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'Truthe is the beste'

A Festschrift in Honour of A.V.C. Schmidt


Edited By Nicolas Jacobs and Gerald Morgan

The thirteen essays in this book, presented in honour of Dr A.V.C. (Carl) Schmidt, are designed to reflect the range of his interests. Dr Schmidt, who was a Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford from 1972 until his retirement in 2011, is best known for his comprehensive four-text edition of Piers Plowman, the fruit of a lifetime’s work on that text. He has also made a major contribution to the study of Chaucer and the medieval English contemplatives, and these authors also find a place in this collection. The essays presented here are intended to build upon the legacy of Carl Schmidt’s exemplary scholarship.
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Proverbs in Middle English Alliterative Poetry



Remarking on the English fondness for alliteration, Gerald of Wales cites three English proverbs.1 The first two, ‘God is togedere gamen and wisdom’ and ‘Ne halt nocht al sor isaid, ne al sorghe atwite’, are regular lines of alliterative verse, and the latter appears earlier as ‘Ne deah eall soþ asæd ne eall sar ætwiten’ (that is, don’t tell the whole truth all the time, and don’t take offence at every slight).2 The third, ‘Betere is red thene rap and liste thene lither streingthe,’ appears in Laȝamon’s Brut3 as uttered by Merlin in the form ‘Þat betere is liste. þene ufel strenðe’ (8590). Although ufel is the reading of both manuscripts, the line neither alliterates nor rhymes, and emendation to luðer is surely warranted. The first part of this proverb is recorded in the Proverbs of Hendyng, in which a wise saying of the mysterious Hendyng acts to confirm the precepts of each six-line stanza:

If men doþ þe shame an scaþe,

Rape þou nohut al to raþe

To resen and to wreken.

Folu God and Godes redes,

Þan þe muen þine dedes

To þi wille rechen.

‘Betere is red þen res’, quad Hending.4

Alliteration is often one of the features that make proverbs memorable, together with a pair of balanced statements sometimes enhanced by regular rhythm and rhyme, as...

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