The ‘Slave Bible’ of 1807

from Charlotte McKillop-Mash, Bodleian Special Collections

The Museum of the Bible  in Washington DC is currently exhibiting the ‘Slave Bible’, a shockingly bowdlerised version of the New- and Old Testaments that was printed in England in 1807, the same year that the Slave Trade Act prohibited the slave trade in the British Empire.
What’s so shocking? This Bible, intended ‘For the Use of the Negro Slaves, In the British West-India Islands’ has been carefully edited to remove any mention of people freeing themselves from bondage. In just one instance, it skips directly from Genesis 45:28 to Exodus 19, so it includes the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) but “disappears” the first eighteen books of Exodus, in which the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt.


I came across this text thanks to an enlightening Religion News Service (RNS) article on the exhibit, which is a collaboration between the Museum of the Bible, Fisk (a historically black university in Tennessee) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The ‘Slave Bible’ was published by the Society for the Conversion and Religious Education of Negro Slaves, an organisation founded by Bishop Beilby Porteus who was, difficult as it is to believe, a passionate abolitionist. Porteus (1731-1809), an interesting and contradictory figure, was the son of a Virginia tobacco planter (presumably a slave owner?) but was born and raised in England. He was ordained at the age of 26 and rose up the Anglican ranks, becoming chaplain to the king in 1769, bishop of Chester in 1776 and bishop of London in 1787. Porteus criticised the Church’s position on slavery, preached and campaigned against the slave trade, and voted numerous times to ban it. He also, perhaps most ironically, made strong stands for doctrinal purity and theological rigour. Even as he campaigned, however, his Conversion Society was printing and distributing this deeply impure Bible, a publication which can be considered as, at best, politically expedient. [DNB (subscription required) ]  [Wikipedia ]
I was particularly intrigued when I read that “the rare artifact is just one of three known across the world. The other two are housed at universities in Great Britain.” What are the chances, I thought, that Oxford is one of those universities? I asked Jo Maddocks, from the Bodleian’s Rare Books Department, and was thrilled to discover that not only is there a copy here in Oxford, but it has been digitised so it is freely available for teaching.
This eye-opening and disturbing book deserves to be more widely known and I am grateful that the Museum of the Bible has highlighted it.

Portraying a Black African scholar at Oxford in the 1870s — and reimagining those portrayals today

from Pamela Roberts

Images from the Bodleian Library collections: left, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (18d); right, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (2); with a caricature image of Christian Cole in the centre, MS. Eng. a. 2033, fol. 3.
Images from the Bodleian Library collections: left, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (18d); right, John Johnson Collection Minstrels 3 (2); with a caricature image of Christian Cole in the centre, MS. Eng. a. 2033, fol. 3.

‘This is the only image of Cole’. That’s the caveat I append to the caricature image of Christian Frederick Cole, the University of Oxford’s first Black African Scholar in 1873, when I use the image (above, centre) to illustrate a lecture or write an article about him.

Last year the picture was widely used in media promotion of the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Cole, at University College, to honour him and his achievements. Every time I saw a press piece about the plaque with the image of Cole as a ‘minstrel’ adjacent to it, I cringed. Then I started to wonder, why is this caricature, along with other caricature images, the only portrayal of Cole? Who produced it, and for what purpose?

Progressing from these questions and thinking more broadly, I considered Cole’s presence in Oxford, fifty years after the introduction of photography in 1839. Is there a photograph or portrait of him? I considered why Cole’s achievements were portrayed publicly in the form of parody when his contemporaries were commemorated through portraits or statues.

My initial thoughts, reflections and questions about Cole’s imagery developed into a detailed study delving through archives and photographic catalogues of cartoons, caricatures and 19th-century portraits. One collection I looked at was the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, held at the Bodleian Libraries. This is one of the largest and most important collections of printed ephemera in the world, and reflects types of ephemera produced from all periods, especially from the 19th century to the Second World War. I looked at the section on ‘Minstrels’ as the caricature of Cole has a strong resemblance to ‘negro minstrels’ popular at the time. The collection provided a fascinating source of contextual and background information.

This research forms the foundation for the Re-Imagining Cole symposium  which takes place on Saturday 20th October at the Weston Library, from 10.00am – 4.00pm. The symposium will examine the background, context and depictions of previously unseen caricatures of Cole, exploring why Cole and his historic achievements were only portrayed in the form of parodies. The symposium will also examine the broader issues of race and representation in caricatures and portrait art. Finally, the symposium will pose the question, ‘Should Cole’s image be re-imagined?’ A display of items connected with Cole will be shown on the day.

The event will include art historians, artists and academic featuring Dr Temi Odumosu (Malmö University), Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (University College, University of Oxford), Robert Taylor (photographer of ‘Portraits of Achievement’), Colin Harris (cataloguer of the Shrimpton Caricatures collection, from which the caricatures of Cole are taken) and Pamela Roberts (Founder and Director Black Oxford Untold Stories).
The event has also been supported by the Art Fund and the Social History Society. Tickets for the event are £5.00 (£3.00 students, unwaged) and can be booked at:
https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/upcoming-events/2018/october/reimagining-cole

Pamela Roberts at work.
Pamela Roberts at work.

How the Bodleian Library collected playbooks: evidence from Library Records

Tara Lyons (Illinois State University) Sassoon Visiting Fellowship, Bodleian Libraries

Through an examination of the Bodleian’s archive of its own history, the Library Records collection, Tara Lyons has been investigating the earliest arrival of playbooks on the Bodleian’s shelves after the opening of the library in 1602.

The records of books claimed by the library from the Stationers’ Company under the agreement of 1610 , and the binding of books now in the library, combined with clues from printed library catalogues and the lists of locations of books (the order in which they were found on the shelves), helped Dr Lyons to build a picture of the sequence in which some individual plays were received early in the Bodleian’s history, and how they were treated once they were part of the Library’s collections.

In addition to scanning lists of books in the Library Records, Dr Lyons adopted the methods used by librarians in 1905 to identify the Bodleian’s original copy of the first folio edition of William Shakespeare’s plays.[1] In that case the bibliographical detectives took clues from the printed waste that was used in the binding of the book, including fragments of a 15th-century edition of Cicero.

The result in 1906 was a notable re-purchase of a book which in the 17th century had been allowed to leave the library, but by the 20th century was regarded as a treasure.

Dr Lyons’ research promises to amend an impression that playbooks in English found no home in the Bodleian in the decades after its founding in 1602, at a period when English literature was not recognized as a subject of academic study.[2]

[1] The original Bodleian copy of the first folio of Shakespeare (The Turbutt Shakespeare) [by F. Madan, G.M.R. Turbutt, and S. Gibson]. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905

[2] Reliquiæ Bodleianæ: or Some genuine remains of sir Thomas Bodley [ed. by T. Hearne.]p. 278.

Christian Frederick Cole, the first Black African scholar at Oxford, depicted in a set of 19th-century cartoons

Bodleian G.A. Oxon. 4o 417, fol. 980 (detail): Christian Frederick Cole
Christian Frederick Cole (1852-1885) depicted in one of the Oxford cartoons from 1879.

What images do we have of Black students at Oxford? The picture above is one of the images made of Christian Frederick Cole, the first Black African scholar at Oxford, in 1879. Last year Pamela Roberts, founder and director of Black Oxford Untold Stories, unveiled the first Black Oxford plaque at University College to honour Christian Frederick Cole. Pamela questioned why the achievements of Cole’s contemporaries were commemorated through portraits or statues, while the only images of Cole are in a series of caricatures. The symposium “Re-Imagining Cole”, at the Bodleian’s Weston Library on 20 October 2018, will explore these rediscovered images of Cole, held at the Library, and will examine the background and context of the images. The symposium will pose the question, should Cole’s image be reimagined?

Colin Harris writes about the series of ‘Shrimpton caricatures’, in the Bodleian collection, in which the depictions of Christian Frederick Cole appear:

The Oxford firm Thomas Shrimpton & Son published and sold photographic reproductions of commissioned or submitted original caricatures from their premises at 23-4 Broad St., from 1868-1901, their shop window display seemingly being their only advertising strategy, there being no evidence of them ever having produced a catalogue or list.

The subject matter includes many aspects of University life, notably University and religious personalities, and the trials and tribulations of undergraduate life, as well as sports and pastimes. Other subjects frequently covered are religion, politics, ‘town and gown’ confrontations, and women (the campaign for women to become full members of the University was going on at this time, and women first became full members in 1920).

The caricatures were essentially produced for undergraduates and mainly by undergraduates; many display learned quotations from classical authors and contemporary poets.  In all there are 1214 images. The Bodleian holds what appear to be the only two known complete sets.

Bodleian G.A. Oxon 4o 414
Bodleian G.A. Oxon 4o 414

Ekaterina Shatalova, winner of the 2017-18 Colin Franklin Prize for book-collecting

Ekaterina Shatalova_winner 2018 Colin Franklin PrizeThe 2017-18 Colin Franklin Prize for book-collecting has been awarded to Ekaterina Shatalova (Keble College), for her collection of works by and about Edward Lear (1812-1888), the poet and illustrator famous for limericks in A Book of Nonsense, and for poems recounting the nautical adventures of The Owl and the Pussycat and the Jumblies (‘who went to sea in a sieve’).  Writing about her collection, Shatalova recalls first encountering the nonsense poetry of Lear and other English writers in a Russian translation. Her research at the University of Oxford is on the subject of nonsense poetry, and the special challenges of translating the mixture of verbal and visual forms in this genre. As part of the Prize, Shatalova has consulted with librarians on the purchase of a book for the Bodleian’s Rare Books collection. The next competition for the Colin Franklin Prize will be announced in October, 2018.

About the Colin Franklin Prize: The prize is offered in honour of Colin Franklin, the distinguished author, book collector and bookseller who has over many decades encouraged numerous young book collectors at the University. It is funded by Anthony Davis. The prize follows the tradition of similar prizes awarded at Cambridge and London and at universities in the United States and Canada. It is intended to encourage book collecting by undergraduates and graduate students of the University by recognising a collection formed by a student at the university. The prize is announced each year in October. For information see:  www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/prizes

Invisible women: Yolande Bonhomme, 16th-century publisher

Francesca Galligan, Bodleian Rare Books

There were many women printing in the 16th century. But for a variety of reasons, it can be hard to find their work in library catalogues.

Yolande Bonhomme is a good example of this.

She came from a printing family: her father Pasquier Bonhomme was a celebrated Parisian printer, and her husband Thielmann Kerver also ran a printing business in Paris. Bonhomme took over Kerver’s business when he died in 1522, as was permitted by the Guild system in 16th-century Paris. Reports of her output vary, from 200 editions (Beatrice Beech, based on Renouard) to 136 (Axel Erdmann), before her own death in 1557.

While Kerver printed widely, with various editions of classical authors, Bonhomme focused on liturgical and devotional books.

She continued to use her husband’s device on the title-pages and at the colophons of her books, referring to herself most often simply as “vidua” – the widow – of Thielmann Kerver.

Because she does not usually name herself, it is her husband’s name that is sometimes picked out in library catalogues, and Bonhomme is found only with a bit more work.  The Bodleian’s online catalogue SOLO gives this entry for the book below:

Hore deipare virginis marie secūdū vsum Romanū.
Hours
1523 | Par. T. Keruer | (8⁰)

Bodleian Vet. E1 f.205
Bodleian Vet. E1 f.205

 

Additional reading: Beatrice Beech, ‘Yolande Bonhomme: a Renaissance printer’, Medieval prosopography 6.2, 1985; Axel Erdmann, My gracious silence: women in the mirror of 16th century printing in Western Europe, 1999.

Printer-in-Residence 2018: Emily Martin

Emily Martin portrait
Emily Martin

The Bodleian Libraries are pleased to announce that Emily Martin will take up a one-month residency at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press in autumn 2018. Martin, who teaches at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, will bring her exceptional talents to the Bodleian’s working presses housed in the Old Bodleian Library and in the Weston Library beginning on 29 October 2018. As Printer-in-Residence at the Bodleian Libraries, she will creatively engage with Bodleian collections especially around her interest in moveable books and optical toys.

On 21 November, Emily Martin will deliver a public lecture, ‘Visual Metre and Rhythm: the Function of Movable Devices in Books‘. Movable devices, sometimes referred to as novelties, in books are not new. From anatomical lift flap books, to astrolabes and other volvelles in the early modern science texts, from carousel and pop-up children’s books to contemporary artists’ books. These devices allow for the ultimate means of emphasis within the pages of a book.

Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, 5:15 pm

Details and free registration

Emily Martin, 'King Leer' puppet

‘King Leer’ puppet, by Emily Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press is housed in a workshop located in the Old Bodleian Library. Five iron hand-presses, one modern proofing press (‘Western’) and a complement of type make up the materials that have been used since the mid-20th century to teach typesetting and printing to generations of Oxford students, and members of the public, as part of the Bodleian’s contribution to learning about the material history of the book. These presses, and a replica wooden press in the Weston Library for Special Collections, also enable outreach to the public and schools, through demonstrations and courses. Information about the Bibliographical Press workshop is available here: www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/bibpress

Book Ownership in Stuart England: the Lyell Lectures 2018, by David Pearson

This year’s Lyell Lectures, given by David Pearson, explore the individual ownership of books at a time when libraries like the Bodleian were less established, and access to the written word depended more significantly on private libraries.  Ownership of books grew steadily through the seventeenth century, in the country as well as the city, across all sectors of society.  How big were people’s libraries then, what did they contain, and why did they own them? In his lectures, David Pearson explores these themes not only for academics and professional people, but also for women as well as men, for farmers as well as doctors.

Here is a selection of books now in Bodleian collections, but formerly owned by individuals in the 17th century, chosen by Pearson to illustrate points in his lectures.

Bodleian BB 19(3) Art. Seld.Different approaches

We have a very different set of values today around which texts are interesting, or important, and we have a respect for the preservation of original evidence which was not shared by earlier generations.  Nowadays, we would treat a 1477 imprint presented to Archbishop Thomas Rotherham (1423-1500) with considerable respect; when it arrived in the Bodleian in the 17th century as part of Selden’s library, it was bundled up with a group of later pamphlets, put into a workaday binding, and cropped by the binder so that Rotherham’s arms are partly cut away.

BB 19(3) Art. Seld

 

 

 

Bodleian 4o M.63.Art. Seld.George Carew’s handsome books

The second lecture explores the theme of Books for use and books for show, asking how far people valued their books as objects for display at least as much as things to read.  George Carew, Earl of Totnes (1555-1629) was a soldier and statesman; he had his books strikingly bound in hand-painted and gilded vellum, with his coat of arms, and they are usually clean and crisp internally, with little evidence of having been read.  Were they books for use, or for show?

4o M.63.Art.Seld

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodleian J-J Sidney 13Anne Clifford’s Arcadia

Although book ownership among women was widespread in the 17th century, property owning laws of the time mean that it is much less well-documented than is the case for men.  Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676) is one exception to that rule, as we have paintings, diaries and surviving books which reflect her private library and active reading.  This copy of The Countesse of Pembroke’s Arcadia was Lady Anne’s and has her marginalia, and a note in her hand that she read it in 1651.

J-J Sidney 13

Anne Clifford inscription in J-J Sidney 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodleian Inc.f.GS2.1495.1The humbler sort

Not all books, in the 17th century, sat on the shelves of scholars, aristocrats, or professional men; contemporary markings show that books of all kinds, but particularly Bibles, devotional books, histories and practical manuals lived in less educated households.  This late 15th-century Latin Bible began its life in clergy use but during the 17th century it passed through several Welsh families (Evans, Jones, Williams) who left all kinds of notes, drawings and scribbles in its margins.

Inc.f.GS2.1495.1

Inscription in Bodleian Inc.f.GS2.1495.1

Women in the printing trades plates of the Encyclopédie

In the first of a series of blogposts about women in the book trades, we are looking at images showing women employed in the printing and paper industries in 18th-century France, as depicted in engravings from the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, published between 1751 and 1772. The engravings show workers in the industrial spaces, as well as the tools of these trades.

Our first picture is a modern take on these images, as seen in a small risograph booklet which uses details from a modern facsimile edition of the Encyclopédie plates, (Recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts libéraux et les arts mécaniques, avec leur explication, published in Paris by Inter-Livres in 2001). The booklet was produced by graphic designer Dario Utreras at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press in 2017.

Utreras isolated individual figures from the plates. In the upper corner of one page we notice a female figure, copied from the plates showing ‘Papeterie’, the paper-making industry, (in the online version of the Encyclopédie produced by the ARTFL project)*.  Utreras comments on the reason for extracting these figures, ‘One has to go and find the women (and their work) across most strands of history. Women in Typography. Avant-garde composers. Radical poets. Indigenous musicians. This booklet is a small exercise in observation.’

Geraldine Sheridan has examined the historical accuracy of the Encyclopédie engravings. [“An Other Text: Rationalist Iconography and the Representation of Women’s Work in the Encyclopédie,” Diderot Studies (2003): 101-135] ‘We see  the « delisseuses » cutting up rags for maceration… [and]  women work in the drying room, separating and hanging up sheets of paper…’. [Sheridan, p. 128] Sheridan finds that in the case of papermaking, the portrayal of women workers in the industry reflected historical reality in the 18th-century French paper industry.

In other Encyclopedie plates, women are depicted in the type-foundry, (‘Fonderie des caracteres d’imprimerie’). This also fits the historical record. [Sheridan, p. 125] Sheridan explains the type of work that is depicted in the Encyclopédie: “one woman breaks off the jets of metal from the newly-cast type letters, while the woman beside her at the bench then rubs the shanks of each letter smooth on a grindstone. … The second image … shows a woman composing the newly cast letters into sets, and suggests that she had a level of literacy.”

*Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, etc., eds. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Autumn 2017 Edition), Robert Morrissey and Glenn Roe (eds), http://encyclopedie.uchicago.edu/.

Reformation 500: Luther autograph on display

Alexander Peplow

A Commonplace Reformation: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92 – Martin Luther’s Autograph Collection of Proverbs

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries
Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

This manuscript is one of two in the Bodleian’s possession which are written in Martin Luther’s own hand, and, running to 40 pages, is by far the more substantial – though, about the size of a postcard, it remains small. It is a collection of proverbs (Sprichwörter), mostly in German, and dating from some point in the later 1530s or early 1540s. It was acquired by the Bodleian for £45 in 1865 –the ‘carelessness and poverty’ of German libraries and museums for allowing this to happen was later lamented. (‘Sprichwörtersammlung’, ed. K. Drescher, in Luthers Werke: Schriften, 69 vols. (Weimar: 1883-), li, p. 634). This manuscript is the only version of this collection, which was never published or prepared for publication in Luther’s lifetime; indeed, its contents were not published until its preparation in 1900 by Ernst Thiele, which was then included in the Weimar edition of Luther’s collected works. It is not known why, other than an interest in proverbs, Luther began to write this work, nor why he stopped (the last six pages of the manuscript are blank) and did not publish it.

The format of the manuscript reflects Luther’s practice to cut up sheets of paper into smaller pieces to serve as notepaper, which would be small enough to carry around, or just to have ready on his desk to make notes on. The paper for the whole manuscript has the same watermark, an eagle (see image, from p. 22), and so was presumably all prepared at approximately the same time.

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p.22. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries
Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p.22. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Thiele notes that this watermark is also found on the manuscript (also in this note-paper format) of Luther’s tract Wider Hans Worst, which was written and published in 1541, which gives some idea of when the manuscript might have been written. Being a notebook, many of the phrases win it are just brief notes – reminders from Luther to jog his memory. This means that many of the phrases are heavily abbreviated and make little sense to a modern reader, especially when many of the proverbs describe situations unfamiliar in the present day. The manuscript shows signs of composition and revision, too – Luther seems, perhaps with existing proverbs in mind, to be writing new proverbs, or at least variations of old ones. This manuscript can give a number of interesting insights, both into Luther, and his thought processes, and into the state of German literary culture of the period.

The sixteenth century was a time of considerable change for the German language. Once, Luther himself was regarded as the driving force of this change, but, while his importance in the development of the German language and German print culture should not be underestimated, he was part of a wider moment in which German changed. This included writers like Luther, but also merchants and printers, who all participated in changes in German literary culture. Proverb collections have been a focus for historians of popular culture trying to find a way in to oral culture which cannot be easily found through books. While this is attractive, there are significant problems with the use of proverb collections as examples of popular oral culture, since many collections of proverbs were used to give moral instruction. This is clear in the proverb collections of Luther’s contemporary, and sometime friend, Agricola, in which most of the proverbs are accompanied by brief moral instructions explaining how the proverbs can be used for personal improvement. Published proverb collections like Agricola’s provide an example more of what their authors think, or want, popular behaviour to be, than a reflection its reality. Moreover, the first, and most famous, of the sixteenth-century proverb collections, Erasmus’ Adages was emphatically not a collection of examples from popular speech: they were phrases to be learned and used for instruction, rather than as representative of folk wisdom and oral culture. These books of proverbs, then, reflect not popular opinions and beliefs, but the opinions and beliefs of the educated and of literary wits. To be included in such a collection was an indication, perhaps, not of the peasant-authenticity of a phrase, but on its aptness or elegance.

Luther’s collection, however, is somewhat different. It is not a neat and learned collection like that of Agricola or Erasmus. It contains no moral essays, nor citations of classical or contemporary authors. Few of Luther’s proverbs seem to be taken from noted literary sources at all. It was, of course, never published, and never arranged into a didactic text. It may, as Thiele argues, have originally been conceived as his own proverb collection in competition – or in dialogue – with other proverb collections of the time, but at some point Luther seems to have decided against this, and converted the aim into a work for purely personal use. Understanding these proverbs can be difficult, given that many of them are no longer part of contemporary culture, or refer to contemporary experiences or beliefs, or even to words which have since fallen out of use. For instance, a year regulated by religious festivals can be seen with the expression ‘zu pfingsten auff dem eys’ – something will happen ‘on the ice at Whitsun’, i.e. never (see image, from p. 10, at bottom).

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 10. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries
Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 10. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Another proverb is just the short note ‘Blewel schleiffen’, where ‘Blewel’, in modern German ‘Bleuel’, is a piece of wood used to beat washing in running water to help clean it. Further, many proverbs rely on their context to be understood, and being in a list removes this almost entirely. This is made yet more difficult by the abbreviated form in which many of them are recorded. As Luther’s notes, they did not need to be complete, and may only stand for a prompt, intelligible to him, but not to anyone else. For example, ‘Hasen panier’ (flying ‘a hare’s banner’) probably is ironic for running away instead of advancing under a proper banner, as are the two words ‘ohren melcker’ (‘ear-milker’), which might be interpreted as way of saying ‘flatterer’. Many, though, are perfectly intelligible to the modern reader, and have close analogues with proverbs in English, as well as in modern German. For instance, ‘Er geht auff eyern’ (‘He goes on eggs’) can be read as ‘walking on eggshells’, while ‘Horet das gras wachsen’ (‘Listen to the grass grow’) and ‘Viel hende machen leicht erbeit’ (‘Many hands make light work’) are clear.

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries
Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

There are a number of features of this manuscript, many of which are typified on this detail from p. 23. The manuscript is written in an unusual red-brown ink; two versions of this ink can be seen, clearly demonstrating how the manuscript was written over time, and with no interest in internal consistency. The changes of ink suggest that the manuscript was composed over a period of time, with different inks showing as many as eleven periods of composition. The picture of a hand (a manicule) is used to indicate something of special interest. Here, it marks the phrase ‘Gott ist der narren furmunde’, meaning ‘God is the fool’s guardian’. ‘Fool’ here is not a term of abuse, but refers instead the Pauline idea of a ‘fool for God’ who is under special divine protection. This is, perhaps, a crucial theological proverb for Luther, expressing the ubiquity of faith, for even ‘fools’ can have it.

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 23. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries
Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 23. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

These pages also contain a number of proverbs which are abusive or scatological in nature, something quite typical of Luther’s polemical writings. For instance, amongst a series of proverbs on p. 9 relating to fish is ‘Bleib daheymen mit deinen faulen fisschen’ (‘Stay at home with your rotten fish’), while on another page there is the bald remark that ‘An armen hoffart wisscht der teufel den ars’ (‘the Devil wipes his arse on the pride of the poor’). This manuscript shows that such uses in Luther’s public writings were neither an aberration, nor actually spontaneous, since a number appear in this manuscript simply listed without anything to prompt them. Luther, it seems, worked out his insults in advance, ready to insert them into his other writings. Not all are abusive, though, and some quite homely, such as ‘Kuche uber den zaün, kuche herwidder’ (‘[offering] a cake over the fence receives a cake in return’).

Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 9. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries
Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92, p. 9. Photo: Alexander Peplow. Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Though this manuscript should not necessarily be considered as a direct record of popular culture of Luther’s time, for Luther, like his contemporary proverb collection, likely compiled his proverbs with some moral or didactic intent, it is useful in the understanding of Luther himself. This manuscript by no means revolutionises interpretations of Luther, his personality, or his preoccupations, which are already well-documented in the many sources which surround Luther’s life, but it does, perhaps, offer an unusually unmediated access to Luther, unaffected by the admiration or denigration of his followers and his opponents. It also lacks the public aspect of his polemics and letters, especially in the annotations which Luther apparently makes for himself alone. The private nature of this work, whatever its original purpose, gives insight into Luther’s working methods and what he wrote when he did not have an audience or a particular aim.

The manuscript will be displayed in the Weston Library from the 30th October to the 3rd of November.

Photographs taken by Alexander Peplow, and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, whose photos of the entire manuscript can be found here. Photos used with the permission of the Bodleian Libraries.

A description of its palaeographic features can be found on the Teaching the Codex website.

***

Alexander Peplow is a DPhil student in History at Merton College. The description of the Luther autograph was part of his course work for the Method Option ‘Palaeography and History of the Book’ with Henrike Lähnemann in the MSt. in Medieval Studies 2016/2017.