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Lot 61: PETER IDLEY, INSTRUCTIONS TO HIS SON, IN MIDDLE ENGLISH VERSE WITH SECTIONS OF LATIN PROSE, MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
July 6, 2006
London, United Kingdom
[England, late fifteenth century]
38 leaves, plus 2 original flyleaves, 236mm. by 165mm., lacking 2 leaves after fol.37, else complete, collation: i-iv8, v6 [of 8, lacking vi-vii], with horizontal catchwords, ruled for 32 lines, ruled in ink, written-space 167mm. by 100mm., written in dark brown ink in a regular anglicana bookhand, continuation from fol.31v in a cursive bookhand, blank space left for a 3-line initial on first leaf, a few marginal scribbles (some partly smudged or erased), other minor stains and tears, a few wormholes, some cockling, generally in sound and unsophisticated medieval condition, contemporary binding of gently bevelled wooden boards sewn on 5 double tawed leather thongs pegged into the boards, covered with white tawed leather, vellum pastedowns (one partly lifted) from a late thirteenth-century graded Calendar in red and black, stub (only) of a single clasp on edge of upper cover secured by 3 foliate metal pins, corresponding hole from a pin once in centre of lower cover, upper cover broken, binding wormed and very defective
The Calendar leaves forming the pastedowns are from January-February and November-December, including Saint Edmund of Abingdon (9 lections) and Saint Edmund king and martyr, in red (also 9 lections). There is a partially erased early sixteenth-century name at the foot of first page, apparently "T Crumwell". The form of the surname and especially the looped 'l's at the end resemble the signature of Sir Thomas Cromwell (c.1485-1540), later Earl of Essex, Henry VIII's intimate advisor who was responsible for the suppression of the monasteries, beheaded 1540, but the 'T' is not like that used by the Lord Great Chamberlain. There may have been others of the same name. A similar name, also apparently "T. Crumwell" and not in the statesman's hand, is in a manuscript of the funeral obsequies of Anne of Brittany illustrated in Maggs, Bulletin, 3, 1965, no.42 (afterwards sold in these rooms, 10 July 1967, lot 71).
There is a later sixteenth-century signature, "Thomas Dowse his Book", with similar variants many times on the flyleaves and pastedowns. This may be Thomas Dowse (d.1602), of Broughton, Hampshire, whose monument in Broughton Church was erected by his son Sir Edmund Dowse in 1625. The manuscript has been in the family of the present owner perhaps since the 17th century.
There are many short verses and rhyming aphorisms on the flyleaves, late fifteenth- to late sixteenth-century, including "Plaudite victoria iuvines [sic] hic quotquot adestis ..." (not in Walther); "Prayse not the beuty of thy wife though she of forme be sped ..." (apparently unrecorded); "lete thy tonge nott clappe as a myle ..." (Idley's Instructions, line 50, with a second line, unrecorded); "A man without mercye of mercye shall mys / And he shall have mercye that mercyfull ys ..." (Boffey and Edwards, no.77, and S.W. May and W.A. Ringler, Elizabethan Poetry, I, 2004, p.231, no.EV.544), with a further couplet, apparently unrecorded; and, written twice, "huge rocks, highe winds, stronge pirates, shelves and sands the Marchante feares, ere rich at home he lands".
An unrecorded manuscript of Peter Idley, Instructions to his Son, in Middle English verse, preserved in its original binding.
Despite his claim to have been born in Kent, Peter Idley was an administrator and civil servant in Oxfordshire. He was bailiff of Wallingford by 1439 and held office until 1447. He was living in Drayton by 1443. In 1453 he was appointed gentleman falconer and under-keeper of the royal mews and falcons of Henry VI, and he held office as Controller of the King's Works throughout the kingdom from 1456 until about 1461. He appears thereafter in the records as an Oxfordshire landowner and member of the minor gentry. He died in late 1473 or early 1474, and fragments of his monumental brass in Dorchester Abbey survived there until the early nineteenth century. His Instructions to his Son is Idley's most famous work, probably composed c.1445-50. It is a long poem in Middle English rhyme royal, addressed to his son Thomas, apparently the eldest of up to ten children by his first wife Elizabeth Drayton, whom Idley had married by 1447. The text is datable at the outside to after 1438-9, since it cites Lydgate's Fall of Princes, completed in that year, and to not later than 1459, the date of a manuscript of the text in the Bodleian Library.
The material in the Instructions, according to the author, came to him "sum by experiens and sum by writynge" (fol.32r, line 13). Idley's principal written source was the thirteenth-century Liber Consolationis et Consilii of Albertanus of Brescia, which is the Latin prose text quoted between groups of verses of Middle English poetry in all but one of the known manuscripts. A copy belonged to Idley's neighbour, Edmund Rede of Boarstall (H. Salter, ed., The Boarstall Cartulary, 1930, p.288, n.6), and probably it was actually used as a familiar text in his son's schoolroom, now embellished, as it were, by Idley's poetry.
The text opens on fol.1r, with a Latin quotation from Albertanus, "[I]ntium mei tractatus fit ...", and then in English, "In the bigynnyng of this litill werke / I pray to almyghti god my penne he lede ...". The author tells his son, "yet yonge and sumdele wilde" (line 7), that he will instruct him in good manners and in the virtue of an honest life. "I have herde seide in old romaunce" (line 22), he says, that learning in youth will be rewarded in old age. He urges Thomas to honour his parents. He advises him not to chatter unnecessarily or to gossip in taverns or elsewhere, or to make fun of his friends. He should dress soberly, "ffor clothying oft makith man" (line 102):
Leve cuttyng and iaggyng of clothes,
ffeleship of women and tavernys also,
Acustome not to swere grete othis,
Use no rybawdie where evyr thou go (lines 106-09).
He recommends his son to study law. He should choose his friends with care, and avoid arguments, eating and drinking without extravagance, be thoughtful before making promises, taking advice carefully:
Knowe thisiff while thou art grene
That whan age cometh crokid and lene
Thou may lyve restfully ay servyng god,
And be not betynn wt thyn owen rod (lines 284-87).
He is to avoid covetous men, for "many a treytoure is of his blood" (line 292) and such people provoke war and vice: "a wake not him that is on slepe" (line 326, good advice). Trust no-one. Emulate the famously silent bird: "synge in on note as doth a swan" (line 347) and, later, "Ovyr moche langage myght brede a shrewe" (line 452). Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Beware of flatterers and of the counsel of cheerful fools, who say that black is white (line 439). Unlike many medieval moralists, Peter Idley is complimentary about women:
The counsell of a women y will not dispise,
Though poetis write of straunge wille
That wommanys counsell in many wise
Is ever good or passyng ille.
I pray yow saith wel or be stille;
Disclaundrith not of women the name --
Remembir tendirly who was yor dame (lines 491-97).
He cites examples of virtuous women in the Bible and he urges marriage as the ideal state (Idley himself was married twice).
He agrees that good service should be well rewarded, for no worthwhile medical doctor -- "no surgeoun ne othir leche, physician, potecary ne other craft" (lines 554-5) -- will work for nothing. Uphold the law. Punish criminals who, unless checked, run "as wilde as an hert or roo in the fenne" (line 591). Fortune is fickle. Guard wealth carefully, for poverty is like a wrecked ship, but riches bring responsibility and a greater risk of disaster. He discusses the moral questions of warfare ("I write as myn autour seith", line 785): to fight for the Christian faith is justified, and one must place trust in one's king, and one may defend one's property and that of one's neighbours, not "as a dormouse that alwey slepith" for "a good Castell he savith that his body kepith" (lines 867-8):
I remembre it is the smale litill bee
That anon to batell is redy and preste,
ffor thoughe an armyd man come to her neste,
She is not ferd him to assayle
And wt her litill spere profre him batayle (lines 997-1001, in the present manuscript).
He commends charity, citing the Scriptures, and he praises the value of love, even illicit love:
If thou be ferre fro thy wyf and howshold
And thou may here that thou have a child bore,
Whiche thou never sawe but as it is tolde,
Yet art thou more glad than thou were bifore,
And love is conceyvid in thyn hert therfore (lines 1100-1104).
The love of one's wife is best, however: "she is parte of thi body, remembre this" (line 1240). Good servants too are precious. Treat them well: "Be not in thyn hous as a lowe wilde" (line 1296). Remember death.
In the present manuscript the poem originally ended on fol.31v, "... To the my child for this sympill dede [line 1470], Explicit liber Consolationis et Consilii, Amen" [preserving the title of the text by Albertanus]. It is followed, in a later hand, perhaps around 1500, by Peter Idley's second poem, here, as elsewhere, called the Liber Secundus. It is, in fact, a separate and probably later text. If Book I is instruction to a specific child, Book II is a universal sermon on virtue and vice, addressed to all the world: "now woll y declare the more in generall" (line 2), perhaps for an older boy. It has no Latin text. Much of the second book derives from Robert Mannyng's Handlyng Synne and Lydgate's Fall of Princes. It opens here, "Hic incipit liber secundus, I have tolde the certyn things in speciall ..." and ends on fol.37v at line 355, "... Hyt ys not comprehended in youre crede". The portion copied here includes a tale from the Vitae patrum of the chaste monk who went to Egypt and fell in love with a very beautiful girl. Her father, a Saracen priest, eventually agreed that the monk might marry her but only if he forsook his religion.
The monke was gladde as foule of daie
That he shulde have all his pleasur;
His fraielte florisched as floures in maye,
So was his harte kyndelid on a fire (line 146-49).
But the Saracen's superiors reported that the Christian God would never abandon a monk, even if the monk renounced God, and so the monk in despair gave up the girl and returned heart-broken to his former religion, confessing his sin to a holy hermit, who guided him back to the ways of God. Similarly, there is a way to escape from the Faustian temptations of witchcraft and black magic, or
... eny sorcery or nygremansye
Thus ye owght to serche youre conciense strarte,
ffor the fende ys ever redy to stere man to folie
And hath mannys soule in grete awarte (lines 327-31).
One should therefore avoid all magic and false religion, and renounce temptations of the Devil.
The poem is a remarkable evocation of mid-fifteenth-century English upper middle-class manners, principles of education and ambition, popular religion and patriotic duty, ancient inherited knowledge mixed with practical good sense and sound husbandry, all written by a Yorkist squire in the Oxfordshire countryside during the Wars of the Roses.
Although the text of Idley's Instructions to his Son was known to John Stow and to Tanner (Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica, 1748, p.426), manuscripts of the poem are very rare. Ten copies and fragments of the poem are recorded, six of them imperfect, all in public ownership. Four of the manuscripts are in the Bodleian Library (one incomplete, one comprising an extract of 4 lines only), three in the British Library (one incomplete), and one each in Cambridge University Library, the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge (incomplete), and in Trinity College, Dublin (very incomplete). The only fragment in America, now at the University of Missouri, is one of the missing leaves from the Pepys Library copy. Only two copies have been on the market in the last century or so: (a) Maggs cat.687, no.176, bought c.1940 by the Bodleian, now MS. Eng. poet. d.45, and (b) Phillipps sale in these rooms, 14 June 1971, lot 1524, bought by the British Library, now Add. MS.57335. The author was identified and the text edited by C. D'Evelyn, Peter Idley's Instructions to his Son, 1935. The manuscripts are listed there and again, with additions, in J. Boffey and A.S.G. Edwards, A New Index of Middle English Verse, 2005, p.105, no.1540. The Missouri leaf, which is sixteenth-century, is described in H.G. Jones, 'Peter Idley's Instructions to his Son, A New Fragment', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, LXXIV, 1973, pp.686-9. The present manuscript, which is unrecorded and unstudied, includes numerous small variations from the text as printed, in spelling, vocabulary and word order. Lines 1065-92 of the printed edition occur here following line 896 (fols.19v-20r) rather than as one would expect on fol.23v, giving a very different sense to that passage.