University of Virginia Library


Skeat's correction of Thynne's disordered text in Book III led him to postulate six discontinuous segments of text, which I shall label DS 1 through DS 6, following the order in which they occur in Thynne, not the order in which Skeat places them in his restoration.[27] In Skeat's reconstruction, which followed Bradley's, the correct sequence of these six displaced segments is DS 5, 3, 6, 2, 4, 1. The total volume of displaced material constitutes about 3/5 of the total length of Book III. The largest segment of uninterrupted text within the disordered portion, DS 1, is approximately 1/3 the length of this displaced portion (420.5 of the total of 1241 lines—exactly the volume of text that would be contained in a quire of 8 ruled to accommodate just over 26 of Thynne's lines per page), i.e. 1/5 of the length of the whole of Book III; I therefore conjectured that it represented the last full quire of the manuscript. This postulate could not, however, explain the disturbance within the other two hypothesized quires that would produce the text-order reconstructed by Skeat. In every format I attempted, the remaining discontinuities would fall about the middle of a page, not (as it seemed the facts of the case to that point demanded) at the end of a leaf—yet I could discern nothing at any of these junctures that would form a basis for eyeskip by the printer, or suggest the omission of text.

As Ramona Bressie first discerned, however, Skeat's reconstructed


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sequence reversed the correct expository order of the fifth and sixth chapters of Book III. So far as I am aware, every scholar who has addressed the problem of the text-order of Book III has concurred in her revision of Skeat's reconstruction, and since I too agree with it, I can summarize her findings briefly here, in order to proceed to its implications for understanding the material text Thynne's printer had in hand. Bressie based her argument on the expository logic of the content of these discontinuous segments of text: the first disruption occurs at a point 76.5 Th-lines into the fourth chapter. Skeat rightly perceived that the next segment continuous with it was DS 5, which, according to his division of chapters, completes the fourth chapter and continues with the first 8.5 lines of the next, a short paragraph in Skeat's edition that begins with the letter I and supplies the acrostic initial of his chapter v. In this short paragraph, Love introduces the much-discussed expository figure of the tree, grounded in "free arbitrement of thinges," and producing the "spire, that by processe of tyme shal in greetnesse sprede, to have braunches and blosmes of waxing frute in grace. . . ." Lady Love's gradual explication of this philosophical figure continues through this portion of the work into the seventh chapter. Bressie noticed that the persona's first eager response to this intriguing figure, his expressed desire to learn "that tree to sette" (a wish he articulates in the first sentence of Skeat's DS 6, which in the reconstruction of his edition begins chapter vi and supplies the acrostic initial N), prompts Love's stern insistence that he must first learn the nature and preparation of the "grounde" for it. Hence Love's exposition of the "spire" she mentions at the end of DS 5 is deferred at her behest until she first explains the "grounde" of "purpos," properly set "there vertue foloweth"; this exposition occupies all of what Skeat's edition designates chapter vi, consisting of DS 6 and DS 2 in sequence. Bressie correctly saw that this portion, DS 6 + 2, should follow directly after DS 5, Love's introduction of the tree figure, and that Skeat's DS 3, the portion of his chapter v that followed its first 8.5 lines, should properly follow it in the logic and rhetoric of Love's development of the tree figure. DS 3 begins with the persona's clear acknowledgment of the correctness of Bressie's reconstructed expository order: "Nowe, trewly, lady, I have my grounde wel understonde; but what thing is thilke spire that in-to a tree sholde wexe? Expowne me that thing, what ye thereof mene" (II.v. 8-10; Skeat p. 124).

Bressie's restoration of expository sense and logic is clearly correct; expressed in terms of textual mechanics, it has a similarly clarifying effect: the corrected order of Skeat's six putatively discontinuous segments is now no longer DS 5, 3, 6, 2, 4, 1, but DS 5, 6, 2, 3, 4, 1. As Bressie saw—though she did not further pursue the textual mechanics of her discovery—with this rearrangement there are no longer six discontinuous segments of text to account for, but only three: DS 5 + 6, DS 2 + 3 + 4, and DS 1—and hence only four discontinuities, not seven, to explain, all of them occurring in mid-sentence within chapters. Once one has reduced Skeat's six units of displaced text to three in this way, it also becomes apparent that the other two units are, like DS 1, a quire in length—and that as set by the printer their integrity as quires was intact, not, as Skeat's account requires, further compromised by internal


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reshuffling of leaves. The contents of these three quires are closely similar in length (414, 406, and 420.5 Th-lines, respectively), a finding that strongly corroborates the initial hypothesis that DS 1 represented one full quire: it is now apparent that the other two continuous portions of displaced text also represent full quires, which I shall designate r, s, and t. If these were quires of eight leaves, each page contained 25-26 Th-lines of text.[28] From this revised reconstruction of text-sequence emerges a simple explanation of the printer's error: it reveals that only one erroneous move, and not several compounded, led to the massive displacements discernible in Thynne. It allows a clear physical explanation of the order of text between the first and last discontinuity in Thynne, and will eventually support in fuller detail the general hypothesis I have offered about the page and quiring features of the manuscript. It also enables, as we shall shortly see, one further necessary revision in the division of chapters in Book III—and hence in the disposition of acrostic-bearing initials within quires—which in turn facilitates still finer-grained inferences about the ordinatio of the manuscript, and its legible meaning to its contemporaries and to Thynne. But first and foremost, it discloses a clear and simple explanation of the one printer's misreading that led to this large- scale disordering of text.

The revised arrangement of text allows the gross mechanics of the printer's error to be easily described: the last and the third-from-last quires of eight in Book III were reversed. That is all; there was no misfolding or inversion of quires, as Skeat's explanation proposes, nor was there loss of text, as Bressie suggests. When the printer reached a point 76.5 lines into chapter iv, he reached the end of a quire in his manuscript. He had also just passed the end of a stint in typesetting: the initial displacement of text occurs on the first page of a new quire (Q) of Thynne's volume—the last of the six full folio quires of six leaves he would set (the text spills over to fill one more complete leaf, plus one recto column, of the following quire R). At this break in his work, perhaps in the course of arranging the next stint of manuscript material to be set, he mistakenly identified as the next quire of his manuscript what was in fact its last full quire of 8 leaves (t), instead of the antepenultimate one (r) that would have given the correct continuity of text. The finer


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mechanics of this key mistake are also easy to infer—and here Skeat's conjectural emendation at the relevant juncture is inspired: the error turns on a misread catchword.

At the first dislocation—where in Skeat's segmentation DS 5 (beginning my quire r) ought to begin, but instead in Thynne DS 1 (my quire t) follows the end of the preceding quire—Thynne's text reads thus:[29]

. . . Thou shalte (qd she)
understande/ that in heven is goddes beynge/
although he be over al by po wer/ yet ther is
abydinge of devyne persone/ in whiche hevene
is everlastynge presence/ withouten any mo=
vable tyme there //* Fole have I nat sayd toforn
this/ as tyme hurteth/ right so ayenward tyme
healeth and rewardeth. . . .

(f. 354r, col. 2, ll. 6-13)

The transition from what I conjecture was the end of the next-to-last quire s (set by Thynne in correct penultimate position in the book, though now flanked on both sides by the contents of quires that had exchanged places) to the text that should have followed at the first point of dislocation (i.e. the juncture at which DS 4 is followed by DS 1) in Thynne reads thus (I use //** to mark the point of disruption; in the correct ordering of quires, text from this juncture on should correctly have followed //* in the passage above):
and al
though frute fayleth one yere or two/ yet shal
suche a season come one tyme or other / that
shal bringe out frute that //** is nothyng preterit
ne passed ther is nothyng future ne comyng/
but al thynges togider in that place be pre=
sent everlastynge without eny mevynge/ wher=
fore to god al thynge is as nowe: . . .

(f. 358v, col. 1, ll. 22-29)

In his correct suturing of text at this juncture, where my quire s should be followed by quire t, Skeat (p. 135) guessed—rightly, I believe—that the juncture //** in the second passage above was in the manuscript followed by the phrase "[is parfit]." If this was the case, then this phrase, or simply the word "perfit," was the catchword at the end of quire s. At the end of the quire


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where the first disruption of textual order occurred (quire q in my general description), 76.5 Th-lines into III.iv, that catchword must have been some variant of the phrase "[is no] preterit," or simply its final word.[30] It is also likely that one or both catchwords—and possibly these terms in the body of the text as well—were written using the usual abbreviations for the syllables per, pre, and ter that were very common in scribal hands in wide use in about 1400. To a sixteenth-century eye, these abbreviations—which derived from common practice in university books and extended in the latter fourteenth century into documentary and administrative usage (and Thynne's output included little from these venues)—would probably be difficult to differentiate, making the words "perfit" and "preterit" look very much alike.[31] Little


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more than confusion of these two catchwords would be required to explain the printer's erroneous choice of quire t rather than r at this juncture.

Other small local features further abetted his mistake at this point. The word "tyme" occurs in the last line immediately preceding both quire breaks—i.e. in the one preceding the correct next quire, and in the one immediately preceding the quire that the printer chose instead. Faced with two out of three remaining quires that each began with a word he could not confidently expand as "perfit," or make sense of as "preterit," the printer retreated in some bafflement to a fallback position in construing the immediate and local verbal continuity of the text—and proceeded to set the quire of his manuscript which not only began with what looked like the right catchword, but also used the word "tyme" twice in its second line.

Apparently without recognizing his error, the printer finished setting quire t, which should have been his manuscript's last full quire (and for that reason may not have closed with a catchword, since all that followed it was a bifolium). He now had only two quires of 8 left, each of course presenting yet another impasse of immediate verbal continuity with the preceding sentence fragment, since both were wrong at that point. Both offered unpromising headwords, neither of which made a plausible continuity with the incomplete sentence in the last line of quire t, "what wonder sith god is the gretest love and the . . .": quire r, mistakenly rejected at the first point of discontinuity, began with the problematic ". . . [nothing] preterit," and s offered the equally inauspicious ". . . nat to loke thinges with resonnyng to prove." The printer also had, of course, the final bifolium, the text that should have followed the end of the quire he had just set—but that was very obviously final, since it closed with an unambiguous explicit, and a couplet to boot:

Charyte is love/ and love is cha=
ryte/ god graunte us al therin to be frended.
And thus the Testament of Love is ended.

(f. 361r, col. 1, ll. 38-40)

Caught among bleak and narrowing possibilities, the printer may have again looked for clues to connection in similarity of local verbal details and rhetorical gesture—this time, perhaps, reasoning backward from the obvious explicit bifolium to the end of each of the remaining quires, to ascertain which of the two might sound more convincingly like a final cadence. It may have been on these grounds that quire r seemed to offer the greater likelihood of serving as a peroration: as we have seen, much of it "expownded" the elaborate organizing figure of the "waxing" tree, and its final pages reached the point of explaining the "affection" of the will—a theme that accorded well with three remaining pages extolling divine wisdom, and the "grace and frute that I long have desyred." At the end of quire s, on the other hand, the printer found Love still berating "Usk" for his dull wits, as she was doing when quire t, which he had just set, began (no surprise, for these two points are in the correct order of text immediately adjacent)—and this seemed hardly


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the right tone with which to approach the final moments of a long and high-minded dialogue of instruction and comfort.

I can offer no more precise hypothesis than this to explain why quire s was, at this point of diminishing possibilities for coherence, correctly identified as the penultimate rather than final regular quire of the book—but so it was, and the last quire of 8 set was the one that properly ought to have ensued at the first point of bafflement; it was then followed by the conclusion, easily identifiable as such by its request for the reader's prayers for the author, as well as by its tidy couplet. The printer's sole error—though it grossly and massively disrupted the sense of the text—amounted to one incorrect choice at a routine point of textual disjuncture. Yet despite its pervasive damage to local syntax and general logic in Book III, he never fully recognized this error for what it was, and attempted instead to patch over its remaining traces by desperate—and entirely local and mechanical—conjecture. In the face of unpromising alternatives, he seems to have fallen back on local rhetorical characteristics, rather than the customary scribal and bibliographical signals, at the ends of quires to reorient himself in setting the remainder of the text. In short, even in the face of temporary uncertainty, it appears that the printer never ventured continuously to read the text for elementary syntactic and semantic coherence at the level of the sentence, to say nothing of larger argumentative continuity.

More surprising—and in the long run more telling—is not that the printer failed to do so (this task belongs after all to the philologist's, not the printer's, craft-repertory), but that apparently no one else until Skeat and Bradley did so either: in the intervening centuries no one records noticing the fundamental expository and syntactic illogic that resulted. We must conclude that the only feature of Book III that interested readers in the ensuing centuries was its tribute to Chaucer, taken entirely out of context. The deeper textual and discursive logic by which this important praise was framed—and hence, I wish now to suggest, its diacritical meaning as a gesture within the intentional design of the Testament as work and act—went unnoticed, as did the elaborately metapoetic purposes served by the disposition of Usk's work as a book, both in general and in detail.

Yet if the foregoing account, drawing out the bibliographical implications of Bressie's and Jellech's revised reconstruction of the correct text-sequence, is convincing, it nevertheless remains incomplete. In order to recover the ordinatio of Thynne's source as well as the expository logic of its content—and to discern where these two levels of composition intersected in Usk's design—we must examine more closely the textual and rhetorical positioning of the one feature of Book III that seems to have interested Thynne and most readers since: its fulsome compliment to Chaucer. In order to examine the role of this seeming digression in the otherwise firm expository continuity of Book III, we must reconsider where its fifth chapter, as restored, properly begins.

As we have noted, it is not fully accurate to describe the foregoing reconstruction of text-order as a simple reversal of Skeat's chapters v and vi. Strictly


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speaking, the revision proposed thus far reverses the order of Skeat's postulated DS 6 + 2 and that of DS 3, not that of the whole of Skeat's chapters v and vi—for as we have seen, the first paragraph of Skeat's chapter v is defined as the last 8.5 Th-lines of his DS 5; it also supplies the necessary acrostic initial I for . . . THIN VSK. Yet on several grounds—syntactic, expository, rhetorical, as well as textual, and in relation to Usk's use of sources—this seems another incorrectly identified chapter-division, which unlike those in Book II remained undetected by Skeat. By all of these criteria a far more convincing chapter- division is a clear turn in the dialogue that occurs 40 Th-lines earlier, and likewise supplies the necessary I acrostic- initial. That juncture lies a page earlier in Skeat and in Thynne, where both, in my estimation, failed to discover the correct point of division between Usk's fourth and fifth chapters, at line 241 of Skeat's chapter iv. In both Thynne and Skeat it falls in the middle of a paragraph (indicated below by // ), which in Skeat reads in its entirety:

'Now sothly,' quod I, 'this have I wel understande; so that now me thinketh that prescience of god and free arbitrement withouten any repugnaunce acorden; and that maketh the strength of eternite, which encloseth by presence during al tymes, and al things that ben, han ben, and shul ben in any tyme. // I wolde now (quod I) a litel understande, sithen that [god] al thing thus beforn wot, whether thilke wetinge be of tho thinges, or els thilke thinges ben to ben of goddes weting, and thereof take his being, than shulde god be maker and auctour of badde werkes, and so he sholde not rightfully punisshe yvel doinges of mankynde.' (III.iv.236-247; Skeat p. 123)[32]

The juncture I have proposed as a chapter-division marks a clear break between steps in the logical and rhetoric of exposition, a turn from summary understanding of what has just been expounded to naming the next topic for inquiry. The division is further corroborated by the redundant marking of speaker ("quod I") in two successive sentences: this is not Usk's practice elsewhere in this work, and would be unnecessary for clarification except across a chapter-division. Equally telling, however, is the fact that the division I propose between the fourth and fifth chapters also marks a discontinuity—the first since the beginning of the third chapter of Book III—in Usk's use of his Latin source.

Usk derives Love's lengthy course of pedagogy in Book III almost entirely from Anselm's De Concordia. The first of three long blocks from it (which


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together account for some 23 of Skeat's 45 printed pages of Usk's Book III), closely and continuously translated from the start of Anselm's Book I, chapter 1, begins at the head of the third chapter of Usk's Book III. Usk signals the beginning of his lengthy appropriation of a Latin source with a variant of a device he uses frequently in the work for this purpose: Love commands "Usk" to start taking dictation: "Than gan Love nighe me nere, and with a noble countenance of visage and limmes, dressed her nigh my sitting-place. 'Take forth,' quod she, 'thy pen, and redily wryte these wordes . . .'" (III.iii.1-5; Skeat p. 111).[33] From this point, Usk works steadily and methodically through Anselm's chapters 1-5, translating almost continuously and quite fully, condensing in places, but virtually without major breaks in expository continuity.[34] He renders Anselm's chapter 5 without substantial elision, from line


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111 (in Skeat's text) of his own chapter iv, where the Latin text begins its new chapter with the Job example: Anselm introduces it as a pre-emptive answer to a possible objection, while Usk puts it in the mouth of "Usk" who here intervenes to "allege authoritees grete, that contrarien your [i.e. Love's] sayinges" (III.iv.110-111; Skeat p. 119). With what I consider the concluding sentence of Usk's fourth chapter, Usk reaches the end of Anselm's chapter 5. He now departs briefly from the continuity of his Latin source for the first time since he began translating extensively from it: what I consider the first sentence of his fifth chapter, beginning with the acrostic-bearing I ("I wolde now (quod I) a litel understonde . . .") translates the first paragraph of Anselm's chapter 7.

Usk uses no more of De Concordia I.7 than this sentence, however. He now momentarily departs from Anselm altogether, to introduce his famous and fulsome praise of Chaucer, put in the mouth of Love, who commends to "Usk" the treatment of the requested "mater" presented by "the noble philosophical poete in English" in "a tretis that he made of my servant Troilus": "His better ne his pere in scole of my rules coude I never fynde." Much of the purported awkwardness often noted in the placement of this compliment vanishes with the redivision of chapters. This extensive tribute to an admired contemporary now introduces Usk's account of the upright will as the "grounde" of right loving, instead of occurring, as Skeat's chapter division would have it, almost as an aside or afterthought, an additional contemporary authority somewhat awkwardly hailed in, "alleged" merely to finish off an abstruse distinction between the human and divine sense of temporal seriality.[35] In its newly featured position at the head of a chapter it marks a


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point of transition in Usk's independent use of Anselm's argument, from the exposition of the divine perspective on temporal events to an account of the world of human experience and action, and the central role of the upright and constant will in that realm. Anselm's treatise makes that transition in a chapter (vi) of De Concordia omitted by Usk, with a brief consideration of divine justice in allowing "our first parents" to fall; in its place Usk's Love "alleges" her own authority: Chaucer's "tretis," and the exposition of this thorny problem already expounded by "my servant Troilus."

The corrected chapter division renders this praise of Chaucer no mere sycophantic digression, but rather the hinge between the two main movements of Usk's argument, from metaphysical to moral philosophy—surely Chaucer's two great distinctions as a thinker and writer in the eyes of contemporaries in the 1380s.[36] Whatever its further motives in the world of


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patronage and mutual acknowledgment among vernacular writers, with this gesture Usk indicates his own careful and independent suturing and redirection of Anselm's treatise to his own purposes: when he returns to De Concordia, it is to Anselm's Book III, and Usk's use of it is from that point "grounded" (as Anselm's is not) in the analogical image of the tree, greatly amplified by Usk in his own fifth and sixth chapters. The compliment to Chaucer—falling, as it does, far past the most densely clustered of Usk's verbal allusions to Troilus—thus serves, like Usk's own petitionary and signatory acrostic, an important diacritical function in the work. This strategic and independent deployment of a graceful compliment to a "modern classic" of serious vernacular philosophizing to serve an important suturing function in his own ambitious argument is indicative of Usk's care throughout his own composition to align the disposition of his work as text with its substantive argumentative articulation and self- positioning gestures. It now remains to examine the further signs of this formal attention in the work's bibliographical disposition.

With the foregoing proposed redivision of chapters in Book III, we may now return to the further textual implications of this restoration of both continuity and chapter-articulation. As we noted above, if the quires we have posited as the regular format of the manuscript were of eight leaves, then the contents of the three displaced quires imply that each leaf contained about 25-26.5 Th-lines of text. The revised chapter division discloses that chapter- lengths in the third book (and as became apparent when this hypothesis was applied to quiring the entire preceding contents of each Book of the work) fall into multiples of this module. The redivided chapters illustrate the general principle. My correction reassigns all of the last 48 lines of DS 5 to Usk's fifth chapter as I now redefine its boundaries—that is, the contents of two manuscript pages. This fifth chapter now consists first of the 39.5 Th-lines that Skeat had assigned to the conclusion of his chapter iv, followed by the first 8.5 lines he assigns to the beginning of his chapter v. It continues with all 129 lines of DS 6 (which begin Skeat's chapter vi), then all 88 lines of DS 2 (which in Skeat end chapter vi), to define the corrected fifth chapter as now 265 Th-lines in length—probably 10 full sides or pages of a manuscript quired in eights. The redefined sixth chapter consists solely of DS 3, and is 197 lines


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long. The redefined fourth chapter is now 314 lines long: the 76.5 lines (3 pages) that began in the preceding quire, before the first displacement of text, plus 237.5 more (9 pages) in DS 5.[37]

Working backward from the reconstructed quires of eight to postulate that its preceding quires were similarly assembled and ruled confirms the astonishing inference that these chapter-length modules suggest: that the acrostic chapter-initial almost certainly always fell in page-initial position—and therefore that the acrostic was a featured aspect of the design of the book at the point of composition of the text. It follows, in other words, that the amplitude of the expository composition and the ordinatio of the material book were planned simultaneously, and by one hand—Usk's. It is important to underscore here the durchkomponiert character of this entire integrated textual performance: the patterns inferred here imply that the amplitude of the prose composition had to be continually adjusted so as to support the chosen overall physical disposition of the book's divisions and the acrostic that marked them. Its overall page-format possibly differentiated levels of ornament for these initials as the message proceeded across the three books from the honored and probably symbolic addressee (the enigmatic "Margarete") in Book I, to the petition (Book II), then to the name of the humble petitioner and author.

Usk's care with these features of layout and ornament imply that he considered them aspects of the work's expressive and communicative form, a sign of the kinds of books to which he wished his own to assert a pleasing and thought-provoking resemblance. It also—and by no means incidentally, in view of the widespread assumption that Usk wrote this work in isolation and impoverishment—implies that Usk either himself knew the limner's as well as scrivener's art, or knew how to find and put out text to such artisans and to plan the campaign of work of an entire book around this complex integration of crafts. As we shall see, he was not alone among governmental bureaucrats who commanded these constituent skills of text-production. Nor does Usk leave these compositional beauties of his work entirely to the fortuitous notice of his contemporaries. He prominently declares the aesthetic principles, textual logic, and terms of connoisseurship of an impressive piece of manuscript book- design by witty inscription in the rhetorical self-exegesis of the Testament—especially, as we shall see, in the elaborately allusive proems to each Book. The artfulness of this work as both a material and a verbal composition is repeatedly advertised in passages of self-explanation at key points of expository, compilatory, and rhetorical transition; it remains to examine the relations between these two levels and forms of self-clarification in the Testament.

The tribute to Chaucer is one such complex linkage between the


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bibliographic and metapoetic levels. This compliment to an admired contemporary man of letters also serves to specify the forma tractandi and forma tractatus of Usk's own work, to mark its distinctive philosophic ambitions, to declare a point of independence from his actual source in the act of professing allegiance with an admired and similarly "classicizing" model, and to indicate a new movement in his argument, from metaphysical hypothesis to worldly ethics. Each of these levels of signification subtly comments on the others; at such points (and they are many in the Testament) it is difficult to separate signifier and signified, figure from ground. Usk's own description of the intricate multiplicity of his designs can hardly be bettered: "In this boke be many privy thinges wimpled and folde; unneth shul leude men the plites unwinde" (III.ix.76-77; Skeat p. 144).[38] To discern the full intricacy of these "plites," we may return one more time to the "folds" of the material text Thynne had before him. In those seemingly anomalous hair-side chapter-initials, in Thynne's erroneous chapter-divisions, and other small slips between script and print, we may detect more of the coterie wit of Usk's design, as a textworker's display piece addressed to the connoisseurship of other men of letters.

We have noted in passing a few exceptions to the inferentially derived larger descriptive "rules" of the book's make-up, all of them occurring in the latter half of the work. Three will require our attention: the printer's two erroneous chapter-heads in Book II; the increased frequency in the latter half of the work with which chapter- initials fall on the hair-side of a leaf, or a verso page (or both); and the possible occurrence (heretofore unremarked) of chapter-initials in other than page-initial position within the final reaches of the work. These, I shall suggest, are linked phenomena, and have implications for understanding the ornamental program by which the chapter-acrostic was marked throughout the manuscript book—a program whose explicit rationale and terms of connoisseurship Usk describes in his Prologue.

In the quiring scheme I propose, the acrostic initial falls on a flesh-side of the leaf without exception through II.ix—that is, in the first 20 of the work's 34 chapters (considering the Prologue a chapter for this purpose); two-thirds of these occurrences are on a recto page. By contrast, in the last 14 chapters of the work—chapters x-xiv of Book II, and all nine chapters of Book III—four have chapter-initials that would by regular quiring fall on the hair-side of the leaf; even more striking is the occurrence of 11 of these 14 on a verso page, including all but the first chapter of Book III. All three of the printer's


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erroneous identifications of chapter-initials occur within this second portion of the work: the two identified and rectified by Skeat in the misdivision of II.x, and the other the one I have proposed for the redivision between the fourth and fifth chapters of Book III. It would have been possible (see Appendix B) within this general quiring scheme to avert all hair-side acrostic-initials by slight adjustments in the quiring layout—if that had been a desideratum in the making of the book. Yet there are good reasons for supposing that in the latter portion of the work this was no longer the case, even if it had been to that point a regular feature of the book's design. We may best approach this question by considering these anomalous placements of chapter-initials in the latter portion of the work as designed variations in the general program of ornament for the acrostic.

When Thomas Godfrey, Thynne's printer, first misidentified a chapter-division, shortly after II.x, it may be that his mistake inadvertently registered a change in the manuscript's ornamentation plan at this point in the text—a change at the level of page-layout and elaboration rather than quiring. At some point after II.vii (after, that is, the acrostic had spelled MARGARET OF VIRTW) the decorative program may have lowered its elaboration by one or more levels, shifting from feature-initial blocks intended for painted decoration to letters enhanced only by red or blue color, or simply by pen-flourishes—forms of ornament for which the provision of flesh-side page surface was less important.[39] Possibly this reduction in ornamental decorum happened in two stages, with a second downward shift in the ornateness of decorated initials at the end of Book II (after the acrostic had finished spelling HAVE MERCI) leaving all of Book III to indicate the name of the humbly petitioning would-be recipient of "Margarete's" favor—ON THIN VSK—in letters still less ornate than those preceding. Thynne's printed text certainly suggests such a three-level distinction in the overall decorative scheme, for it registers its own downward shifts in decorum at just these two points.[40]


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Usk indicates on the first page of his Prologue an exact awareness of at least three distinct levels of visual adornment of texts available to the accomplished textworker: diacritical gradations not only of bibliographical style but of laboriousness and skill, expense and value: "colours riche," "red inke," and "coles and chalke" (i.e. black and white) (Prologue 14-22; Skeat p. 1). The levels of verbal and imaginative arts, rather than scribal or limner's crafts enlisted in the making of the book, are of course the primary figurative referent here: the "colours" are presumably those of elevated rhetorical style and figuration, while Usk equates "red ink" with verse rhythm or meter as an ornament for pointing a composition and making it memorable; "coles and chalke" mark the humbler mode of his own prose endeavor—a practical medium that may nevertheless "yeve sight, that other precious thinges shal be the more in reverence." Usk loads this threefold distinction of levels still further by suggesting its loose correlation with the triad of Latin, in which "clerkes endyten . . . for they have the propertee of science," French, in which "Frenchmen . . . endyten their queynt termes," and English "our dames tonge"—realized in its full plainness and "leudeness" in prose. Here as often in the work, the bibliophile's, the textworker's, the translator's, and the verbal maker's terms of art are used to signify moral and rhetorical categories, and vice versa: compositional values and textual and bibliographical codes are mutually implicated. It is not beyond Usk's inkhorn wit to indicate thus what he intended to have realized graphically in the bibliographical program and decor of his book: that its central "precious thinges"—"Margarete" and all she represents—will receive more lavish tribute in visual ornament than the name and mission of the petitioner, inscribed in the mere black-and-white of pen flourishes, the visibility of the latter a tribute to the better colours" that limn the precious Margarete in its "lewe shel." Yet as this false-modesty topos indicates, such differentiation of levels of style and ornament articulates a single endeavor: to "yeve sight" to the intentional design of the whole, as a signed petitionary act of a textworker who thus, and far from incidentally, displays to the "sleigh inseer" his thorough acquaintance with, and technical command of, all aspects of his craft. In the very act of disavowing his own aspiration to wield "queynt knittynge colours" in this work, Usk marks


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himself as a connoisseur and designer, if not a direct practitioner, of every level of the textmaker's art.

What specific kind of book was Usk's Testament designed to be, or to resemble? The question awaits a more expert codicologist's attention (which I hope here to invite), but a few tentative answers suggest themselves. This is a relatively small-format book, in overall size and page-format much like that of many other vernacular books of around 1400.[41] It is thus highly portable and personal. Yet unlike many other vernacular books of this size and arrangement—most of those known to me comparatively unadorned and practical in their "production values"—its regularities of design imply some expense of forethought and labor in programmatic and unitary production as a book intended to be "read" and valued as an object, returned to and savored, opened, unfolded—literally ex-plicated—reflectively by a reader approaching its matter in and through its manner, its ordinatio as such. In this respect its compositional ambitions as a book more closely resemble those of larger folio manuscripts of Usk's contemporaries (the Ellesmere, and the carefully- arranged larger Gower manuscripts, come to mind; the slightly smaller Troilus manuscripts, such as the ornamented Corpus manuscript, may offer a closer analogue). It is in this sense something of an oxymoron as a book of vernacular prose: personal in scale and mode, yet relatively refined and ornate as a made object.

The presence of a signatory acrostic also links it with some Latin texts of the fourteenth century, notably Higden's Polychronicon.[42] Usk certainly knew this work, since he appropriates extended figures from it early and often in the Testament. His first such appropriation is in the service of self-exegesis, adapted to indicate the mode of his own work, and the kind of wit it will exhibit throughout:

Yet also have I leve of the noble husbande Boece, although I be a straunger of conninge, to come after his doctrine, and these grete workmen, and glene my handfuls of the shedinge after their handes; and, if me faile ought of my ful, to encrease my porcion with that I shal drawe by privitees out of the shocke.

(Prologue 110-114; Skeat p. 4)


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His own work, Usk here artfully proclaims, will be something of a cento drawn from the leavings of "these grete workmen" among his illustrious contemporaries (albeit largely as unattributed self-help—"by privitees"—for "a slye servaunt in his owne helpe is often muche commended"), as well as from the "noble husband Boece": here Usk conjures a pun (Boaz/Boece) out of Higden's gleaning figure to name the primary fictive modality of his own enterprise, the expository dialogue. Yet Higden's acrostic is simply signatory ("Presentem cronica compilavit frater Ranulphus Cestrensis monachus"), not, like Usk's, also petitionary, and it disposes the acrostic initials at chapter openings "wherever they fall on the page."[43] Acrostics with an additional diacritical function—that is, those that articulate by their placement the form or intent of the work itself, as well as spell a signature or other message—are more often ornaments of stanziac verse compositions. Usk is, moreover, self-referentially witty in calling attention to his acrostic: in his prologue (chapter i) to Book II he again frames his advertisement of formal design in the form of a humility topos: "But bycause that in connynge I am yong, and can yet but crepe, this leude A.b.c. have I set in-to lerning; for I can not passen the telling of three as yet" (II.i.112-114; Skeat p. 49).[44] It appears we must seek further for the analogues invoked by this formal disposition, and by the thoroughgoing bibliographic design, of his work.

Strange as it may seem, these properties of the book ally it more closely with religious service-books of various sorts designed for personal use, than with vernacular manuscripts of either prose or verse. With its acrostic head-letters of each chapter in page-initial position, and a probable further differentiation of the decorative program of these initials along the course of the acrostic, as it proceeded from naming the symbolic honoree, to specifying the act of virtue sought, to the petitioner's identity in the maker's signature, the visual disposition of the page alludes broadly to the differentiated means by which the levels of segmentation of text were marked in psalters, books of


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hours, and breviaries made for personal use.[45] However loosely, the book's format provocatively alludes to the formal protocols and diacritical markers of books of prayer, petition, and devotion of various intricately organized kinds, and invites comparison of its maker's textualized speech-act with those individual liturgical rehearsals of praise and confession that such books enabled. In other words, by this means the maker manages to imply that his book might be regarded as a kind of "service-book," albeit realized in a largely secular, civic register: it is, in effect, a visible, and endlessly repeatable, act of devotion to an ideal of constancy, an exemplification and performance (as praise or prayer is "performed") of the motions of the rightly directed will, albeit in royal or civic rather than divine "service." As a testament, it instantiates what it also recommends to the user of the book: perfect service impelled not by fear or favor, but solely by "love." If this was the perceived mode of the book to Usk's contemporaries, it becomes possible to imagine that "moral Gower" might have meant in earnest the commendation, made in the voice of Venus to Amans as she sends him back from his long and now- terminated visionary love-quest to the ordinary world, to "gret wel Chaucer" and urge him to "make his testament of love."

However startling, this analogy of the Testament with personal performance of liturgical devotions is not in the least far-fetched: one need look no further than Usk's own self-exegeses in the work to find its rationale. It has been remarked that Usk's range of devotions on the block as he faced his death—impressive even to the Monk of Westminster, who was otherwise no admirer of Usk and all his kind—implied "near- professional" competence and familiarity with the central clerical "reading and singing" repertoire: "the Placebo and Dirige, the Seven Penitential Psalms, the Te Deum, Nunc dimittis, Quicumque vult" (the Athanasian Creed), and "other hymns that bear upon devotion in the hour of death."[46] The resemblance of this array to the "limbs" by which Langland's Will labors in his vocation has also been observed.[47] Similarly, in the Testament Usk presents his ultimate purpose not as petition but "joye," to which he hopes to gain access by "the key of David." In a pose remarkably like Langland's fictive self-representation as one who "solaces himself" with his "makings," Usk suggests from the beginning of his work that the mode of this enterprise is to be understood with reference to the psalmist, and more broadly as an act of performed devotion: "Lo, David sayth, 'thou hast delyted me in makinge,' as who sayth, to have


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delyt in the tune, how god hath lent me in consideration of thy makinge" (Prologue 61-64, Skeat p. 3). Here he adverts to Psalm 91:1-4; in the first chapter of the third book, the third of the three prologues in which Usk declares the modes and intentions of the work, he explains his purpose in bringing his work to fulfillment with the "most certayn" number three (as history itself is completed with the end of earthly time and the reign of "joye"), and once again adverts to the language of formal devotion.[48] "But yet at the dore shal I knocke, if the key of David wolde the locke unshitte, and he bring me in, which that childrens tonges both openeth and closeth" (III.i.159-161; Skeat pp. 105-106). The primary allusion is to one of the "O" antiphons—"O clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis et nemo claudit, claudis et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis"—further enriched, it appears, with an association of that passage with Psalm 8:2, ex ore infantium et lactantium laudes perfecisti," the first psalm of Matins of the Office of the Blessed Virgin. The entire prologue (i.e. chapter i) of Book III bristles with such allusion: in the passage used as an epigraph to this essay ("hony of the hard stone, oyle of the dry rocke"), Usk quotes Deuteronomy 32:13, a verse from the Canticum Moysi, one of the six Old Testament canticles that followed Psalm 150 in most English psalters; it is immediately followed by a passage that invokes Isaiah 12:3, from the Canticum Isaye, another of these six (possibly with associations of still other verses I have not identified), linking it in turn directly to the "key of David" passage:[49]
But for my book shal be of joye (as I sayd), and I [am: Skeat] so fer set from thilke place from whens gladnesse shulde come; my corde is to short to lete my boket ought cacche of that water; and fewe men be abouten my corde to eche, and many in ful purpose ben redy it shorter to make, and to enclose th'entre, that myn boket of joye nothing sholde cacche, but empty returne, my careful sorowes to encrese . . .: good lord, send me water in-to the cop of these mountayns, and I shal drinke therof, my thurstes to stanche, and sey, these be comfortable welles. And yet I seye more, the house of joye to me is nat opened. . . .

(III.i.140-154; Skeat p. 105)

It is in moves like these, rather than in Usk's use of the extended tree figure that has thus far been the primary focus of attention in considering the relations between the Testament and Piers Plowman, that we must look for the most significant intertextualities—or at least similarities in conceptualizing the writer's compositional and social-performative identity—with Langland's poem. For both, the language of liturgical service is also a language not only of spiritual self-realization, but also of literary and social self-explanation and self-justification, an inexhaustible fountain of tropes for the only


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"autobiography" or self-exculpation that ultimately mattered to these makers: that which declared to users the modality of their work. Yet in assessing Usk's deployment of this language, it is equally important to note the insider's self-deprecatory humor in its homely elaboration here: the conceit of the "boket" diving repeatedly into an out-of-the-way "welle" and coming up short, at the end of a "corde" always in danger of being further shortened in its laborious but largely futile pursuit of the nourishing "waters" of "joye." If this speaks of and from the abjection of the man of letters dependent on patronage, it does so not from a posture of desperation or isolation, but wittily and gamely for the recognition of others in the same crowded boat—or "boket."

Was this manuscript book an autograph? Thus far I have spoken of it in ways that imply Usk's "hand" in its making, if not literally as its scribal hand, then at least in its production, in some fashion direct enough to assure that its textual amplitude and its bibliographic disposition on the page were coordinated to produce the unusually regular occurrence of its chief diacritic in page-initial position, and often enough on a flesh side of a leaf to realize the ordinational effects of this arrangement—a state of affairs that at least implies some tinkering and adjustments in the text by Usk at the point of preparing fair copy, if not more direct and personal involvement in the actual book that came to Thynne's hands. We cannot, of course, answer this question in the absence of the manuscript (though if the book were to come to light it could quickly be ascertained, since Usk's approver's appeal, still preserved in the Public Record Office, ostentatiously proclaims its writing by Usk's "owne honde").[50]

Analogies, however, are not far to seek for the autograph production of elaborately planned decorated books in this period.[51] James le Palmere, treasurer's scribe in the Exchequer, planned and wrote in his own hand a three-volume encylopedia of his own devising, and his integrative work in its making included putting out the text to pen-flourishers and painters who


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completed the decorative initials to Palmere's specifications, as Palmere continued work on the production of text; some of the decorative work on the manuscript postdated Palmere's death in 1375.[52] Like Usk, Palmere was a Londoner and the son of a tradesman (his father was a mercer, Usk's a capmaker), but like Usk's, Palmere's own occupation, and whatever patronage or preferment he received, was founded on his writing and textual skills. Like Usk's composition of the Testament, Palmere's work on his massive encyclopedia can only have been an avocation, an alternative and somewhat ostentatious deployment of his marketable abilities, perhaps to advertise their possessor as a man of versatile and useful talents. But their exercise at a high level of successful integrative operation would also have been a matter of pride, self-esteem, and ultimately sheer personal pleasure, as it always is for a skilled and proficient craftsperson of any trade: not simply an instrument and medium of employment and potential advancement, but also those of a jeu d'esprit, sheer self-delighting self-display: "thou hast delighted me in making."

These material and discursive signs suggest that Usk worked through the production of the Testament in an environment in which, if gainful employment was always that of a dependent, and hence to some degree precarious (a fact of life that many of his contemporaries also registered in writing), the exercise of its constituent skills was neither isolated nor unregarded, and was well-populated with knowledgeable appreciators near at hand. It was their attention and admiration primarily, and only secondarily that of agents who might more accurately be termed political or dispositive, that, I believe, Usk sought to engage with the Testament. In terms of ultimate effects, this might be considered by some a distinction without a difference: the right "sleigh inseers" within the textual bureacracy could put in a good word for a man of talent at least as effectively a great landowner or knight—perhaps more so, since they knew and could assess the skills and qualities of character involved in literate employment. But it makes a great deal of difference to our understanding of the conception of the means, agency and "art" available to men of letters in the later fourteenth century, and the terms of their shared self-awareness as "professionals," however multiform their actual appointments over the course of a career.

Did Usk actually find in these circles of textworkers the contemporary appreciation he sought? The lack of a surviving manuscript of the work, let alone multiple copies of it, may not constitute a meaningful answer to this question. Especially in view of Usk's brutal execution in 1388 (the Westminster Chronicler reports that it took thirty blows of the axe to dispatch him, surely cruel and unusual punishment in an era, and among a host of similar executions in the same season, when a single stroke usually sufficed), and the fraught political factionalism that never wholly ceased to revolve around the king in the last fifteen years of the century, it is unlikely that anyone who possessed a copy at that point, or who had encountered the work in


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the making, would have had any reason to promulgate its further copying. If it was chiefly admired by, as it had been designed for, fellow textworkers, themselves as ultimately dependent as Usk had been on royal favor and its shifting fortunes, the Testament would already have done, for Usk and these "frendes," all the ideational and ideological work it could do: testified elaborately to their common condition, shared hopes, and—much more important—the terms within which they could articulate the common grounds of their self-respect. Beyond that, it could only be a souvenir, preserved among the papers of those to whom it recalled the man who had inscribed his name and petition in its very structure. Indeed, the care invested in its making as a material text would have made it all the more difficult to reproduce, as well as largely devoid of discursive interest much beyond these circles. Surely at best caviare to the general by virtue of its complex, almost frenetic, allusiveness to the constituent repertory of "clerical" (but not in the first instance ecclesiastical or religious) art, it would also have been hard to copy in such a way as to retain its material terms of art as well: to recall an analogous instance, the Pearl manuscript—sole witness to all its texts, and quite possibly a humbly-made copy of a more expertly and expensively designed illustrated and decorated exemplar—is to acknowledge how narrow is the gap between rarity and complete annihilation of textual testimony, and how little can be inferred from sheer numerical attestation.

Better testimony, therefore, is that of Usk's contemporary makers, in their own work: Gower's, for one, and possibly even Langland's (if an ignotum per ignotius may be taken in evidence). In addition to "Gower's" fictively-displaced injunction to "Chaucer" (the quotation marks signifying, as they have in discussing the Testament, the represented maker in the work), there is also a haunting echo of Usk's apologia pro vita sua in Langland's last representation of Will's justification of his anomalous enterprise. In the waking encounter in London, inserted between the first two dreams of the poem, at the head of Passus V of the C-version, the same "singing and reading" repertory that had marked Usk's pious last moments constitutes the tools of Will's elusive trade, which like Usk he defends by analogies drawn from the parables. The Pearl of Great Price figures for both as the ultimate ideal object of value in this anomalous vocation, the obscure object of clerical desire; the Dishonest Steward ("a slye servaunt in his owne helpe is often moche commended") is also invoked by Will's use of the wily "servaunt's" plea of exemption from manual labor, to dig I am unable, to beg I am ashamed—a text adduced repeatedly by clerical wits since at least the twelfth century in defense of the distinctively non-laborious and irrevocable character of their vocation. Besides its own richly self-referential wit, this one Langlandian representation of a judicial proceeding against the maker-protagonist—a passage almost certainly written within no more than a year after Usk's execution—may have gained additional resonance by recalling to fellow textworkers another recent encounter by one of their number with censorious juridical authority, with far less happy results: while Usk went to the block for his textual service to the wrong powers, in Langland's fictive version


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"Will" escapes sanctions to dream and "make" the rest of the poem.[53] Nor was Langland the only one of Usk's contemporaries to frame a declaration of authorial intent in the fictive form of a high-stakes encounter with punitive regal will and authority: the Legend of Good Women and the Confessio Amantis, both produced in the later 1380s, likewise stage the implications of these writers' recognition of an uneasy and shifting dependency that always underlies their resilient subjective sense of the intellectual and spiritual integrity attained through the exercise of "clerical" arts.

If this was the "reading" Usk received from contemporaries, it is not difficult to imagine that his book came to survive among their effects as a kind of keepsake; it was among such family "heyrelomes" that it may have attracted Thynne's notice as a piece of Chauceriana. While from the point of view of modern literary scholarship and textual culture Thynne and his printer were astonishingly indifferent to the content of Usk's text (had it been otherwise someone would certainly have noticed the massive displacements in Book III), we have in the foregoing signs copious evidence that Thynne "read" with some care and perception the various niceties of visual ordinatio, and general bibliographical signs of value and care that his source manuscript provided—and not merely for the mechanical marking-off of text toward the spatial and workshop planning of his own massive folio production. Perhaps more fundamentally, we can discern in Thynne's presentational choices thus far his "reading" of the complex bibliographical codes, both large-scale and minute, that indicated the work's generic affinities and aspirations, and expressed its intended value and "meaning" as an object by means that were both physically and culturally legible. Though no philologist or literary critic—or for that matter even a self-conscious connoisseur of books as such, though he was proud of his assiduous searches for Chaucerian material to print—Thynne appears nevertheless to have been keenly conversant with the broad craft-language and aesthetic capacities of his own occupation, an astute observer and interpreter of its terms of art.[54] His conversational capacities in this kind, moreover, seem to have extended some way into the "history of the language"—that is, into an intuitive grasp of the conventions of what amounted to the antecedent stage of his own practice: the London manuscript book- trade, and its expressive forms and media. As we have had occasion to notice at many points in this essay, insofar as the Testament was realized and transmitted as a work in this "language," Usk was a self-conscious user of it, and he found in Thynne a very good reader indeed.[55]


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How good a reader was Thynne? Not good enough to have read the acrostic for what it was (rather than simply as a sign of the care and value invested in the making of the manuscript book), or to have read Usk's "philosophy" at all. But more than good enough to have offered plentiful and eloquent testimony—almost all of it largely inadvertent—about Usk's book: not only about its physical form, but about the "intente" and discursive horizon within which it was designed and produced. Thynne's edition bespeaks professional assurance, not only about its own means and bibliographical "language" and conventions, but also about its counterparts in late fourteenth-century book culture. It is therefore a highly competent professional "reading," legible precisely because of, and through, its own historically situated terms of trade and art.[56]

The testimony it offers must give us second thoughts about the character


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portrait of Usk thus far extrapolated from his political misfortune, and inferred from his verbal style and eagerly emulative use of form and genre. In the world in which Usk had a continuous professional identity, he was, on this evidence, far from the headlong, "erratic, overardent" political player he has seemed to most modern scholarship. He spoke with assurance and eloquence the material language of books, and it appears his more respected contemporaries recognized it. And within the terms of his own trade, so did Thynne: paradoxically, the lost manuscript speaks with uncanny clarity through Thynne's professional appreciation of a common language, and perhaps even more clearly through his error than it might done without it. One way or another, "poor Usk" received, it seems, both the "sleigh inseers" and the "good bookamender" he wished for.