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Thomas Usk, The Testament of Love: Introduction


1 On William Thynne (d. 1546), see the helpful essay by Blodgett, pp. 35-52. I quote briefly from this essay (p. 37) to introduce Thynne's biography:
[He] was a functionary in the royal household [of Henry VIII]. Surviving records trace his rise through the bureaucratic ranks. In a document from 1524, the earliest containing a definite reference to Thynne, he is called second clerk of the kitchen. By 1526 he had become the chief clerk of the kitchen, his title in household records dating through 1533 as well as in the preface to the edition of 1532. In documents from 1536 and 1538, Thynne is referred to as clerk controller of the king's household. By the end of 1540 he was one of the masters of the household, a position that he retained until his death in August, 1546.
Blodgett goes on to note that "the court in the 1520s and 1530s might even be considered an unofficial center for Chaucer studies" (p. 38), and it was in such a milieu that Thynne edited Chaucer's works. See, further, on Francis Thynne, William's son, and the political circumstances of editing and publishing in the period, Patterson, pp. 262-63.

2 See The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and Others. And see Greetham (1994), p. 363:
indeed . . . the printing of a work in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries typically entailed the loss of exemplars and other sources upon which the printing depended.
3 From here on, I will use the abbreviation TL to refer to The Testament of Love.

4 For terminology here and elsewhere in the Introduction, I follow the definitions of Peter L. Shillingsburg as I have found these quoted in Machan, pp. 6-7. Abbreviated they are: work, the intellectual product, "`the message or experience implied by the authoritative versions of a literary writing'" (p. 6); version, an instance of a work, "`one specific form of a work — the one the author intended at some particular point in time'" (p. 7); text, "in a bibliographic sense . . . `the actual order of words and punctuation as contained in any one physical form'" (p. 7); and document, "`the physical material, paper, and ink, bearing the configuration of signs that represent a text'" (p. 7). Machan is quoting from Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986).

5 "Many of these things I have attempted to set right" (Skeat [1897], p. xix). And see further Edwards, p. 186:
In this conviction he was further sustained by the comforting knowledge that if fifteenth- century scribes did not know how to spell Chaucer's works, he did. He is quite frank about this:
There can be no harm in stating the simple fact, that a long and intimate acquaintance, extending over many years, with the habits and methods of the scribes of the fourteenth [sic] century, has made me almost as familiar with the usual spelling of the period as I am with that of modern English.
     It is little more trouble for me to write a passage of Chaucer from dictation than one from Tennyson. It takes me just a little longer, and that is all.
6 There is other access to TL in the form of the two facsimiles and Virginia Jellech and John Leyerle's unpublished theses (see Select Bibliography).

7 See the article by Heyworth for suggestions on how re-punctuation should be undertaken in TL. Leyerle's critical edition, his PhD thesis, is an attempt at a global punctuation of TL.

8 I have not altered capitalization of words or punctuation in Thynne. Thus I present here a sixteenth-century reading of TL according to the conventions of that age. I have left, unemended, the numerous compiler's errors. On diplomatic transcriptions, see Greetham (1994), p. 350; quoted below at page 18.

9 Nor should anyone for a moment consider this sentence innocent. I know that I am, in Hanna's words, "substitut[ing] a certain modern neatness — partially driven by a sense of how canonized texts should work — for manuscript material evincing a much more various author (and far more various reception)" (p. 178). Hanna's words are more than just a re-phrasing of Dagenais's; they point, additionally, to the bias, potentially even violence, of editorial "clearing." Call it colonizing, call it territoriality, call it what you will, editing remains appropriation by the editor of the text to his or her meaning and thus expropriation of the text from others who read it differently. But it also offers a direct presentation of the editor's hard choices in understanding the text and presenting it, as responsibly as possible, to the modern reader.

10 See Strohm (1992), pp. 145-60, especially p. 157, quoted below at p. 24.

11 See Jellech (1970), p. 3, on the corruption of Thynne's imprint. Jellech, like Skeat and others, also recognizes and reports the commonly acknowledged fact that all subsequent imprints of TL, depending as they do on Thynne, are of no use in establishing a text -- worse, in fact, they only introduce more corruption into TL: "I have examined in microfilm each of these later printings and found none which contains a text superior to the 1532 edition."

     As a control for my project, I examined the text of TL in the copy of Speght's 1598 edition, The Workes of our Antient and Learned English Poet, Geffrey Chavcer, in the Smathers Library of the University of Florida, checking one chapter per each book of TL; my findings in this experiment were the same as those Jellech reports for her more elaborate undertaking -- the text had obviously degenerated; and I conclude, therefore, that it is safe to assume no later printing need figure in my work.

12 See Machan, p. 190: "The Middle English canon . . . is very much a canon shaped by economics."

13 Richard would, of course, suffer even more brutal defeat some dozen years later when Boling-broke deposed him. We have here, I strongly suspect, the main reason that no manuscripts of TL survive: it was perceived as Ricardian work by a Ricardian man -- why would Lancastrians want copies of it circulating? Below I offer a conjecture as to why at least one copy of TL might have been preserved -- see Section vi f, "The Problem of the Broken Sequence of Book 3."

14 See pages 14-17 below, Section iv, "Usk and His Contemporaries."

15 See Twomey, pp. 182-215, for a helpful introduction to medieval encyclopedias.

16 Jellech addresses Usk's sources at great length ([1970], pp. 53-118), some 65 pages. I have made no attempt to duplicate that work in this edition. In particular, and especially given also Leyerle's work with Usk's sources, I have deliberately chosen to minimize references wherever they are not instrumental for readers of this edition.

17 On Usk's inventiveness, see Schaar, p. 13; Leyerle (1977), p. 325; and Medcalf, pp. 182, 194. C. S. Lewis (1936), p. 228, on the other hand, is as hard on Usk as Medcalf is approving of him:
But Usk remains, even when we have made every allowance for a corrupt text, a clumsy and sometimes an unintelligible dialectician. All that he has to say can be found, much better, elsewhere.
Compare Lewis here with Medcalf ([1989], p. 182):
Perhaps because Usk presumes in the book a dizzyingly analogical pattern in the universe, but more because his book is an exaltation of love and the new world which love has revealed to him, it is written, where it is engaged in philosophic argument, in a high style by no means as crabbed as it has sometimes appeared. It is in fact not only the first book of original philosophy in English, but also the first book in which English prose is made to have something of the pattern, gorgeousness and poignancy of poetry.
In the contrast between these two opinions, the reader will find why I have not attempted to "re-construct" the TL in this edition. For more on this point, see below, page 18.

18See Vona for a massive compilation of patristic commentary; see also Ohly; and Wailes, pp. 120-24.

19 The reader may also want to reflect on the history of the image of the pearl by recalling Claudius at the end (Hamlet V. ii. 271-74; Evans, p. 1184):
The King shall drink to Hamlet's better breath,
And in the cup an [union] shall he throw
Richer than that which four successive kings
In Denmark's crown have worn.
And see further V. ii. 282 and 326.

20 Skeat opines (Thynne [1905], p. xl) "how Usk came to think of this curious device. . . . We may feel sure that Usk must have been acquainted with Higden's Polychronicon. . . . But this very device, of indicating the name of the author of a work by means of the initial letters of the chapters had already been adopted by Higden. . . . We see that Usk simply copied Higden's device."
For further comment, see Leyerle (1977), pp. xxviii-xxix, and Galloway, pp. 303-04.

21 Bennett also cites a quotation from Butler in the OED:
As Scriveners take more pains to learn the slight
Of making knots, than all the hands they write.
For examples of such signature knots, see Preston and Yeandle, pp. 53, 61, 63, 65 (Queen Elizabeth I), and 79.

22 See further Shoaf (1984), pp. 70 and 75; (1988), pp. 164-67.

23Ars Poetica 189-93:
Neve minor neu sit quinto productior actu
fabula quae posci volt et spectata reponi.
nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus inciderit.
[A play should not be shorter or longer than five acts if, once it has been seen, it wishes to remain in demand and be brought back for return engagements. Nor should any god intervene unless a knot show up that is worthy of such a liberator (trans. Hardison and Golden, p. 13).]

24"The Ecstasy," line 64 (Carey, p. 123).

25 See Holy Sonnet #12 (1-4) in Carey, p. 178:
Father, part of his double interest
Unto thy kingdom, thy Son gives to me,
His jointure in the knotty Trinity
He keeps, and gives me his death's conquest.
26"The universal form of this knot" -- Paradiso 33.91 (trans. Singleton, p. 377); and see the perhaps even more famous "nodo" in Bonagiunta da Lucca's response to Dante's famous
description of his poetics in Purgatorio, canto 24 (lines 55-57):
"O frate, issa vegg'io," diss' elli, "il nodo
che 'l Notaro e Guittone e me ritenne
di qua dal dolce stil nuovo ch'i'odo."

"O brother, now I see," he said, "the knot
that kept the Notary, Guittone, and me
short of the sweet new manner that I hear."
27A brief list of other examples might include Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetria Nova 1643-44 (trans. Nims, p. 74); T&C 5.766-70; Petrarch's Rime sparse 25, 59, 71, 196, 271, and 283; Antony and Cleopatra V.ii.301-03; and Paradise Lost 4.347-50. Then, too, there is the phenomenon of "entrelacement"/"interlace" -- see the essay by Leyerle (1976); other helpful studies include Day and Evans.

28For Gower, see 8.2941-57 (Macaulay, vol. 2, p. 466); for Henryson, see the edition by Kindrick (pp. 147-86); and for Villon, see Sargent-Baur, pp. 51-193.

29 See, among others, the studies by Perrow, Rice, and Sargent-Baur in her edition of Villon, p. 196 n 73.

30Here I list vocabulary items that signal main images in TL: beest, burjonen, cloud, clips, confounded, cosinage, crommes, daunger, ebbinge, endite, fantasye, fruite, graffed, jangeleres, knit, knot, pearl, prison, pyles, shyppe, styred, testament, tillers, tilth, wilde.
     In the hypertext version of the edition that I plan to launch on the World Wide Web, I will index, key and "hotlink" these items.

31 Medcalf speaks, in a felicitous phrase, of Usk's "lateral habits of mind" (1997), p. 251.

32 The most eloquent witness is Dante -- see Freccero, p. 24, for helpful comment.

33"Pitee renneth soone in gentil herte" -- CT I A 1761.

34 I would like to take this occasion to thank John Bowers and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and her co-author, Steven Justice, for their scholarly collegiality in sharing with me their work in progress or in press. Their goodwill has ensured that the METS TL is better informed than it otherwise could have been.

35Compare Bennett (Gray), p. 347: "The apparent familiarity with the Troilus and the Boece that he shows in his Testament may be due simply to his general recollection of passages that he had copied."

36 Kerby-Fulton is at work on a list of parallels she proposes between TL and Piers Plowman; I have seen only a preliminary, incomplete version of this list that includes the passages in TL but not those in Piers supposed to be parallel.

37See, further, Lewis (1995), pp. 432-33; see also Medcalf (1997), p. 248: "Given their common religion and their common culture, it must remain uncertain whether Usk took the image of the tree from Langland."

38My positions here depend primarily on Strohm and Bressie, although I am very pleased to acknowledge my several conversations with Bowers which helped me refine my thought. I also want to record my debt to Leyerle's work. I find his arguments on the distinctiveness of the mode and idiom of the Testament congenial (p. 393):
Idioms appropriate to a man's political service to his lord had been transferred since the twelfth century to the situation of a lover's service to his lady. In the Testament Usk does the reverse: idioms appropriate to a lover's service to a lady are applied to Usk's political service to his lord. Usk's intentional application of the language of love service to his situation in London politics is central to an understanding of the mode and idiom of the Testament.
This argument has merit. And I find it helpful in understanding the vexed issue of Usk and Langland's possible relationship. If Leyerle and Strohm are right, there would have been, I conjecture, a real antipathy between Usk and Langland, deriving from their very different political agenda.

39Leyerle reports (p. x) that in his text, "extensive use was made of Thynne's punctuation, which is usually helpful, but occasionally mistaken." I tend to disagree with Thynne's punctuation somewhat more often than Leyerle.

40Hanna and Lawler (p. 1003); Siennicki provides an elaborate table of correspondences between TL and Boece in her thesis (pp. 225-63).

41 Consider, in this light, how attractive to any sovereign the following would appear (Book 1, lines 105-08): For I trowe this is wel knowe to many persones that otherwhyle, if a man be in his soveraignes presence, a maner of ferdenesse crepeth in his herte not for harme but of goodly subjection, namely as men reden that aungels ben aferde of our savyour in heven.

42The offending matter may once have been even more obvious (Skeat, [Thynne, 1905], p. xl):
Mr. Bradley has since kindly pointed out to me [viz., Skeat] that Usk's first design seems to have been to make his sentence end with THOMAS VSK instead of THIN VSK. There is a conspicuous O in Chapter IV of Book III, and a conspicuous M in Chapter V. . . . The A at . . . and the S at . . . are less certain, and the reading THIN certainly sounds better, and is more convincing.
The reader may find these letters in the METS edition below: O, at Book 3, line 497; M, at Book 3, line 709; A, at Book 3, line 798; S, at Book 3, line 662 (but in Skeat's order, not out of sequence). I am not so confident as Skeat that THIN "is more convincing"; but, be that as it may, if the acrostic once read THOMAS, all the more reason a Lancastrian would then have had to mutilate the offending section of the manuscript.

43Leyerle's conclusions are relevant here. He reports (p. xxii):
I had worked out the correction to the Bradley shift completely before noticing that Ramona Bressie had come to much the same conclusion, although her analysis does not correspond in all the details to the one presented here.
The main difference between Leyerle and Bressie is Leyerle's hypothetical reconstruction of the gatherings of Book 3 and the explanation therefrom of the disordering that occurred. Although his argument is far too long to cite (it runs to many pages, complete with figures and tables), the conclusion he reaches is worth quoting (p. xxi):
Gatherings o, p, and q contained the dislocation. Stripped of the unnecessary complexities introduced by Bradley and compounded by Skeat, the dislocation of texts in the Testament is, thus, very simple: gatherings o and q were interchanged.
If this is correct -- a big "if," to be sure, given the complexity of the matter -- it would tend to favor my own hypothesis: someone simply switched the two gatherings.

44I could be wrong, however, I admit. It is conceivable that Thynne is, in fact, the culprit. Thynne may have recognized the acrostic and deliberately mangled Book 3 to conceal Usk's name, the better therefore to pass the work off as Chaucer's -- we know what "Chaucer-olatry" flourished in Henry VIII's court (see above Blodgett, note 1). I am not reluctant to assign such a dark motive to Thynne out of any sentimentality: it is possible that he mutilated the text, indeed mutilated it even out of a reverence for Chaucer (to augment him in the eyes of Henry's court), placing TL after the House of Fame, definitively Chaucer's, as a kind of extension of that poem's argument, which in a great many ways it is (see especially the note to Book 1, line 652, below). But of the two interpretations of the available evidence, I think at this time that the one I have offered above is much more likely to approximate the truth: the motive is clear, the result comprehensible, the politics altogether (alas) explicable.
i. Nature of the Project

Reader, take note, The Testament of Love by Thomas Usk does not exist. The Testament of Love by Thomas Usk as printed in 1532 (nearly 150 years after Usk's death) by William Thynne,1 who thought it was a work by Chaucer, exists.2 These two data, reader, must govern everything that follows in this book. Thus, for example, in the absence of any manuscript witness to TL,3 no editor can practice "traditional" editing techniques for the work in any systematic way (see Jellech [1970], p. 9). Expressed more theoretically, in contemporary terms of literary and editorial theory, the gap in the case of TL between the work and the text that conveys the work is extreme to the point of impasse.4 If every work is only imperfectly realized in the text(s) of its conveyance, then TL must stand in Middle English literature as the perfect paradigm of this imperfection (see Greetham [1994], pp. 326 and 352; Machan, pp. 181 and 193). And it is thus paradigmatic not only because of temporal lag but also because of the pervasive corruption in Thynne's edition, acknowledged and lamented by readers for centuries. Thus comparison, the "traditional" editor's most reliable tool, is literally impossible in the case of TL: there are no witnesses to compare. Hence reconstruction from texts imperfectly realizing the work is equally impossible. So Skeat, note well, openly admits that he re-writes Thynne's Renaissance English into his, Skeat's, idea of fourteenth-century English expressly and solely from his own experience and invention.5 The reader should note that the present editor does not presume to do likewise.

Rather, I have decided upon the following, different expedient. In this edition, I print Thynne in a diplomatic transcription (see below, note 8) and, contrapuntally with it, a pointed version of the work representing my efforts at construing it. Thus, I offer the contemporary reader the constant choice, in the absence of any other choice, between the sixteenth-century editor's, Thynne's, construction of Usk and the twentieth-century editor's construction of Usk, mine.6 That this is a compromise we will all readily agree. However, it has one real virtue.

And that is the reader's constant awareness of the track of Thynne's text which I am at pains to punctuate and redirect into my construction of its sense.7 I have transcribed Thynne as accurately as I could8 and then, on the same page, "edited" that transcription so that my reader can both experience Thynne's text and see, in the mise en page, my manipulation of that text. I mean by this expedient to provide readers with a device that will facilitate by comparison and contrast their own construction of Usk's sense even as it instructs them in my editorial theory and practice.

As for my theory and practice, readers should take note of the following. My assumption, after years of reading in editorial theory, is that the work is always deconstructed or, as I would prefer to say, disseminated, in the vehicle(s) of its conveyance (see Greetham [1994], p. 296, and [1996], pp. 32-33). Every text is a pretext for some agenda supererogatory to the work (see Sturges, p. 128). John Dagenais (pp. 16-17) expresses best, to my mind, the particular medieval circumstance of this condition:
The keystone of modern medievalism, the idea that we must have "coherent" texts before we can begin to talk about medieval literature, is absolutely at odds with the object medievalism pretends to treat. Incoherence is a powerful force in the medieval textual world, and a recognition (not suppression) of its power is fundamental to any understanding of that world. In order to understand ethical reading, then, it is imperative that we explore the textual culture that supported it. It is the culture of the handwritten word: manuscript culture.
Readers of the present edition should bear in mind that I consider the incoherence of TL to be not its "fault" but the "fault" (if this is the word for it) of its cultural imbeddedness. Everything I attempt here, from identification of sources to speculations about the state of the manuscript Thynne had at his disposal to my deliberately minimal(-ist) punctuation, I undertake in the understanding that coherence is not the primary aim of my efforts: I am not trying to clear the text up but to clear a space around it in which readers can confront its alterity and, in confronting it, arrive at their own constructions of its meanings (see further Bruns, pp. 55-56).9

A second major consequence of the data with which I began may already have dawned on readers, but I want to make it explicit. I do not know what Thomas Usk wrote in TL. I only know what William Thynne printed. To my knowledge no one knows what Thomas Usk wrote in TL. We can perhaps follow Paul Strohm in inferring what Usk said and might have said from the Middle English and Latin documents still extant from his trial.10 But we have no way, short of a new manuscript suddenly appearing, of knowing what Usk wrote in TL -- and even then we would still face many severe problems, even if it were a holograph (see Strohm [1990], p. 105).

Because I do not know what Usk wrote but only what Thynne printed, my practice in this edition has been, in a very literal sense, conservative, even as, theoretically, my position is radical. My conservatism is evident on two scores. First, I eschew speculative construal -- whether in emendation or punctuation or re-ordering of the text -- to a far greater extent than Skeat or Jellech or Leyerle: many are the times I simply leave TL obscure at the level of the sentence or even allusion, conceding that it suffers from severe corruption.11 At the same time, however, and here is the second score on which my conservatism will be evident, I focus insistently and consistently on the vocabulary of TL; and I gloss liberally throughout (there are approximately 3000 glosses in this edition) because the words, the lexicon, are the only arguably reliable evidence we have for TL, far more reliable than the sentences, paragraphs, or sections -- and this even though they, the words, are often formidable in their resistance to comprehension (the word will, as in "free will," in Book 3 is an excellent example; another, in the same book, is commodité). As difficult as the words sometimes are to understand, I have nevertheless, in the past seven years of work, slowly become convinced that, more frequently than has hitherto been realized, TL is comprehensible on the level of its lexicon, if one patiently works through the options that that lexicon presents. It is often difficult to be certain what a sentence or paragraph in TL means, as many before me have lamented, but it is often more possible than many have appreciated to know what the words of a sentence say (I am fully aware of the literary-theoretical controversiality of this distinction). I have therefore concentrated the greater part of my energies on glossing TL, and I present this edition to my readers in the conviction that my most important contribution to scholarship in it (after the computer transcription of Thynne's edition itself) is the work of glossing I have done.

ii. Usk's Biography

I call the reader's attention next to the biography of Usk and the relationship of the present edition to twentieth-century efforts to reconstruct or, in some cases, construct that biography. The first and most important fact that the reader should note is that I am not undertaking to write, narrate, or historicize the biography of Usk in this edition. This is an edition of TL and not a history of England in the 1380s or a biography of Usk or Brembre or Northampton. Ramona Bressie, Andrew Galloway, Virginia Jellech, Paul Strohm, among others, have all worked on these initiatives, most especially Paul Strohm whose neo-historicist narrations of Usk's life and career have attracted widespread attention in recent years. I, however, am doing something different and, ultimately, far less ambitious. I am trying to provide scholars such as these a working version of TL both more accessible and more reliable than has hitherto been available; while, at the same time, I am also trying to provide a tool that optimally helps all readers of Middle English to follow and appreciate TL. Thus, for example, I include as an Appendix the Middle English text of Usk's "Appeal" because it is materially useful to the reader's immediate construal of TL Book 1, chapters 6-8; but I do not include the Latin texts related to Usk's trial because, although they are of unquestionable importance to understanding Usk's biography and certainly therefore of importance in interpreting TL, they are not as immediately necessary to the reader's construal of TL. I base this opinion on my translation of the Latin text of Usk's "Appeal" as printed in Powell and Trevelyan; I have not, however, consulted this text in manuscript nor have I examined the manuscripts of other possibly relevant documents. At such time as I or other scholars studying those texts discover in them materials that are relevant to TL, I hope we will be able to post the findings to the World Wide Web in links to the hypertext version of TL that I am launching as a complement to this edition (see below, p. 25).

The decisions I have made in this regard and the judgments leading to them have various impulses, availability of time and space being principal ones (the edition needs to be finished and it can be only so long12). But one motive that I wish to make clear, just because I could well be wrong, is my sense, tentative as it may be, that TL is something more than Usk's autobiography. I do not mean for a moment that TL is not autobiographical -- it most assuredly is. But only one book of the three is autobiographical as such, and only part of it (Book 1, chapters 6-8). Thus I have resisted the temptation to overwhelm the edition of TL with the (fascinating) work of constructing Usk's biography. If this proves to have been an error in judgment, corrections to this edition can be made electronically at a speed and with a degree of precision that should compensate in corrigibility for lapses in initial editorial judgment.

With these explanations in place, let me summarize what we currently assume we know of Usk's life. I base these remarks primarily on the researches of Paul Strohm, supplemented by the studies of Bird, Bressie, Galloway, Jellech and Leyerle. Thomas Usk was a scrivener and largely self-taught. A Londoner all his life, his origins were modest -- his father a cap maker (Leyerle [1989], p. 333). He emerges into view in the 1380s as a player in the tortuous political factionalism of the period, what Ruth Bird aptly epitomizes as the "turbulent London of Richard II." Initially he sided with the faction of John of Northampton, a draper (craft guildsman) and mayor of London, but after being arrested and detained for his association with Northampton, he turned against him in 1384 and allied himself with Nicholas Brembre, a wealthy merchant ("often called simply a merchant [mercator], more often a grocer" -- Bird, p. 4) who had defeated Northampton in the 1383 election for mayor of London. While in Brembre's custody, he experienced his change of heart and wrote his Appeal against Northampton and his associates (Appendix 2 below). His new allegiance, which eventually cost him his life, initially brought him under the patronage of the king and the royal faction generally. Between 1384 and 1387, when he appears as under-sheriff of Middlesex, appointed at the request of the King, he wrote TL: "For simplicity, we might simply think of the work as having been composed in 1385-86" (Strohm [1990], pp. 97-98 n18). But his fortunes deteriorated rapidly in late 1387. By November 1387 the Lords Appellant, as they came to be called, were underway with plans that would lead to the notorious Merciless Parliament of 1388. In this Parliament, the King and his faction suffered brutal defeat.13 Among the numerous victims were Brembre (executed February 20, 1388) and Usk. Despised as a traitor, "faux and malveise" (Strohm [1990], p. 87), Usk
was sentenced to be drawn, hanged, and beheaded. The sentence was carried out [on March 4, 1388] in a particularly brutal fashion. After being drawn and hanged, he was cut down while still alive and beheaded with agonizing slowness; records show that it took nearly thirty strokes of the sword. (Leyerle [1989], p. 334)
iii. Overview of The Testament of Love

If TL is autobiographical but also something more, the more consists in actually a wide variety of materials. For purposes of this introduction, I have elected to present these materials in the following outline: Plot, Sources, Imagery, Themes, Ideology. Of these five categories, the easiest to organize and describe is Imagery, the most difficult is Ideology (just because TL is often very confused, indeed frequently corrupt beyond construal).

Plot. The plot of TL in one sense is simple, in another frustrating. The Prologue and three Books comprise almost no action. Love descends into Usk's prison cell (the obvious model is Lady Philosophy coming to Boethius in the Consolation), and there they talk a good, long while. That's the "action." But the talk narrates other actions that are often frustratingly unclear -- those surrounding Usk's arrest and imprisonment, for example -- or represents ideas that sometimes seem to be hopelessly confused -- free will and God's foreknowledge, for example. Below (pp. 44-45) I print a helpful summary, developed by Stephen Medcalf, of the progress of the chapters in each book, and I recommend that readers consult these summaries as they begin each book.

Sources. Usk's sources, the main ones, are fairly easy to identify: Boethius's Consolation, Anselm's De Concordia, and various works of Chaucer and Gower. He may have known Piers Plowman,14 and other contemporary works may be conjectured as well (e.g., The Cloud of Unknowing). But after these sources, the picture becomes obscure. Much about TL suggests that Usk was an autodidact; and I would be surprised if we were to find that he was able to avail himself of a stable library for long (which does not mean, of course, that he did not from time to time frequent libraries). Jellech plausibly adduces Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum Majus for many of her annotations, and it could be that Usk knew the four specula that make up this monumental medieval encyclopedia.15 Clearly, he knew much of the kinds of lore that are found in such encyclopedias. He had, I now think, some access to several major works of St. Augustine (my notes will show extensive allusions and references), though I would hesitate to say that he knew these works firsthand. My suspicion is that he does use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or florilegia for many of his classical and patristic allusions and that these latter are garbled or weird or both because his source is abbreviated or incomplete or fragmented by imperfect recall from memory.16

Imagery. TL's imagery, I should note at the outset, is the principal reason I first became interested in the work. Although much of it is obviously derivative (from Boethius and Chaucer, especially), there is also much that is idiosyncratic in fascinating and, I think, important ways. I wish to pause over this matter a moment to observe that the generalized sense widespread among medievalists that medieval literature is unoriginal -- i.e., topical and conventional -- in the case of Usk finds peculiar exception. If we read in the Prologue to TL the phrase, "to pul up the spere that Alisander the noble might never wagge" (Prologue, lines 62-63), we may legitimately be perplexed at the apparent conflation of Arthur and Alexander: either this is just sloppy, which is always possible, or it represents a kind of idiosyncratic inventiveness17 (the more likely case, I now think) that both provokes and dismays us -- we wonder what it can mean, and we fear it may be garbled to the point of meaninglessness. I should observe that this is hardly an isolated case. I urge the reader to consider, as a sort of charitable minimum, that many of the more impenetrable moments in TL may actually be the result of a quirky and unpolished learning that cobbles words together haphazardly but not without some degree of what we today would call imagination.

Be that as it may, there is much imagery in TL that can be accounted for. The most distinctive and widely documentable image is that of the pearl, the Margarite. Margarite is the beloved whom Usk serves and, at one point, he defines her allegorical significance thus: "Margarite a woman betokeneth grace, lernyng, or wisdom of God, or els holy church" (Book 3, lines 1123-24). This definition both helps and hinders. It helps in that in its simplicity and straightforwardness, it tells us who the Margarite is; it hinders in that, as the reader will soon learn, there are other "meanings" of the Margarite that do not quite square with this global definition (see especially Book 1, chapter 9). My sense of the matter is that the significance of the Margarite is so fluid that Usk himself is finally forced into the rather loose and baggy list of equivalents quoted above -- he has as much difficulty as his reader controlling the sense, containing it, of his principal image.

Nor, in one regard at least, should this surprise us. The image of the pearl is both ancient and vast in its dissemination. The reader will find entire, lengthy articles devoted to it listed in Appendix 1, and I can hardly "cover" the matter in so brief a space as I have at my disposal here. But a few remarks do seem called for. First and foremost, the reader should be aware that Usk's use of the pearl in TL is far from an isolated instance in medieval English literature. The anonymous Pearl and the Marguerite tradition in French and English poetry are just two examples of contemporary dissemination (see Andrew and Waldron's edition for the former; Wimsatt's study for the latter). Next, the reader should note that the image and its allegorical significance have deep and important Scriptural warrant, most notably in Jesus's parable (Matthew 13.46).18 The reader should also pay particular attention to the lapidary tradition which is ubiquitous in medieval Europe and which features the pearl prominently. As examples of the sorts of information provided about the pearl, I have elected to cite in Appendix 1 several texts from different periods and languages; I include some brief commentary on them as well, plus additional bibliography. Note, in particular, when consulting them, the synonym "union" for the pearl -- this word and the idea it conveys go a long way toward explaining the feel of the image of the pearl in TL.19

Before leaving the image of the pearl, it is necessary to comment on one feature of TL intimately connected with the pearl that is also a notorious crux. As the reader will learn at more length later in this introduction and in the annotations to the edition, TL is noteworthy for containing a famous acrostic formed of the initial letters of the chapters of each book. When restored (see below, vi c, for further discussion of this crux), the acrostic reads: MARGARETE OF VIRTW HAVE MERCI ON THIN USK.20 The very progress of the chapters of TL, then, depend on the pearl, the Margarite, so completely does Usk invest his work with the image.

After the Margarite, the most important as it is also the most unusual image in TL is that of the knot. The knot figures centrally and extensively in Book 2 and serves there, as Jellech observes ([1970], pp. 99-100), as an equivalent to Boethius's summum bonum and beatitudo: at one point, God himself is said to be the "knotte of al goodnesse" (Book 2, line 1286). And yet this is hardly all that can be said, especially if one simply lists all the definitions of the knot in TL Book 2, chapters 4 and following. J.A.W. Bennett makes the very important observation (p. 350) that as a scrivener, Usk would have been intimately familiar with the practice of flourishing signatures with knots so as to make them unique and immune to forgery.21 I suspect that Bennett is right and that corroboration can be found in other medieval and early modern artifacts and evidence. Perhaps the most famous knots in Middle English literature are those of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and in that poem, the pentangle (called a knot at lines 630 and 662) is not only a summum bonum of sorts but also a signature -- as is also the green girdle (called a knot at lines 2376 and 2487), at the end of the poem especially, when it is adopted as a heraldic device by the whole court.22

But perhaps more important than sources or analogues or origins is the extraordinary history of the image of the knot. From Horace's Ars poetica23 to the modern French denouement ("unknotting"), the knot has played an enduring and extensive role as an image of the specific complexity of life and man's search for meaning in life, as through literature. John Donne's "subtle knot, which makes us man"24 or "knotty Trinity,"25 or Dante's vision of God, "la forma universal di questo nodo,"26 or Chaucer's Squire's "The knotte why that every tale is toold" (V F 401-08) or the Parson's attempt "To knytte up al this feeste and make an ende" (X [I] 47) are all examples, among a great many,27 of the same intellectual impulse that is at work in TL. The knot and meaning are felt in the human imagination as correlative. Meaning is a knot, it is knotty, and so when Usk comes in Book 2 to speak of the highest meaning, he calls it a knot, the substantative form of what has been knitted.

The Margarite and the knot are the most extensive and fully developed of Usk's images. Other images are important as well. Probably most significant in this latter group is the image of the "testament" itself. We should keep in mind how widespread this idea actually was in medieval and early modern literature: Henryson has his Testament of Cresseid; Villon, his Testament; and Gower, in Confessio Amantis (rather notoriously, given that TL was long thought to be by Chaucer), urges Chaucer to write his "testament of love" in his old age.28 I have not pursued the "sub-genre" of medieval and early modern testaments, but I suspect we would learn a lot about TL from a systematic study of it.29

To look at representative examples of other images in TL, we may note, in Book 1 (line 270), the image of a ship wandering on the ocean (and conflated curiously with a wood full of wild animals -- for the probable connection with Gower's Vox Clamantis, see below, p. 320, the note to 1.258ff.). In Book 2, we find an image of pillars in the sea to suggest strong or, to the contrary, unstable foundations (lines 490ff.). Agricultural imagery is frequent (Book 3, chapter 6, for example), and so are clouds (to suggest ignorance or confusion -- Prologue, line 14). In Book 2 (chapter 4), we find a very elaborate image of the "three lives," which probably owes much to several different old and complex lores (see below the note at Book 2, lines 330ff.). Images from Scripture are not infrequent but usually left un- or underdeveloped.30

Themes. TL is prolific in themes. Indeed, one underlying cause of its incoherence and occasional incomprehensibility is its prolixity in themes. Thus, for example, we find an elaborate defense of women at one point (Book 2, chapter 3); at another, we find an extraordinary excursus into the law, its kinds and functions (Book 3, chapters 1 and 2); a long and often vehement attack on avarice (Book 2, chapter 5); a sermonette on "gentilesse" (Book 2, chapter 2); a discourse on free will and God's foreknowledge (Book 3, throughout, but especially chapters 3, 4, 7, 8, 9). The list goes on. The reader must be perpetually prepared for the twists and turns, the incompletions, of many themes,31 even as some others, the panegyric and defense of women, for example, are relatively shaped and even pointed. The effect of TL at the thematic level resembles a dilettantism of sorts, although, to be fair to Usk, I should temper that judgment by observing that he may have known more than he was capable always of expressing in his prose (this, of course, being a very uncertain matter because of the corruption of Thynne's edition).

Ideology. I have somewhat hesitantly chosen the term "ideology" to account for effects of TL I am insecure about otherwise categorizing. The term should be understood to cover "ideas" in some very basic sense, but I also include under it what I will call, for lack of a better term, sentiments -- I do find the language of TL at times sentimental. Certainly, in a basic sense, Usk's ideology is Christian: he appears throughout the work a pious Christian (and is said to have gone to his death penitently and devoutly [Strohm (1990), p. 89]). But it is difficult, I think, to dispense with Usk's character or the ideology of TL as simply Christian. Obviously, Usk is also attuned to ideas of "courtly love" (Lewis, [1936], pp. 222-31). He is deeply familiar with Boethius's Consolation and often clearly is to be understood as a student of Boethius. According to Jellech, following Conley and others, Usk, especially in his vocabulary and in his mode of argumentation as well, is "scholastic" (p. 98). Like many Christians of the Middle Ages, he feels the attraction and the ambiguity of the uneasy couple, Christianity and Philosophy.32 He feels it acutely in his attempts rationally to reconcile concepts of a good God and an evil world or concepts of predestination and free will, especially since his rationality and his prose are not always concordant (see especially Book 3).

Then, too, Usk was, in some sense, a politician, and as far as we can see, a failed one. His disappointments and disillusionments account for many of his ideas and expressions, though by no means all of them (Book 2 especially exceeds such an explanation). He ended up on the wrong side twice, in effect: with Northampton whom he subsequently turned against, and then with Brembre and the king when the Merciless Parliament turned against them. His complaints about his treatment at the hands of powerful individuals in the government of the 1380s sometimes elicit keen sympathy, for it seems clear, to me at least, that he had not grasped either the game he was playing or the players he was playing with. It is difficult to disagree with Paul Strohm: "A decent and epistemologically humble stab at comprehension, rather than judgment, is what we can offer poor Usk now" ([1992], p. 160). But a "decent and epistemologically humble stab at comprehension," to my mind, has to admit of some room for a lingering sense of unease about the intelligence of a man so distraught if not also distracted (see further, Galloway, p. 305).

My case could be illustrated with the example of Book 3's attempt at the problem of free will and God's foreknowledge, but in some ways that would be unfair -- greater minds than Usk's have been defeated by this problem. Let me rather cite his curious quasi-feminism (Book 2, chapter 3). Here I am less interested in sources or even context than I am in sentiment. Usk celebrates and defends women in this longish passage in ways that are thoroughly traditional and patriarchal, seeming at times to want to say something about women as unique as it is important (for him), and yet all the while oblivious, as far as I can tell, to the massive institutionality underwriting what he says. It is perhaps not quite sentimentality, but it is an expression of emotion -- a kind of "pitee," perhaps33 -- that is distracted from its bearer as much as it is from its bearer's desperate situation.

iv. Usk and His Contemporaries

Recent years have witnessed a stark increase in scholarly interest in this issue. In particular, numerous Langland scholars have revisited the question of Usk's first-hand knowledge of Piers Plowman C, which used to be assumed axiomatically (Donaldson, The C-Text, p. 19, following Devlin, "The Date of the C-Version"), and some have argued against such knowledge while others, just as vigorously, are arguing for it. John Bowers is a prominent Langland scholar of the former persuasion; Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, one of the latter.34At this time, in my own researches, having read both Bowers ("Testing") and Kerby-Fulton and Justice ("Langlandian Reading Circles"), as well as others, I am of Bowers' persuasion -- I doubt Usk knew Piers C at all and, even if he did, he would not, as I argue below, have cared to show it. This much said, however, I should acknowledge that this is a complex matter in need of much more elaborate treatment than I can afford it here. But I must, all the same, register my opinions and tentative conclusions if only to help users of this edition get their bearings in the matter.

In her 1970 thesis-edition of TL (pp. 77-81), Virginia Jellech argues that
all of the passages cited by Skeat as indications that Usk had read Piers Plowman come under the category of the anonymous and conventional dicactic [sic] literature of the period or are attributable to St. Anselm. (p. 81)
At first, I was hesitant to accept Jellech's conclusion, seeing it as part of her general dissatisfaction with Skeat's work, which she is on occasion rather mordant in expressing (see below the note at Book 1, line 771). However, after long and systematic comparison of Usk's citations of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde with the proposed citations of Piers, I have come to agree with Jellech's position. The evidence for Usk's familiarity with Piers is questionable when compared with the evidence for his familiarity with Troilus and Criseyde. So far I have found nothing in TL proposed as an allusion to Piers as precise or as obvious as the allusions to Troilus and Criseyde in the following examples (of which there are some twenty more in the text):
     Book 1, line 6: Certes, her absence is to me an hell. Compare Troilus and Criseyde 5.1396: "For though to me youre absence is an helle."
     Book 1, lines 375-76: O where haste thou be so longe commensal that hast so mykel eeten of the potages of foryetfulnesse. Compare the identical phrasing in Troilus and Criseyde 4.496-97:
"O, where hastow be hid so longe in muwe,
That kanst so wel and formerly arguwe?"
Book 1, lines 443-44: For this is sothe: betwixe two thynges lyche, ofte dyversité is required. See Troilus and Criseyde 3.404-06:
"Departe it so, for wyde-wher is wist
How that ther is diversite requered
Bytwixen thynges like, as I have lered."
Book 1, lines 903-06: What, trowest thou every ideot wotte the menynge and the privy entent of these thynges? They wene, forsothe, that suche accorde may not be, but the rose of maydenhede be plucked. Do waye, do waye. They knowe nothyng of this; for consente of two hertes alone maketh the fastenynge of the knotte. Compare Troilus and Criseyde 2.890-94 (emphasis added):
"But wene ye that every wrecche woot
The parfit blisse of love? Why, nay, iwys!
They wenen all be love, if oon be hoot.
Do wey, do wey, they woot no thyng of this!"
These and many other passages show incontrovertible intimacy with Troilus and Criseyde,35 almost as if Chaucer's poetry were a "second language" for Usk, and I hesitate to accord much credence to the Piers C argument until and unless similar intimacy with Piers C can be shown.36 My own reading to date suggests anything but such intimacy. Of the 33 total references Skeat lists, for example, nine are actually to the notes in his edition of Piers, seven are mere "cf."s or suggestions to compare TL and Piers, and the remainder are, with a few exceptions, instances where one can easily argue for the likelihood of a common source (e.g., TL, Book 2, line 618, and Piers C.7.225).

Thus, like Professor Bowers, I also incline to agree with Anne Hudson, in her comments on TL and Piers in her study, "The Legacy of Piers Plowman" that "some of the parallels produced seem unconvincing" (p. 253). Even she, though, goes on to write that "the echoes of the Tree of Charity are more persuasive." They may indeed seem so at first, but, as it turns out, Skeat's case may be weakest just here. There is abundant evidence, as Jellech suggests and my own researches also confirm now, that Usk may have developed his image from other sources, sources much more proximate, including possibly St. Anselm's De Concordia, which we know Usk was translating throughout large sections of Book 3 (see my notes below to Book 3, lines 576-77 and lines 806-07, especially, for more on this matter). I agree with Jellech (pp. 79-80) and Bowers ("Testing," typescript, p. 22) that a careful comparison of the tree images in TL and Piers shows not only that there are few similarities between them but indeed also radical differences.37

Professor Bowers shows in his forthcoming study that the effect of such conclusions, if they hold, will have crucial ramifications for the question of using TL as a terminus ante quem for the C-text of Piers. In conclusion, I would observe, for my part, that even if it were to turn out that Usk was aware of Piers, he perhaps would have had cause to mute any connection with it -- where Usk stood politically, Piers was probably, as we would say today, "incorrect." This matter needs more careful attention, naturally, but I can easily imagine the case that Usk would have felt uncomfortable through any association with Langland's politics (see also Bowers, "Testing," typescript, p. 29); whereas, as Strohm has shown ([1989], p. 106), Usk would have wanted very much to associate himself with Chaucer and Chaucer's politics. It should be observed, too, that this argument also cuts the other way: Langland may have eschewed any reference to or implication in TL because involvement would have been for him as well politically inexpedient, especially after Usk's brutal execution.38

v. Importance of The Testament of Love

The importance of TL in English literary history can and should be measured from a variety of perspectives. Narrowly, it tells us something about politics and society in England in the 1380s. Also it records early, perhaps first, mentions of major contemporary works, especially Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. More broadly viewed, it is perforce a key document in the history of the development of English prose. And it is equally an important document in our assessment of the kinds of learning or scholarship that were attainable in the 1370s and 1380s in England. (By contrast with Usk, Chaucer is not only more learned but also more conscious of what it means to be learned -- more "disenchanted," in H. Marshall Leicester's sense of the term [pp. 26-27, especially]). More broadly still, TL is witness to something like a newly emerging idea of the relationship between self, society, and writing that we experience repeatedly in other monuments of fourteenth-century English culture (Strohm [1990], [1992]; Galloway).

vi. Guide to this Edition

Here I offer the reader a fuller guide to this edition as a tool. I want to emphasize that this edition is designed for the full range of students of Middle English culture -- hence this elaboration.

The Transcription. In this edition I undertake a diplomatic transcription:
The diplomatic transcript . . . dispenses with any attempt at such scrupulous fidelity to appearance, and concentrates primarily on the textual content of the original, reproducing the exact spelling, punctuation, and capitalization (usually) of the diploma (the document), but transcribing the text into a different type-face, with different lineation (except in verse, of course) and different type-sizes. (Greetham [1994], p. 350)
My reason for approaching TL in this way is simple. We have only one text -- we need a faithful transcription of it into modern typography (electronic and print alike). That one text is severely corrupt, so corrupt that emendation as such would have to be so global as to arouse nothing but controversy (see Medcalf [1989], p. 188). Hence I emend sparingly and only when I feel the weight of probability is preponderant that I will help matters by doing so. I am not suffering from what E. Talbot Donaldson called the "editorial death-wish" (quoted in Greetham [1994], p. 296), "the desire to pretend that one's handiwork as editor is invisible" -- to the contrary, my handiwork is evident everywhere in the glosses and in my re-presentation of the text. And yet, this is not a translation -- it is an edition, if an edition only loosely speaking. It is a diplomatic transcription, with my deliberately minimal(-ist) construal of the work running contrapuntally to the transcription, supplemented by glosses and a confessed minimum of annotation. Thus it aspires to be, approximately, an editio in usum scholarium.

Transcription Conventions. Folio numbers in Thynne are marked in the following manner: <337rb><337va>, to be read thus: here column b of folium 337 recto concludes and column a of folium 337 verso begins. Abbreviations are expanded and marked by italics. Virgules are included along with the other minimal punctuation that Thynne marks. Hyphenation is silently closed up, as are unmarked columnar spillovers. I have not reproduced Thynne's spacing.

How to Read this Edition. As an editio in usum scholarium this is not the definitive, final, once-and-for-all version of TL. It is a device for scholars and students to construct their own sense of TL from the accumulated information, recognizing always that what they will have as a result is a construct -- i.e., something subject constantly to revision. To read the text, then, under these constraints, I would hope that the reader would proceed as follows. Start with Thynne. Read his text with the help of the glosses and the notes, experimenting with punctuation options as these emerge principally from the lexicon (do not ignore the virgules -- they are on occasion helpful39). Use my pointing of the text only as an aid to construal, always remembering that it is conjectural and deliberately minimal(-ist). In the case of Book 1, chapters 6-8 and Book 3, chapters 3 and following, the material in Appendices 2 and 3 will help but can not be treated as substitutes for the text of TL or as furloughs from having to think about the text. And thinking about TL can, as Medcalf (1989) has shown, have its rewards.

Glosses and Glossary. The reader will notice not only that there are a lot of glosses, but also that there is considerable repetition. The reason for this is simple. Many are the second and subsequent instances of a term that I gloss not because I doubt the reader's memory but because I am trying to help the reader in this or that passage to understand the passage in its own particular recalcitrances. The reader may well remember what this or that word meant in other contexts but I want to help the reader understand the whole passage in which that word is met again. The Glossary makes no pretensions to exhaustiveness; rather it includes only those words which may be difficult, but which have not always been glossed. Hence if I have failed to repeat a gloss when it is needed, the reader can have recourse to the Glossary. If the hard word appears only a few times in the text and is always glossed, it will not appear in the glossary.

Annotations. I have freely borrowed from Jellech, Leyerle, Schaar, and Skeat in the annotations where their work in my judgment clearly will help the reader of TL.

My own contributions to the annotations may be classified as follows. First and foremost, where I think I can, I clarify the sense of passages corrupt or otherwise likely to confuse the reader -- bear in mind, though, as I have already said, that I eschew conjectural construal in many cases of corruption because of the peculiar nature of TL's transmission. Next, I offer many more references to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde than do my predecessors, believing that I have identified many hitherto undetected echoes. I also include references to Boethius's Consolation, though this matter is vexed. I disagree with Skeat who finds Boethius and/or Chaucer's Boece practically everywhere in TL, but I also disagree with Jellech who dismisses Skeat's opinion. My own position most closely resembles that of the editors of Boece for the Riverside Chaucer:

Our independent examination of Usk convinces us that he did use Boece, although Skeat exaggerates the extent of that use; we disagree with Virginia Jellech's conclusion . . . that he used only Jean de Meun.40

Hence the reader will notice that often in my annotations, where Boethius is involved, I include reference to the Riverside Chaucer edition of Boece as a help toward exploring Usk's use of Chaucer's translation; but I make no effort to tabulate every reference to the Consolation or the Boece.

Where the historical context of TL is concerned, I have adopted two approaches. On the one hand, I depend on Paul Strohm's researches since it seems generally agreed that his constructions of the available evidence are the best we currently have. On the other, I include in an Appendix the Middle English text that comes down to us on the trial of Usk, "The Appeal." My recommendation to the reader is to read
TL Book 1, chapters 6-8 first, then the Appendix; then re-read Book 1, chapters 6-8 with the Appendix in mind and to hand. A student of Usk in the 1380s will want to consult Strohm's studies at length for a fully documented and nuanced account of the matter.

The Problem of the Broken Sequence of Book 3. In section iii c (Imagery), I called attention to the famous acrostic in TL (MARGARETE OF VIRTW HAVE MERCI ON THIN USK) and to the crux surrounding it. That crux involves the order or sequence of chapters in Thynne's edition. For efficiency's sake, it will be best initially to quote the main part of Skeat's explanation ([1897], pp. xix-xx):
. . . the initial letters of the various chapters were certainly intended to form an acrostic.
Unfortunately, Thynne did not perceive this design, and has certainly begun some of the chapters either with the wrong letter or at a wrong place. The sense shews that the first letter of Book I. ch. viii. should be E, not O . . . and, with this correction, the initial letters of the First Book yield the words -- MARGARETE OF. In Book II, Thynne begins Chapters XI and XII at wrong places, viz. with the word "Certayn" . . . [line 1048] and the word "Trewly". . . [below, Book 2, line 1127]. He thus produces the words -- VIRTW HAVE MCTRCI. It is obvious that the last word ought to be MERCI, which can be obtained by beginning
Chapter XI with the word "Every," which suits the sense quite as well. For the chapters of Book III, we are again dependent on Thynne. If we accept his arrangement as it stands, the letters yielded are -- ON THSKNVI; and the three books combined give us the sentence: -- MARGARETE: OF VIRTW, HAVE MERCI ON THSKNVI. Here "Margarete of virtw" means "Margaret endued with divine virtue"; and the author appeals either to the Grace of God, or to the Church. The last word ought to give us the author's name; but in that case the letters require rearrangement before the riddle can be read with certainty. After advancing so far towards the solution of the mystery, I was here landed in a difficulty which I was unable to solve. But Mr. H. Bradley, by a happy inspiration, hit upon the idea that the text might have suffered dislocation; and was soon in a position to prove that no less than six leaves of the MS. must have been out of place, to the great detriment of the sense and confusion of the argument. He very happily restored the right order, and most obligingly communicated to me the result. I at once cancelled the latter part of the treatise . . . and reprinted this portion in the right order, according to the sense. With this correction, the unmeaning THSKNVI is resolved into the two words THIN USK, i.e. "thine Usk". . . .
One crucial modification is immediately necessary here. Jellech ([1970], pp. 12-14) explains it most efficiently:
Skeat made two different sets of changes in the order of the text in Thynne. The first set of changes was that recommended by Bradley in working out the acrostic. In them Skeat merely placed the parts of the latter half of the third book so as to make the parts conform to the demands of the acrostic. In addition, however, Skeat made a second set of changes. He interchanged portions of Chapters 5 and 6 of Book III to conform to his notion of the development of Usk's argument. That is, I assume this to be the case, for he makes no note or mention of such change in his edition. I find this interchange of Chapters 5 and 6 to be wholly unjustified and in my text they appear just as they do in Thynne. The gist of the matter is Usk's use of the metaphor of the tree of bliss, which is grounded in free choice and grows in the fruit of joy. As Miss Bressie has pointed out, the order in Thynne (after the chapters have been arranged in accordance with the acrostic) is logical: first the ground, then the spire, and finally the fruiting branches. Skeat would reverse the spire and the ground . . . .
Readers will find, therefore, that, to be completely accurate, I refer to the Bradley-Skeat order, as modified by Bressie (see her explanation, quoted on the next page). My edition, in offering the Bradley-Skeat order as modified by Bressie, also follows Jellech and Leyerle. Finally, I have provided the readers of my edition the elements necessary to test for themselves this reconstruction of the sequence of Book 3 -- i.e., both texts in parallel.

Having adopted the Bradley-Skeat order, as modified by Bressie, for Book 3, I proceed to explain my decision. The solution I offer here to the question of the order or arrangement of Book 3 depends mainly on Ramona Bressie's arguments, partly on Paul Strohm's, and partly on the general, diffuse sense of several scholars who recently have recorded Lancastrian behavior following the deposition of Richard II. My position can best be grasped by acknowledging the seeming tautology that if we can re-order Book 3 to accord with the acrostic, then it must have been at one time ordered to accord with the acrostic: that is, there was once something visible there that became invisible through the disordering of the Book's chapters.

I propose then, following Bressie and Strohm, that the part of the manuscript containing Book 3 was deliberately mutilated in order to erase the name of Usk and any possible allusion to Richard II; this mutilation was a Lancastrian agenda, like the obliteration of Richard's portrait from Bodley MS 581 (Bennett [1992], p. 16); and its motive was the new regime's systematic desire to legitimate itself (Hanawalt, p. xiii). Hence also the preservation of at least the one manuscript, rather than its total obliteration, since the new king, the usurper, might someday avail himself of a treatise in support of royalty against unruly Londoners just as usefully and conveniently as his deposed predecessor could have done.41 The treatise and its arguments were worth preserving, in other words, if only as one of many possible hedges against future conflict with Londoners (and if thus in one copy only), but minus any references to Usk and Richard.

Key to my arguments are Bressie's conclusions which I, therefore, feel obliged to quote here at considerable length, with emphasis added to crucial phrases (p. 28):
It may be that the problem of Margarite may be solved through the text of the TL, for there is a chance that it is not complete, and that the missing portion contains definite information on the King and Margarite. I have tried in vain to reconstruct the quires of the manuscript on the assumption that it is complete. Skeat's reconstruction in his edition (pp. is certainly wrong, for by actually counting the lines in Thynne's edition I find that Skeat assigned to the "first 10 quires" what is contained in 5, 556 lines of the Thynne text, while the rest of the text, amounting to 1, 374 lines in Thynne, Skeat assigns to one quire and 2 folios of another, or to 10 folios in all. The first 10 quires would contain 80 folios in all. But the ration of 10 to 80 is not the ratio of 1, 374 to 5, 556. Also Skeat's scheme for the arrangement of the manuscript is wrong, for it accounts for the disarrangement of seven parts, which he numbered as they are printed in Thynne, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. These, he believed, took in the manuscript in order 5, 3, 6, 2, 4, 1, 7. According to this scheme, 6 and 2 make up Thynne's chap. v which is Skeat's chap. vi, while 3 is Thynne's chap. vi which is Skeat's chap. v. But Thynne's order is correct in these two chapters, and Skeat's is wrong, because while chap. v in Skeat discusses the trunk of the tree, chap. vi discusses the ground in which the tree grows, although logically and by indications in the text such as the summary of the allegory (p. 133, II. 10ff.), "First the ground, etc.; and the stocke, etc.," the order should be as in Thynne, i.e., the chapter on the ground first and then the chapter on the tree. With this error corrected Skeat's seven parts take the order 5, 6, 2, 3, 4, 1, 7, indicating that there are really only four parts, viz., 5 and 6; 2, 3, and 4; 1; and 7. This shows that the quire was turned inside out and reversed. But the apparent halves will not match up evenly. The first part contains 512 lines, the second 494 lines, the third 378, and the fourth 80 lines, of the Thynne text, and these will not balance unless we assume that part of the text is missing. There seems to be some ground for such an assumption in two facts: (1) that of the three books of the TL, the third alone lacks a lyrical chapter after the Prologue; and (2) that in II, iv, 121, Love says: "To the gracious king art thou mikel holden of whos grace and goodnesse somtyme hereafter I thinke thee enforme, whan I shew the ground whereas moral virtue groweth"; yet when in Book III Love discusses the ground wherein moral virtue groweth, there is nothing about the King, nor is there such a passage, to the best of my knowledge, in the whole of the TL. If it ever existed, it may have been a poem, and a poem would be more likely to be torn out entire than any one of the prose chapters. Such a poem might possibly contain a full explanation of who Margarite is; so would the treatise on Margarite which, in II, i, 125-28, Usk proposed to write.
Note, especially, that my argument does not hinge on Bressie's speculation about a poem. Whether or not there was a poem is less relevant than the possibility that there was some allusion to Richard II: such an allusion would have led to a section of the manuscript being "torn out entire." We may add to Bressie's conclusion Strohm's regarding the effacement of Usk from the records of Northampton's trial ([1992], p. 157):
Apparent as we move through these three documents is a progressive effacement of Usk's role, a process in which our would-be appellant becomes a mere witness and finally ends up as a minor participant, glancingly mentioned, far short of eligibility to stand with Northampton and his confederates in the dock there at the Tower in September 1384, so small a fish that he was not even physically present in the room!
It will be evident now why I start with the seeming tautology: in the hypothesis that I offer, there must have been something there in the first place to mutilate, something offending that some prejudiced reader/user wished to remove -- namely, references or allusions to Usk and Richard II repugnant to a Lancastrian;42 and the easiest means of removal would have been mangling the quire and re-inserting it in the manuscript.43 Hence, as well, an explanation of Thynne's imprint: Thynne and his printer simply printed what they had in hand; they are not responsible for the mangling -- Thynne's reverence for Chaucer would not have countenanced that anyway; neither Thynne or any of the sixteenth-century readers, I hypothesize, noticed the acrostic nor therefore did they bother with the arrangement of the chapters of Book 3. Of this matter, Thynne is innocent, if also therefore ignorant.44

In conclusion, I would like to say that if a better, demonstrably more complete and accurate account of the disordering of Book 3 of TL should be proposed, I will be among the first to embrace it. I am not so enamored of the arguments above as to cling to them unreasonably. But I would like to say, after years of struggling with this problem, that the arguments I have put forth do seem to me at least to be credible and at best "to save the appearances" of such evidence as we have.

Hypertext Version. The entire edition exists also in electronic form. Out of this electronic archive, I have created a tagged version of Thynne's edition. This tagged version has been launched on the World Wide Web, and it will eventually be supplemented by the glosses and the annotations (expanded). The hypertext version on the WWW will, of course, be accessible via the Internet to all users in the world interested in TL; and I invite them to post to me their additions, suggestions, desiderata, corrigenda, and complaints ( I will for several years to come regularly update the project and I expect to include, with full acknowledgment, any contributions received from the scholarly community.

Go To Thomas Usk, The Testament of Love, Summary

Go To Thomas Usk, The Testament of Love, Prologue

Select Bibliography (with Annotations)

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