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Langland's Fictions$

J. A. Burrow

Print publication date: 1993

Print ISBN-13: 9780198112938

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198112938.001.0001

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(p.113) APPENDIX A: Langland and Deguileville:

(p.113) APPENDIX A: Langland and Deguileville:

Le Pelerinage de Jhesucrist

Langland's Fictions
Oxford University Press

Between about 1330 and about 1360, the French Cistercian Guillaume de Deguileville composed his sequence of three linked pilgrimage poems: Le Pelerinage de Vie Humaine [Vie) about 1330, revised and expanded about 1355; Le Pelerinage de I Ame (Ame) about 1358.1 and Le Pelerinage de Jhesucrist (Jhesucrist) some time after 1358.1 These poems enjoyed a remarkable success. Singly, in pairs, or as a complete trilogy, they survive in more than seventy-five manuscript copies.2 Evidence for the English production or circulation of these has yet to be studied; but knowledge of Deguileville's work in England is well attested. Chaucer translated his ABC of the Virgin from the Vie, and Thomas Hoccleve's Complaint of the Virgin is from the Ame. The English prose translation of the Ame, dated 1413, survives in ten manuscripts and was printed by Caxton in 1483; and the prose version of the Vie was made at about the same time, surviving in six manuscripts.3 John Lydgate is the probable author (p.114) of the English verse Vie, made in 1426–8; and John Skelton claims to have translated the same work into prose.4

A century ago, Jusserand suggested that Langland knew the whole of Deguileville's trilogy, and this opinion was endorsed more recently by Rosemary Woolf.5 Most students of Piers Plowman, however, have concentrated their attention on what was admittedly the most widely read of the set, the Vie, to the exclusion of the other two poems.6 Indeed, the possibility that the last of them, Jhesucrist, may have exerted an influence upon the English poet has hardly been explored at all.

It is certainly possible that Langland had access only to the Vie, for that poem occurs quite commonly in manuscripts without the other members of the trilogy.7 Yet there is one consideration in particular which suggests that he did encounter the whole set, or at least more than one member of it. The structuring of Piers Plowman as a sequence of dreams linked by waking interludes is oneof its most distinctive features; and for this, by far the most likely model is Deguileville's sequence of three dream-pilgrimages.8 The similarity between the two sequences is necessarily somewhat masked in Sturzinger's editions of the French, where a separate volume is devoted to each poem. Faral, however, reports that, of his ‘more than 75’ manuscripts, twenty-three contain all three poems in a single volume.9 Of these, I have seen only the two complete (p.115) Deguilevilles in the British Library and one in the Bodleian Library. British Library MS Additional 38120 concludes each poem with an individual explicit (‘Explicit le pelerinaige de vie humaine’, etc.) and marks them off from each other by blank leaves.10 In Bodleian Library MS Additional C.29, Vie ends at the bottom of the first column of fo. 3iv, followed at the top of the second column by ‘Amen | Explicit de vie humaine | Et commence Jhesucrist’. The scribe was evidently confused or misled; but, after leaving the rest of the column blank, he begins Ame at the top of fo. 32r with a picture and rubric, ‘Cy commence le pelerinage de lame’. Ame ends on fo. nor with an explicit, followed immediately by a picture and rubric, ‘Cy commence le pelerinage Jhesucrist’. But the most striking example of a continuous format in these manuscripts is to be seen in British Library MS Additional 22937, in the juncture of Vie with Ame on fos. 74v~75r. The Vie ends with an ‘Amen’ towards the bottom of the second column of 74v, and is immediately followed there, without any explicit, by a rubric which anticipates the pilgrim falling asleep again: ‘Comment le pelerin dort en son lit’. This was presumably to have been the subject of the picture occupying the space left at the top of the next leaf; but the illustrator failed to complete this part of the volume. After this space, the text of the Ame begins at once, with no incipit: ‘After I had woken up and marvelled greatly at my dream…etc.’11 Since these words refer to an awakening which occurred at the end of the Vie, and make no sense otherwise, it seems that this scribe's treatment of the Vie-Ame link is true to the poet's intentions, presenting as it does a continuous sequence: dream, awakening, waking reflections, and falling asleep to dream again.12 Langland may, of course, have hit upon the idea for himself; but if he did have a source, it was in all probability such a copy of ‘Le Roman des trois pelerinages’.

But what evidence is there that Langland knew the latest of Deguileville's dreams, the Jhesucrist? Dorothy Owen, almost the only (p.116) scholar to have considered the matter, observed that ‘it is especially interesting that each poet should have supplemented his account of human life by relating the Life of our Lord, as seen by him in a vision’.13 Admittedly, the order of Langland's poem can be compared to that of the French trilogy only in a very general way; but Owen is right also to imply that the very idea of representing the life of Christ in dream form may have been suggested by the Jhesucrist, for no other French dream poem takes this as its subject.14 Although Deguileville follows the course of Christ's life much more systematically and continuously than does Langland, his dream narrative does have certain general features in common with the English poet's. In both, personifications rub shoulders with biblical persons. In the French, Poverty and Nature attend the Nativity, and Ignorance is encountered on the Flight into Egypt, rather as Lang-land's Faith looks down upon the Entry into Jerusalem Jhesucrist i8igff., 3301 ff.; Piers XVIII. 15 ff.). In both poems, too, events of Gospel history are seen, as it were, through a dream filter. There is an intervening fictional narrative which determines the presentation of such historical events as can, with more or less plausibility, be represented in its terms. Since Deguileville's master-fiction is that of Christ's life as a pilgrimage, we might have expected Langland, if he knew the French poem, to have adopted this, instead of his more commonplace allegory of Christ as a knight. Yet the Christ-knight theme does play a significant, though secondary, part in the Jhesucrist. Deguileville's Christ, as well as being a pilgrim, is also a‘chevalier et champion’ (line 3350), destined to fight against Death and Satan (5021–23). He enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as a warrior, albeit without saddle or armour (7583–90); and on the cross his side is pierced by the lance of a ‘chevalier’, Longeus (9643–45).15

Where a motif is as widely current as that of the Christ-knight, such parallels are of limited significance; but one other passage in Deguileville's version anticipates Langland more closely. When the Holy Family, on their flight or ‘pilgrimage’ to Egypt, encounter Ignorance, he scornfully asks Jesus why such a ‘chevalier et champion’, already ‘vestu et arme’ by his mother, should be running away from his enemy (3319–56). Joseph replies on behalf of the infant. Jesus has indeed come to fight as a champion against his adversary Death (3374–78); but he needs time to learn the arts of war:

  • (p.117) N'est champion qui aprendre
  • D'enväir et soi deffendre
  • Ne doie, avant quë il aille
  • En champ mortel pour bataille.16

His time has not yet come, and he still has much to learn:

  • Quar n'est mie le tempz venu
  • Que doie encor estre veu
  • En guerre ne en bataille
  • Qui' apris rien encor sanz faille
  • N'en a, et faut que par lone tempz
  • De ce faire ait ensegnemens,
  • Et qu'il croisse et deviegne grant
  • En delaissant ľestat ďenfant,
  • Et en prenant autre guise
  • Quë u ciel n'a pas aprise
  • Où onques forz païz il ne vit. (3431–41)

The parallel here is with Piers XVI. 103–7, the passage discussed in Chapter 3 (p. 74 above), where Piers Plowman ‘parceyved plener tyme’ and in the meanwhile taught the child Jesus the knightly arts of surgery. It is striking that both poets should apply the Christ-knight theme to the particular problem of why the incarnate God spent so long on earth before starting to tackle his mission: like a young knight learning the skills of chivalry, Jesus needed time to learn as a man ‘what he had not learned in heaven’.17

Not all the parallels between Piers and the Jhesucrist concern the Christ-knight. There remain, in particular, striking similarities in the ways the two poets begin and end their dream of Christ's life. As already noted in Chapter 3 (pp. 54–5 above), Deguileville's Vita Christi is prefaced by a vision of an apple tree. An old man, later identified as Adam, climbs the tree and eats the fruit; but he loses his footing, and the earth opens to receive him as he falls (lines 65–74). This event prompts discussion in heaven, which in turn leads to the Annunciation. Langland's sequence in XVI. 73–91 may be regarded as an abbreviated, (p.118) speeded-up version of this same tree-fall-incarnation sequence. Certainly his Tree of Charity, from which Adam and the rest ‘dropped adoun’, has exactly the same part to play as Deguileville's apple tree, in providing a visionary prologue to the Annunciation.18 Even more striking is the similarity, already noted in Chapter i, between the close of Deguileville's dream and that of Langland's dream of the Harrowing of Hell. The celebrations which attend Christ's triumphant return from Hell in Piers XVIII. 408–28 closely resemble the heavenly rejoicings which, in the Jhesucrist, greet his Ascension and the Assumption of Mary. At the Ascension, Justice, Mercy, and Truth embrace and kiss (10471–75: Deguileville commonly has only three Daughters of God); and there follows a great festival to celebrate the Son's return, at which all the three Daughters sing in turn and are joined by a mass chorus of angels and spirits. At the Assumption of the Virgin the celebrations are renewed. The heavenly hosts join with Gabriel in a great ‘nouvel chant’ to mark the return of Christ and his mother; and the sound of this song, with its accompaniment of heavenly instruments, wakens the dreamer:

  • Un songe fu, si com tost vi,
  • Quar par le grant son que oui
  • Et par la chanterie grant
  • Toutes mez orelles remplant
  • Esvellie fu…(11197–201)

Here once more Langland's vision may be seen as a condensation of Deguileville's, combining the Daughters of God and their embraces with the ‘chanterie grant’ and instrumental music which wake Will, as they also woke Guillaume.

No one of these parallels is in itself decisive evidence; yet they surely serve to fortify the position taken by Rosemary Woolf: ‘Langland probably knew Guillaume's trilogy, for it contains so many possible sources for individual allegories in Piers Plowman, and even for the outline structure of the wandering pilgrim, that it would be a strong coincidence if Langland had gathered the allegories that he has in common with Guillaume from other scattered sources.’19


(1) The three poems were all edited by J. J. Sturzinger for the Roxburghe Club: Le Pelerinage de Vie Humaine de Guillaume de Deguileville (London, 1893), Le Pelerinage de VAme de Guillaume de Deguileville (London, 1895), Le Pelerinage Jhesucrist de Guillaume de Deguileville (London, 1897). The fullest discussion is by E. Faral, ‘Guillaume de Digulleville, Moine de Chaalis’, Histoire Litteraire de la France, vol. 39 (1962), 1–132. Following Sturzinger, Faral (p. 79) dates the Jhesucrist to 1358, on the strength of lines 21–6 in its prologue; but the date given in these lines clearly belongs, not to Jhesucrist, but to an earlier poem. The narrator says that he now particularly wants to see the pilgrimage of Christ, because ‘en une nuit | L’an mil ccc. lviii. | Songie m'estoie pelerin | Ou avoie fait grant chemin, | Et point ne ľavoie veii | En ce chemin ne perceii'. The reference must be to the Ame, where the dreamer's post-mortem experiences do indeed not include any sight of Christ. Since Deguileville was already past 60 years old when he wrote the Ame (lines 9376–7 there), however, the Jhesucrist was itself perhaps written not long after 1358.

(2) So Faral, ‘Guillaume de Digulleville’, 11. I do not know the exact number. See also Rosemond Tuve, Allegorical Imagery: Some Mediaeval Books and their Posterity (Princeton, NJ, 1966), 147 n. 2.

(3) The Pilgrimage of the Soul: A Critical Edition of the Middle English Dream Vision, ed. Rosemarie Potz McGurr, vol. i (New York and London, 1990); The Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode, ed. Avril Henry, EETS 288, 292 (1985, 1988). A French prose version of the Ame was made shortly after for John, Duke of Bedford.

(4) The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man, Englisht by John Lydgate, ed. K. B. Locock and F. J. Furnivall, EETS ES 92 (1904); The Garland of Laurel, lines 1219–22. Skelton's version has not survived.

(5) JJ- J- Jusserand, Piers Plowman: A Contribution to the History of English Mysticism (London, 1894), 173; Rosemary Woolf, ‘The Tearing of the Pardon’, in Woolf, Art and Doctrine, 139.

(6) The main discussions of Piers in relation to the Vie are to be found in Dorothy L. Owen's still very useful study, Piers Plowman: A Comparison with some Earlier and Contemporary French Allegories (London, 1912; reprinted Norwood Editions, 1978), and in Guy Bourquin, Piers Plowman: Etudes sur la genese litteraire des trois versions (Lille, Paris, 1978), 780–98. The excellent discussion of Deguileville by Rosemond Tuve, Allegorical Imagery, ch. 3, concentrates on the Vie, but not in relation to Langland. On Piers and the Ame, see Owen, A Comparison, 124–5, Woolf, ‘Tearing of the Pardon’, and David Aers, Piers Plowman and Christian Allegory (London, 1975), 47~9-

(7) Of his ‘more than 75’ manuscripts of Deguileville's poems, Faral (‘Guillaume de Dijrulleville’, p. 11) reports that 24 have the Vie alone.

(8) This was noted by Owen, A Comparison, 129: ‘The idea of a continuous series of visions may also have been suggested to the writer of “Piers Plowman” by the linking together of De Guileville's three Dream Pilgrimages.’ Owen also (pp. 27–9) draws a closer parallel between Deguileville's three dreams and the three dreams of Langland's A Text; but her argument is somewhat strained.

(9) Faral, ‘Guillaume de Digulleville’, p. 11. For particulars, see Sturzinger's (incomplete) list of MSS in his ed. of the Vie, pp. ix-xiii.

(10) Fo. no, between Vie and Ame, contains only an explicit and an incipit. Between Ame and Jhesucrist, fos. ig7v and 198 are blank.

(11) A later hand has added the Ame title in the blank space left for the illustrator. The junction between Ame and Jhesucrist is more clearly marked in this manuscript, with an explicit and blank spaces on fo. 1^2 followed by a rubric at the bottom of the second column introducing the (unexecuted) picture for which space is left at the beginning of fo. i32v. After this space, Jhesucrist begins without incipit.

(12) A study of the format of all the three-poem Deguileville manuscripts would throw further light on this matter. The printed edition, Romant des trois pelerinages (Paris, c.1500), treats the three as a continuous sequence. Thus, the wakings of the dreamer after Vie and Ame are headed ‘Reueil premier du pelerin’ and ‘Reueil second du pelerin’ respectively.

(13) A Comparison, 20.

(14) Grosseteste's Chateau ďAmour, which Langland may have known, does treat the life of Christ, but is not a dream poem.

(15) See also lines 6422, 8931, 10565–72.

(16) Lines 3381–4. God the Father makes a similar point to the Holy Spirit later, on the occasion of Christ's baptism: ‘Si est tempz que doie aprendre | A assallir et defendre | Soi, et que ait premierement | Touz les tours d’escremissement' (5025–28).

(17) In a similar passage, XIX. 96–107, where Langland's Conscience speaks of the young Jesus learning the many ‘sleightes’ that a conqueror has to master, there is a curious reference to his fleeing: ‘And som tyme he faught faste, and fleigh outherwhile’ (103). This has been explained as an allusion to King David's guerrilla tactics: T. D. Hill, Motes and Queries, 221 (1976), 291–4; but a better explanation is to be found in the Jhesucrist, where the discussion between Ignorance and Joseph makes several references to Jesus ‘fleeing’ into Egypt: lines 3315, 3334, 3340, 3352, etc.

(18) The parallel is discussed in Michelle Martindale, ‘The Treatment of the Life of Christ in Piers Plowman’, B. Litt. thesis (Oxford, 1978), 17–19.

(19) ‘The Tearing of the Pardon’, 139. I note here a number of other, miscellaneous parallels between Jhesucrist and Piers: a vision of the world from a mountain, Jhesucrist 92–108, Piers XI. 323–71; Christ's incognito, Jhesucrist 951–71, 1091–100, 5035–44, Piers XVIII. 22–6, 296–7; Christ in Mary's ‘chamber’, Jhesucrist 1235, Piers XVI. 92; the marriage garment of the soul laundered by penance, Jhesucrist 5941–8, Piers XIV. 1–21; Christ seeing men's thoughts, Jhesucrist 7288, 7717–36, Piers XV. 199–212; Christ's thirst for man's salvation, Jhesucrist 9421–34, Piers XVIII. 366–71.