text contains words and phrases that are unlikely to be authentically Hilton's.30 Gardner concludes that the Lambeth text is a representative of an enlarged revision of The Scale that appears to have originated in the major Carthusian or Brigittine religious houses in or near London and was widely circulated there;31 as such it has a claim on our attention.

In this edition, the text of the Lambeth manuscript is compared with Cambridge, University Library MS Additional 6686, which is a good representative of the unexpanded version. This manuscript also has been chosen for comparison because it will form the base text of the EETS edition of Book I now in progress.32 The Textual Notes identify the considerable number of major variations between the two versions, and are thus more extensive than is usual for this series. The reader should be aware that not every variation has been recorded; the decision of what to include under the category of major is inevitably subjective and depends on editorial judgment. The aim is to give the reader an idea of the nature and extent of the revisions. A complete list of variants must await the publication of the EETS edition.

The assumption is usually made that the text as represented by the Cambridge manuscript is the earlier form of Book I. This is a reasonable assumption, but it should be noted that the Cambridge manuscript includes several passages, some of them quite lengthy, that are not found in the Lambeth version (these too are recorded in the Textual Notes). It is possible to consider these as scribal deletions made to the earlier version, or it may be that the Cambridge version itself is based on a somewhat different interpolated tradition. In any case, the important point is that the text in the Lambeth manuscript is not simply an enlarged version of the Cambridge text.

For the student, the practical consequences of the editorial decisions I have made will be that the text of this edition will differ from what eventually appears in the EETS edition. In some sections of the book, the variation will be considerable, where in others the variations will be relatively minor.33 It should also be noted that the text of this edition will differ to the same extent from the modern English translation of Clark and Dorward, which is based on the Cambridge manuscript.

The textual situation of Book II is less complicated. There are many fewer manuscripts, and the textual variations, though considerable, are less substantial.34 Despite the relatively uniform textual tradition, there appear to have been two versions of the book, and manuscript categories can be constructed on the basis of the variants.35 Hussey's EETS edition of Book II will be based on the uncorrected text in London, British Library, MS Harley 6579, a member of a group of manuscripts designated by Hussey as x, and regarded by him as prior to another group of manuscripts designated as y.36 Since the Lambeth manuscript belongs to Hussey's type y, in the Textual Notes I record variations with a representative of Hussey's type x, namely Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 100. This manuscript was chosen in preference to Harley 6579 because the Harley manuscript includes many erasures and corrections, which must be evaluated in order to recover the type x text. This is a task Hussey will undertake in his edition.37

The Lambeth manuscript, too, has been subject to much correction. There are insertions of words and phrases from the margin; insertions of words and letters above the line; words and phrases written over erasures by a second hand; occasional glosses; and cancellations and expunctions. Some of this activity is no more than a typical scribe's routine correction of his own work, but in other cases, the insertions from the margin are the passages and phrases that are not found in the Cambridge manuscript. Not all this activity has been recorded in the Textual Notes, especially in cases where the alterations are simply corrections of obvious errors. An attempt has been made, however, to give an idea of the extent of the scribal correction, and I have tried not only to record the significant variations from the Cambridge text, but to signal when they are inserted from the margin or above the line. I have not indicated where another hand has written over erasures in the main text when the original readings are not recoverable, which is usually the case. Ogilvie-Thomson claims that the corrections in the Lambeth manuscript have been made by three different hands, with one contemporary hand being responsible for most of them.38 It is not always easy to distinguish the activity of this corrector from the corrections of the main scribe, and I have accepted the corrections into my text without trying to distinguish between them. The corrections and additions I take as integral to the scribal text that this edition aims to reproduce. As Ogilvie-Thomson notes, because of the authoritative correcting activity, the Lambeth text is in some senses already an edited text.39

Although the Lambeth manuscript is likely to have been written in London, its language is distinctly more northern. Whether this language represents the dialect of the scribe or the dialect of his exemplar, or a combination of both, is not easy to determine. The language of the Lambeth manuscript has been analyzed by the editors of the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English and localized to northern Cambridgeshire, near the borders with Huntingdon and the Isle of Ely.40 Although there is no necessary connection between the language of a manuscript and the language of the author, the location in northern Cambridgeshire accords well with the known facts of Hilton's life. Thurgarton Priory is further north, in Nottinghamshire, but in the same general north-east midland dialect area; and there is strong reason to believe, as noted above, that Hilton spent considerable time in Cambridge and its environs.41

The reader will notice in the Lambeth text a mixture of northern and southern forms, such as the variation between northern -ande and southern -ynge for the ending of the present participle, and the northern mykil beside the southern moche or hybrid mychil. The third person plural pronoun system is usually the thei/hire/hem of Chaucer's London, but occasionally the northern oblique forms ther(e) and them are encountered. The first person singular pronoun is I or y. The third-person singular ending of present tense verbs is invariably -eth. Readers can expect to find standard orthographic variations, such as thou /thu; modern English too spelled as to; modern English one rendered as o or oo.

For modern readers, Middle English pronouns are often confusing: their forms differ from modern forms and sometimes they appear to overlap because of multiple spellings, particularly in the possessive and third person forms. Moreover, because the forms undergo change within a single dialect at the time a manuscript is being copied, the referents are often ambiguous. Forms most likely to be confusing are here, usually meaning "their" but occasionally meaning "her," and hem, usually meaning "them." Normally, the third person feminine pronoun is hire, though occasionally it is her, and thus easily confused with the word for "their." So too the third person masculine pronoun is usually hym, not to be confused with hem, meaning "them." But it is the strings of he, his(e), and hym, referring to a male person, or a hypothetical male, or God, or the devil, without clearly defined antecedents that are likely to give the modern reader the greatest trouble. To assist the reader in such situations, I have followed the practice of the Middle English Texts Series and capitalized personal pronouns referring to God. This should help to clarify the sense where strings of pronouns with different referents occur. The ambiguity of readings created by such repetitions of the same pronoun may be attractive to modern readers, but ambiguity in these matters was certainly not the intention of the author.

Hilton's syntax is generally clear, the prose vigorous and easy to read, although there are sometimes very long paratactic sentences that are loosely constructed by modern standards. On a very few occasions, Hilton uses a construction based on the Latin ablative absolute, especially when he is closely following a Latin source, such as in the second chapter of Book II, which is based on Anselm's Cur deus homo. Such constructions are awkward stylistically and can create confusion for the modern reader, as, for example, "stondinge the rightwisenesse of God" (II.38), which means "the righteousness of God being maintained" or "were the justice of God to stand."

In reproducing the text, the editorial principles followed are those of the Middle English Texts Series. Manuscript spelling is followed, but u/v and i/j are normalized in accord with modern spelling conventions. Initial ff is given as F or f, depending on context; thorn is rendered as th. Manuscript yogh is given as g, gh, y, or z, depending on modern equivalents. When palatal yogh is rendered as y before or after a front vowel also symbolized by the graph y, spellings result that may at first confuse. Examples are yyf (for yif, modern English "if"), and yye (iye, modern English "eye"). The use of yogh in this manuscript is particularly interesting. It is found unhistorically in such spellings as oughte ("out") and though ("thou"), and is sometimes not present where it would be historically expected, in spellings such as mait ("might") and not ("nought"). These spellings suggest that yogh no longer has specific phonemic value for this scribe.

When the second person singular pronoun is spelled the in the manuscript, this is rendered as thee; conversely, the very few instances when the definite article is spelled thee are rendered the. The final e of French loan words that eventually came to be spelled as y is given as é to indicate that the final e is syllabic. Examples are such words as charité ("charity'), cité ("city"), plenté ("plenty"), and freelté ("frailty).

Abbreviations in the manuscript are silently expanded in accordance with the way the word is usually spelled out in full;42 roman numerals are written out; word division and capitalization are modern; paragraphing, sentence division, and punctuation are modern, although guided by manuscript practice.

In this manuscript, each book is preceded by a Table listing chapters and their titles. The Table of Contents for this edition does not reproduce the Tables in the Lambeth manuscript, but is made from the chapter titles as found in the main text. Readers should be aware that chapter divisions as well as titles of individual chapters are not uniform in all manuscripts.43 In comparing this edition with Underhill's translation, for example, there are several differences in chapter breaks; in the case of the Clark-Dorward translation, on the other hand, the chapter divisions correspond exactly.

Hilton uses many biblical quotations, which are given here in the Latin form as they are found in the manuscript, since Hilton always translates the Latin in the immediately following lines. Sources of the biblical quotations are placed in parentheses in my text. The practice is of course editorial, although in the Lambeth manuscript each biblical quotation is identified in the margin. Readers will notice occasional differences from the standard Vulgate. Like many medieval writers, Hilton seems to quote from memory, a practice which sometimes results in small inaccuracies; or, he may quote the biblical text as cited in one of his patristic sources, such as Augustine or Gregory, where a version of the Bible may have been used different from what became the standard late-medieval Vulgate. Students should remember that the numbering of the Psalms (and occasionally a few of the verses) will differ from that in Protestant Bible translations.

Translations of The Scale are listed in the Bibliography. Until the EETS edition appears, the present edition is the only published modern edition of the entire Middle English text. Special mention should be made of the translation of Evelyn Underhill published in 1923; her semi-modernized version of the Middle English, prepared from an examination of ten manuscripts, has been the foundation for most modern scholarship on The Scale as well as the basis of subsequent modern translations, such as that by Leo Sherley-Price in the Penguin series. The 1991 translation by John P. H. Clark and Rosemary Dorward, on the other hand, was made directly from the manuscripts which will form the base texts of the EETS edition, with doubtful readings checked against Fishlake's contemporary Latin translation. The Clark-Dorward translation has an extensive introduction discussing Hilton's sources and the relation of The Scale to his other writings, as well as a particularly detailed analysis of the spirituality of the text. The annotations, the work of Clark, are also exceptionally thorough, especially in the matter of sources, and I have made much use of them in my own annotations, indicating my obligation by appropriate citations. The Clark-Dorward translation, which also has a valuable bibliography, should be consulted by any student of The Scale.

A hypertext version of the present edition will be made available on the world wide web, so that corrections may be entered, and space made available for clarification of the relationship of the version edited here with the text in the EETS edition when it appears. Folio breaks for the Lambeth MS will be indicated in the Web edition.

Go To The Scale of Perfection, Book 1
Select Bibliography


London, Lambeth Palace, MS 472. [The base text of this edition.]

Cambridge, University Library, MS Additional 6686. [Used as a comparison text for Book I; the base text for the forthcoming EETS edition of Book I.]

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 100. [Used as a comparison text for Book II.]


Clark, John P. H., and Rosemary Dorward. Walter Hilton: The Scale of Perfection. New York: Paulist Press, 1991. [Valuable notes, introduction, and bibliography.]

del Mastro, M. L. The Stairway of Perfection. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1979.

Sherley-Price, Leo. Walter Hilton: The Ladder of Perfection. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1957.

Underhill, Evelyn. The Scale of Perfection. London: J. M. Watkins, 1923. [A modernization as much as a translation, based on manuscripts; in the absence of a critical edition of the Middle English, this has become the standard edition.]

Other Works by Hilton

Hilton, Walter. The Goad of Love: An Unpublished Translation [by] Walter Hilton, of the Stimulus Amoris formerly Attributed to St. Bonaventura. Ed. and trans. Clare Kirchberger. London: Faber and Faber, 1952. [It is not certain that this is the work of Hilton.]

---. An Exposition of "Qui habitat" and "Bonum est" in English. Ed. Björn Wallner. Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1954.

---. Two Minor Works of Walter Hilton. Ed. Fumio Kuriyagawa and Toshiyuki Takamiya. Tokyo: T. Takamiya, 1980. [Editions of Of Angels' Song and Eight Chapters on Perfection.]

---. The Prickynge of Love. Ed. Harold Kane. 2 vols. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1983. [Middle English edition of The Goad of Love.]

---. Walter Hilton's Mixed Life: edited from Lambeth Palace MS 472. Ed. S. J. Ogilvie-Thomson. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1986.

---. Walter Hilton's Latin Writings. Ed. J. P. H. Clark and C. Taylor. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1987.

Horstman, C., ed. Yorkshire Writers: Richard Rolle of Hampole, an English Father of the Church and His Followers. 2 vols. London: S. Sonnenschein & Co., 1895-96. [Includes editions of Hilton's Of Angels' Song (1:175-82) and On the Mixed Life (1:264-92).]

Studies and Texts

Aelred of Rievaulx. See Ayto and Barratt.

Aers, David, and Lynn Staley. The Powers of the Holy: Religion, Politics, and Gender in Late Medieval English Culture. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

Ancren Riwle: The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle. Ancrene Wisse, edited from Ms. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 402. Ed. J. R. R. Tolkien. EETS o.s. 249. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Ancrene Wisse. See Hasenfratz.

Ayto, John, and Alexandra Barratt, eds. Aelred of Rievaulx's De institutione inclusarum: Two English Versions. EETS o.s. 287. London: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Clark, John P. H. See Translations, above.

Cleve, Gunnel. Mystic Themes in Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection, Book I. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1989.

---. Basic Mystic Themes in Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection, Book II. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1994.

The Cloud of Unknowing. See Gallacher.

Crampton, Georgia Ronan, ed. The Shewings of Julian of Norwich. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994.

Fletcher, Alan J. "A Suggested Place of Origin of the Huntington 112 Copy of Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection." Notes and Queries n.s. 32 (1985), 10-11.

Gallacher, Patrick J., ed. The Cloud of Unknowing. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997.

Gardner, Helen. "Walter Hilton and the Authorship of The Cloud of Unknowing." Review of English Studies 9 (1933), 129-47.

---."The Text of The Scale of Perfection." Medium Aevum 5 (1936), 11-30.

---. "Walter Hilton and the Mystical Tradition in England." Essays and Studies 22 (1937), 103-27.

Hasenfratz, Robert, ed. Ancrene Wisse. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000.

Hodgson, Phyllis. Three Fourteenth-Century English Mystics. London: Longmans, 1967. [Hilton, Rolle, the Cloud author.]

Hughes, Alfred C. Walter Hilton's Directions to Contemplatives. Rome: Pontifica Universitas Gregoriana, 1962.

Hughes, Jonathan. Pastors and Visionaries: Religion and Secular Life in Late Medieval Yorkshire. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 1988.

Hussey, S. S. "The Text of The Scale of Perfection, Book II." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 65 (1964), 75-92.

---. "Latin and English in The Scale of Perfection." Medieval Studies 35 (1973), 456-76.

---. "Editing The Scale of Perfection: Return to Recension." In Crux and Controversy in Middle English Textual Criticism. Ed. A. J. Minnis and Charlotte Brewer. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1992. Pp. 97-107.

Julian of Norwich. See Crampton.

Kempe, Margery. See Staley.

Knowles, David. The English Mystical Tradition. New York: Harper, 1961. [Chapter 6 is on Hilton.]

Lagorio, Valerie, and Michael G. Sargent. "English Mystical Writings." In A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500. Ed. J. Burke Severs. Rev. Albert Hartung. 9 vols. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967-. 9:3049-3137.

LeClercq, Jean. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture. New York: Fordham University Press, 1982.

Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English. See McIntosh.

Love, Nicholas. See Sargent (1992).

McCarren, Vincent P., and Douglas Moffat, eds. A Guide to Editing Middle English. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

McIntosh, Angus, M. L. Samuels, Michael Benskin, with the assistance of Margaret Laing and Keith Williamson. A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English. 4 vols. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1986.

Milosh, Joseph E. The Scale of Perfection and the English Mystical Tradition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.

Minnis, A. J. "Affection and Imagination in The Cloud of Unknowing and Hilton's Scale of Perfection." Traditio 39 (1983), 323-66.

---. "The Cloud of Unknowing and Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection." In Middle English Prose: A Critical Guide to Major Authors and Genres. Ed. A. S. G. Edwards. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1984. Pp. 61-81.

---, and Charlotte Brewer, eds. Crux and Controversy in Middle English Textual Criticism. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1992.

Moffat, Douglas. "A Bibliographical Essay on Editing Methods and Authorial and Scribal Intention." In A Guide to Editing Middle English. Ed. Vincent P. McCarren and Douglas Moffat. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. Pp. 25-57.

Ogilvie-Thomson, S. J. See Other Works by Hilton, above.

Riehle, Wolfgang. The Middle English Mystics. Trans. Bernard Standring. London: Routledge, 1981.

Ross, Ellen M. "Submission or Fidelity? The Unity of Church and Mysticism in Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection." Downside Review 106 (1988), 134-44.

Sargent, Michael G. "Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection: The London Manuscript Group Reconsidered." Medium Aevum 52 (1983), 189-216.

---. Nicholas Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Critical Edition Based on Cambridge University Library Additional MSS 6578 and 6686. New York: Garland, 1992.

Shoaf, R. Allen, ed. Thomas Usk: The Testament of Love. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1998.

Staley, Lynn, ed. The Book of Margery Kempe. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996.

Usk, Thomas. See Shoaf.

Vitto, Cindy L. The Virtuous Pagan in Middle English Literature. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1989.

Whiting, Bartlett Jere. Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly Before 1500. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Yamaguchi, Hideo. "A Short Descriptive Study of Dialectical Variations in the Language of Walter Hilton's Scala Perfectionis or the Scale of Perfection." Poetica (Japan) 25-26 (1987), 110-71.