3. "O, why ne had y lerned for to die?":
Lerne for to Dye and the Author's Death in Thomas Hoccleve's Series
Few modern readers have considered any more of the work we call Thomas Hoccleve's Series (c. 1421-26) than its closely associated opening parts, the "Prologue" and Hoccleve's "Complaint."1 Admittedly, Hoccleve studies remain rudimentary.2 Admittedly too, the highly personalized nature of these parts helps ensure their appeal today.3 That modern readers have been slow to consider the Series a whole, however, must also be because in its fiction as well as in fact it encourages us to think of it as no more than a manuscript miscellany. It consists of what is indeed a series of texts, five old, six or so new. Together, these fall loosely into sections (I count five), each adding to the last in what could be an indefinitely extendible process. The old texts represent Hoccleve's renderings of various existing works from Latin into English. And the new texts show Hoccleve or a version of Hoccleve actually assembling the book we are reading.4 It is not a process that ever seems to have involved much advance planning on his part; rather, his book seems to be coming together mainly thanks to whim and to whatever exemplars he happened to have access at a particular time. And although this book more than once seems on the point of ending, assembling it is not a process Hoccleve ever seems to have completed.
We are learning there are lots of things we should not trust about Hoccleve, however. As D.C. Greetham has shown, we should not trust his narrator when he says he was a poor metrist, for example, or when in the Series he claims he was no more than a reporter of other people's stories.5 And in the case of the Series, we should not trust his text. The first time we read the "Prologue" and the "Complaint," for example, we think they are spoken. But as J.A. Burrow has pointed out, we have to revise our assumptions at the beginning of the next part, the "Dialogue with a Friend."6 For when the friend asks
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that it has been the readers most aware of Hoccleve's untrustworthiness who have gone furthest towards reading the Series as a whole.8 Greetham does not finally discuss this work in any detail. But Burrow finds in it a coherent, though partly implied, narrative about its author. In 1982 he suggested that the Series enacts "the progress of that rehabilitation in society which Hoccleve, after his wild infirmity and its unhappy aftermath, so longs for,"9 and in 1984 he argued that Hoccleve had designed it as a means of demonstrating this rehabilitation:
The Series is...designed both to affirm his recovery and also, by its very existence, to prove it by showing that he can indeed talk sense again.... Hoccleve sees the writing and publication of his latest book as an important stage in the process by which he may finally be rehabilitated after his illness and its long aftermath. Furthermore, the book itself seems to trace the steps of such a rehabilitation.... It begins in solitary alienation, and it ends with the resumption (albeit hesitant) of a social role proper to a man of fifty-three.10
He may not go so far as to see the Series as a completed whole, therefore, but he does see it as a work whose whole transcends its parts.
There can be no doubt that by alerting us to the presence of this kind of semi-implied autobiographical narrative in the Series Burrow has greatly enhanced our understanding of this work. There can be no doubt too that the particular narrative he describes importantly helps hold this work together. Especially in its opening texts Hoccleve's narrator does reveal himself obsessed with his alienation from his friends. And its later texts bear clear witness to his reintegration into society. The Series grows out of complex and conflicted thinking, however, and this is not the only narrative of this kind that it contains. In what follows I will be describing another such narrative, one that like Burrow's helps hold the whole together but one, I believe, that Hoccleve deployed relatively deliberately. First I will describe the text that more than any other was responsible for generating this narrative. This is the second of the old texts Hoccleve renders within the Series, the one he calls Lerne for to Dye
Hoccleve nowhere identifies Lerne for to Dye apart from giving it this title (p. 117, line 206); thanks to Benjamin P. Kurtz we know it to have been the Ars moriendi chapter of Henry Suso's Horologium sapientiae (completed c. 1334). 11 This chapter had first appeared in Suso's explicitly meditative work in German, his Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit (1327-8). It was in the form it took in the more discursive Horologium that the chapter became generally known in Europe, however. 12 It reached England probably in c. 1375, where it quickly spread.13 Hoccleve seems to have known it in a reduced version of the Horologium which consisted of this and the work's next three chapters; they describe how to live spiritually, how to receive Christ in the sacrament, and how to praise God respectively.14 But Hoccleve was by no means unusual in choosing to isolate this one chapter for treatment,15 and the only thing that seems to have been unusual about his rendering it into English was his decision to use verse.16
In being attracted to such a text Hoccleve reveals himself very much a child of his age. When he was working on the Series, the Ars moriendi was establishing itself as an important independent genre, one obviously associable with what might seem late medieval culture's obsessive concern with death.17 For those interested in English culture, the genre is normally typified by The Book of the Craft of Dying, which was the first translation into English of the early fifteenth-century work probably most responsible for defining the genre in the first place, the Tractatus artis bene moriendi.18 The text seeks to teach us how to die well: in successive chapters it deals with the temptations that afflict the dying man, lists the questions he ought to be asked, provides him with prayers, tells those attending him how to help him by arranging that images of the Crucifix or Our Lady always be before him, for example19--and provides the attendants with prayers to say over him.20 It is, as Sister Mary Catharine O'Connor has put it, "a complete and intelligible guide to the business of dying, a method to be learned while one is in good health and kept at one's fingers' ends for use in that all-important and inescapable hour."21
Although earlier in date than the texts that primarily defined the Ars moriendi, Suso's chapter both contributed to these and traveled with them.22 It consists of a dialogue between Discipulus,clearly a version of Suso himself, and Aeterna Sapientia, male despite the name, who embodies aspects of Christ. It begins with Sapientia (Sapience in Hoccleve's translation), pointing out that the Disciple would often have died already if God had not granted him time in which to repent and learn Sapience's doctrine (p. 180, lines 71-77).23 Sapience then agrees to tell the Disciple about the four things most profitable for all men to know, especially how to die (the other three things will be the subject of the Horologium's next three chapters). He instructs the Disciple to consider the image of someone about to die unprepared; the image the Disciple conjures up is that of his own alter-ego, a fair young man of thirty. This Similitudo mortis (Image in Hoccleve's translation; later writers will term its equivalent Moriens),
O, why ne had y lerned for to die?
Why was y nat ferd of goddes maugree?
What eilid me / to bathe in swich folie?
Why nadde reson / goten the maistrie
Of me? (p. 188, lines 282-86)
The Disciple advises it to repent, but the Image is now far too paralyzed with fear to be able to do so. The Image urges those present (us, I presume, although in later Ars moriendi tradition death was to be a highly social event)24 to let it be an example to them (p. 189, line 295), and it urges the Disciple to prepare for death in good time first by repenting and renouncing all worldly things, and then by frequently meditating as he is at present (p. 196, lines 477-90). It advises him to imagine his soul lamenting its friendlessness in Purgatory (p. 197, lines 491-514); the Disciple agrees that a dying man's friends, by deceiving him with false hopes of recovery, regularly reveal themselves enemies to his soul (p. 198, lines 533-46). Panic-stricken by the physical signs of its approaching death, by the devils hovering about, and by the fires of purgatory already before its eyes, the Image finally dies, but not before describing the souls it sees there blaming their friends for their plight:
By youre desires inordinat,
And eeke of othir mo / our self han we
Brought in-to this plyt and wrecchid estat. (p. 205, lines 715-17)
The chapter ends with the terrified Disciple resolving to learn to die, and with Sapience reminding him that at the very end he should trust in the Passion.
As far as I know, modern readers have not read the Series with its old texts particularly in mind. Greetham has noted that these "react to, and are the product of, emotional and psychological disturbances."25 But he has not explored the insight. And Burrow pays little attention to the old texts, referring to them as "existing on a different plane of reality," or as "set back or recessed in the fictive space."26 The Series comes from a period much interested in how new books are generated out of old, however. The insight that "out of olde feldes, as men seyth,/ Cometh al this newe corn" (Parliament of Fowls, lines 22-23) had helped drive Chaucer's reformulation of the love vision, and his successors (among whom Hoccleve prominently counts) continued to thematize this insight through the fifteenth century.27 But where Chaucer had offered his new books as having first come to him in the form of dreams partly generated by what he had read before falling asleep, his successors' new books came to them while they were awake. Although in the Kingis Quair (c. 1434-35?)
Like the opening lines of many a medieval dream poem, thus, Hoccleve's "Prologue" is seasonal and features a narrator whose half-articulated troubles mean he cannot sleep.28 The season is not the spring usual to this poetry, however, but late November, and the narrator has not been pondering cliches about love but rather cliches about the instability of the world and how all men must die. There is accordingly no suggestion that his troubles derive from incipient or unrequited love. The suggestion is that they derive from his eclipsed condition since his last illness: no longer does he enjoy the favor that once shone on him (p. 96, lines 22-4). But they still mean that like an unhappy lover he no longer wants to live (lines 26-8). We expect him, like Chaucer's narrator in the Book of the Duchess, to give an account of a book (Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy would be a likely candidate),29 and then to work through his troubles in a dream partly generated by this account.30 But instead of doing these things, he bursts on the next morning into his "Complaint": "here endythe my prologe, and folowythe my complaynt" (p. 96).
The "Complaint" opens (as a complaint should) with its narrator complaining in this case complaining about his friends' refusal to believe that ever since All Hallows' Day five years previously he has been cured of the mental illness that had suddenly afflicted him (p. 97, lines 55-56). Some three quarters of the way through, though (p. 106, line 309 ff.), he does give an account of a book. Admittedly, it is a book he read not at night but "(t)his othar day" (line 309). But like a book he might have read before falling asleep, it is one he knows only in part, in his case because its owner claimed it back unexpectedly (p. 108, lines 372-75). And like a book in a Chaucerian dream poem, this book proves to have helped generate the present text, prologue and all.
Scholars have long accepted that this book was a convenient fiction.31 But Hoccleve tells us enough about it for A. G. Rigg to have been able to show that it was Isidore of Seville's Synonyma or De lamentatione animae dolentis, a work that like Boethius' seems for the Middle Ages to have constituted a paradigmatic example of consolatio.32 Hoccleve's reading of Isidore's text is markedly partial: not only has he not read it all, but he has entirely ignored important features of what he has read the book's deliberate rhetorical repetitiveness, for example. What he focuses on is Reason reasoning a "hevy man / wofull and
he gave me wit / and he toke it away
when that he se / that I it mys dyspente,
and gave agayne / when it was to his pay,
he grauntyd me / my giltes to repente,
and hens-forwarde / to set myne entente,
vnto his deitie / to do plesaunce,
and to amend / my synfull governaunce.
lawde and honore / and thanke vnto the be,
lorde god. (pp. 109-10, lines 400-408)
However casually constructed these texts might at first have seemed, Hoccleve must from the first have been composing a consolatio partly generated by Isidore's book. As good readers of the Series, we should now re-read them with this book in mind.
The opening parts of the Series direct us to read it as we would a Chaucerian dream poem, therefore, with its old books very much in mind. Doubtless, it would be telling for us to read it with all of them in mind at once. It makes sense to start with Lerne for to Dye, however, for this seems to have been particularly important both to Hoccleve and to his narrator. The rendering of Suso's chapter is the only work that appears in both the Series and the collection Hoccleve made of his earlier poetry in San Marino, California, Huntington Library MS HM 744/111.35 We are not sure of the relative dates of these collections, but they both seem to have belonged to the last four or five years of Hoccleve's life and there are good reasons for regarding the Series as the later.36 Lerne for to Dye therefore seems to have been antecedently important to Hoccleve as he turned to this later collection. And it was certainly important to his narrator before he started his work in this collection.
This version of Hoccleve first mentions Lerne for to Dye in the "Dialogue with a Friend," where he tells his friend he intends to render it as his next literary project (p. 117, lines 204-11). He makes it sound at first as if he has recently happened upon it ("in latyn have I sene / a small tretise" [line 205]); it gradually emerges, however (pp. 125-26, lines 439-48), that he must have
And whan that [translating it] endyd is / I nevar thinke,
more in englyshe aftar / be occupied;
I may not labowr / as I dyd, and swinke; ...
The night approchethe / it is fer past none. (p. 118, lines 239-41, 245)
Although the directives are clear that we should read the Series with Lerne for to Dye in mind, it is unlikely that many of Hoccleve's contemporaries were able to do this right away. Admittedly, Suso's chapter was fairly widely disseminated by the 1420s. Even so, few readers could have known it before encountering Hoccleve's rendering. When these readers first took up the Series, therefore, Lerne for to could only have affected how they read its later parts. But this does not mean it would never have affected their reading of the work as a whole. Hoccleve may have made us this work's very first readers, privy to the processes whereby he assembled it, but as we have seen in the case of the "Prologue" and "Complaint" he also expected us to be its last readers, able to revise and re-revise our initial understanding of it in the light of information he has initially withheld.37
As we have seen, when we first read the Series' "Prologue" we expect it to open into a dream. In the light of Lerne for to Dye, however, we realize it is not irrelevant in a book that will feature an Ars moriendi that its "Prologue" is set in late November, and that its narrator no longer wants to live. It is also not irrelevant that this narrator has been busy pondering cliches about death. But instead of letting these prompt him into preparing for death, as a text like Lerne for to Dye would have held he should, he has been relating them mainly with what will prove to be his worldly condition. We may at first accept that the troubles he hints at are indeed those involving the loss of patrons and friends that he deals with in the "Complaint." But retrospectively we realize that what he really needed to do on that late November evening was learn to die.
In much the same way, although Hoccleve's "Complaint" reads first as a complaint, later as a consolatio partly generated by Isidore's text, we realize
Some tyme I wend / as lite as any man,
for to have fall / in-to that wildenesse
but god, whan that hym list / may, wole and can,
helthe with-drawe. (p. 99, lines 106-109)
And like Suso's Disciple (and the later Everyman, at least in dramatic time), he has had a reprieve. In referring to the period since his illness as one in which to repent he may be using terms Isidore's Reason would have approved. But they are also ones the writers of the Artes moriendi would have liked. As these writers make clear, those about to die were regularly asked what they would do if they recovered. I quote from The Book of the Craft of Dying's list of questions for "all crysten men bothe seculers and religiouse":
Porposist þou verrily and art in full wyll to amende the, and þou myght leve lenger, and neuer to synne more dedly wittyngly and with þi will, and rather þan þou woldist offend god dedly eny more, to leve and lese wylfully all erþely þingis were þei neuer so lefe to the, and also the lyf of þi body therto; and forthermore þou prayest god to yeve the grace to contynue in this purpose? (p. 413)38
Were those questioned to answer in the affirmative ("The seke man seiþe, 3e" [p. 413]), therefore, they would have promised to use any time left to them in just the way Hoccleve finally realizes he should have been using his.
Had the Series ended with the "Complaint," as for a while it seems about to do, we would probably have assumed that Hoccleve did finally act on the realization he expresses in its last lines before dying on cue at the end of the year. But the Series has hardly started yet. We may suspect as we start reading the "Dialogue with a Friend" that this part will be about Hoccleve's last moments in this world. We may also suspect that the "one" who comes knocking at Hoccleve's door at the beginning of this text (p. 110, line 2) will be Death, a figure Hoccleve's seasonal prologue has prepared us for, and one who knocks at other doors in Middle English literature in The Parlement of the Thre Ages, for example.39 But it is no more than one of Hoccleve's worldly friends ("This man was my good frynde / of farn a-gon, / that I speke of" [p. 110, lines 8-
Yet as we read on we may start suspecting that Hoccleve has already effected such a translation. As we have seen, although the "Prologue" and "Complaint" at first seem casually constructed, Hoccleve must from the first have been composing the consolatio they represent. Given their religious conclusion, it may be that by doing this he has already performed his penitential exercise as Chaucer perhaps did when he composed the Parson's Tale.40 It surely would not have occurred to us to consider such a possibility while we still believed his consolatio merely spoken, or even after we first learned it was written. But when the friend lets it slip that the "Dialogue" is taking place not on the November morning when Hoccleve says he first burst into his "Complaint" (p. 96, line 35) but in Lent of what must have been the following year (p. 133, lines 662-64), we realize Hoccleve has invested the past several months of his reprieve into composing it. The question of whether this has represented a good use of his time begins to seem more pressing.
When Hoccleve reads his "Complaint" to his friend, the friend advises him against publishing it, on the ground that it might stir up memories best forgotten (p. 111, lines 25-32). If like the friend we consider this text to be primarily autobiographical, we will therefore probably decide that in composing it Hoccleve has not been using his time at all well. But Hoccleve anticipates recent debate by claiming a primarily exemplary force for this text:
so would I now / vpon that othar syde
wist were / how our lord Ihesu, which is gyde
to all relefe / and may all hertes cure,
relevyd hathe me / synfull creature. (p. 112, lines 60-63)41
So he would claim that he has been using his time quite well. Yet he does not altogether want us to agree with him. For by the time we realize we should be thinking about this matter he has also let us know that he had first decided to render Lerne for to Dye before he ever started the Series. We should already have deduced, therefore, that he has been working on what we have just been reading at the expense of getting on with Suso's text. And however exemplary the "Complaint," composing it could hardly have kept his mind as relentlessly on his approaching death as rendering such an Ars moriendi would have done. Hoccleve, we must finally decide, has not been using his time nearly as well as he might.
Hoccleve's excuse for having put off rendering Lerne for to Dye is that he has been testing whether he was up to the task:
I haue a tyme resonable abide
Or that I thoghte in this laboure me;
And al to preeue my self, I so dide. (p. 126, lines 442-44)
But the excuse hardly stands in view of the cliches he rehearsed in his "Prologue" about the instability of the world and the inevitability of death, and it entirely collapses when he reveals that death is an event he has every reason to expect imminently:
Of age am I fifty winter and thre;
Ripenesse of dethe / fast vpon me hastethe;
My lymes sumdell / now vnweldy be;
all my syght apperithe faste, and wastithe,
and my conceyte / a dayes now / not tastethe
as it hathe done / in yeres precedent;
now all a-nother is my sentement. (p. 119, lines 246-52)
Admittedly, he seems fully determined to work on this text at the beginning of the "Dialogue," so for a while we keep expecting to encounter his rendering at any line. But already before the "Dialogue" ends, we see him again allowing himself to be distracted from the task. We do not know exactly what was involved when he let this happen on previous occasions. But this time his friend has much to answer for.
Readers who have commented on Hoccleve's friend have approved of him. Pryor refers to how the friend's side of the conversation is "built upon the frankness, and also the tact, of an affectionate intimacy of long standing,"42 and Burrow also thinks highly of him: "Hoccleve's 'rehabilitation' in the Series comes about largely through the agency of that unnamed friend who visits him, comforts and advises him, lends him books, and finally sets the seal on his recovery by asking for his help."43 Yet there are indications that this friend does not amount to much, even in relation only to Hoccleve's worldly self. Granted, he was probably among those Hoccleve refers to in the "Complaint" who went on pilgrimage when he first became ill (p. 97, lines 46-49). He may even have been better about seeing Hoccleve than Hoccleve himself claims: the friend refers in the "Dialogue" to having spoken with Hoccleve in the previous September or so (p. 129, lines 528-34), when according to his "Complaint" Hoccleve seems to have considered himself completely isolated. As Hoccleve's "good frynde / of farn a-gon," however, he must also have been among the "olde ffrindshipe" of Hoccleve's dissolute youth (p. 97, line 68), and as such among those Hoccleve thinks dropped him after his illness (p. 97, lines 68-70). And for all his professed interest in Hoccleve's writing, he proves not to have read much of it as we shall see, he has never read Hoccleve's Letter of Cupid (c. 1402), and we never see him read his rendering of Lerne for to Dye. We
As Philippe Ariès has argued, the late medieval obsession with death stems partly from the culture's attempt to pretend to itself that its values were not becoming increasingly secular.45 On the one hand, the culture found itself particularly subject to what Ariès terms a "passionate love of life."46 On the other, it wanted to convince itself that the worldly things it found so attractive were finally without value. It is just this kind of conflicted thinking, I believe, that lies behind the treatment of the dying man's friends in the Artes moriendi. These texts strain towards accepting that such friends can be of real value. They describe them as able to help in the dying man's last great struggle:
Like as the health of every man consisteth in the end, let every man then much busily take heed to purvey him for to come to a good end, whiles that he hath time and leisure. To this might much well serve a fellow and true friend, devout and comendable, which in his last end may assist him truly; and that he comfort and courage him in steadfastness of the faith, with good patience and devotion, with good confidence and perseverance.47
They even increasingly address these friends.48 But this does not mean that the texts do not also try to undermine the friends. They lump them together with the dying man's family and goods and make them temptations to Avarice, the sin currently replacing Pride as chief of the Seven:49
The Vth temptacion þat temptith & greuyth most carnall men & seculer men is ouer-much occupacion & besynesse abou3t outward temporall þingis as her wyfes, her children, her carnall frendes, and wordely riches and other þingis þat þei haue loued inordinatly before. For he þat will dey wyll & surely, most vtterly & fully put oute of hys mynde all temporall & outward þingis, & plenerly commytt hym-selfe all to god.50
They see them as tools of the devil: in one of the illustrations in an Ars moriendi block book (c. 1450) a demon is pointing to the dying man's friends, and a scroll above its head reads "prouideas amicis" ("may you get friends").51 They show the friends as regularly setting out to get the dying man's goods.52
Hoccleve's friend is surely the product of exactly this kind of conflicted thinking. He is undoubtedly attractive and helpful in the ways Pryor and Burrow suggest. He also seems motivated at least for a while by a real, if ultimately misplaced, concern for Hoccleve's well-being. It is because the friend believes quite conventionally that overwork first caused Hoccleve's
A tale eek / which I in the Romayn deedis
Now late sy / in honur & plesance
Of yow, my ladyes /--as I moot needis,
Or take my way / for fere in-to ffrance,--
Thogh I nat shapen be / to prike or prance,--
Wole I translate / and þat shal pourge, I hope,
My gilt / as cleene / as keuerchiefs dooth sope. (p. 139, lines 820-26)
As Suso's Disciple would have put it: "Thus bodyes freendes been maad enemys/ To the soule" (p. 198, lines 540-41).
Partly thanks to the bad offices of Hoccleve's friend, therefore, what follows the "Complaint" is not Lerne for to Dye but a series of other texts. First there is the "Dialogue" itself, a work we have probably always suspected of being written, although Hoccleve only confirms this of the passage about coin-clippers. At its end comes an envoy (p. 139, lines 806-26) dedicating Hoccleve's next piece, his rendering of the tale from the Gesta Romanorum, not to God but to the ladies. Then comes the tale, that of the Emperor Jerelaus' Wife.55 Then follows a brief section in which Hoccleve's friend (of all people) notes the absence of the tale's moralization and provides Hoccleve with an exemplar containing it. And then, the moralization is, on the advice of the friend, rendered into English prose "hoomly and pleyn" (p. 174, line 25). The author of the Series may be demonstrating his worldly rehabilitation, but he is also not getting on with what he should be getting on with. We are surprised and perhaps relieved, therefore, when immediately following this section we find the text we have been waiting for, Hoccleve's rendering of Lerne for to Dye.56
The section we have just read has obviously helped confirm any impression the Series might give of having been casually assembled. But retrospectively we will find that as usual Hoccleve has worked with greater deliberation than his text seems to want us to think. Penelope B. R. Doob has suggested that the significance to Hoccleve of the tale of the Emperor Jereslaus' Wife lies in its emphasis "on the disease produced by sin and on confession as a cure."57 But by including the tale's moralization seemingly so very much by chance Hoccleve has thrown this part of his text into particularly high relief. It is surely important to the Series that the main emphasis of this moralization is less on curing sin than on the conflict between man's soul and his "wrecchid flessh" (p. 175). And it is surely also important that at one point this conflict anticipates a pattern of apparent progress leading to no real change; in the Series' next two sections we will see Hoccleve conforming to this pattern.
Because I have been using Hoccleve's rendering of Lerne for to Dye to represent Suso's text, I have so far implied that he followed Suso closely. But his translation is by no means impartial. With our access to the Horologium we can easily document the various small changes whereby he made this text his own. As Kurtz put it in 1925:
But our simple and direct-minded poet has again and again brought into the lofty sentences of Suso phrases of personal revelation, especially of remorse and fear. These notes have gone far to humanize the poem, to make its mysticism breathe the breath not of Suso's counterfeit Image of Death, but of the simple and timid soul that once walked in the mire from Paul's to Westminster.58
But even without such access we could deduce that Hoccleve's own narrative must have exerted pressure on his rendering. Hoccleve may not have changed Suso's text in any obvious way by making either the Disciple or the Image his own age, for example. But when the latter laments its unpreparedness for death (as pp. 182-83, lines 113-47) or its misspent youth (as pp. 184-90, lines 170-322), any reader of the Series thus far must suspect that Hoccleve has closely identified with him.59 The traffic between old and new in such texts is far from one-way.
Had the night Hoccleve referred to when he first spoke of rendering Lerne for to Dye (p. 118, line 245) drawn to a close with the completion of this text, we would have had no trouble in accepting that Hoccleve finally managed to die well. But the Series still has some way to go. What is now in question is whether its author was able to maintain his penitent state. Probably the best thing for him to have done under the circumstances would have been what Caxton seems to have done later in the century and work on further Artes moriendi.60 Given that he may not have had ready access to a supply of such texts, however, the next best thing for him to have done would surely have been
Although the implication probably is that Hoccleve should have continued translating Suso, had the piece on heaven closed the Series we would still have assumed he died well. The piece commemorates the day on which he was first cured (p. 97, lines 55-56) and describes a place free of the poverty, illness and dishonor he has revealed himself as so subject to here (p. 213). Its closing sentences (of which the second is Hoccleve's own) provide a fitting message for his work as a whole:
And therfore, who-so desirith to haue the merites euere lastynge / he moot de-lyte him to gete hem thurgh goode and vertuous wirkes / That is the path and the streight way to blisse endelees / the which he vs grante, þat boghte vs with his precious blood. Amen! Amen! (pp. 214-15)62
And by invading his own introductory verse, the passage allows him to speak with a preacher's authority:
How greet ioie and blisse / is shapen to hem
þat so shuln passe hens / vp to the Citee
Callid celestial, Ierusalem.
Aftir our might and possibilitee
Let vs considere. (p. 212, lines 932-26)
What follows the piece is not closure, however, but rather a paragraph on the pains of hell. The Series is refusing to allow its author to close on so conventionally satisfying a note.
Kurtz, the one modern reader who has commented on the paragraph on hell, is not complimentary: "The last paragraph, judging from the slovenly way in which it pictures the pains of Hell by suggesting that they are the opposites of the pleasures of the New Jerusalem as just described, we may surmise to be Hoccleve's invention."63 Even this paragraph could have provided the Series with a satisfying ending, however. Its slovenliness we could have put down to the haste occasioned by the onset of death. And like the piece on heaven it could have provided the whole with a fitting final message:
And sikirly, syn god of his hy grace and benigne courtesie hath yeuen vs libertee and standith in our choys and eleccioun; to grete fooles been
Although this time Hoccleve actually says he wanted the Series to end, however (p. 215, line 1), again his text will not allow this. What follows this time is a section in which Hoccleve's friend talks him into rendering another tale, that of Jonathas and Fellicula, from the Gesta Romanorum.
It might seem at first that the differences between the scenes involving the friends would outweigh the similarities. Hoccleve has learned to die. And the friend now seems to have good moral reason for asking him to render this tale the friend thinks it just the thing to teach riotous young men like his son to keep away from prostitutes (p. 216, lines 8-28). However, it emerges that what is really worrying him is that his son might be squandering his worldly goods (lines 15-21). And when Hoccleve asks how he can possibly render such a tale and still appease the ladies (p. 217, lines 36-59), and the friend claims that only wicked women will disapprove of such a rendering (pp. 217-18, lines 60-77), they are both clearly back to their earlier frivolity. Despite apparent progress, little has changed.
It was just such a pattern of behavior that the moralization to the tale of the Emperor Jereslaus' Wife anticipated. In the tale, the Emperor's wife first resisted his brother's attempts to seduce her (pp. 142-44, lines 64-133) and then pardoned him (pp. 144-46, lines 134-82). According to the moralization, this signifies the soul resisting the flesh's attempts to make it sin and then cleansing it in preparation for Easter communion (p. 175). But in the tale the brother immediately returned to seducing the wife (pp. 147-48, lines 197-238). So the moralization goes on to deplore the frequency with which sinners regress even after having been cleansed in this way (p. 175). So far Hoccleve has not mentioned Easter. But his friend now reveals that it has in fact come and gone:
"Thomas," he seide / "at Estren that was last,
I redde a tale / which y am agast
To preye thee, for the laboures sake
That thow haast had / for to translate & make." (p. 216, lines 4-7)
And because he also refers to Hoccleve's earlier rendering from the Gesta Romanorum (p. 216, lines 29-30) we can assume this was the Easter following the Lent of the "Dialogue." So it was partly in preparation for this that the penitential cleansing of the Series' last section took place. And Hoccleve is now returning to what the moralization terms "Delectacion of synne" (p. 175). Like one of the "grete fooles" of the paragraph on hell, he is failing to choose the better part.
It is probably fortunate for him, therefore, that before we see his complete
The Series has been far too conflicted a work finally to end on any unambiguously positive note. That does not mean that it ends on an unambiguously negative one, however. Given Hoccleve's own vacillating history, it can hardly be by coincidence that the representative of mankind in the tale of Jonathas is seduced by the representative of the flesh not just once but repeatedly (p. 241). So it is perhaps also not by coincidence that the book Hoccleve has been making of his own life ends with Jonathas rising up from "the lappe of carnalitee or flesshlyhede" (p. 241) and entering his true country:
and to his paramour, þat is to seyn, his flessh, he purueieth watir of contricioun & fruyt of penance and sharpnesse / for which the flessh / þat is to seyn, carnel or flesshly affeccion, sterueth and dieth / and the man purchaceth & getith by penitence the goodes þat were lost / and so he gooth in to his Contree, þat is to seyn, the Regne of heuene: to which god of his grace brynge vs all. Amen! (p. 242)
But the book contains no omniscient narrator to confirm that Hoccleve too finally entered this country.
When we read the Series with Lerne for to Dye in mind, thus, we find it held together by a narrative treating its author's own preparation for death. As we have noted, it is not a narrative that has particularly struck modern readers. It may well have been more immediately evident to their medieval predecessors, however. The Series survives complete or almost complete in Hoccleve's autograph manuscript, Durham University Library MS Cosin V. iii. 9, and in five non-autograph manuscripts.67 In all five of the latter it is followed by the earlier version of John Lydgate's Dance Macabre (c. 1426-29).68 In a final envoy Lydgate unambiguously claims this as his ("Haue me excusid / my name is Iohn Lidgate," line 670).69 At least three of these manuscripts nevertheless treat Lydgate's text as if it were part of the Series.70 Inspired by the Series' own self-representation, the reader first responsible for juxtaposing these texts could have been simply creating a manuscript miscellany of his own.71 But it remains
As Philippa Tristram has observed in her discussion of medieval treatments of mortality and the grave, modern readers tend to find such subjects offensive.73 So the narrative I have been describing will probably not prove particularly appealing. It is no less sensitive to concerns Hoccleve's narrator is explicit about than Burrow's more worldly narrative is, however, and it has the advantage over that narrative of taking into account some of the Series' old books. It is also a narrative Hoccleve seems to have deployed more deliberately than he did the one about his worldly rehabilitation. His narrator had once hoped that by rendering Suso's chapter he would encourage his readers to learn to die:
man may in this tretis / here-aftarward,
yf that hym lyke / rede and beholde,
consyder and se well / that it is full hard
delay accompts / tyll lyfe begyne to colde;
short tyme is then / of his offencis olde
to make a iust / and trewe rekenynge;
sharpnes of peyne / is there-to great hindringe. (p. 118, lines 225-31)
Because he has so involved us in the story of how he himself learned to die, his words could equally well refer to the Series as a whole.