On November 1, c. 1415, Alle Hallowmesse, Thomas Hoccleve’s period of mental illness came to an end as his wits returned to him—which allowed him to return to his twofold program of work, as a poet and at the Privy Seal. Scribal work was hard—and potentially dangerous to body, mind, soul, and pocketbook—and Hoccleve didn’t let readers of his poetry forget this. His Friend from the eponymous “Dialogue with Friend” even suggests Hoccleve may have been a victim of overwork, his mental affliction caused by his “bisy studie” (line 302).
Yet, as critics have noted, Hoccleve believed work was a sort of cure, if not for his illness then at least for his subsequent problem of alienation from his associates. He chastises his friend for his suspicions, declaring that his “Complaint” ought to be sufficient evidence of his recovery (lines 317-18).
This November 1, we face our own maddening onslaught of work, with midterms and holiday preparations, and many of us will habitually feel like we never quite get enough done. Let us remember Hoccleve and his ultimately optimistic view of scribal labor and the relationship between writing, memory and selfhood. We celebrate both Thomas Hoccleve’s work and his recovery, reflecting on how our own work seeks to recover Middle English poetry and evidence of late medieval life, and on the personal and public importance of that work.
Please join us on Recovery Day through social media by posting your thoughts or thematically pertinent medieval quotations and images to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and our society’s website with the hashtag #Hoccleve. Look out for our own posts on our site and our Hoccleve Lyfe Coache, Twitter and Facebook feeds; and “like” or retweet items throughout the day under the #Hoccleve hashtag followed by any other tags you’d like, such as #recovery, #thisiswhataprofessorlookslike, #MiddleEnglish, or #MSilluminations. Please follow us, participate, and “like” us to stay tuned!