Chaucer's Scogan and Scogan's Chaucer
Robert Epstein. Studies in Philology. Chapel Hill: Winter 1999.Vol. 96, Iss. 1; pg. 1, 21 pgs
Abstract (Document Summary)
Epstein compares Geoffrey Chaucer's "Envoy to Scogan" and Henry Scogan's "Moral Balade," which makes reference to, and use of, Chaucer. The similarities of the two poems represent the continuties of literary culture in late medieval England, while their contrasts reveal poetic expectations were changing at this time.
Full Text (8635 words)
Copyright University of North Carolina Press Winter 1999
ONE of the more notable recent developments in the study of Middle English has been the extended critical attention paid, at long last, to the poetry of the fifteenth-century court. The literature of the Lancastrian period is being revealed as integral to a royal polity that, in the scope of its cultural imagination, anticipates the Tudors; it is also being shown to share many of the qualities of Ricardian poetry. "The fifteenth century was not a period of cultural decline," Larry Scanlon has recently written. "It was a period that carried on the cultural expansion that had begun in the last half of the fourteenth."1 But this cultural continuity should not obscure very real differences between dynastic cultures. While a "cultural expansion" may have begun in some regards under the Plantagenets, the Ricardian and Lancastrian courts were in many ways distinct in their poetic conventions. A pair of related poems from the separate periods can illustrate this distinction: Geoffrey Chaucer's Envoy to Scogan, and the same Henry Scogan's Moral Balade, which makes conspicuous reference to, and use of, the recently deceased Chaucer. While the similarities between the two poems demonstrate the continuities of literary culture in late medieval England, their contrasts reveal the changes in poetic expectations from the Ricardian to the Lancastrian court, as well as a profound shift in the style of monarchical representation.
The Envoy to Scogan is among a group of verse epistles Chaucer addresses to personal friends. Truth, or the Balade de Bon Conseyl, includes an envoy to Chaucer's friend Sir Philip de la Vache. As Chaucer advises Vache against the vicissitudes of the court, he rather more sardonically counsels his friend Sir Peter Bukton against the seemingly less mitigated adversity of marriage. The Envoy to Bukton has the mock ruefulness of a toast at a bachelor party, and in addition to touching on Chaucer's usual anti-matrimonial topoi also makes specific reference to the Wife of Bath as a published authority. In both poems, the ostensible setting is private and convivial, the tone familiar and ironic. Chaucer's voice is urbane-even when composed within an idiom of pastoral remove from urban society-and stoical, valorizing self-reliance and individual friendships. The continuity of this poetic voice with that in the Chaucerian opus at large and the allusion in Bukton to his great work in progress provide further evidence that Chaucer's primary audience, real and ideal, was in that shifting coterie of friends and associates-educated professionals, minor aristocracy, and servants of the royal bureaucracy-most commonly considered the "Chaucer circle."2 Like all verse epistles, Bukton and Truth maintain a sense of private correspondence that is largely, but not entirely, pretense.
The Envoy to Scogan is if anything more ironic than that to Bukton and more convivial than that to Vache; it is easy to imagine Chaucer himself reading it to a gathering of friends including Scogan. The poem probably dates from the early 1390s, when Scogan was tutor to the sons of Henry of Derby, grandsons, that is, of John of Gaunt. Chaucer begins Scogan by mixing classical and biblical imagery to describe recent floods. Chaucer asks the source of these rains and then answers that they are Venus's tears. The goddess weeps because she has been offended by Scogan. Since his lady took no heed of his distress, Scogan gave her up at Michaelmas. As Chaucer proceeds to trace the ramifications of Scogan's actions on himself, his wordplay becomes ever more intricate and his irony more complex:
Thow drowe in skorn Cupide eke to record Of thilke rebel word that thow hast spoken, For which he wol no lenger be thy lord. And, Scogan, though his bowe be nat broken, He wol nat with his arwes been ywroken On the, ne me, ne noon of oure figure; We shul of him have neyther hurt ne cure.
Now certes, frend, I dreed of thyn unhap, Lest for thy gilt the wreche of Love procede On alle hem that ben hoor and rounde of shap, That ben so lykly folk in love to spede. Than shal we for oure labour have no mede; But wel I wot, thow wolt answere and saye, "Lo, olde Grisel lyst to ryme and playe!"
Nay, Scogan, say not so, for I m'excuseGod helpe me so!-in no rym, dowteles, Ne thynke I never of slep to wake my muse, That rusteth in my shethe stille in pees. While I was yong, I put hir forth in prees; But al shal passe that men prose or ryme; Take every man hys turn, as for his tyme.
This poetic voice is familiar from the rest of Chaucer's poetry. As always, Chaucer writes as writer, with his customary intertwining of amatory conventions and scribal occupation. He is the incompetent lover who writes of love, the servant of the servants of love. In fact, the extended metaphor-extended over the length of his career-through which Chaucer links writing and love here reaches its zenith, with the expression of Eros and the act of poetic composition so closely analogized as to be nearly indistinguishable. Chaucer conflates sexual intercourse and writing so completely in Scogan that there are portions in which it is grammatically impossible to tell whether Chaucer is describing the act of love or the act of writing of love. When Chaucer expresses his fear that Cupid's wrath will fall not only on Scogan but on all fat, grey-haired men, "That ben so lykly folk in love to spede" (1. 32), does he use the infinitive "to spede" intransitively, with "folk" as its subject, or transitively, with "folk" as its object? Is Chaucer saying, that is, that he and Scogan had before been likely characters to succeed in love, or that they had been likely to guide lovers to success?4
The postures of semi-private amicability and self-conscious writerliness so typical of Chaucer are essential to the Envoy to Scogan. Thus, in the sixth stanza (11. 36-42), Chaucer's bawdy at its most sublimely intricate and polyvalent, he sighs that his "muse" now sleeps peacefully, rusting in its "shethe," because he no longer puts her forth "in prees." "Prees" is the same word he uses in Truth, his envoy to Philip de la Vache. There Chaucer paints the city and the court as the arena of Fortune, and offers his friend the Boethian counsel of stoical resignation from such duplicity and inevitable disappointment, and withdrawal to honest solitude. "Flee from the prees," he tells Vache, "and dwelle with sothfastnesse." Among the many meanings, then, implied by Chaucer's claim in the Envoy to Scogan-"While I was yong, I put hir forth in prees"-are that Chaucer is no longer sexually active; that he is no longer writing love poetry; that he is no longer dwelling amidst the untrue crowds of court and city; that he is no longer composing for the erotic-poetic expectations of the public audience or wider "prees" of court. Add to this that Chaucer is characteristically playing with our perceptions of authorship, as he pens a poetic claim to be beyond poetry. Even at his ostensibly most informal and private, writerliness is as much a part of his self-presentation as are corpulence and jaundiced cynicism veiled by feigned naivete.
Chaucer's anti-curial stance in this poetry should not be taken as evidence that he was actually removed from courtly culture, or independent of royal patronage. He certainly was dependent on it. But while Richard II patronized men who were poets, it is not clear that he intentionally fostered the production of literature. And it is clear that he did not expect his patronage to be poetically acknowledged. It is not typical, therefore, for Chaucer to address himself in his poetry to Richard II, or to other figures of royal power or patronage.5
But such poems do exist. Also among Chaucer's shorter poems are works addressed not to personal friends like Bukton or Vache but to prominent aristocrats. Such envoys are especially significant for being virtually the only instances in his opus in which Chaucer addresses himself to aristocratic figures of patronage and power.6 For example, the Complaint of Venus, a translation from Oton de Grandson, in its envoy humbly addresses the poem to a princess: "Princes, receyveth this compleynt in gre, / Unto your excelent benignite / Direct after my litel suffisaunce" (11. 73-5). This princess has been identified as Isabel of York, after the authority of John Shirley, whose reliability is hardly unimpeachable, but in this case not necessarily unsound.
But more certain and altogether more provocative is Chaucer's envoy to Lak of Stedfastnesse. This short poem shows few signs of being more than an innocuous plea for truth and constancy in a false and mutable world. And though Chaucer unexpectedly attaches to it an envoy addressing the poem to Richard II, the envoy seems hardly more remarkable, a rushed and perfunctory list of commonplace counsels:
O prince, desyre to be honourable,
Cherish thy folk and hate extorcioun.
Suffre nothing that may be reprevable
To thyn estat don in thy regioun.
Shew forth thy swerd of castigacioun,
Dred God, do law, love trouthe and worthinesse,
And wed thy folk agein to stedfastnesse.
But Paul Strohm has shown that Lak of Stedfastnesse is deeply informed by the political maneuverings of the late 138os. In 1386 and 1387, the Lords Appellant, in reaction to what they characterized as the excesses and abuses of the court, intervened on young Richard II's authority, restricting his powers for the remainder of his minority. This period of political eclipse for Richard proved a difficult twilight for those dependent on his patronage, including Chaucer. Some of Chaucer's associates and co-factionalists, like Thomas Usk, author of the Chaucerian prose treatise The Testament of Love, were executed. Chaucer survived by keeping a low political profile and laboring unobtrusively in undesirable bureaucratic positions. Only in 1388 could Richard II begin to reassert himself politically, and one of his first moves was to align himself, at least temporarily, with the commons against the lords. He gave his conspicuous support to the ordinance in Parliament against livery and maintenance, those mercenary alliances by which wealthy lords expanded their power. This gesture by Richard was as politically astute as it was cynical; through it, Paul Strohm says, "Richard showed himself able to suppress his own inclination to exercise bastard feudalism on the grandest of scales, in pursuit of a longer-term, ultimately absolutist, goal." 7
Chaucer seems to have been equally opportunistic in his poetic efforts. Strohm reveals the seeming commonplaces of Lak of Stedfastnesse-"obligacioun," "word and deed," "mede and wilfulnesse," "collusioun,' "oppressioun," "extorcioun"-to relate precisely to the contemporary conditions under which the gentry saw themselves unjustly burdened. Strohm concludes that "Chaucer performs an act of appropriation on Richard's behalf.... That is, for all its severe and hortative tone as a poem of advice, 'Lak of Stedfastnesse' actually flatters and supports Richard by its very consistency with his own program of selfrepresentation." 8
Ricardian convention, and perhaps Chaucerian inclination, obscured the bonds of dependency linking the poet to his royal patron." But underneath it all, Chaucer was unavoidably involved in factional politics. When necessity dictated, he could and did turn his poetry to propagandistic ends. Furthermore, like any reasonable factionalist, Chaucer was not above petitioning the opposition for assistance.lo He does so in another poem, Fortune. This is a triple ballade-the three stanzas of each ballade ending in a common refrain-and although it is often grouped with Chaucer's "Boethian" poems, it is perhaps more Boethian in dramatic situation than in philosophy. For while Chaucer begins by complaining angrily against Fortune ("For fynally, Fortune, I thee defye!" is his refrain), Fortune responds by making a fairly persuasive accounting for herself. She points out first that she has shown him the value of his own self-sufficiency, and second, and somewhat contradictorily, that she has revealed to him who his true friends are. Besides, she asserts in her refrain, "And eek thou hast thy beste frend alyve." Allowed the last word, Fortune adds that if Chaucer has become so wise, and recognizes the circumscribed realm of Fortune, he should then concede her sovereignty in this sublunar world. Fortune speaks in tones of pragmatic conciliation, as if to suggest that Chaucer should set aside anger and take the good with the bad. This suggestion is reinforced in the envoy, which is spoken by Fortune rather than by Chaucer himself:
Princes, I prey you of your gentilesse
Lat nat this man on me thus crye and pleyne,
And I shal quyte you your bisinesse
At my requeste, as three of you or tweyne,
And but you list releve him of his peyne,
Preyeth his best frend of his noblesse
That to som beter estat he may atteyne.
The envoy seems to refer to the ordinance of 1390, part of the lords' continuing efforts to restrict Ricardian power and patronage. The ordinance required the authorization of at least two of the king's unclesthe dukes of Lancaster, York, and Gloucester-for any royal grant. Fortune asks the dukes to make an honest woman of her by allowing Chaucer's "best frend" the king to grant him a little of her admittedly temporal succor.11
As is usual in his short poems, Chaucer's wit is highly concentrated and his touch deft. Through the lines, one might read not only Boethian disdain for worldly power but angry and self-righteous defiance. The more explicit tone, however, voices accommodation and practicality. He allows Lady Fortune to do his pleading for him, and the appeal to the power of the opposition is made while masking humiliation and desperation behind humor, anger behind conciliation.
The envoys to Lak of Stedfastnesse and Fortune show that Chaucer could indeed address himself poetically to the representatives of royal patronage and power, both for tactical politics and personal gain. But unlike the poetry of royal address that would be so common in the following century, which made no secret of the ideological purpose of the poem, nor of the remunerative requirements of the poet, Chaucer's poems obscure both propagandistic purpose and authorial necessity. They are, furthermore, strikingly exceptional within Chaucer's opus, occurring only during times of political crisis for Richard II and his adherents.
In fact, the only other occasion when Chaucer makes such direct poetic address to power comes at the end of Chaucer's career and is precipitated by the greatest Ricardian crisis of all, the king's deposition by Henry of Lancaster. Richard having suffered this final reversal of fortune, Chaucer begs the favor of the new King Henry IV in the Complaint to His Purse. Thus do the exceptions prove the rule. Chaucer writes in apostrophe to monarchical power only when political turmoil interrupts the more usual modes of Ricardian poetic self-presentation. Otherwise, Chaucer is not required to fashion himself poetically in relation to royal power, and he is content not to. As the last refrain in Fortune says, "In general, this reule may not fayle."
Indeed, patronage was in the context of Ricardian culture something to be obscured, hence the intentional obscurity of the final stanza of the Envoy to Scogan, the envoy itself:
Scogan, that knelest at the stremes hed
Of grace, of alle honour and worthynesse,
In th'ende of which strem I am dul as ded,
Forgete in solytarie wildernesse
Yet, Scogan, thenke on Tullius kyndenesse;
Mynne thy frend, there it may fructyfye! Far-wel, and loke thow never eft Love dyffye.
The "strem" here is the Thames. Scogan, Chaucer says, kneels at the stream's head, that is, upstream at Windsor, where he tutors the Lancastrian princes, while Chaucer himself dwells at "th'ende" of the Thames, downstream at Greenwich, "Forgete in solytarie wildernesse." The Thames, meanwhile, is also the "strem . . . of grace," and citing Cicero, Chaucer asks Scogan not to forget his old friend off in the wilds of Kent while he is surrounded by so much "honour and worthynesse." Chaucer is here asking his friend Scogan to seek favor for him at the royal court. It is this request that makes the Envoy to Scogan, in Derek Pearsall's words, "one of the most delightful beggingletters it can ever have been anyone's pleasure to receive." 12
But to whom is the begging directed? Clearly, Chaucer's envoy asks Scogan for help, but is not the ultimate object of the poem beyond Scogan, at "the stremes hed of grace," the font of patronage emanating from the source of power? Strohm has described the Envoy to Scogan as a poem that "appears to be addressed simultaneously to its intended listener and to an enlarged-though still intimate-group."13 Strohm is referring here to the audience implied by the poem's demanding and complex style. But given that its purposes are ultimately and explicitly revealed to be mendicant, we might further infer that the source of power and patronage is himself part of the imagined audience. Strohm is justified in perceiving the tone of the poem to be that of intimate address to a group of social equals, but it is quite possible that this is merely rhetorical artifice. Certainly the poem's artistry deliberately obfuscates its real circumstances and its real intentions. The Envoy to Scogan maintains the sense of a London-based "Chaucer circle" even when it has been scattered, sending Chaucer himself downstream to Greenwich and his addressee Scogan upstream to Windsor. It maintains a fiction of equality and conviviality to obscure begging and patronage.
I would take this as emblematic of the poet's posture in relation to power and patronage in the time of Richard II. Grace, patronage, the courtier's pursuit of royal favor, not to say money, are all hidden here beneath layers of poetic wit. Chaucer maintains an illusion of independence; the poet's petitionary and dependent position is only jestingly hinted at.
It may seem to us only natural that poets should be expected to obscure the fact that they are beholden to their powerful patrons, to hide their fiscal dependency and political inferiority. These matters would seem indelicate, demeaning to artistic integrity.l4 If they are mentioned, should it not be comically and elliptically? To see that this is not necessarily the case, we need move only a decade ahead, when exactly the opposite is true, and an appropriate case study is provided by our own Henry Scogan.
Chaucer died in the same year as the deposed king, after petitioning, apparently successfully, the new king. But Scogan survived into the next century, and the boys he had been tutoring were now the sons of King Henry IV: Henry, Prince of Wales (the future Henry V), and his brothers John, Thomas, and Humphrey (the future dukes of Bedford, Clarence, and Gloucester). Sometime after he had retired as their tutor and shortly before his death in 1407, Scogan addressed a verse epistle to the princes, the Moral Balade.ls It was read to them, according to Shirley, at a supper of the merchant's guild in London.
Scogan's poem is a product of the early Lancastrian court, and as compared to the 1390s the poetic circumstances are as changed as the political.l6 At the time of Scogan's composition of his Moral Balade, about 1407, only a few years had passed since Henry IV's seizure of the throne, and the Lancastrians, their dynastic claims being legally quite flimsy, even by the less than rigorous standards often applied in such matters, and being occasionally under the very real threat of military subversion, were, like the Tudors a century later, notoriously anxious for their monarchical stability. Perhaps because of this insecurity, they were more concerned than the Plantagenets to enlist literature to their political purposes. A lavish court and a majestic self-presentation in accordance with traditional political conceptions of magnificence were not in themselves sufficient to project secure and stable power for the Lancastrians (nor, it would seem in retrospect, were they enough for Richard II). Every available mode of social discourse would need to be marshaled to the interests of the dynasty, including literature. Chronicles were essential, and they proliferated, codifying and preserving the Lancastrian version of history. And just as importantly, courtly poetry was put into political service.
In the fifteenth century, according to Richard Firth Green, "the writer who wished for recognition and support as a writer had to set himself up as a practical and moral mentor to his master."17 In the Lancastrian period, therefore, the "mirror for princes" genre came of age in English literature, shaping images of potent and worthy kingship, embodied in the present rulers.18 Princely patrons actively sought poems, often quite long works, in which descriptions of virtuous conduct were mixed with extensive lists of exempla, narratives from history and legend relating the fates of individuals who could serve as examples to the patron, be they negative or positive examples. The major poets of the period composed in this genre. John Lydgate's Fall of Princes, an encyclopedic adaptation of Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium (by way of the French of Laurent de Premierfait), offered negative exempla to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester; Thomas Hoccleve's Regement of Princes presented positive exempla to Henry, Prince of Wales.
Except for its brevity, Scogan's Moral Balade is itself fairly representative of such poetry. As a miniature speculum principis, it grounds its
moral exhortations in authoritative exempla. In his pedantic manner, Scogan declares explicitly his intention and method:
Taketh hede also, how men of povre degree
Through vertue have be set in greet honour,
And ever have lived in greet prosperitee
Through cherisshing of vertuous labour.
Thinketh also, how many a governour
Called to estat, hath oft be set ful lowe
Through misusing of right, and for errour,
Therfore I counsaile you, vertue to knowe.
And Scogan adds two stanzas of exempla for the princes: Taketh hede of Tullius Hostilius,
That cam fro povertee to hy degree;
Through vertue redeth eek of Julius
The conquerour, how povre a man was he;
Yet, through his vertue and humanitee,
Of many a countree had he governaunce.
Thus vertue bringeth unto greet degree
Eche wight that list to do him entendaunce.
Rede, here-ayenst, of Nero vertulees;
Taketh hede also of proude Balthasar;
They hated vertue, equitee, and pees.
Loke how Antiochus fil fro his char,
That he his skin and bones al to-tar!
Loke what meschaunce they had for hir vyces!
Who-so that wol not by these signes be war,
I dar wel say, infortunat or nyce is.
With one stanza of postive exempla and one stanza of negative exempla, Scogan provides something of an encapsulation of the Furstenspiegel, a Shrink-lits version of the De casibus.
The inherently formulaic, platitudinous, and repetitive nature of the "mirror for princes" poems has made it difficult to see them as providing earnest, timely, or practical political counsel.19 Recently, however,
Larry Scanlon has provided a comprehensive study of the genre, and a new meta-narrative for the development of the English vernacular poetic tradition.20 In Scanlon's view, Chaucer and his successors translated the exemplum tradition, especially as embodied in the Furstenspiegel, into a vernacular poetic and thereby also transferred the authority constructed through narrative from the church to the secular monarchy. To Scanlon, the poetry of the fifteenth century merely extends and amplifies a cultural trend initiated in the Chaucerian and Ricardian fourteenth century.
One of Scanlon's prime examples of this process in the Lancastrian period is Thomas Hoccleve, and in particular his Furstenspiegel for Henry V, The Regement of Princes. Scanlon recognizes, furthermore, the central importance for the work of Hoccleve's direct address to his patron. "Direct address," Scanlon writes, "does not simply locate a persona but constitutes it as well. Hoccleve is not simply addressing a prince all of whose attributes are immediately available outside the text, but a prince whom he makes high, noble, and excellent by so addressing.... Hoccleve keeps his moral instruction in the second person, maintaining the fiction of Henry's personal presence throughout the poem."21 But I do not think Scanlon recognizes the historical novelty and significance of Hoccleve's apostrophic address to his prince. It is precisely this kind of direct address to royal patrons that distinguishes Hoccleve's fifteenth century from Chaucer's era and marks the differences between Ricardian and Lancastrian poetics.
Again, Chaucer's and Scogan's poems cast into relief the differences between poetic expectations of the two courts. Richard II neither demanded advice from poets nor expected to see himself addressed in poetry. Chaucer seldom does so, not even in his one contribution to the literature of princely education, the Tale of Melibee.22 Lancastrian poems, like the Moral Balade as well as Hoccleve's Regement, on the other hand, make princes their addressees and their themes. They represent a royal poetic much more self-conscious in its political dimension and much more intentionally committed to the public formation of the monarchical presence through literature. In apostrophe to the Lancastrian princes, Scogan's poem makes its theme "vertuous noblesse." It is entirely an exhortation to the royal princes to add virtue to their nobility. The princes are Scogan's subject; his intention is to fashion poetically their ideal characters. That they are still boys and that Scogan is still in the position, if now only honorifically, of tutor and moral instructor emphasize that their royal characters are still to be formed. Indeed, in being addressed to actual princes, the Moral Balade underscores an inherent assumption of the "mirror for princes" genre, that is, that such poems, in the form of advice or projection, describe the patrons' ideal characters. Ostensibly cautionary, these poems actually intend to suggest the inevitability of the future perfection of the princely character; that idealization is, after all, already manifested in the collected, authoritative wisdom of the educational poem itself.
Scogan also shares with Hoccleve and Lydgate and the other fifteenth-century poets an extremely self-deprecating poetic voice, evident from the opening line of the Moral Balade:
My noble sones, and eek my lordes dere,
I, your fader called unworthily
Sende un-to you this litel tretys here
Writen with myn owne hand full rudely;
Although it be that I not reverently
Have writen to your estats, yet I you praye,
Myn unconning taketh benignely
For goddes sake, and herken what I seye.
From the first moment, Scogan characterizes himself as "unworthy," "unconning," and "rude." The self-deprecating, self-consciously incompetent and dull poet-narrator of Chaucerian invention is preserved by Scogan. It would remain current throughout the fifteenth century and even into the sixteenth century in the work of quintessentially Renaissance poets like George Gascoigne. But with the Lancastrian era, the relationship of the poet to the figure of power is entirely transformed from the time of Chaucer and Richard II. Where in Chaucer this selfcharacterization exploited the private nature of poetic creation and allowed the poet to fashion himself as writer, in Scogan it is utterly public and political, a deferential self-presentation to his superiors. Whereas under Richard the poet's dependency and the prince's patronage were mentioned obliquely if at all, and obfuscated by wit, under the Lancastrians the submissive, inferior, and entirely dependent position of the poet is ever-present. This is the age of poets like Hoccleve and Lydgate and, somewhat later, George Ashby, with their exaggerated topoi of inability, and their chronic and conspicuous impecuniousness.
The Lancastrian period is also characterized by what I would call the centralized subjectivity of the prince. I am taking a cue here from David Lawton, who has said, punning intentionally, that the courtly poetry of the fifteenth century participated in "the construction of the king as a subject." By this, Lawton means primarily that the office of kingship and the person of the king had to be textually clarified and elaborated, due to the stress and uncertainty placed upon it by the century's tumultuous political events. "Kingship in such circumstances," Lawton writes, "is seen as a text to be explained, fixed, and glossed. The public writings of fifteenth-century English poets assist in the reification of kingship."23 But I would press Lawton's pun further: the poetry of this period is in fact pre-occupied with the construction of the subjectivity of the King and the royal princes. Indeed, the princely patron is fashioned as the central self in relation to whom all other subjectivities are formed. Furthermore, all major poetic topics-wealth, health, mutability, language, subjection (to "lord" or to Fortune), as well as subjectivity-are relevant in this literature not primarily as they relate to the self-constructing poet, but as they relate to the centralized subjectivity of the princely patron.
Consider the treatment of another poetic topic, youth, in the two poems given here. For Chaucer, in his Envoy to Scogan, youth was the time when his muse was alert, and he "put hir forth in prees" (1. 40). It was a time of service to love, of sexual and creative activity to which he can no longer aspire. The theme of youth is another element in Chaucer's metaphorical self-representation, and as such it is private, comical, and writerly.
Scogan's youth, on the other hand, was given over to fruitless prodigality, and now Scogan bemoans its loss:
I complayn sore, whan I remembre me
The sodeyn age that is upon me falle;
More I complayn my mispent juvente
The whiche is impossible ayein to calle.
But certainly, the most complaynte of alle
Is for to thinke, that I have been so nyce
That I ne wolde no virtue to me calle
In al my youthe, but vyces ay cheryce.
His failing was that he did not call virtue to the service of his youth. And on this note, Scogan goes on to moralize his own youth as the kind of profligacy that the young princes should take care to avoid:
My lordes dere, why I this complaint wryte To you, alle whom I love entierly,
Is for to warne you, as I can endyte,
That tyme y-lost in youthe folily
Greveth a wight goostly and bodily,
I mene hem that to lust and vyce entende.
Wherfore, I pray you, lordes, specially,
Your youthe in vertue shapeth to dispende.
Planteth the rote of youthe in suche a wyse
That in vertue your growing be alway;
Loke ay, goodnesse be in your exercyse,
That shal you mighty make, at eche assay,
The feend for to withstonde at eche affray.
Passeth wysly this perilous pilgrimage,
Thinke on this word, and werke it every day;
That shal you yeve a parfit floured age.
Scogan's advice to the princes is essentially political, as he later makes clear:
And if your youth no vertue have provyded,
Al men wol saye, fy on your vassalage!
Thus hath your slouth fro worship you devyded.
Scogan's representation of his youth in address to his royal wards reveals a great deal about poetic self-presentation in the early fifteenth century. Youth, with its potential dangers of prodigality as well as its opportunities for reform, formed a leitmotif in all projections of Henry V's character. Shakespeare's Hal, astutely and consciously emerging from the mists of dissolute youthful abandon to blaze in greater glory, is only the culmination of a tradition cultivated even in Henry V's own time. It seems in fact that anxieties for Prince Henry's youthful frivolity and injudicious associations with figures like Oldcastle may have been intentionally emphasized in order to contrast them with the sober, orthodox, valiant, and triumphant king he became. The public and political importance of youth as a theme may cast light, then, on the seemingly purely autobiographical references to youth in poetry like Scogan's and also in that of Thomas Hoccleve.
In his Male Re le, or Misrule, Hoccleve, too, describes his "mis ent juvente."24 Ostensibly a complaint of lost health, and in the end an explicit plea to Lord Furnival, the treasurer, to ensure payment of the lo Hoccleve is owed, the Male Regle dwells on the poet's dissolute youth in London, squandered in the exuberant, if not entirely successful, pursuit of drink, food, riot, and sex. But in light of Scogan's poem, such typically idiosyncratic and self-reflexive Hocclevian verse comes to have political resonance, as one might expect from a poet who also composed sententious verses for such significant Lancastrian occasions as Henry V's coronation and the re-interment of Richard II's bones at Westminster. What is explicit in Scogan's poem may be implicit in Hoccleve's, that the poet's wasted youth is meant to stand as an example to the young prince. Hoccleve's autobiographical material can display homely charm, grittily realistic urban detail, and strikingly idiosyncratic personal revelation, but in the social context of fifteenthcentury courtly poetry it is relevant only as it pertains, by negative analogy, to the centralized subjectivity of the prince. Scogan's and Hoccleve's characterizations of their youths, like the rest of their poetic self-presentations, but unlike Chaucer's, are public and political.
In these Lancastrian poems, the poet himself, Scogan in the Moral Balade, Hoccleve in the Regement of Princes or the Male Regle, is another reflection in the "mirror for princes." The intentionally dull and incompetent poet-narrator, with his failures and his fallings-off, or with his hard-won wisdom, is a comic and inverted example to the prince, another in the list of negative exempla. The centralization of subjectivity in the royal patron does not, therefore, erase poetic selfrepresentation, but alters its aspect in relation to power. Self-formation thrives as analogy. The poetic self-characterization is analogous not, as in Chaucer, to the act of writing, but to the evolving subjectivity of the prince or monarch.
But Chaucer is as strongly present in the Moral Balade as is Scogan himself. Scogan, in marshaling his predecessor's authority to his theme of "vertuous noblesse" while also emphasizing his own close association with the "mayster," twice cites Chaucer:
My mayster Chaucer, god his soule have!
That in his langage was so curious,
He sayde, the fader whiche is deed and grave,
Biquath nothing his vertue with his hous
Unto his sone; therfore laborious
Ought ye to be, beseching god, of grace,
To yeve you might for to be vertuous,
Through which ye might have part of his fayr place.
Thus 'by your eldres may ye nothing clayme,' As that my mayster Chaucer sayth expresse, 'But temporel thing, that man may hurte and mayme'; Than is god stocke of vertuous noblesse.
Both quotations are taken from the Wife of Bath's Tale. In his Envoy to Bukton, Chaucer had ironically cited the Wife of Bath as an authority on the woe that is in marriage, mocking as well the idea of his own work as published work with the weight of auctoritas? Scogan quite unironically cites the hag's sermon as a source on the moral of virtuous nobility, buttressed by the sincere auctoritas of "my mayster Chaucer." In the Lancastrian period, Chaucer is available to poets as a native English authority.
The remarkable culmination of the Moral Balade's references to Chaucer comes when Scogan, saying "and of this thing herke how my mayster seyde" (104), inserts into his poem the entirety of Chaucer's ballade Gentilesse:
The firste stok, fader of gentilesse,
What man that claymeth gentil for to be
Must folowe his trace, and alle his wittes dresse
Vertu to sewe, and vyces for to flee.
For unto vertu longeth dignitee,
And noght the revers, saufly dar I deme,
Al were he mytre, croune, or diademe.
This firste stok was ful of rightwisnesse,
Trewe of his word, sobre, pitous, and free,
Clene of his goste, and loved besinesse
Ageinst the vyce of slouthe, in honestee;
And, but his heir love vertue, as did he,
He is noght gentil, though he riche seme,
Al were he mytre, croune, or diademe.
Vyce may wel be heir to old richesse;
But ther may no man, as men may wel see,
Bequethe his heir his vertuous noblesse;
That is appropred unto no degree,
But to the firste fader in magestee
That maketh him his heir, that can him queme,
Al were he mytre, croune, or diademe.26
In part, the use of Chaucer's words here, as in Sco an's other citations, contributes to the general effort in the early Lancastrian period to enshrine Chaucer, soon after his death, as the father of English poesy, the first poetic authority in the native vernacular. Compare Hoccleve's insertion of a portrait of Chaucer into manuscripts of his Regement of Princes 27 Like Scogan, Hoccleve stresses his personal association with Chaucer and suggests his own inheritance of the master's mantle; like Scogan, Hoccleve lends Chaucer a pious and even iconic authority. This can also be seen as related to efforts to mollify Lancastrian political anxieties by association with an embodiment of national culture of the previous regime. Inventing that figure, and then borrowing his prestige, they suggest a sense of stability and legitimacy, a continuity of culture. "Lo here," exclaims Scogan, "this noble poete of Bretayne" (l. 126), linking Chaucer, as Lancastrian poets would so often, not to England, but to mythical, idealized Britain."
The political effort is especially clear in this case, considering how the Chaucerian text is employed and how Chaucer is characterized. Gentilesse as Chaucer wrote it seems to be a rather innocuous and commonplace statement that the roots of virtue lie in behavior rather than in birth. If it hides any deeper reflection, it is perhaps a certain skepticism with regard to the aristocratic character.
What Gentilesse lacks, as we have it, is any self-representation of the poet or formation of the monarch by way of address.29 But Scogan presents the poem as Chaucer's advice to princes. "Lo here, this noble poete of Bretayne," Scogan writes, "How hyely he, in vertuous sentence, / The losse in youthe of vertue can complayne" (11. 126-28), despite the fact that Chaucer says nothing of the loss in youth of virtue. That is the essential theme of Scogan and Hoccleve in their performative roles as advisors and examples to Henry, Prince of Wales. In reading Gentilesse as a poem about the necessity of youthful continence and specifically as an epistle of political didacticism intended for princes, Scogan recasts Chaucer in his own position: Chaucer is father to English poetry as Scogan is "fader" to the Lancastrian princes. Chaucer is made the wise and aging counselor, the moral instructor to young aristocrats. In short, the Moral Balade appropriates Chaucer and recasts him as a Lancastrian poet, as one who deferentially addresses princes and potentates with vague moral advice, as much for their own a randizement as for their betterment.
This is not to say that the poem debases Chaucer's memory. On the contrary, it marks one of the earliest literary efforts to memorialize him. And besides, on those rare occasions when it was required, Chaucer could act in precisely this role, as Lak of Stedfastnesse bears witness. But Scogan's poem is nonetheless an act of literary-historical revisionism. Ricardian culture, while not insensitive to the necessities of performance and royal self-presentation, did not stress the use of vernacular literature for its public self-fashioning. The insecurities of early Lancastrian court culture, on the other hand, lead it to patronize poetry that serves its own ideological purposes, as well as chronicles that reflect its own vision of history.
This heightened cultural self-consciousness in Lancastrian culture, resulting in its centralization of both literature and literary history on the figure of the monarch, constitutes its most distinctive departure from Ricardian style. The conventions of both courts are evident in the contrasts between Chaucer's and Scogan's poems. Chaucer makes Scogan a participant in his writerly self-characterization, in a personalized public literature possible only in a benignly neglectful court culture. Scogan, conversely, makes Chaucer into an emblem of authorized literature and thereby ushers him into the symbolic discourse of an age of politicized poetry.30