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Thomas Hoccleve

(1368 - 1426 / England)

Biography of Thomas Hoccleve

Thomas Hoccleve - sometimes spelled Occleve - was probably born in 1368-69 and died in London in 1426. Little is known of his life beyond what is mentioned in his poems. As was the better-known Lydgate, Hoccleve was certainly an admirer of Chaucer's work. Whether he was his disciple or his friend is not known for sure, though it is probable that he knew him personally. His De Regime is the only portrait of Chaucer left to posterity; he painted it 'to put other men in remembrance of his person.' He openly compared his skills to Chaucer's, as for example in this passage, referring to his prowess as a metrist :

Fader Chaucer fayn wolde han me taught,
But I was dul and learned lite or naught;

Although many of Hoccleve's poems are clearly indebted to Chaucer, he is more than a mere imitator. The 1911 Edition Encyclopedia describes his poems as 'characteristic of his time... He does not affect what he does not feel'. A Londoner, his poems are sparse if not completely baren of references to nature. He also wrote no allegory.

Hoccleve is arguably most famous for his autobiographical writings, in which he describes his work as a clerk in the office of the Privy Seal, a position which he held for at least twenty-four years. He also describes London life, and his own mental 'breakdown'. In his La Male Règle he professes to have lived a 'misruly' life, but his marriage in 1411 seems to have caused a change in his career; De Regimine Principum, written soon afterwards, bears witness to his 'reform'.

Many of his poems are moralising and written in the form of a complaint. But it is difficult to decide whether this is his personal point of view, or the public role expected of a poet of his age.

Among Hoccleve's larger poems there are: La Male Regle de T. Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes, which was addressed to Prince Henry (afterwards Henry V), The Series Poems (Complaint, Dialogue with a Friend, Jereslaus' Wife, Learn to Die, and The Tale of Jonathas). The Series Poems are partially linked by a dialogue with a fictitious friend who gives advice as to the compilation of the book and its future presentation to the patrons.

Hoccleve's earliest work, written in 1402, is The Letter of Cupid, an adaptation of Christine de Pisan's Epistre au Dieu d'Amours.

Hoccleve found an admirer in the 17th century in William Browne. Browne included his “Jonathas” in the Shepheards Pipe (1614), and added a eulogy to the old poet, whose works he intended to publish in their entirety (Works, ed. W. C. Hazlitt, 1869, ii. f96-198).

In 1796 George Mason printed six Poems by Thomas Hoccleve never before printed. De Regimine Principum was printed for the Roxburghe Club in 1860, and by the Early English Text Society in 1897.

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The Regiment of Princes

Musynge upon the restlees bysynesse
Which that this troubly world hath ay on honde,
That othir thyng than fruyt of bittirnesse
Ne yildith naght, as I can undirstonde,
At Chestres In, right faste by the Stronde,
As I lay in my bed upon a nyght,
Thoght me byrefte of sleep the force and might. 1

And many a day and nyght that wikkid hyne

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