Rolle, Richard, de Hampole (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49
Rolle, Richard, de Hampole

no contributor recorded
1904 Errata appended.

ROLLE, RICHARD, de Hampole (1290?–1349), hermit and author, born about 1290 at Thornton in Yorkshire (probably Thornton-le-Street), was the son of William Rolle of Thornton in Richmondshire, and was sent by his parents to school at an early age, where he showed such good promise that Thomas de Neville, archdeacon of Durham, sent him to Oxford, paying all the charges of his education. There he is said to have made rapid progress in his studies, but, being moved with a strong desire to devote himself to a religious life, at the age of nineteen he left the university and returned to his home. Richard's ambition was not to enter any of the recognised communities of monks and friars, but to become a hermit and give himself up to contemplation. His mode of making his profession was to construct for himself a costume from two of his sister's kirtles, one white, the other grey, which she lent to him, and having borrowed also his father's rain-hood, he took up his abode in a wood near his father's house. His family naturally looked upon him as out of his senses. Richard, therefore, fearing that he would be put under restraint, fled from his home and commenced a wandering life. Entering a certain church at Dalton, near Rotherham, to pay his devotions on the eve of the Assumption, he was recognised by the sons of John de Dalton, the squire of the place, who had known him at Oxford. The next day, the festival of the Assumption, he appeared again in church, and, putting on a surplice, took part in the service. At the mass he went, with the priest's permission, into the pulpit and preached with wonderful power. John de Dalton, having conversed with him, and satisfied himself as to his sanity, offered to provide him with a fitting cell, hermit's clothing, and the necessaries of life. This Richard accepted, and, establishing himself near his patron at Dalton, devoted himself to contemplation and devotional writings. The ‘Legenda’ represent him as becoming completely ecstatic, living in a spiritual world, and having many conflicts with devils, in all of which he is victorious. In his ‘De Incendio Amoris’ he describes in detail the steps by which he reached the highest point of divine rapture: the process occupied four years and three months. Richard soon began to move from place to place, and in the course of his wanderings came to Anderby in Richmondshire, where was the cell of an anchoress, Dame Margaret Kyrkby, between whom and Richard there had long existed a holy love. Here he procured the miraculous recovery of the recluse from a violent seizure. Subsequently he established himself at Hampole, near Doncaster, in the neighbourhood of the Cistercian nunnery of St. Mary, which was founded there by William de Clairefai in 1170 for fourteen or fifteen nuns. Here the fame of his sanctity and his learning became very great, bringing numerous visitors to his cell, and here he died on 29 Sept. 1349. His grave at Hampole was visited by the faithful for many years after his death, and miracles—chiefly of healing—were reported to be worked there; 20 Jan. was the day traditionally assigned to his commemoration. An ‘office,’ consisting of prayers and hymns, together with a series of legends adapted to the canonical hours and the mass, was drawn up in anticipation of his canonisation, which did not take place. The legends there preserved are the chief source of Richard's biography. The ‘office’ is printed in the York Breviary (Surtees Soc. vol. ii. app. v.), and from the Thornton MS. in Lincoln Cathedral Library, by Canon Perry in his edition of Rolle's ‘English Prose Treatises’ (1866).

Rolle represented a revolt against many of the conventional views of religion in his day. He was a voluminous writer of devotional treatises or paraphrases of scripture. In his literary work he exalted the contemplative life, denounced vice and worldliness, and indulged in much mystical rhapsodising. But he was by no means wholly unpractical in his methods of seeking to rouse in his countrymen an active religious sense. He addressed them frequently in their own language. As a translator of portions of the bible into English—the Psalms, extracts from Job and Jeremiah—he deserves some of the fame subsequently acquired by Wiclif. While he was well read in patristic literature, he had no sympathies with the subtleties of the schoolmen; and when commenting on scripture avoided any mere scholastic interpretation, although he often digressed into mysticism of an original type. His popularity was so great that in after times ‘evil men of Lollardry,’ as they are described in the rhyming preface to his version of the Psalms, endeavoured to tamper with his writings, with the view of putting forth his authority for their views. Therefore the nuns of the Hampole convent kept genuine copies in ‘chain bonds’ at their house.

Rolle wrote in both Latin and English. His English works were written in a vigorous Northumbrian dialect, but they won immediate popularity all over England, and his dialectical peculiarities were modified or wholly removed in the numerous copies made in southern England. Many of his Latin works he himself or his disciples translated into English. With regard to the treatises which exist in both Latin and English versions, it is often difficult to determine for which version Rolle was personally responsible. Two of Rolle's Latin ethical treatises, ‘De Emendatione Vitæ’ and ‘De Incendio Amoris,’ seem best known in English translations made by Richard Misyn in 1434 and 1435 respectively [see Misyn, Richard]. The English versions have been published by the Early English Text Society (1896). A great part of his literary remains is still unpublished. Manuscripts of his works are numerous in all public libraries—fifty-four are in the Bodleian Library, forty-nine are in the British Museum, and forty-four in the Cambridge University Library. Of his English paraphrases of scriptures only those of the Psalms have been printed. His rendering of Job in English verse, entitled ‘The IX lessons of the diryge whych Job made in hys trybulacyon … clepyd Pety Job,’ remains in Harl. MS. 1706 (art. 5)—a volume containing many other of Rolle's tracts. An English verse paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer, assigned by Ritson to Rolle, is in Harl. MS. 435.

Of Rolle's English works, two prose treatises were printed by Wynkyn de Worde in a single volume in 1506, 4to, viz. ‘Rycharde Rolle Hermyte of Hampull in his contemplacyons of the drede and loue of God with other dyuerse tytles as it sheweth in his table,’ and ‘The remedy ayenst the troubles of temptacyons’ (Brit. Mus.). The latter was also reissued by Wynkyn de Worde in 1508, 4to (an imperfect copy on vellum is in the British Museum); and again by Wynkyn de Worde in 1519, 4to (the copy of this edition in the British Museum is perfect, and is said to be unique).

Rolle's chief English work long remained in manuscript. It is the religious poem called the ‘Pricke of Conscience.’ This, he tells us, was written in English for the instruction of those who knew no Latin. Lydgate in his ‘Bochas’ (f. 217 b) mentions how

    In perfit living, which passeth poysie,
    Richard hermite, contemplative of sentence,
    Drough in Englishe ‘the prick of conscience.’

Rolle's poem consists of a prologue and seven books, treating respectively of the beginning of man's life, the unstableness of this world, death and why death is to be dreaded, purgatory, doomsday, the pains of hell and joys of heaven. Human nature is treated as contemptible, and asceticism is powerfully enjoined on the reader. The style is vigorous; the versification is rough. It is written throughout in rhyming couplets, the syllables of each verse varying in number from eight to twelve, although never more than four are accented. The lines reach a total of 9,624. Rolle quotes freely from the scriptures and the fathers, and shows himself acquainted with Innocent III's ‘De Contemptu Mundi;’ Bartholomew Glanville's ‘De Proprietatibus Rerum;’ the ‘Compendium Theologicæ Veritatis;’ and the ‘Elucidarium’ of Honorius Augustodunensis. In title and subject, although not in treatment, the work resembles the English prose treatise, the ‘Ayenbite of Inwyt’ (i.e. the ‘Remorse of Conscience’), which Dan Michel of Northgate translated in 1340 into the Kentish dialect from the French (‘Le Somme des Vices et des Vertus,’ written by Frère Lorens in 1279). Rolle's poem was freely quoted by Warton in his ‘History of English Poetry,’ and by Joseph Brooks Yates in ‘Archæologia,’ 1820, xix. 314–34. The whole was first printed, in the Northumbrian dialect in which it was first written from the Cottonian MS. Galba E. ix. by the Rev. Richard Morris for the Philological Society in 1863. Manuscripts abound, not only of the original Northumbrian, which was modified and altered in endless particulars by southern English copyists, but of translations into Latin. The latter bear the title of ‘Stimulus Conscientiæ.’ There are eighteen English manuscripts in the British Museum; collations of all these were published at Berlin in 1888 in a German dissertation by Dr. Percy Andreæ. Dr. Bülbring of Groningen has printed collations of thirteen other manuscripts, at Trinity College, Dublin, in Lichfield Cathedral Library, Sion College, London, Lambeth Palace, Cambridge University Library (Ee, 4, 35), Bodleian Library (Ashmole, 60), and elsewhere (cf. Transactions of the Philological Society, 1889–90; Englische Studien, vol. xxiii. 1896; Herrig's Archiv, vol. lxxxvi. 390–2). Five manuscripts of the ‘Pricke of Conscience’ are in the Cambridge University Library, and at least twelve are in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Of hardly less interest than the ‘Pricke of Conscience’ is Rolle's English paraphrase of the Psalms and Canticles. The work was first fully printed at the Clarendon Press in 1884 from a manuscript at University College, Oxford. This manuscript preserves Rolle's Northumbrian dialect, but is imperfect. The editor (the Rev. H. R. Bramley) has supplied the defects partly from a copy at Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, and partly from one in the Bodleian Library. An imperfect Northumbrian manuscript is in the church of St. Nicholas, Newcastle-on-Tyne (cf. Notes and Queries, 5th ser. i. 41–42). Dr. Adam Clarke, the biblical commentator, owned a manuscript copy, and in his own work often quoted Rolle's commentary with approval (Lewis, History of the Translations of the Bible, 1739, pp. 12–16). A copy at Trinity College, Dublin, is in course of printing by the Early English Text Society.

Ten English prose treatises by Rolle found in Robert Thornton's manuscript (dated about 1440) in the Lincoln Cathedral Library were edited for the Early English Text Society by Canon Perry in 1866. Thornton lived near Hampole; he ascribes seven of the treatises to ‘Richard Hermite,’ and the rest are assigned to Rolle on good internal evidence. The subjects of the treatises are respectively ‘Of the Vertuz of the Haly Name of Ihesu;’ ‘A Tale that Rycherde Hermet made;’ ‘De in-perfecta contricione;’ ‘Moralia Ricardi Heremite de Natura Apis;’ ‘A Notabil Tretys off the Ten Comandementys;’ ‘Of the Gyftes of the Haly Gaste;’ ‘Of the Delyte and Yernyng of Gode;’ ‘Of the Anehede of Godd with Mannys Saule;’ ‘Active and Contemplative Life;’ and the ‘Virtue of our Lord's Passion.’

Mr. Carl Horstmann published in 1895–6 in his ‘Richard Rolle and his Followers,’ ‘The Form of Perfect Living’ (prose), many short poems and epistles (from Cambr. Univ. MS. v. 64), as well as ‘Meditations on the Passion’ (prose) from Cambridge Addit. MS. 3042, and other pieces from British Museum MS. Arundel 507. Of Rolle's Latin works there was published at Paris in 1510, as an appendix to ‘Speculum Spiritualium,’ his ‘De Emendatione Vitæ’ or ‘Peccatoris,’ a short religious tract. In the same place and year appeared in a separate volume Rolle's ‘Explanationes Notabiles,’ a commentary on the book of Job, in Latin prose. The latter is in part a translation from Rolle's ‘Pety Job’ (in Harl. MS. 1706, art. 5). The ‘De Emendatione’ was reissued at Antwerp in 1533, together with ‘De Incendio Amoris’ and ‘Eulogium Nominis Iesu.’ Later reissues, with various additions of other Latin treatises (including Rolle's English paraphrases of the Psalms, Job, and Jeremiah turned into Latin), appeared at Cologne in 1535, and again in 1536, when the volume was entitled ‘D. Richardi Pampolitani Anglosaxonis Eremitæ, viri in diuinis scripturis ac veteri illa solidaque Theologia eruditissimi, in Psalterium Davidicum, atque alia quædam sacræ Scripturæ monumenta compendiosa, justaque pia enarratio.’ The Latin tracts, with the exception of the commentaries on scripture, were reprinted at Paris in 1618, and again in tom. xxvi. pp. 609 et sqq. of the ‘Bibliotheca Patrum Maxima’ at Lyons in 1677.

[The Legenda appended to Rolle's Office, noticed above, is the main authority for Rolle's biography. See also the editions of his printed works already mentioned; B. ten Brink's Geschichte der engl. Litt. vol. i.; Studien zu Richard Rolle de Hampole, von J. Ullmann, in Englische Studien, vol. vii.; Hampole Studien, von G. Kribel, in Englische Studien, vol. viii.; Ueber die Richard Rolle de Hampole zugeschriebene Paraphrase der sieben Busspsalmen, von Max Adler, 1885; Heinrich Middendorf's Studien über Richard Rolle, Magdeburg, 1888; Ritson's Bibliographia Anglo-Poetica; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Oudin's De Scriptoribus Ecclesiæ, iii. col. 927–9; Morley's English Writers, iv. 263–9; Hunter's South Yorkshire, i. 358. Some assistance has been rendered by Canon G. G. Perry and by Dr. Frank Heath.]

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.238
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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166 ii 9 Rolle, Richard: for 1895 read 1895-6