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Thomas Usk, The Testament of Love: Prologue


1 eeres, ears; sprad, spread; swalowen, swallow.

2 queynt knyttyng coloures, strange (curious) complex (intricate) rhetorical figures.

3 hede, heed; els, else; Sothely, Truly.

4 myned, undermined; graffed in, dug down (lit., dug a grave).

5 endytyng, writing (composition); boystous, plain.

6 herer, hearer; inrest, innermost.

7 spring, grow.

8 semelych colours, decorous rhetoric; dolven, cultivated.

9 catchers, auditors; hent sentence, grasp meaning.

10 peynten, paint; vers, special, distinct modes of communication (such as verse), ornate composition.

11 coles, charcoal; leude, lay, uneducated.

12 thilke, that same; purtreyture, portraiture; as hem thynketh, as it seems to them.

13 yeven, gives; hem, them; for the first leudenesse, on account of the former lack of skill; sothly, truly; leude, uncultured.

14 clowdy, obscure, confused; to prayse, to be praised.

14-15 leude leudnesse commendeth, the uneducated commend uncultured [matters].

15 Eke, Also; yeve, give.

16 endyte, compose.

17 fulfylde, accomplished; speken, speak.

18 poysye mater, poetry.

19 heryng, hearing.

20 unneth, scarcely; connen, know how to; knowlegynge, comprehension of.

21 conne jumpere, know how to assemble; chatereth, chatters.

22 stretche, stretch.

23 privy, most peculiar; bosten, boast.

24 endyten, compose.

25 queynt, unfamiliar.

26 kyndely, natural; lerneden, learned.

27 dames, mothers'.

28 thankeworthy, praiseworthy; travaile, labor.

29 exciten, excite; thilke, those same.

30 perpetual, ever-available.

31 eschewe, avoid; catche after as, catch accordingly as.

32 Certes, Certainly.

34 mowen, may; werkyng, function; reasonable, [a] reasonable [person].

35 hem, them.

36 sothe, truth; entent disceyvable, intent to deceive.

37 inchaungeable, constant.

38 meane, means.

39 thylke, those same.

40 understonding, comprehensible; unsene privytees, unseen secrets.

42 sothe, truth.

44 tune, sense: harmonious totality of composition (see note).

46 lykyng, desire (affinity).

47 kyndely, natural.

48 me, men (one).

49 Herfore, Therefore; lyvely studye, animated and committed scholarship.

51 swetande travayle, sweating labor; leften of, bequeathed the knowledge of.

52 herty lust, healthy desire.

53 kyndely, natural; busy, intensive.

54 passed, past.

56 arn, are.

58 sterynge, guidance.

59 for wantynge of, i.e., lack of obtaining [the object] of; cleped, called.

60 thylke, that one.

61 rende out the swerde of Hercules handes, rip the sword from Hercules' hands.

62 Hercules Gades, the pillars of Hercules at Cadiz.

63 spere that, spear that; wagge, wield (lit., wage).

64 mayster, master.

67 Certes, Certainly; wote, know; jape, jest.

69 els, else; sythen, since; grettest, greatest; han had, have had.

70 clene toforne, thoroughly before and in front of; sythes, scythes, mowers.

71 connyng, intelligence; mowen, mowed; rekes, rakes, piles of hay; plentyes, plenties; fede, feed.

73 hayn, hatred; repers, reapers.

74 hyer, hire; sheves, sheaves; shockes, stacks.

75 ensample, example; crommes, crumbs; fullyn, fill; tho, those.

76 borde, table.

77 almoygner, almsman, who distributes the alms of another; remyssayles, leftovers; trenchours, brown-bread, in thick slices, serving as plates for food.

78 relyef, the rest (possibly,"succeeding dishes"); bere carry; almesse, those deserving of alms; leve, permission; husbande, cultivator.

79 connynge, knowledge.

80 glene, glean; shedynge, leavings.

81 by privytyes, privately, by myself; shocke, stacked sheaves of grain.

81-82 A slye . . . owne helpe, a servant expedient in helping himself.

83 more hardyer, more difficult; sechers, seekers; lyghter in, easier for.

84 passyng, surpassing, i.e., inimitably excellent; fresshed, refreshed.

86 Utterly, Absolutely; dremes, dreams; japes, jests; hogges, hogs; lyfelyche meate, living food.

87 me betiden, befell me; kyth, native land.

88 wether, weather; boystous, rough.

89 kynde, nature; wawes, waves; occian see, ocean.

90 unkyndely, unnaturally; commune, universal, i.e., all its banks (so that it was about to destroy all the earth); spyl, destroy.


As readers will have already surmised from the Introduction to the edition as a whole, annotating TL is no easy task. This is a matter of great concern to me. There are about 800 annotations in the edition. On the one hand, we can argue that, of course, there should be no upper limit to the explanatory matter offered. On the other hand, however, realistically speaking, there has to be some limit. Knowing that practically there is an upper limit, I have endeavored to include information, wherever it is needed, that will get the reader started: from simple definitions to core bibliography and across a wide spectrum of information between, I have followed the guiding principle of helping readers know enough to decide when they need to know more.

   All annotations originating with me are unmarked. All material originating with other editors and/or scholars is marked typically by their surnames (Skeat's surname refers, unless otherwise indicated, to his 1897 edition of TL). Regarding the work of Jellech, Leyerle, and Skeat, I should observe that material originating with them usually refers to their notes on a particular word, phrase, or moment in TL within the sequence of their textual notes. I am particularly grateful to Schaar for his closely reasoned emendations of corrupt passages.
   Of Skeat's annotations, I have retained generally those that provide source and background information and have omitted those that are primarily his speculations. With the work of Jellech, Leyerle, and Schaar, I have exercised my judgment always on the principle of helping the reader get started.

Abbreviations: Boece: Chaucer's translation of the Consolation of Philosophy; BD: Book of the Duchess; CA: Confessio Amantis; CT: Canterbury Tales; Conc.: De Concordia Praescientiae et Praedestinationis et Gratiae Dei cum Libero Arbitrio; Conf.: Confessions; Cons.: Consolation of Philosophy; EETS: Early English Text Society (o.s., Original Series and e.s., Extra Series); HF: House of Fame; MED: Middle English Dictionary; N&Q: Notes and Queries; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; PPl: Piers Plowman; PL: Patrologia Latina; Purg.: Purgatorio; T&C: Troilus and Criseyde; Th: Thynne; TL: The Testament of Love


2 jestes. According to Leyerle, jestes means "a form of composition distinct from that     in ryme or prose" (p. 219).

by queynt knyttyng coloures. Skeat glosses as "curious fine phrases, that knit or join the words or verses together" (p. 451). The word knytting anticipates or even prefigures an entire complex of imagery of knots in TL; see the Introduction iii c (pp. 8-13) and below, Book 2, lines 98ff.

3-6 The reader should note the general similarity between Usk's situation and that of Boethius at the beginning of Cons. Usk makes extensive use of that work and of Chaucer's translation of it as well.

6 inrest. Skeat emends to in[ne]rest, thereby displacing one neologism with another.

20 whiche. Skeat emends to [of] whiche.

31 necessaryes to catche. Skeat: "to lay hold of necessary ideas. Throughout this treatise, we frequently find the verb placed after the substantive which it governs, or relegated to the end of the clause or sentence" (p. 451).

32 Certes, the soveraynst. Skeat emends to Certes, [perfeccion is] the soveraynest. The syntax of the sentence is certainly contorted, but emendation may not be necessary. The sense is: "Certainly, reasonable creatures have, or should have, the most sovereign thing of desire and the greatest, [that is], the full appetite of their perfection." For the general argument, see Boece, 3. pr. 10 and 11, where superlative fulfillment is represented by suffisaunce, as, e.g., in 3. pr. 11, line 25 (pp. 451-52).

39 be. Usk typically has be for by. Normally I will gloss this at the foot of the page, but not always.

42 knowlegynge sothe. Skeat emends to knowleginge [of] sothe, followed by Leyerle.

43-45 Lo, David sayth . . . makynge. Skeat, Schaar, Jellech, and Leyerle comment on the obscurity of this passage. Skeat makes no change in the text, but calls it hopelessly corrupt. He sees a possible reference to Ps. cxxxix. 14 (p. 452). But Jellech argues against that reference citing instead Psalm 91.4: Quia delectasti me, Domine, in factura, which Usk translates literally: The explanation which Usk provides [Jellech continues] would also seem to be a literal translation of some now lost commentary, but the English meaning is quite obscure. In the context of the first three verses of the psalm, the word tune would not be impossible; these are: Bonum est confiteri Domino, et psallere nomine tuo, Altissime. / Ad annuntiandum mane misericordiam tuam, et veritatem tuam per noctem. / In decachordo psalterio, eum cantico in cithara [It is good to give praise to the Lord: and to sing to thy name, O most High. To shew forth thy mercy in the morning, and thy truth in the night: Upon an instrument of ten strings, upon the psaltery: with a canticle upon the harp]. According to the OED, tune, from L. tonus, began to be differentiated from "tone" in the fourteenth century, and usually refers to the human voice. Still, the passage remains only partially intelligible and no reasonable emendation has suggested itself to me, so the passage has been left unchanged." (p. 132 ) Jellech's hunch is probably a good one, except for the assumption that the commentary is "lost." I suspect it is the commentary of St. Augustine, who writes, e.g., (Expositions 4, p. 313) that . . . God teacheth us no other hymn but that of faith, hope, and charity: that our faith may be firm in Himself, as long as we do not see Him, believing in Him Whom we do not see, that we may rejoice when we see Him . . . Augustine continues with this emphasis on the invisibility of God and the need for faith as the Christian waits for the day when s/he will see God: ". . . endure the present, hope for the future, love Whom he seeth not, that he may embrace Him when he seeth Him" (Expositions 4, p. 314). Usk, then, is probably recalling from memory (my speculation) a well-known interpretation of Psalm 91, which is also consonant with the famous Pauline dictum, "for the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1.20). Hence, my gloss for tune, "harmonious totality of composition," attempts to capture the sense of the whole creation as the song-like communication ("eum cantico in cithara") that brings us "the ful knowlegynge sothe." I think then, in sum, that although the English is corrupt, the sense is recuperable, and therefore I have not emended: the gist of the passage is that the harmonious totality of the creation intimates for us the "unsene privytees" of God.

44 tune, how God hath lent. Schaar would emend to: time, thou god hast sent.

45 Wherof Aristotle. Skeat adduces De Animalibus 1.5. In this quite famous passage, Aristotle says, at one point, "For even in the study of animals unattractive to the senses, the nature that fashioned them offers immeasurable pleasures . . . to those who can learn the causes and are naturally lovers of wisdom" (pp. 17-18).

47 consydred. The passage implies for Skeat that, "the forms of natural things and their creation being considered, men should have a great natural love to the Workman that made them" (p. 452). Skeat imagines the term to be head of the next clause: Considred, forsoth, the formes. . . . But the formes . . . and the shap is simply an appositional phrase, the antecedent of hem (line 48). Such constructions are typical of Usk's prose; we can think of them as loose ablative absolutes; Leyerle (p. 316) also observes this phenomenon.

48 me. In Middle English me is commonly written for men. Skeat labels it "the unemphatic form of man, in the impersonal sense of `one' or `people' . . . . Strict grammar requires the form him for hem . . . as me is properly singular; but the use of hem is natural enough in this passage, as me really signifies created beings in general" (p. 452).

51 of causes the propertyes. Skeat emends to of causes [of] the propertees. But the repetition of of is unnecessary. The sense is that philosophers have left to us causes of the properties in the nature of things, where of causes is a kind of affixation. The source of the idea may be Boece, I. m. 2. 15ff., where Philosophy describes the healthy Boethius as one who not only appreciated the things of nature but also "was wont to seken the causes." The greatest expression of this idea in the Latin tradition is probably Virgil's: "Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas" (Georgics 2.490): "Happy is he who can discern the causes of things" (my translation). Leyerle speculates that the phrase of causes the propertyes in natures of thynges is a reference to De Proprietatibus Rerum, by Bartholomaeus Anglicus (p. 222).

56-57 Stixe, the foule pytte of helle. See T&C 4.1540. Jellech notes that Spenser pointed out ["Chaucer's Hell, A Study in Medieval Convention," Speculum 2 (1927), p. 181], that Chaucer's reference to Styx as the "pit of hell" is used as the part for the whole, and that there are many medieval references to hell pit (p. 134).

58-59 the pryme causes of sterynge . . . for wantynge of desyre. Jellech observes: "The primary causes governing the activity of loving, along with the suffering and unhappiness brought about by lack of fulfillment of the lover's desire. Usk generally uses the term `steer' for `control' or `govern'" (p. 134).

61ff. Leyerle (pp. 222-24) proposes a source in Trevisa's translation of Higden's Polychronicon (which Usk certainly knew) and concludes: "wresting the sword from the hands of Hercules is a metaphor for direct use of texts written by auctours, that is by authoritative writers of the past" (p. 224).

62 Gades a myle. Gades marks the pillars of Hercules, located by medieval geographers at Cadiz. Skeat suggests that the reference may come from Guido delle Colonne (p. 452).

62-63 he had power . . . might never wagge. Skeat notes: "There seems to be some confusion here. It was King Arthur who drew the magic sword out of the stone . . . Alexander's task was to untie the Gordian knot" (p. 452). Jellech points out, however, that "neither the medieval English versions of the Alexander story nor the French Roman de Alexander contains the episode of the cutting of the Gordian knot. Cary, The Medieval Alexander . . . does not list the incident. What anecdote of Alexander Usk had in mind remains unexplained. Usk's point is that Alexander, or some hero, was unable to lift the spear: Arthur did succeed in withdrawing the sword from the rock" (p. 135).

64-66 And that . . . conquere? Skeat paraphrases: "and who says that, surpassing all wonders, he will be master of France by might, whereas even King Edward III could not conquer all of it" (p. 452). The allusion is to the Hundred Years' War between England and France over the English claim to the throne of France.

68 the cloudy cloude of unconnynge. Jellech questions a possible reference to the famous, anonymous mystical treatise of the fourteenth century, The Cloud of Unknowing: "[it] is not appropriate here because Dyonysius's theme is that the cloud of unknowing is a spiritual benefit, whereas Usk, following Boethius, uses the image of the cloud to refer to ignorance which prevents the viewer from understanding his true situation" (p. 135). I am less secure about this matter. I would prefer to leave open the possibility that there may be a connection between the two texts. I have as yet to explore the connection at any length, but in my opinion, there is a mystical tendency in Usk, underdeveloped I would admit, that may have led him to appropriate the phrase for his own uses. However, against my opinion and in support of Jellech's can be adduced such a passage as Book 1, lines 246-47.

72-73 Envye forsothe commendeth . . . it never so trusty. Jellech glosses: "Envy will not approve the plans of anyone he scorns, even if they are good."

73-74 good workmen and worthy theyr hyer. Usk paraphrases Luke 10.7.

73-78 these noble repers . . . to the almesse. This extended image relates perhaps to Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, F Prol. 73-77; it also recalls Dante's use of a similar image in Convivio 1.1.67-86. Perhaps it is part of an elaborate exegetical trope on reaping and glossing; see the essay by Martin.

81-82 A slye servaunt . . . moche commended. See Luke 16.1-8, the parable of the steward.

83 Aristotle. Skeat cites Nicomachean Ethics 1.7, here. In the Loeb translation, the possibly relevant passage reads and in this working out of details Time seems to be a good inventor or at all events coadjutor. This indeed is how advances in the arts have actually come about, since anyone can fill in the gaps. (1.7.17) I can find no passage any closer in sense to Usk's statement than this. I can report, though, that this passage is also translated, quite closely, in Oresme's Le Livre de éthiques d'Aristote (c. 1370; p. 122), which may have been known in England in the 1380s (see Shoaf [1983], p. 244).

84 Leyerle comments here and elsewhere on the frequent absence of grammatical concord between subject and predicate in TL (pp. 226 et alia). I would emphasize, as does Leyerle, but more generally, that often Usk "feels" grammatically singular subjects as conceptually plural.

86 Utterly, these thynges . . . to throwe to hogges. Jellech (p. 138) sees a possible reference to Matthew 7.6: Nolite dare sanctum canibus neque mittatis margaritas vestras ante porcos, ne forte conculcent eas pedibus suis et conversi dirumpant vos. [Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, less perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.] However, the connection between dreams and sacred or valuable objects is uncertain; no use is made of the reference to pearls in the biblical passage.

86-87 It is lyfelyche meate for chyldren of trouthe. Compare Boethius, Cons. I. p. 2. 36 (Boece, p. 399).

87 and as they me betiden. Schaar corrects Th and Sk as follows: Skeat is not satisfied with this passage, which seems to him to contain a gap: "this sudden transition to the mention of the author's pilgrimage suggests that a portion of the Prologue is missing here." This, however, hardly does justice to the paragraph. The author's pilgrimage into a wild and desolate landscape, ravaged by furious elements, is a symbol of deep melancholy, of an existence in grief and spiritual agony. . . . This wintry existence, however, as the whole treatise shows, is made endurable by the life-giving rays of Philosophy: the Consolation of Philosophy. Lyflich mete, in our passage, goes with both for children of trouthe and the as-clause: these thinges, then, are no empty dreams but vital nourishment for those who love truth and when they happened to me in a period of great spiritual need and distress. (pp. 8-9 ) Leyerle also comments that "the incomplete syntax [between "and" and "as they me betiden"] indicates, as Skeat suggests, that some material is missing . . ." (p. 226) at this juncture.
   Many men there ben that with eeres openly sprad so moche swalowen the dely-
ciousnesse of jestes and of ryme by queynt knyttyng coloures that of the goodnesse or
of the badnesse of the sentence take they lytel hede or els none. Sothely, dul wytte and
a thoughtful soule so sore have myned and graffed in my spyrites that suche craft of
endytyng wol not ben of myn acqueyntaunce. And, for rude wordes and boystous,
percen the herte of the herer to the inrest poynte and planten there the sentence of
thynges, so that with lytel helpe it is able to spring, this boke, that nothyng hath of the
great floode of wyt ne of semelych colours, is dolven with rude wordes and boystous,
and so drawe togyder to maken the catchers therof ben the more redy to hent sentence.
   Some men there ben that peynten with colours ryche and some with vers as with red
ynke and some with coles and chalke; and yet is there good matere to the leude people
of thilke chalky purtreyture, as hem thynketh for the tyme; and afterwarde the syght of
the better colours yeven to hem more joye for the first leudenesse. So, sothly, this leude
clowdy occupacion is not to prayse but by the leude; for comenly leude leudenesse
commendeth. Eke it shal yeve syght that other precious thynges shal be the more in
reverence. In Latyn and French hath many soverayne wyttes had gret delyte to endyte
and have many noble thynges fulfylde; but, certes, there ben some that speken their
poysye mater in Frenche of whiche speche the Frenche men have as good a fantasye as
we have in heryng of Frenche mennes Englysshe. And many termes there ben in Englysshe
whiche unneth we Englysshmen connen declare the knowlegynge: howe shulde than a
Frenche man borne suche termes conne jumpere in his mater, but as thejay chatereth
Englyssh? Right so, trewly, the understandyng of Englysshmen wol not stretche to the
privy termes in Frenche whatsoever we bosten of straunge langage. Let than clerkes
endyten in Latyn, for they have the propertie of science and the knowynge in that
facultie; and lette Frenchmen in their Frenche also endyten their queynt termes, for it is
kyndely to their mouthes; and let us shewe our fantasyes in suche wordes as we lerneden
of our dames tonge.
    And although this boke be lytel thankeworthy for the leudnesse in travaile, yet suche
writynges exciten men to thilke thynges that ben necessarie. For every man therby may,
as by a perpetual myrrour, sene the vyces or vertues of other in whiche thyng lightly
may be conceyved to eschewe peryls and necessaryes to catche after as aventures have
fallen to other people or persons. Certes, the soveraynst thing of desyre and moste
creature reasonable have, or els shulde have, ful appetyte to their perfection; unresonable
beestes mowen not, sythe reason hath in hem no werkyng. Than reasonable that wol not
is comparysoned to unresonable and made lyke hem. Forsothe the most soverayne and
fynal perfection of man is in knowyng of a sothe, withouten any entent disceyvable,
and in love of one very God that is inchaungeable; that is, to knowe and love his creatour.
    Nowe, principally, the meane to bringe in knowlegyng and lovyng his creatour is the
consyderacion of thynges made by the creatour, wherthrough be thylke thynges that
ben made understonding here to our wyttes arne the unsene privytees of God made to
us sightful and knowyng in our contemplacion and understondyng. These thynges
than, forsoth, moche bringen us to the ful knowlegynge sothe and to the parfyte love of
the maker of hevenly thynges. Lo, David sayth, "Thou haste delyted me in makynge,"
as who sayth to have delyte in the tune, how God hath lent me in consyderacion of thy
makynge. Wherof Aristotle in the boke de Animalibus saythe to naturel phylosophers:
"It is a great lykyng in love of knowynge their creatour, and also in knowynge of causes
in kyndely thynges consydred." Forsoth, the formes of kyndly thynges and the shap, a
great kyndely love me shulde have to the werkman that hem made. The crafte of a
werkman is shewed in the werke. Herfore, truly the phylosophers with a lyvely studye
many noble thynges ryght precious and worthy to memory writen, and, by a great
swetande travayle, to us leften of causes the propertyes in natures of thynges. To
whiche, therfore, Phylosophers it was more joy, more lykynge, more herty lust in
kyndely vertues and matters of reason, the perfection by busy study to knowe, than to
have had al the treasour, al the richesse, al the vainglory that the passed emperours,
prynces, or kynges hadden. Therfore the names of hem in the boke of perpetual memory
in vertue and peace arn wryten; and, in the contrarye, that is to sayne, in Stixe, the foule
pytte of helle, arn thilke pressed that suche goodnesse hated. And bycause this boke
shal be of love and the pryme causes of sterynge in that doynge, with passyons and
dyseases for wantynge of desyre I wyl that this boke be cleped
    But nowe, thou reder, who is thylke that wyl not in scorne laughe to here a dwarfe or
els halfe a man, say he wyl rende out the swerde of Hercules handes, and also he shulde
set Hercules Gades a myle yet ferther; and over that, he had power of strengthe to pul
up the spere that Alisander the noble might never wagge?
    And that passyng al thynge to ben mayster of Fraunce by myght, thereas the noble
gracyous Edwarde the thyrde, for al his great prowesse in victories, ne myght al yet
   Certes, I wote wel there shal be made more scorne and jape of me, that I, so unworthely
clothed altogyder in the cloudy cloude of unconnynge, wyl putten me in prees to speke
of love or els of the causes in that matter, sythen al the grettest clerkes han had ynough
to don and, as who sayth, gathered up clene toforne hem, and with theyr sharpe sythes
of connyng al mowen, and made therof great rekes and noble ful of al plentyes to fede
me and many another. Envye forsothe commendeth nought his reason that he hath in
hayn, be it never so trusty. And althoughe these noble repers, as good workmen and
worthy theyr hyer, han al drawe and bounde up in the sheves and made many shockes,
yet have I ensample to gader the smale crommes and fullyn my walet of tho that
fallen from the borde amonge the smale houndes, notwithstandynge the travayle of
the almoygner that hath drawe up in the cloth al the remyssayles as trenchours and the
relyef to bere to the almesse. Yet also have I leve of the noble husbande Boece, although
I be a straunger of connynge, to come after his doctryne and these great workmen and
glene my handfuls of the shedynge after theyr handes; and, if me fayle ought of my ful,
to encrease my porcyon with that I shal drawe by privytyes out of the shocke. A slye
servaunt in his owne helpe is often moche commended; knoweyng of trouth in causes
of thynges was more hardyer in the first sechers, and so sayth Aristotle, and lyghter in
us that han folowed after. For theyr passyng study han fresshed our wyttes, and our
understandynge han excyted in consideracion of trouth by sharpnesse of theyr reasons.
Utterly, these thynges be no dremes ne japes to throwe to hogges. It is lyfelyche meate
for chyldren of trouthe, and as they me betiden whan I pilgrymaged out of my kyth in
wynter, whan the wether out of measure was boystous and the wylde wynde Borias, as
his kynde asketh, with dryenge coldes maked the wawes of the occian see so to aryse
unkyndely over the commune bankes that it was in poynte to spyl al the erthe.

Thus endeth the prologue, and hereafter foloweth the fyrst boke of The Testa-
ment of Love.

Go To Thomas Usk, The Testament of Love, Book I