The Speculum Spiritualium from Manuscript to Print

By Doyle, A. I. | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

The Speculum Spiritualium from Manuscript to Print


Doyle, A. I., The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


The Speculum spiritualium is a compilation entirely in Latin except for a couple of pages in English from Richard Rolle's Form of Living and two English poems ("Ihesu that art heven kyng" and "Mary thou were greet with loveli cheere"). (1) In print the work occupies 208 leaves of large quarto format in double columns of small textura type measuring 70 millimeters for twenty lines, with many abbreviations; that is, at least 315,000 words divided into seven parts, the first six each subdivided into a varying number of chapters, the seventh divided only by subheadings or two-line initial lombard letters, besides larger running titles of the subject matter throughout on each page. (2) In its manuscript and printed forms its contents have had quite a lot of attention from several scholars over the last half century, to whom I am indebted for much of my information: in particular, Miss Joy Russell-Smith, Dr. Benedict Hackett, Dr. John Clark, Dr. Malcolm Moyes, Dr. Neil Beckett and Dr. Eddie Jones, who has published the fullest account of the work; (3) yet it may be said fairly that their explorations have not exhausted discovery of its sources or adaptations, so I am starting with a summary of findings by this virtual network.

The index of the catalogue of the brethren's library of Syon Abbey made by Thomas Betson about 1504, but based on an earlier one, attributes the Speculum spiritualium to "Adam monachus Cartusiensis," and the table of contents in one of the library's manuscripts attributes it to Henry, monk of the Charterhouse of Sheen, which, like Syon, was founded by Henry V in 1415. (4) Adam cannot have been the twelfth-century Carthusian of Witham Priory, previously a Premonstratensian of Dryburgh, but the fact that he is cited by name in the text and marginal notes could have been misinterpreted. (5) Several other authors and works quoted or cited in the text of the Speculum date from the fourteenth century, and in particular, Walter Hilton is titled "venerabilis" repeatedly in all copies, which must date from after his death in 1396. There were three English Carthusians named Adam in the period: a prior of Hinton who died in 1400 or 1401; another monk of Hinton, Adam Cantwell, who died in 1419 or 1420; and Adam Horsley, monk of Beauvale, who died in 1424 or 1425 and was the former Royal Exchequer officer to whom Hilton had addressed his Epistola aurea on the contemplative vocation, which is in fact quoted in the Speculum. (6) The compiler of the contents list may have been Henry Rickmansworth, monk of Sheen, who died in 1430 or 1431. (7)

Scholars are aware of the movements of men and books within the Carthusian order, nationally and internationally, and also of communications between Sheen and Syon across the Thames. What I have to say at first is already published, but I want to go on to consider the evidence of distribution of the work over a century or more since its composition.

In the prologue of the Speculum, the compiler says he conceals his name for various reasons, which are unstated. The text, he says, was extracted from many volumes, treatises, and letters with great labor and much study, not only for his own use and solace but also for others plain and simple like himself, following a contemplative life, who on account of poverty lack sufficient books. But it also contains many useful things for people given to an active life, especially in the first, second, third, and seventh parts. And if the book seems too long to copy in full, at least selected chapters and parts may be transcribed to readers' good.

Part I, in forty-two chapters, is on pride and the other deadly sins; part II, in sixteen chapters, is on temptations, of which the last is on discretion in food, drink, and sleep, from Richard Hampole in English, because, as is said in the manuscripts but not the printed edition, his teaching sounds better in its original language than translated into Latin. (8) Part III, in twenty-seven chapters, is on penitence and its modes of performance; part IV, in thirty-six chapters, is on formal religious life; part V, in twenty-five chapters, is on the art of dying, mortification, reading, prayer, and meditation; part VI, in twenty-eight chapters, is on stages from active to contemplative life. …

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