The Scale of Perfection is the major work of the late fourteenth-century contemplative writer, Walter Hilton, an Augustinian canon, presumed to have studied canon law at Cambridge before renouncing a promising legal career in order to become a recluse. He gave up the solitary religious life to enter the priory of Thurgarton, Nottinghamshire, where he died, some ten years later, in 1396. The Scale was composed in two books, the first written in the 1380s for a woman recluse, who is likewise addressed in Book II; Hilton was still working on the second book at his death. The two books have different textual histories, and have been edited separately. This long-awaited edition of the second book of the Scale has been brought to completion by Michael Sargent after the death of Stanley Hussey, who had worked on this edition for many years. The Scale is a major work of Middle English prose, a guide to the contemplative life moving from the elements of Christian faith to ’the pilgrimage to the Jerusalem of contemplation’. Thus, though there are indications that Hilton knew the work of the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, the second book of the Scale describes the work of contemplation, integrated into the lives of all Christians, whether living in the world or professed religious. Owing to Hilton’s reputation and through modern translations and commentaries, the Scale has become a spiritual classic.
This edition of Book II will be the only one to have taken account of all of the surviving medieval and early modern manuscripts. Book It presents the text of the two most important manuscripts in parallel, with an Introduction, containing full discussion of the Scale’s textual history and presentation of the evidence, manuscript descriptions, textual and explanatory notes, and glossary.