Exemplary difference: examples in historic music theory

Adam Whittaker, Lecturer in Music, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

‘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.

Bodleian MS. Bodl. 515, fol. 10r (detail)
Bodleian MS. Digby 90, fol. 11v (detail)

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.

Bodleian MS. Digby 90, fol. 21r (detail)
Bodleian MS. Bodl. 515, fol. 23r (detail)

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.:

Bodleian MS. Digby 90, fol. 45r (detail)

By comparison, we see something which takes the tree much more to heart in MS. Bodl. 515:

Bodleian MS. Bodl. 515, fol. 49v

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.

Adam Whittaker:
https://www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/research/research-staff/adam-whittaker

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching out (digitally) with medieval manuscripts

A screenshot from the webinar, Blogging with Manuscripts, July 2020What 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.

Read more ….

https://torch.ox.ac.uk/article/reaching-out-with-medieval-manuscripts

Alice in Medieval Oxford

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.

The medieval-style title page of the manuscript that Charles Dodgson presented to the real Alice: London, British Library, Add. MS. 46700, fol. 1r.

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.

The shrine of St Frideswide at Christ Church, Oxford, with the window by Edward Burne-Jones on the right.

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.

The well at the church of St Margaret of Antioch, Binsey.

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 story of Brichtiva of Northampton’s pilgrimage to St Margaret’s Well in the 1180s: MS. Digby 177, fol. 16v.

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

The ruins of 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.

Cornelis Metsys, King Henry VIII; Dodgson, the Queen of Hearts (National Portrait Gallery D24928; British Library, Add. MS 46700, fol. 45v).

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.

‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’ in Bodleian MS. Junius 11, p. 20.

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.

Decades of manuscript photography on Digital.Bodleian

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.

A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v
A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v

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).

The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (1983)
The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (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.

Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r
Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r

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.

New manuscripts usually appear on Digital.Bodleian only when there is a complete set of photographs. Occasionally, part of a book will appear online to support another research project. For example, MS. Douce 180, the ‘Douce Apocalypse’, has selections from 35-mm film; a small set of images made for comparison purposes in The Apocalypse in Oxford project; and now a full set of photographs. The Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries catalogue lists each set of photographs available for a given manuscript.

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.

Medieval manuscripts: how we are working from home

The Bodleian medieval manuscript specialists have been working from home. Watch this film, and read below, to learn how the online catalogue of medieval manuscripts is being improved, even at a distance from the manuscripts themselves. Take a digital tour of the online resources available to everyone, starting with medieval manuscripts in digital.bodleian, and make a special trip with the Polonsky Foundation to see the Bodleian’s manuscripts from German-speaking lands in partnership with the Herzog August Bibliothek.

Bodleian-Library-MS.-Canon.-Liturg.-55-fol.-16v-detail

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:    Snippet from the Bodleian Summary Catalogue

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.

So what changes will I see in the catalogue?

Here’s a film to show in more detail how the records are being upgraded.

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:

Old record for MS. Bodl. 90

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 irreplaceability of the physical object: examining Persian manuscripts

by Dr Karin Scheper, Conservation Specialist, Leiden University Libraries, and Bahari Visiting Fellow, Bodleian Libraries, 2019-20

Dr Karin Scheper. Photo credit: Ian Wallman
Dr Karin Scheper. Photo credit: Ian Wallman

Thousands of Persian manuscripts are held in the Oriental collections of the Bodleian Libraries, and an increasing number is available online. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ For the study of the texts and illustrations these digital images are invaluable, as they provide access anytime and anywhere. At the same time, the original manuscripts continue to be of enormous value because things can be learned from the material composition that can never be studied using the digital images alone. We increase our understanding of the use of manuscripts and books, and the historic context of their making, through the physical items.

A Bahari Fellowship in the Persian Arts of the Book made possible my research focussing on the Persian manuscripts in the Bodleian collections, especially those bound in lacquer boards.

See the podcast of Karin Scheper’s 2020 lecture, ‘Islamic bindings as a window on East-West relations’.

Bookbinding traditions differ between cultures because local practices, the availability of materials and cultural cohesion influenced developments. Persian bookbinders worked within the tradition of the wider Islamic world, though they used certain techniques and materials more often or in specific ways.

Bookbinders in the Islamic world used a combination of simple techniques and strong materials that resulted in a functional, durable book. An unsupported link-stitch, a spine-lining and the endbands effectively connected the textblock and binding. This method was used consistently over many centuries for all sorts of texts and bindings, from luxuriously illustrated ones to plain textbooks used for private study, and for elaborately decorated bindings to modestly tooled covers. But when a new technique was introduced in the Persianate world, of painted leather covers which further developed into lacquered boards and gained much popularity, the traditional use of the spine-lining became problematic.

Traditionally, the spine-lining was pasted to the textblock spine to provide stability, and the endbands sewn through it for even more coherence. Then the extending sides at the joints were pasted onto the inside of the boards, to strengthen the board attachment. It used to be the bookbinder who finished the insides of the boards with a doublure of leather, silk or a decorated paper that hid these parts of the lining material.

Bodleian MS. Elliott 104
Bodleian MS. Elliott 104

With lacquer boards, however, the artisans who painted the colourful exteriors also developed decorative schemes for the interior. In most cases they painted a daffodil, iris or dahlia on a contrasting background. The presence of this painting, on the lacquered boards, caused the problem: the bookbinder could no longer adhere the extending side of the lining onto the inside of the board. The change in technique resulted in a more vulnerable board attachment, necessitating the repair of many bindings with lacquered boards in the joints. These later interventions have complicated the study of the historic development of this binding type.

The Bodleian collections appear to hold several nearly pristine bindings with lacquered boards, and my study of the original board attachments was able to shed new light on the construction. I found evidence of a different method to finish the interior joint, specifically developed for these binding types. This knowledge fills a gap in the history of Islamic bookbinding, but is also valuable information for conservators who take care of the collections and develop a treatment approach.

Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add. 183 Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_4800
Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add. 183. Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_4800

A number of the manuscripts with lacquered bindings have painted patterns on the leather spine, though the decoration of the spines is extremely rare in Islamic bookbinding. Some of the geometrical or flowery designs on these spines include the title of the volume, which seems to point at western tastes in the shelving of books; traditionally, the title is found on the tail edge of the textblock as manuscripts were shelved horizontally, the small edge outwards. A spine title suggests a changed placement on the shelf.

Other binding types of full and partial leather that were examined add to our understanding of bookbinding practices in the Indo-Persianate world. Noteworthy is a fairly large number of bindings with leather doublures that extend and cross the inner joint. The part of the leather that is pasted onto the textblock was then finished with a strip of paper that has a zig-zag cut edge, suggesting that the leather was a decoratively cut.

https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_10930
Bodleian MS. Elliott 115, showing cloth satchel. Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_10930

It is fascinating to gain insights into how these manuscripts were carried and handled in the past. A number of cloth bags or satchels have survived as the protective cases of manuscripts collected by the brothers Gore and William Ouseley [https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/weston/finding-resources/guides/middleeast#nineteenth] Some of these enclosures appear to be made of reused textiles and their shape echoes traditional cloth wraps for manuscripts. These may be purely functional protection for the manuscripts during their travels, yet it would certainly have enhanced the experience of displaying these objects, when a beautiful binding had to be pulled out of a colourful satchel.

Nothing can replace working with the tangible objects. Of course, the principal purpose of a bookbinding is functional, though it could be made to also add beauty and value to a manuscript. Historic bookbindings still serve these two purposes, yet for today’s users they have an important extra value. The materials may help to verify the dating of the manuscript and to localise the origin of its making. But what is more, the things we can learn from the materials, the physical characteristics and traces of use increase our possibilities to connect with past practices and help us understand a world long gone.

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.

The French Prose Apocalypse in MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16: Transcription, Edition, and Palaeographical Commentary

Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, f. 166r
Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, f. 166r

Coline Blaizeau, M.St. in Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford

MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16 is a fourteenth-century English manuscript which has been held at the Bodleian Library since 1892, when it was deposited from Lincoln College, Oxford. It is composed of a commented Apocalypse of St John in Latin (ff. 1-138), and a commented Apocalypse of St John in French which also features numerous illustrations (ff. 139-181).

This Apocalypse in French, generally known as the French Prose Apocalypse so as to distinguish it from the French Verse Apocalypse, survives in around forty manuscripts. Despite its popularity and dissemination in the Middle Ages, this text has been largely overlooked by modern criticism, and fundamental questions remain unanswered concerning its date, author, origin and transmission.

Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, ff. 154v-155r
Bodleian Libraries MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, ff. 154v-155r

This has caught the attention of Dr Daron Burrows, associate professor in medieval French at the University of Oxford, who argues that a critical edition of the French Prose Apocalypse – other than Paul Meyer’s, based mainly on the manuscript BnF 403[i] – is essential to our understanding of this text.[ii]

Through the ‘Apocalypse in Oxford’ project in particular, Burrows proposes to take a close look at MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16 as well as four other manuscripts containing the French Prose Apocalypse: MS. Bodley 401, MS. Douce 180, MS. Selden supra 38, and MS. University College 100.

More information can be found on the website http://apocalypse.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/.

My own work is a contribution to this project. In proposing the diplomatic transcription, edition, and palaeographical commentary of an excerpt from MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, I hope to advance at my humble level our comprehension of the French Prose Apocalypse.

The chosen excerpt consists of ff. 170r-171r and offers a translation from Latin to French of the passage of the Whore of Babylon as well as its accompanying exegesis.

The writing is clear, as can be seen on the pictures above, yet greater care seems to have been given to the illustrations – a rather typical feature of French Prose Apocalypse manuscripts, which meant that I had to pay particular attention to scribal errors and imperfect correction. Segments of the text are often missing, and the other manuscripts of our corpus had to be used to fill in the gaps.

My work is accessible on the following page: http://apocalypse.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/home/lincoln-lat-16/.

[i] Paul Meyer, L’Apocalypse en français au XIIIe siècle (Bibl. nat. fr. 403): introduction et texte (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1901).

[ii] Daron Burrows, ‘Vers une nouvelle édition de l’Apocalypse en Prose’, in Anglo-français: philologie et linguistique, ed. by Oreste Floquet and Gabriele Giannini (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015), p. 31.

‘His Majesty, Mrs Brown’: letters from the second catalogue of Bodleian Student Editions

Mike Webb (Curator of Early Modern Archives and Manuscripts) writes:

The second Bodleian Students Editions catalogue is now available online through Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO). These letters were transcribed in the second of the Bodleian Libraries Manuscript and Textual Editing Workshops, held in the Centre for Digital Scholarship in the Weston Library on 1 December 2016. (Details of the workshop programme, along with an account of the first workshop, can be found here.)

The letters used in this workshop were in a volume of the Carte manuscripts, which mainly comprises the papers of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond (1610-1688), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland three times between 1643 and 1685. Six letters written by women to Ormond in April and May 1660 were selected, all in MS. Carte 214. Women used italic script in the 17th century as most were not taught the ‘secretary hand’ used in legal and administrative documents of the period, and often in private letters also. Italic hands are easier to read for those not formally trained in palaeography, and so more suitable for these workshops, which offer a wide-ranging introduction to undergraduates and postgraduates of all disciplines, many of whom had never previously worked with original manuscripts.

 Read more….

Gazing on the moon

from Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections

‘We have watched this babe of four or five months, gazing on the moon with all the fixedness of attention belonging to an astronomer.’
Bodleian Libraries, Hopkins Mss
This note is written on the manuscript of a poem recently acquired by the Bodleian. Its author is Manley Hopkins and its subject his infant son, Gerard, who sadly saw little in print during his own short life but is now celebrated as one of our greatest poets. The poem was first published in 2010 in a special issue of the Hopkins Quarterly when the manuscript was still in private hands. It is now available for study along with another poem mourning the death in 1854 of Manley’s fourth son Felix and a letter of 1840 from Kate Smith (later his wife) to a member of their family. The manuscripts join the Bodleian’s extensive collection of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetical manuscripts.

Manley was at this time a prosperous twenty six year old, well established in insurance and fervidly developing his lack of formal education through reading, writing and music. His poetry is not technically distinguished but I find this hymn to his son moving in its mixture of fear, joy and humility. As it closes, the child becomes, rather recalling Wordsworth, a father to the man, thrilling his father’s soul with the purity of his devotion to light. The idea carries poignancy from where we stand, knowing that the son would die long before his parents, having blazed far beyond them in religious intensity and scintillating expression. The scene also curiously brings to mind Coleridge’s account of his son Hartley, hurt from a fall: ‘I caught him up crying & screaming—& ran out of doors with him.—The Moon caught his eye—he ceased crying immediately—& his eyes & the tears in them, how they glittered in the Moonlight!”

Manley’s verses of course bring to mind one of Gerard’s most ecstatic poems, sent as a present to his mother on her birthday in spring of 1877 when he was at his happiest, studying to become a priest at Beuno in Wales. That poem is ‘Starlight Night’. Was the son thinking of his father’s tender tribute, so carefully preserved in the manuscript?

IMG_0552

To my child, Gerard Manley.
Christmas Eve 1844

Hail! Little worshipper of Light!
Most sunny is thy sunny face at noon:-
Why dost thou fix so earnestly thy gaze
Upon the wandering Moon, –
And thy young eyes upraise
Adoringly to her that melts the night? – *
Why do thine impotent hands
Seek, – seek for ever
To clasp the lamp-flame bright
And everything that flings thee lucent rays?
Why if it chance in darkness thou awaken
Utter thy earnest, plaintive cry
As tho’ the fateful bands
Of thy imprisoning gloom to sever, –
While fancy gives thee words – ‘Mother, I die
By light, and thee forsaken!’

Does thy quick-beating heart
Back with an instinct start,
And own the tyrant fear –
Lest life, whose tenure is so frail and new, –
With nothingness so near –
Has snapped beneath thy tiny weight,
And thou relapsed into thy former state,
Like a young flower
Snatched in its opening hour
From where, upon its stem, so joyously it grew? –

Or, is it, child, that beauty and that light
Are infancy’s true nourishment? – its eyes
As steel unto the lode-rock bend their sight
In sympathy , to all of pure and bright; –
That clouds are afterthoughts; – darkness a blot
That in creation is, – yet should be not.
And childhood, like the Huma, has no feet
To settle mid the shadows of the earth,
But hovering o’er it, still drinks in the dew
Of heaven, its land of birth;
While its wings catch the all-surrounding hue
Of liquid sapphire, where they ever beat?

If so, then worship on. No Gebir’s best wrong creed
Stains thee with error. Drink of light thy fill:
And tho’ thy feet in after-life may bleed
As whose do not? – upon Time’s stoney way,
The first warm impulse of thy heart obey,
And love it still!
Yes! Love it as it rises o’er the East,
Love it in all the glowing hues of Even
Love it reflected over Earth’s wide breast,
And trembling in the starry lamps of Heaven.
Seek it in gemmy caves, and snowy mountain tips,
In Friendship’s eyes, on sweet Affection’s lips.
Thou’lt often find it where thou dreamest not, deep hid
‘Neath surging waves, in mines, – in human hearts.
And many a ray
Will meet thee on thy way
Cherished in bosoms that the world has chid, –
And which that chiding world has mainly turned astray.

Oh worship on! See yonder orient gates
Whose half-oped leaves the streaky dawn disclose;
Where soft, diffusive light impatient waits,
And on the verge, with tender lustre glows.
Behold! The Light of Light – the Righteous Sun upsprings
With balmy healing dripping from his wings!
Before His beams, all other radiance pales.
Fountain and Source of light, and heat and love
The dim horizon lift thyself above,
And haste to our dark world, that thy bright Coming hails!

Gaze on, my child, thy fill.
Yet stay! – an instant turn on me thy innocent sight,
Pour thro’ thine eyes my heart full of delight,
And all my being thrill –
Thou Worshipper of Light!

*We have watched this babe of four or five months, gazing on the moon with all the fixedness of attention belonging to an astronomer.

The Starlight Night

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then! – What? – Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.