The Hardest Working Man in Marginalia (Mmm… Marginalia #4)

Not all marginalia is devoted to public displays of drunkeness, monkeys or and things going into (or coming out of) someone’s ass. Some marginal figures are hard-working decent people who hate being associated with that unruly lot.

Take this guy, for instance:


Tom, let’s call him, is no ne’erdowell lounging around in the margins, and he wouldn’t be caught dead subverting, problematizing, or deconstructing anybody’s textual authority.

Hoccleve scholars (all two of you*) have probably seen him before. Tom appears in the margin of Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes, where it’s his job to deliver stanzas to their proper places, like so:

As the usual explanation goes, the exemplar that a scribe was working from was missing a stanza at this point, a stanza that the scribe later discovered. The plan for the manuscript was for it to have four stanzas to the page, and the pages before and after the omission were already completed. So he wrote the newly discovered stanza in the margin below a Latin gloss, then doodled up trusty Tom to yoke it into the right place.

The best thing about our hard-working stanza wrangler is that once one scribe thought him up to cover his mistake, he was so well received that someone–almost certainly Hoccleve himself–directed that his other scribes include him in at least two subsequent presentation copies of his Regiment: British Library MS Harley 4866 and British Library MS Arundel 38, thought to have been presented to Henry V when he was still Prince of Wales. What started as an extemporized flourish to make up for an accidental omission became a selling point.

By the way, if you’re still pondering whether there were medieval emoticons or pre-emoticons or not, Tom is probably as good a candidate as any.**

*I know, I’m being harsh. There are probably dozens of you. Let’s see, there’s that old guy that’s both widely influential and mostly ignored, and there’s you there, the one fuming at me for saying there’s only two of you, and then… well… nope, looks like it’s just the two.
**Tom may be a closer analogue of that annoying habit some people have of omitting capital letters in their emails in the hope that it will seem like they’re so hip and informal that they can even be bothered to remember to hit the shift key.***
***If you’re one of those people, remember that it’s very formal and unhip to fume over what some jerk with a blog thinks of your informal and hip uncapitalized text.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • emily

    Wow, I had no idea medieval research could be so much fun. Almost makes me wish I HAD gone to graduate school…

  • The other Hoccleve scholar

    Hi! What makes you think that it was Hoccleve himself who asked for “Tom” to be included in other manuscripts? And which is the first manuscript he’s in (you are, if I got you right) naming the second and third. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/fnordy Fnord Prefect Fnord

    I don’t think it’s informal and hip, I’m just lousy at typing beacuse I’m clumsy and have arthritic hands. Same excuse for mispselings.

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