Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies
Convenors: Daniel Wakelin, Martin Kauffmann
Meetings will take place online via Zoom on Mondays at 2.15pm (GMT) in weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7. Original manuscripts will be shown. Registration is required. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Your message must be received by noon on the Friday before the seminar (or register for the whole series by noon, Friday 15 January).
Week 1 (18 January) Julian Luxford (University of St. Andrews) The Tewkesbury benefactors’ book
Week 3 (1 February) Bodleian and John Rylands curators Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries
Week 5 (15 February) Adam Whittaker (Birmingham City University) Medieval music theory in Bodleian manuscripts
Week 7 (1 March) Marc Smith (École des chartes) Late medieval writing models: contextualizing MS. Ashmole 789
Teaching with library material has been continuing at the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections even as provisions to protect the health of staff and readers have placed restrictions on the numbers and movement of people within the Libraries. Several of the Libraries, including the Weston Library, have re-opened to readers since August 2020.
The autumn term usually brings a large number of University of Oxford classes to the Weston Library seminar rooms to share the collections most closely connected with their studies. This year, some of those visits have continued with students arriving in smaller groups while others have gone online. The key to sharing manuscripts and rare printed material with students and wider audiences has been the provision of films and of live online interaction, through the use of document cameras and smartphones.
A document camera, or visualiser, has been part of the Bodleian master classes set-up for many years, as a means of giving participants in the room–attending in person, remember those times?–a clearer view of details to which speakers wanted to draw attention: decoration, letter forms, binding structures, even (in a good light) the hair and flesh sides of parchment.
Now the same technology enables sharing online, and we, like others in the special collections world, took up the call to action by Aaron Pratt (Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin) in his online seminar in June 2020, Sharing Special Collections with an overhead camera.
The images shared onscreen have been good enough for a Classics seminar to read Latin and Greek text and compare letter forms, and for an Art History class to examine the pages of medieval manuscripts. In the picture attached, curator Martin Kauffmann can be seen addressing a class over Microsoft Teams. In this session, the particular configuration of MSTeams (the mirroring of the self-view) made it convenient to add a second laptop, so that Dr Kauffmann could see the manuscript onscreen in the same orientation as the students saw it and also see and hear the students onscreen, to ask and answer questions.
How does this compare to in-person teaching? Interaction is less spontaneous than when students visit the seminar rooms. We are all familiar by now with the problem of talking over each other in online meetings, where the ‘raised hand’ emoji replaces our instinctive reliance on the silent cues of posture and eye contact. On the other hand, compared to the experience of crowding around books placed on a seminar table, the online platform brings an image of the manuscript equally to each student’s computer screen.
When I was offered an internship in the Rare Books department of the Bodleian Library, I imagined my working days would not look entirely different to those of my English postgraduate degree – calling up material to the reading rooms of the Weston Library and searching through the pages of early printed books. Once lockdown was announced, I was grateful to learn that the internship would go ahead, except now later in the year, and entirely through remote working. Of everything shaken up by the crisis, my internship was probably low on the list of injuries. Nevertheless, I was uncertain about how I would proceed without access to the material. Thanks to my supervisor, however, I have never been at a loss for things to do. More than anything I think this time spent working for the Bodleian Library from home has made me consider afresh the value of “digital humanities” projects, and what is bound up in collections beyond the physical objects.
One of the main projects I have been working on is uploading to the CERL Provenance Digital Archive. CERL, or The Consortium of European Research Libraries, exists to “share resources and expertise between research libraries with a view to improving access to, as well as exploitation and preservation of, the European printed heritage.” The provenance project I was working on contributes to this mission, as individuals are able to upload to its visual database with ease. The effect when you enter the website is a jigsaw of carefully photographed bookplates, inscriptions, and bindings. Some are tagged with names and institutions, while many bear the elusive “Unidentified Owner”. Some are beautiful, such as an art deco style ex-libris belonging to “M.S.K.”, but many are visually unremarkable, plain ownership inscriptions and minor manuscript annotations. I was uploading marks of provenance found in the Mortara collection, bought by the Bodleian from Alessandro de Mortara in 1852. It dates from the 16th-19th centuries, and is particularly rich in 16th century Italian authors. What stood out to me working on this project was the number of hands these books passed through before they reached Mortara, and ultimately the Bodleian.
CERL prescribes a very particular process; upload one entry per mark of provenance. In practice this meant often uploading multiple entries from the same book, which had been marked by more than one individual. The idea is that a person would be able to search the archive for a particular mark – say a bookplate – and find images which match the one found in their book. In this way, the aspiration of the digital archive is to allow researchers to reassemble scattered libraries, as owners’ books were sold, auctioned and gifted to libraries and individuals across Europe. The project is still in its early stages and will be the sum of its parts, reliant on individuals choosing to take the time to upload their discoveries to the database. Nevertheless, working through these images from home I felt this was a digital space where near instant connection and collaboration was possible. It was exciting to think someone might recognise my unidentified armorial stamp or hastily scribbled name on a title-page.
Another project involved going behind the collections themselves to consider the personalities which formed them, as I was tasked with writing Wikipedia articles for some of the Bodleian’s named donors. It was fascinating to learn about the personal histories which drove these remarkable collections. An example is Brian Lawn (1905-2001), who was professionally a physician, educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. His profession seems to have driven his collecting, which is rich in medieval and early modern medicine.
Having purchased his first antiquarian book as a medical student, Cornelius Agrippa’s Vanity of Sciences (1684), Lawn’s lifelong collecting was motivated by an academic interest in the history of medicine. Perhaps against our presumptions about collectors, Lawn stated that his “books were bought for use and not for artistic or aesthetic reasons, many of them are what the booksellers used to call “working copies”.” He published two monographs on medieval problem literature, as well as an edition of the Salernitan Questions, considering their use in the history of teaching medicine and natural philosophy. What struck me is that there are similar stories of collections developing out of personal or professional interests for most of the donors’ biographies I explored. While I have often used rare books for my own research, I have rarely stopped to consider the individuals named on the shelfmarks. Spending time working remotely for the Bodleian has allowed me to think about the biographical histories which shaped the library as we encounter it today.
While it is a shame that I have not been able to go into the Bodleian Library and look at its materials in person, I have greatly enjoyed my internship. Working on rare books away from the objects themselves has made me think about collections in new ways, both in line with and separate from my academic interests as a student. It is safe to say that resources like the CERL Provenance Digital Archive are becoming more relevant than ever, and perhaps the time librarians will have spent on such projects during this time will help make their collections accessible to readers in new ways.
‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture’, or so the famous phrase goes. And yet, we have been writing about music for centuries. We are fortunate to have such a range of medieval and Renaissance writings on music that survive, from luxurious presentation volumes to scrappy single sheets pasted into miscellaneous collection. Although we often see quite stable transmission of texts across multiple sources (sometimes across centuries), we see much greater variation in the examples and diagrams. These, it seems, were fair game for change, revision, and emendation for specific readerships and local contexts, or simply at the whim of the scribe. My research explores why these differences matter.
In the autumn of 2019 I was in Oxford as the Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow in Music at the Bodleian Libraries. During my fellowship, I consulted a number of music theory manuscripts, including MS. Bodley 515 and MS. Digby 90. These manuscripts contain the famous Quatuor principalia musice [Four Fundamentals of Music], most likely authored and/or compiled by the English friar John of Tewkesbury in the late fourteenth century.
First, let’s look at one similarity. Early in the text, the theorist uses a monochord (a theoretical instrument of a single string) to explain the interval of a tone; a musical step in layman’s terms, as though moving from G to A on a piano. Both sources have a functionally similar diagram, even if there are some subtle visual differences.
We can see that both manuscripts show a monochord (horizontal line representing a string); both indicate the interval of a tone between G (low G) and A with an arc labelled ‘tonus’; and both have the indication ‘monochordu[m]’ at the left-hand edge of the diagram. Bodl. 515 shows a more artistic approach to this diagram, with its coloured labels and decorative circles, whilst MS. Digby 90 favours equal tonal spacing with notches. Despite these differences, which might be attributed to scribal taste more than anything else, the reading experience across the two sources is near identical.
However, such similarity isn’t always present. If we look at the depiction of the Guidonian hand – a kind of conceptual map for musical space that is commonplace in music theory texts – we see both similarities and differences. The Guidonian Hand mapped the six-note intervallic pattern (ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la) onto physical locations on the body which a singer could use as a memory aid while they sang. To think about how the Hand works in practice, The Sound of Music’s ‘Do-Re-Mi’ is especially helpful. Let’s consider the diagrams presented in the two sources.
There are some important differences here. You’ll notice that MS. Bodl. 515 is missing labels on joints, whilst these are clearly visible in MS. Digby 90. These are crucial! Without the syllabic markings on the joints of the thumb and fingers, this diagram serves little demonstrative function, beautiful as it is. Such a scenario poses some interesting questions and might have left fifteenth-century readers scratching their heads. Is this just a scribal error? Was this aspect of the diagram to be entered in a different layer? Did the scribe not understand the diagram they copied? Was there an error in the exemplar copy that a scribe couldn’t resolve? What use is the diagram when it is missing such key information?
This last question is of particular importance for the final comparison I want to make here. The relationship between musical durational values is a fundamental building block of music notation. Early musical notations were more context-dependent, with the same note shape being worth two or three counts depending upon the context. Theorists found many intriguing ways to discuss this phenomenon, but the most interesting for the present discussion is the idea of a note value tree.
Some contemporaneous musical treatises refer to the ‘arbor’ of Johannes de Burgundia, a figure about whom we know nothing except for a passing reference to his ‘arbor’ in a musical treatise by Petrus de Picardia (fl. 1250). Both our sources include a diagram of this type, though we see some divergence in approach. In MS. Digby 90, we see the relationships made clear in a quasi-tabular format (largest values at the bottom), with lines connecting the related mensural levels. Working from the bottom up we see that the largest note value divides into three parts, which itself is divided into three smaller parts etc.:
By comparison, we see something which takes the tree much more to heart in MS. Bodl. 515:
The visual appeal of this is important. MS. Bodl. 515 offers hatched details on the trunk of the diagram, with additional coloured detailing which has faded over time. In this way, the longest note becomes the ‘root’ of the tree, and its subdivisions into smaller notes become represented as branches, themselves with sub-branches. Although both sources adequately demonstrate the theoretical point, the subtly different diagrams change the nature of the text–image relationship. The tree-like construction of MS. Bodl. 515 creates a sharp mental picture for a reader to recall. MS. Digby 90, though equally clear, establishes a different mensural picture. These diagrams demand different reading practices and present theoretical material in divergent ways.
My point here is not to assign greater value to either source, but to demonstrate that what might be dismissed as ‘minor scribal variants’ really matter when we consider how a reader might engage with a text in a specific manuscript source. If a diagram containing such foundational information that was common knowledge to expert readers, then why did a scribe go such significant effort to present this in a visually appealing manner? The reader’s experience of the same text in these two sources would have been quite different. Through this lens we begin to see the way that the materiality of music theory texts is at least as important as the contents of the texts themselves, and that the diagrams and examples give us an unparalleled insight into this. These theoretical ideas are alive in the manuscripts that preserve them.
What do you get when you put together an excited group of medieval manuscript specialists and ask them to discuss blogging and teaching with digitized manuscripts? The answer: trumpets, drapes, marginal animal appearances, fake back-drops, cries of agony, laughter and lots of good advice.
A worldwide audience (from California to New Zealand!) gathered in three online sessions that were organized as additional evening events for the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds, 6–9 July 2020. The organisers were very pleased to see that each session had well over 100 participants. Our speakers shared their experiences on using digitized medieval manuscripts for teaching, and for reaching out to various audiences via social media, mainly through blogging and tweeting.
What is it about the delightful nonsense of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that gives it a such sense of timelessness? Part of its genius is the story’s ability to draw on more than contemporary culture. The story was conceived on a boat journey between two of the major landmarks of medieval Oxford, from the edge of Christ Church to Godstow.
Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Charles Dodgson, 1832–98) was a fellow of Christ Church. The original Alice was Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean. Henry Liddell is now best known to students for ‘Liddell and Scott’, his Greek-English Lexicon that has never gone out of print.
Alice in Wonderland opens with a prefatory poem that describes how the story came into existence. On a summer afternoon, 4 July 1862, Dodgson and his friend Robinson Duckworth (1834–1911), a fellow of Trinity College, went out on a boating trip along the River Thames (known as the Isis in Oxford, from its Latin name ‘Thamesis’). They took three of the Liddell sisters: Lorina, Alice, and Edith. In the poem, Dodgson gives them generic Latin names to protect their identity: Prima, Secunda, and Tertia. They began at Folly Bridge, on the border of Christ Church, where Dodgson lectured in mathematics.
Christ Church was originally a medieval monastery, founded according to legend by Frideswide (died 727), Oxford’s patron saint. In the twelfth century, the monastery became St Frideswide’s Priory. Its canons created a shrine to Frideswide that became a pilgrimage site for everyday people with health problems that medieval physicians could not heal. When all else failed, pilgrims looked to faith for healing as a last resort. Although church reformers had destroyed the shrine, the nineteenth century had revived interest in the story.
When the boaters set out, Edward Burne-Jones had only just, in 1859, finished an elaborate stained-glass window based on the medieval story of Frideswide (recently adapted as its own children’s book, The Princess who Hid in a Tree). Among the objects that he depicts is a well. This points further up the river.
Frideswide’s treacle well
Alice’s journey begins when she falls ‘down a very deep well’. In conversation with the sleepy Dormouse, we would likely agree with her disbelief at his ‘treacle-well’:
‘Once upon a time there were three little sisters,’ the Dormouse began in a great hurry; ‘and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well——’
‘Why did they live at the bottom of a well?’
The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, ‘It was a treacle-well.’
‘There’s no such thing!’
Although Alice is the first known use of the phrase ‘treacle-well’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the feature was almost certainly inspired by a real well that Christ Church had inherited from the medieval priory.
Frideswide was a princess who had become a nun, and spent years in hiding from King Algar, who was aiming to abduct her. In the twelfth-century narration by Robert of Cricklade, the prior of St Frideswide’s, she fled to Bampton, but soon drew unwanted attention from locals after news spread of her healing powers. She then fled to Thornbury, an isolated location just outside Binsey. Water was a problem for her band of sisters. After they miraculously found a source, this became a site for pilgrimage:
Because the riverbed was far away, and it seemed inappropriate to her that the sisters should go there to drink water, she obtained a well by prayer. It is there to this day, providing the free gift of health to many who drink from it.
Dodgson was playing on the archaic origin of ‘treacle’, which referred not to a syrup but to medicine. The well was a subject of much interest for another member of Christ Church, Thomas Prout (1824–1909). The inscription now on the well head states that he had it rebuilt in 1874. He had a reputation for falling asleep in meetings. Be careful how you treat your colleagues: you might end up as a dormouse.
The earliest story of a pilgrimage to the well is from the early 1180s, in a Bodleian manuscript. Philip of Oxford wrote the Miracles of St Frideswide, with a delightfully graphic account of a woman’s pilgrimage to the well (ch. 45: MS. Digby 177, fol. 16v):
A woman named Brichtiva from the vicinity of Northampton had lost hearing in her right ear for a full year and ten weeks. When she had come to the church of the holy virgin to recover her health, those standing round urged her to go to the well that the blessed virgin had obtained from the Lord during her lifetime by her prayers, which is about a mile from the city.
She immediately walked there, and filled her ears with water from the well. A ringing in her ears and a tribulation of itching immediately followed. She inserted a stalk into her ear, and drew out a small portion of flesh. She had received the gift of hearing perfectly. She returned to the church, blessing God, and showed all who were present that she was cured.
The well is in the churchyard of St Margaret of Antioch, who can still be seen in a 14th-century window that the medieval canons added at Christ Church. The building that stands is from the 12th century, and still makes for an accessible break from the concerns of modern life, without even electricity to create a distraction.
Contemplating Godstow Abbey
Alice and her companions ended their journey at Godstow, best known for its ruins of a medieval convent, which may hold the key to the story’s unsettling conclusion. The Abbey of St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist was a community of Benedictine nuns founded in 1133, not long after St Frideswide’s Priory. Today, as in Dodgson’s time, it is mostly used for picnics and inhabited by cattle. Only a handful of walls give a sense of the buildings’ scale. For anyone with even a dim awareness of the past, it is impossible to go there without thinking of the destruction that King Henry VIII inflicted on English and Welsh monasteries, which included the dissolution of Godstow in 1539.
Henry is best known for his penchant for chopping off his wives’ heads. One cannot help but draw a comparison between him and the similar behaviour of the nightmarish Queen of Hearts. In the illustrated manuscript of the early version of the story that Dodgson presented to Alice Liddell (London, British Library, Add. MS 46700), his drawing of the double-chinned Queen looks remarkably like the stereotypical depiction of Henry VIII.
Readers have made many hypotheses about the origins and meaning of the strange creations of Alice in Wonderland. Some of these are far-fetched, but there is no question that the medieval world was on Dodgson’s mind. He designed a presentation manuscript for Alice in the style of a late medieval book, with decorated borders and Victorian interpretations of gothic lettering. Through the Looking Glass even includes a reference to ‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’, using an art historical term for a style of drawing visible in works such as the Bodleian’s Junius manuscript. The original Cheshire Cat might be a fourteenth-century carving at St Peter’s Church, Croft-on-Tees, where the writer lived in his teens. An awareness of different societies contributed to Dodgson’s diverse mental furniture and turned this story into a well-loved book, which itself has changed how we understand Oxford.
from Andrew Dunning, R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts
Digital.Bodleian is the online home for Oxford’s special collections in the Bodleian and college libraries. Although it is still relatively new – with a second version coming later this year – it encompasses decades’ worth of photography projects. Many of Oxford’s medieval manuscripts are represented in some form, but only a portion of these have a full set of high-resolution images such as the Bodleian studio can now produce.
This sometimes means that you can find multiple versions of the same manuscript. For instance, the Bodleian’s famous Romance of Alexander, MS. Bodl. 264, appears online in three different forms:
Historical images of manuscripts can be useful to researchers trying to determine what an item looked like in the past or aiming to understand the history of its interpretation. What are the origins of these different sets of photographs?
Collections on 35-mm film
Between the late 1970s and early 2000s, the Bodleian published manuscript photographs on film. Dr W. O. Hassall (1912–1994), a curator of medieval manuscripts, assembled volunteers, popularly known as ‘Hassall’s vassals’, who occupied the Schola Musicae off the Old Schools Quadrangle and compiled image descriptions. Teachers and researchers could buy colour slides and filmstrips to use manuscripts outside the library including such gems as ‘Humanistic script and illumination’, ‘Pilgrimage’, and ‘Diagrammatic and allegorical wheels’. The complete series is listed in a printed index, Colour Transparencies, 35 mm, Available from the Bodleian Library (1983).
These collections focus on illuminated or decorated books, and were produced either for a particular manuscript or around a theme. This inevitably promoted certain types of manuscripts, and a particular intellectual approach to them focused on illustration. Researchers were already investigating ways to apply computational methods to this collection by 1978. Libraries abroad built up collections and rented them out, such as the Bodleian Library Slide Collection at Purdue. There are a handful of manuscripts in this series that have full film coverage, but most films aimed to give only representative examples.
The library eventually produced over 20,000 slides. ArtStor of New York funded the scanning of the slide collection, which was shipped to the USA for the purpose. Images appeared both on ArtStor and the Bodleian’s LUNA Image Library, the predecessor to Digital.Bodleian, which researchers remember for both its unexpected treasures and frustrating interface. Other large libraries have developed similar projects to repurpose their old photographic holdings, such as the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
These images eventually became part of Digital.Bodleian after 2015. For example, the Laudian Acts (MS. Laud. Gr. 35), a sixth-century copy of the Acts of the Apostles in both Latin and Greek, appears in four film photographs alongside new digital photography). As well as a historical record, these images are valuable for the detailed descriptions which accompany many images and allow you to search out, for example, images of dragons.
Early Manuscripts at Oxford University
Early Manuscripts at Oxford University (originally the Celtic Manuscripts Project) was among the first experiments in digitizing medieval manuscripts. It was a collaboration between the Bodleian Library, Balliol College, Corpus Christi College, Jesus College, Magdalen College, Merton College, and St John’s College. Beginning in 1995, the project photographed almost ninety manuscripts written between the ninth and nineteenth centuries. It focused on major treasures from Oxford libraries to create wider availability for originals which are often too fragile to handle. The photographs were originally available on a separate website.
This collection includes many of the oldest manuscripts in Oxford libraries, such as the earliest copy of the Rule of St Benedict, written around 700 (MS. Hatton 48); St Dunstan’s Classbook, designed for teaching in the tenth century (MS. Auct. F. 4. 32); and the oldest copy of The Song of Roland, from the early twelfth century (MS. Digby 23b). It also includes some later manuscripts, such as a five-volume set of Fons memorabilium uniuersi, a humanist encyclopedia from the fifteenth century (Balliol College MSS. 238A, 238B, 238C, 238D, 238E). The project was a pioneer in providing open-access digital photography for complete manuscripts. Although the Bodleian’s studio can now produce even more detailed photographs, the images are serviceable for most scholarly purposes and remain a valuable historical record.
New digital photographs
Early Manuscripts at Oxford received government funding, but this disappeared after subsequent cuts. As at other libraries in the UK, collection digitization is now only possible through researchers who make it an element of a broader grant, publishers who produce a facsimile, or the generosity of donors. Partnering with the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Bodleian’s latest medieval digitization project is Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands, digitizing nearly 600 medieval manuscripts in a project funded by The Polonsky Foundation between 2019 and 2021.
Digital.Bodleian represents evolving records of collections rather than giving a single representation of a given item. The results of manuscript digitization are increasingly dazzling as photography technology improves, but they do not reduce the value of archival photographs.
In 1919, the Bodleian Quarterly Record printed the following notice on the death of Charles Henry Olive Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, Oxford:
‘We regret most deeply the loss of Dr. Daniel, as a good friend of the Library. For many years (though not lately) he occupied his leisure with printing as a fine art, and the beautiful productions of the Daniel Press are well known to all lovers of books. Mrs. Daniel recently offered to present to the Library the hand-press and type used by him, and the offer was very gratefully accepted. Through the kindness of the Controller, the press has now been set up by experts from the Clarendon Press, at the farther end of the Picture Gallery, with the chase, containing the last pages set up, still in place. A small collection of some of the more interesting books printed on it has been arranged on an adjacent table. Though we have plenty of books to show, this is the first time we have been able to exhibit to visitors the means whereby they are produced.’
The author of a recent book on Daniel and his printing, Martyn Ould, offers this assessment of his printing origins and experience:
‘Charles Daniel learned to print in the family home in Frome, Somerset, where his father Henry was perpetual curate of Holy Trinity. All the family were involved in printing a vast number of ephemeral items: bookplates, printed items for the church, tickets for tea parties, tiny books, programmes for plays, . . . – items that his bibliographer Falconer Madan referred to as ‘minima’. [He added, “Unfortunately there seems to be no dignified and yet suitable term for these waifs and strays, here termed minor pieces. They are what remains when the majestic car of the professional cataloguer has passed by and left them strewn on the wayside. The occupant of the car calls them succinctly and comprehensively trash.”]
‘They printed on a ‘Ruthven’, a parlour press ideal for a Victorian family, but a press that could manage only small items (many of which are pasted into three volumes in the Bodleian: MSS Don. d.94 and d.95 and MS Don. e.227). Nevertheless when Charles left Frome to go up to Oxford the press went with him and it was on that press that he printed one of his rarest items, The Garland of Rachel, in just thirty-six copies. Difficulties with the printing of The Garland led him to replace the Ruthven with the Albion; this had a much larger platen which would have made it very much easier to manage the larger books and pamphlets that were to come from the Daniel Press in Oxford.
‘Daniel was not a great technical printer, but his books have great charm. He printed on hand-made papers, setting his texts – mostly poetry – from founts of some of the famous seventeenth-century ‘Fell types’ which he persuaded Press Controller Horace Hart at the University Press to sell him. He first used Fell type in A New Sermon of the Newest Fashion (1876), the second book he printed at Oxford. He also used a black letter, of which the first example entirely in black letter is The Growth of Love (1890) by his friend Robert Bridges.’
This large Albion was the printing press which was given to the Bodleian. As reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965, it is an ‘Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835)’. The maker’s names, Jonathan and Jeremiah Barrett, executors of R.W. Cope, are cast into the staple. Cope was the originator of the Albion press in the 1820s. This cast-iron, lever-operated press was praised by commentators of the time as being simple in construction and durable.
Bodley’s Librarian in 1919, Falconer Madan, had visions beyond a static display of the press. ‘[I]t is in contemplation to print on it a Bibliography of the Daniel Press, with a Memoir of its “only begetter”, and some poems by friends. This will be the first book ever printed within the walls of the Bodleian.’ The catalogue record of this work is in the University of Oxford’s online catalogue, SOLO.
Martyn Ould writes:
‘As well as his books – over fifty in total – we’re fortunate in that two collections of proofs survive from his waste bin. Like early versions of a poet’s final polished verse, they tell us something of his printing practice. They are generally on sheets of newsprint – a suitably cheaper alternative to the expensive hand-made paper of the final book.
‘In the proof of a title page shown here he has marked several ‘typos’. The Y for an R in ‘Oxford’ is easily explained: the boxes for those two letters are next to each other in the typecase and no doubt the Y was returned to the wrong box when some other text was distributed. The missing i in ‘Children’ is less easily forgiven.
‘In three further proofs Daniel corrected some errors and toyed with the text; all was well in the published book. The proofs tell us that Daniel did not have a firm habit of reading a completed line in the composing stick before moving on to the next: what must be a first of several proofs of a forme for Three Japanese Plays for Children shows a great many errors, some of which made it through to the final book. Nonetheless, his books are today highly collectable.’
In 1949, library staff and members of the English Faculty established the Bibliography Room in the New Bodleian Library. Practical printing became a regular offering for postgraduate students, just at the time when mechanical processes of type-setting were replacing the hand-composition of type. The enthusiasts from library and faculty supported teaching and demonstration of practical printing, joined by J.R.R. Tolkien and others.
The Bodleian workshop now holds several other hand-operated printing presses, Albions and other makes, acquired from private presses and individuals. Some of the latest acquisitions were an Albion press owned by Leonard Baskin, whose archive came to the Bodleian in 2009, a proofing press owned and used by Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University, and a rolling press for printing intaglio.
by Matthew Holford, Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts
So, how does a curator of manuscripts work remotely?
Good question! To be honest, we’re still working it out. A normal day used to involve a lot of contact not just with manuscripts but with reference works, many of which aren’t online. Not having access to any of those is going to be challenging. But one thing we can do is work on enhancing the records in our online manuscript catalogue.
Doesn’t the online catalogue already cover all your medieval manuscripts?
It does! But almost all the records are only brief compact descriptions. These give a summary of the textual content and languages used, a broad categorization of the decoration, information on the writing support (usually paper or parchment), and the date and origin of the manuscript. But they often don’t cover all the textual content and generally don’t have any other physical description (e.g. information about bindings) or any information about the history of the manuscripts.
Why wasn’t that information included?
Usability; Simply having all our catalogues rekeyed would have been of limited value, for several reasons. Many of them are in Latin, so not very user-friendly; and a lot of the information in the older catalogues needs interpretation and updating to be useful to today’s readers.
Accuracy about provenance; The older catalogues were often mistaken about the date or origin of manuscripts. The Bodleian’s summary catalogue of illuminated manuscripts (“Paecht and Alexander”) is much more reliable, and we’ve updated older records with reference to that catalogue where possible.
Accuracy about content; It’s usually possible to identify texts in the manuscripts more reliably and accurately. For example the 1922 description of MS. Bodl. 40 contains this snippet, ascribing one text to William of Ramsey:
By checking some online databases and chasing up our online bibliography for the manuscript we can see that this text is in fact by Henry of Avranches.
What does that all mean for the catalogue?
Rather than simply reproduce the information in the main printed catalogues, it was decided to create an updated summary of those catalogues that was more accurate in some ways, but less comprehensive in others. The original intention was that the online catalogue would be a way into the printed catalogues, rather than replacing them completely.
But once you provide an online catalogue, users expect it to contain everything.
Exactly; and enhancing the catalogue records is now a major focus of our work at the library. Fortunately it’s something we can continue to do remotely.
How can you catalogue without seeing the manuscripts?
Enhancing the catalogue records doesn’t only result from fresh cataloguing – although that does happen, of course. We also have an ongoing programme of retroconversion – putting all the contents of the printed catalogues online, and updating them as far as possible from key secondary resources, but usually without seeing the manuscripts themselves. This is a much quicker process than fresh cataloguing – it might take a week or more to newly catalogue a manuscript, but on average only an hour to retroconvert a printed record.
We’re currently working on records from volume 2 of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue (published 1922-1937), covering manuscripts acquired by the Library before 1697. All records will include more information about the owners of manuscripts and their acquisition; all will include a bit more physical description (number of folios, page size, and binding if early); and many will include much fuller information about the textual contents and languages found in manuscripts. MS. Bodl. 90 is an example. The original record looked like this:
You can see the revised record here. You can compare the differences for yourself: what stands out for me about this record is the enormous improvement in the accuracy and detail with which the manuscript’s textual content is covered. In other records there might be less new information about contents but more about early owners. In general, as work progresses, the online catalogue will give a much better idea of the texts that can be found in our manuscripts, and of where those manuscripts were in the Middle Ages.
The Bodleian Quarterly Record began publication in the first quarter of 1914. The third issue recorded the outbreak of war in August 1914, and each of the following numbers in Volume I, covering 1914 to 1916, included printed lists of staff absent on war duty. Those absent included Miss Frances Underhill, https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/news/2016/oct-18, one of the Senior Assistant Librarians, the first woman to occupy that position at the Library. The BQR also recorded midnight mobilizations of staff for fire duty, when alarms of Zeppelin raids were received, though no attacks materialized.
Into the twelve numbers of the first volume Bodleian staff poured much useful knowledge: of pre-1200 manuscripts in the Library; of the seventeenth-century Bodleian catalogues of printed books and manuscripts, which influenced bibliographical knowledge and standards well beyond the Bodleian’s walls; and of early Bodleian shelfmarks (call-numbers) showing how books were collected and arranged in the early years of the library’s foundation.
The BQR was printed by the University Press. The first number, from January 1914, contained an error in describing a sonnet by Wordsworth as ‘apparently unpublished’. This number was reprinted for collectors in 1915 and the Wordsworth sonnet page included a footnote stating that, when the error was discovered, the correction was made in pencil; copies of the reprint are also corrected in pencil.
A note from Falconer Madan (Bodley’s Librarian 1912-19) commented that the BQR required 500 subscribers to support the publication costs; it transpired that there were far fewer subscribers than this, and Madan singled out for thanks Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine and one of the board of trustees — called the Curators — of the Library, for financial support enabling the Record to continue.
Osler contributed an article to the last number of Volume I. ‘Illustrations of the book-worm,’ published in issue Number 12, records a face-to-face meeting between Osler and a living individual of species Anobium hirtum (Illiger, 1807) otherwise known as Nicobium castaneum (Olivier, 1790), or the library beetle.
‘In October 1915 I received from a Paris bookseller, M. Lucien Gougy, three volumes of the Histoire abregie de la derniere persecution de Port-Royal. Edition Royale, MDCCL.’ In one of the volumes Osler found a living book-worm, of species Anobium hirtum,* ‘not a native of England, but met with occasionally in the centre and south of France.’
In true scientific fashion, Osler arranged for a portrait of the larva to be made by Horace Knight, natural history illustrator of the British Museum. Knight sent the picture in September 1916, apologising that he had ‘been waiting in hopes the larva would pupate, but it has not even commenced to make a case…’.
Knight’s drawing was printed in colour for the BQR.
In the article, Osler lists works which illustrate book-worms of various species–only partially satisfactorily, he thought. Amongst the works cited are:
The Preventive Conservation section are responsible for monitoring the libraries collections to ensure the long term preservation by maintaining a stable environment. One of the ways we monitor is through a programme of Integrated Pest Management or ‘IPM’. A robust IPM programme relies on a combined knowledge of the environment, collections, buildings, cleaning routines and trapping for insects. Conservators use sticky traps, known as blunder traps, to monitor which species of insects are entering our libraries. We are on the look out for population changes in ‘library pests’; insects which like to munch on library and archive collections and furniture. These pests might include wood-borers like furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum) similar to those mentioned by Osler, silverfish (Lepisma saccharina), booklice (Liposcelis) or common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella). By carrying out regular monitoring, we can identify problem areas and make necessary changes, before collections are affected.
*In the drawing made by Horace Knight, Osler’s new acquaintance is labelled ‘Anobium hirtum, Illigar.’ [sic, for Illiger, 1807] https://www.gbif.org/fr/species/1095270 a synonym for Nicobium castaneum (Olivier 1790)