Hoccleve, Thomas (DNB00)

HOCCLEVE or OCCLEVE, THOMAS (1370?–1450?), poet and a clerk in the privy seal office for twenty-four years, is known to us only by his poems and by what he tells us of himself in them. In his biographical ‘Male Regle,’ ll. 17–21, he appeals to ‘my lord the Fourneval that now is treasurer’ to pay him the yearly 10l. due to him. Furnival was treasurer from 1405 to 1408. Hence Hoccleve's appeal may be dated late in 1406 or early in 1407. As the poet confesses in the same poem, ll. 110–12, that he had been over-eating and over-drinking for twenty years past (? from 1387 to 1407), he cannot well have been born after 1370. He also confesses himself a coward, and fond of treating ‘Venus femel lusty children deer’ to sweet wine and wafers. He haunted the taverns and cookshops at Westminster (ll. 177–84). When he wrote his best-known work, ‘De Regimine’ (1411–12), he lived at ‘Chestres Inne, right fast by the Stronde’ (De Reg. p. 1). Before that, he belonged to a dinner-club in the Temple (Phillipps MS. leaf 42). Henry IV granted Hoccleve an annuity of twenty marks a year for his long service, but he could not get it paid, and he had only six marks a year besides (De Reg. pp. 30–4). On 4 July 1424 ‘votre tres humble clerc Thomas Hoccleve de l'office du prive seal’ was granted by the king and council such ‘sustenance’ yearly during his life in the priory of Southwick, Hampshire, as Nicholas Mokkinge, late master of St. Lawrence in the Poultry, had (Addit. MS. Brit. Mus. 4604, art. 34; Privy Council Proc. iii. 152). All Hoccleve's volumes complain of his poverty and his inability to get his pension or salary paid, so that he and his fellows will, he tells the king, have ‘to trotte vnto Newgate’ (Phillipps MS. leaf 40 back). His last poem, written when he had nearly lost his sight, but was too proud to wear spectacles, mentions Prince Edward, probably in 1449 (Mason, p. 29 n.)

Hoccleve's longest work, his ‘De Regimine Principum,’ written about 1411–12, is in 784 seven-line stanzas, or 5,488 lines. It is in English, and was compiled from three sources, the supposititious Epistle of Aristotle addressed to Alexander the Great, known as the ‘Secretum secretorum,’ the ‘De Regimine Principum’ of Egidius de Colonna, and the ‘Game of Chess moralized by Jacques de Cessoles.’ Three manuscripts are in the British Museum, viz. Harl. MSS. 4826, 4866, and Royal MS. 17 D. vi., and many are elsewhere. The poem was edited from the Royal MS. by Thomas Wright for the Roxburghe Club in 1860.

Hoccleve's most interesting work is the Phillipps MS. 8151 at Cheltenham, which contains his account of his disordered life, ‘La Male Regle de T. Hoccleve’ and his ‘Mother of God,’ once attributed to Chaucer, together with sixteen other English poems, chiefly balades. The latter are in many cases addressed to distinguished persons like Henry V and John, duke of Bedford. Five of them, together with ‘La Male Regle,’ were printed by George Mason in ‘Poems by Thomas Hoccleve never before published,’ 1796, 4to. Miss Toulmin Smith has since printed from the same manuscript a previously unpublished balade, appealing to Oldcastle to renounce lollardry (see Anglia, v. 9–42). Lord Ashburnham owned another little manuscript volume of Hoccleve's minor poems. A third volume in manuscript, in Bishop Cosin's Library at Durham, No. v. iii. 9, is dedicated to ‘my Lady of Westmorlande,’ Joanna, aunt of Henry V, daughter of John of Gaunt [q. v.], and contains (1) Hoccleve's Complaint of his friends' unkindness, written when he was fifty-three (after 1422); (2) the story of the ‘Wife of the Emperor Gerelaus,’ from the ‘Gesta Romanorum;’ (3) the ‘Art of Dying;’ (4) another ‘Gesta’ fable of Jonathas and a wicked woman (the story of Fortunatus), which William Browne introduced from a manuscript in his possession into his ‘Shepheard's Pipe,’ 1614. These three manuscript volumes are all in the same hand, no doubt Hoccleve's own, and were evidently intended for presentation to patrons. Hoccleve's ‘Letter of Cupid,’ 1402, in sixty-eight seven-line stanzas, is printed in most of the old editions of Chaucer's works. Other works attributed to Hoccleve by Ritson are parts of his longer works. Professor Skeat has lately suggested, in Chaucer's ‘Minor Poems,’ pp. xxxiii–ix, that ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale,’ and a balade, ‘O leude book,’ may be Hoccleve's, but this is very doubtful.

The quarto Addit. MS. 24062, Brit. Mus., is mainly in Hoccleve's hand, and contains copies of documents, &c., passing under the privy seal, chiefly in French, a few in Latin.

As a poet, Hoccleve compares with Lydgate. Both evidently knew Chaucer (see as to Hoccleve ‘De Regimine,’ p. 67), whom they praise most heartily, and the best portrait of Chaucer as an old man appears in a copy of Hoccleve's ‘De Regimine’ in the Harleian MS. 4866, leaf 91. Hoccleve has no poem so lifelike as Lydgate's ‘London Lackpenny,’ and shows no sign of humour; but he has not written so much dreary verse as Lydgate. The ‘De Regimine’ is, however, very poor. Hoccleve is best in his religious poems; and the best of them is the ‘Mother of God.’ The poet William Browne seems to have been an admirer. At the end of the first eclogue of the ‘Shepheard's Pipe,’ in which Hoccleve's fable of Jonathas appears, Browne writes: ‘As this shall please, I may be drawne to publish the rest of his workes, being all perfect in my hands’ (Browne, Works, ed. Hazlitt, ii. 198). A complete edition of Hoccleve's works is in preparation by the Early English Text Society.

[Hoccleve's Works; editions of Wright and Mason.]

F. J. F.