Reference > Cambridge History > The End of the Middle Ages > English Prose in the Fifteenth Century, I > His Style and Vocabulary
  Pecock’s Minor Works Sir John Fortescue  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XII. English Prose in the Fifteenth Century, I.

§ 6. His Style and Vocabulary.

The Repressor is so clearly written that the achievement of its author is hardly realised at first in its magnitude. Pecock had to find or make terms for conveying abstract ideas and philosophical distinctions; yet it is but seldom that he betrays the difficulty and states that he uses a word in two senses (e.g. leeful for “permissible” and “enjoined”). His wide command of terms is not that of a man conversant only with theological literature; many of his more unusual words are to be found in Chaucer or in Piers the Plowman, 2 while others seem to be of recent importation and a few, even, of his own invention. 3    25
  Perhaps it is significant of the materialism of the age that Pecock so seldom indulges in metaphor; “to lussche forth texts,” “a Coppid (crested) woman” are simple, but he felt obliged more than once to explain elaborately, as did Trevisa, the nature of figurative language where one would have thought the meaning self-evident. 4    26
  The only drawback to Pecock’s style, for a modern reader, is his tendency to pleonasm. The reason already suggested does not cover nearly all the instances of bouble, or even triple, expressions. Pecock is not wholly free from the old love of balanced phrases, nor perhaps, from the turn for quasi-legal forms affected in his age. He repeatsthe seid, thenow rehercid tiresomely, and rejoices in triplicates: so mich fonned, masid and dotid: ech gouernaunce or conuersacioun or policie which Holi Scripture werneth not and forbedeth not. This tendency, however, is most noticeable in the early and more diaelectical protions of The Repressor, while the very contrast between the full precision fo the arguments and the colloquial turn of the examples gives a pleasing sense of variety. The spelling is, as a rule, consistent, and is noteworthy for a system of boubling the vowels to give a long sound: lijk, meenis, waasteful, etc. It is probable that the extant copy of The Repressor, was executed under Pecock’s immediate supervision, to be handled to the archbishop.   27

Note 2Carect, apposid, approprid, aliened, etc. [ back ]
Note 3Corrept, correpcioun=rebuke, distinguished from correction=punishment, coursli=in course of nature.

Probably the difficulty lay less in finding abstract terms than in making precise distinctions: deliciosite, cheerte, carpentrie, bocheri give no pause; nor the active use of verbs: to feble, to cleree (make clear); not the host of adverbas and abjective composed by -li, -ose, -able: manli=human, cloistrose, contrariose, plentuose, makeable, doable, kutteable, preachable, i.e. of a text, etc. Not that his words have all survived: yet coursli, overte and netherte, aboute-writing, myned placis=shrines, a pseudo a reclame=protest, are good terms.

On the other hand Pecock could bnot be sure that a word would be restricted to particular use, that readers would seize the opposition of graciosli to naturali, the distinction between correcte and correpte, orologis and clocks (dials and mechanical clocks), lete and lette (permit and hire out, hinder), Jollite with a bad signification, and cheerte, a neutral term. A few words which already bore a twofold meaning Pecock accepted for bothe senses: relifious (conventual or pious), persoun (person or parson), quyk (alive or speedy, but quykll has the modern meaning), rather (more or earlier) etc. Like earlier writers he often couples the elder and newer words:undirnome and blamyd, rememoratiif and minding signs, wiite and defaut, skile and argument, but as the work progresses, he uses oftener skile, minding sign and Undirnpome. He has no preference for the new-fangled, his aim is to be undestood; if a few of Trevisa’s or Capgrave’s obsolescent words disappear and feng or fong or bynam, fullynge, out-take, are replaced in The Repressor by take or took, baptym, no but, yet Pecock prefers riall, beheest, drenched, hiled to the unfamiliar regalle, promissioune, drownede, couered though these last are to be found already in the anonymous translation of Polychronicon (see ante, P. 78). We find that some of the old prefixes so common in Trevisa, by- and to-, appear no longer, while the hitherto rare preposition is frequent in underling, undertake and undirnym (Trevisa seldom ventured upon undirnepe). The opposition of a yeer of dearth to one of greet cheep, and the use of doctour-monger, guest-monger suggest the modern signification. [ back ]

Note 4E.g. Vol I, PP. 168, 180. [ back ]

  Pecock’s Minor Works Sir John Fortescue  

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