Hoccleve, Regiment of Princes

So long a nyght ne felte I nevere noon
As was that same, to my jugement.
Whoso that thoghty is, is wo begoon;
The thoghtful wight is vessel of torment;
Ther nis no greef to him equipollent.
He graveth deepest of seeknesses alle:
Ful wo is him that in swich thoght is falle. (ll.78-84)

The narrator of the Regiment of Princes is preoccupied with wealth; specifically, we learn, he is worried about growing old and being unable to earn his salary at the privy seal. While he’s worried about not being able to do that labor someday, the labor he is able to do now is an equal part of his misery. He directly compares writing to physical labor:

With plow can I nat medlen ne with harwe,
Ne woot nat what lond good is for what corn,
And for to lade a cart or fille a barwe,
To which I nevere usid was toforn;
My bak unbuxum hath swich thyng forsworn,
At instaunce of wrytynge, his werreyour,
That stowpynge hath him spilt with his labour.
“Many men, fadir, weenen that wrytynge
No travaille is; they holde it but a game;
Aart hath no fo but swich folk unkonnynge.
But whoso list desporte him in that same,
Let him continue and he shal fynde it grame;
It is wel gretter labour than it seemeth (ll.981-93).

He then goes on to outline the cost, and even the danger, of writing to someone who has done it for a long time:

“Wrytyng also dooth grete annoyes thre,
Of which ful fewe folkes taken heede
Sauf we ourself, and thise, lo, they be:
Stommak is oon, whom stowpynge out of dreede
Annoyeth sore; and to our bakkes neede
Moot it be grevous; and the thridde oure yen
Upon the whyte mochil sorwe dryen.
“What man that three and twenti yeer and more
In wrytynge hath continued, as have I,
I dar wel seyn, it smertith him ful sore
In every veyne and place of his body;
And yen moost it greeveth, treewely,
Of any craft that man can ymagyne.
Fadir, in feith, it spilt hath wel ny myne.” (ll.1016-29).

Hoccleve is making a case that writing is physical labor. This is not about craft, although he doesn’t distinguish between pleasurable writing and writing for the Privy Seal. Extended labor wrecks havoc on the body, particularly on, interestingly, the stomach. Writers have to be solitary, they can’t talk or sing, and they have as much pain as laborers do. In addition, they are not living a life of the mind (as an image of a melancholy writer in the Renaissance might suggest); they are copying things, writing notices and petitions for a living. The portrait here is of work as a source of dread, where it is both connected to the labor of the earth (a farmer tending his crops and hurting his back in the process) and disconnected from it.

I guess this is one question I have when reading this text: how closely are the labor of writing (in this case, I’ll say clerical writing) and nature connected? Like the Complaint, emotions and also just scenery are very present in the first few stanzas. Knapp speaks to this connection between nature and anxiety, noting that feeling is spatialized through the phrasing of nature, as when Hoccleve stomps through the wo of his heart above (see my post on Knapp for more details). Also, something interesting noted in the introduction is that Thomas’s potential work in the PS included reading and presumably copying petitions. In her work on madness in medieval France, Alexandra Pfau notes that late medieval remission letters (in France) included a not-insignificant number of petitions based around madness, whether asking to accept someone back into the community or dealing with a crime. It makes me curious about what the content of the petitions Thomas was dealing with was and whether he would have come across similar material.

I am mostly just interested in the deep misery around work and the future-orientedness of that misery that comes through in this poem (and to a lesser extent in the Complaint). The misery of the text, or at least the prologue, has a lot to do with connections between anxiety and nature/agronomy. As the narrator says of his anxiety, “Whil thow art soul [solitary], thoght his wastyng[decaying] seed/ Sowith in thee” (ll. 200-2). It’s also worth noting how much the physicality of labor is emphasized: it has ruined the speaker’s body, wheras in the Series it has the potential to ruin his mind. Finally, I am curious about the word “regiment”, and if it has any connections to regimen– specifically regimens of health, the highly specific manuals physicians gave to their patients.

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