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Art. 89, Mon that wol of wysdam heren: Introduction

Abbreviations: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

In this long poem, the sage Hending (“skilled one”) is said to be Marcolf’s son, an affiliation that sets the poem in the tradition of the rustic fool who speaks wisdom to power, a tradition well reflected in The Jongleur of Ely and the King of England (art. 75). Such literature depicts Marcolf in earthy, comic dialogue with Solomon as a way to showcase how his clever native wit matches or exceeds a king’s authoritative learnedness (Ziolkowski 2008; Bradbury 2008; Bradbury and Bradbury ). In the layout of the Harley manuscript, Hending is paired with Satire on the Retinues of the Great (art. 88), the two set up as a vernacular diptych on folly and wisdom (Fein 2007, p. 91).

Hending survives in three versions of different length and varying content. These Hending poems belong to a larger class of Middle English lyric and debate based in proverbial lore, sometimes attributed to a single philosopher (Aristotle, Cato, Alfred, etc.). Harley’s pithy Earth upon Earth (art. 24b) speaks, too, in the gnomic tone of English proverb. As a form of advice literature, Hending is related to the French Urbain the Courteous and The Teachings of St Louis to His Son Philip (arts. 79, 94), both framed as solicitous counsel from a father to a son. Lacking the overt paternal element, the composer of Hending is still quite careful to include proverbs on wise child-rearing, and especially on how to inculcate good morals, discipline, and learning. Many proverbs discuss the etiquette of lending and borrowing, as does Urbain. Other advice on the choosing of a wife puts this text in dialogue with many in French that discuss women and marriage (arts. 76, 77, 78, 83). According to Louis, “many of the proverbs deal with human relations in a very cynical way” (MWME 9:2975), but it should also be noted that they frequently convey an outlook of wry humor along with compassion for the precariousness of human existence.

Hending bears the air of a schoolroom, wherein proverbs would be taught and explained. For older boys, a heavier emphasis would be placed on Latin proverbs. An important audience for Hending may be, then, the very young schoolboy, for whom an early education in native precept would be thought suitable study. Aside from their being indexed in catalogues such as Whiting’s, the body of Middle English proverbial lore in poems like this one is understudied by modern literary scholars. In Hending, each stanza elaborates a native proverb by prefacing it with a hypothetical explanation of its use in the world. Then the proverb is pronounced and the sage named: “Quoth Hendyng.” To highlight this standard stanzaic structure, this edition sets the prose-like proverb in italics, usually as two lines divided at a natural caesura. The method resembles somewhat the style of the more openly learned Against the King’s Taxes (art. 114), wherein each stanza closes with a Latin couplet that makes an authoritative moral statement, much like a vernacular proverb.

Like the English Book of Dreaming (art. 85), Hending boasts an expandable internal structure ready to contain as many interpretations or proverbs as the author wants to pack in. It has, nonetheless, a real beginning and end based cleverly in proverb: “God biginning / Maketh god endyng” (lines 13–14), and “Hope of long lyf / Gyleth mony a god wyf” (lines 339–40). The final proverb prepares for the concluding stanza: the line “Hendyng seith soth of mony thyng” is joined to a prayer, “Yeve us god endynge” (lines 342, 347). Thus does the poet find through Hendyng an “ending” rhyme.

[Fols. 125ra–127ra. IMEV, NIMEV 2078, NIMEV 1669 (see also 2817). MWME 9:2975 [43]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 14. Meter: Thirty-nine stanzas, mostly aa4b3cc4b3, with thirty-seven proverbs. Stanza 18 is four monorhyming tetrameter lines. A proverb and the phrase Quoth Hendyng are attached to stanzas 2–38.Layout: Double columns. Proverbs are written as prose. Editions: Wright and Halliwell, 1:109–16; Kemble, pp. 270–82; Morris and Skeat, pp. 35–42 (28 stanzas only); Böddeker, pp. 287–300. Other MSS: Cambridge, CUL MS Gg.1.1, fols. 476v–479v (ed. Varnhagen, pp. 182–91); Oxford, Bodl. MS Digby 86, fols. 140v–134r (Tschann and Parkes, p. xxvii [no. 52]; ed. Varnhagen, pp. 191–200). The three MSS are compared by Schleich, pp. 220–78. Middle English Analogues: See MWME 9:2972–79 [31–42, 44–56].]

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