A Note on the Collation of BL MS Add. 37492 (the Fillingham Manuscript)

By Hardman, Phillipa | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

A Note on the Collation of BL MS Add. 37492 (the Fillingham Manuscript)


Hardman, Phillipa, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


The most recent edition of a text from the Fillingham manuscript, Richard Firth Green's re-edition of its unique copy of the poem The Eremyte and the Owtelawe, includes a short paragraph on the manuscript. (1) It is described as "an undistinguished paper manuscript of the second half of the fifteenth century." Its five texts are listed, (2) and the reader is referred to previous publications for further details:

   The description in the Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts in
   the British Museum, 1906-1910 may be supplemented by those of Mary
   Isabelle O'Sullivan, in her edition of Firumbras and Otuel and
   Roland, and C. W. Marx, in his edition of The Devil's Parliament.

The British Museum Catalogue records the extent of the manuscript as vi + 92 folios. O'Sullivan notes that the extant gatherings are in sevens (by which she means quires of seven bifolia, so in fourteens), although the manuscript has suffered the loss of some material at the beginning and the end as a result of injury to the volume, and "the first half of the fifth [quire] has been torn away." (3) Marx refers to O'Sullivan's description, observing that the manuscript is too tightly bound to verify it by examination, and adds that there is modern foliation. (4) There are also, however, the clearly visible remains of a set of medieval quire signatures which, together with what can safely be seen of the gathering structure, allow one to confirm O'Sullivan's finding that the manuscript was originally constructed of regular gatherings of fourteen leaves, and to add some further observations.

The quire signatures appear in six of the eight remaining complete or partial gatherings and run from Ei (fol. 15) to Li (fol. 91). Many are cropped or missing through damage (notably, all the signatures for the fifth quire [H], whose first seven leaves are all absent, as O'Sullivan states), but enough remain to indicate that the sequences of letters with roman numerals i to vii were originally inscribed on the first seven folios of each quire. The collation of the manuscript is as follows (assuming that quire L followed the pattern of the previous quires):

   [D] fols. 1-[14.sup.14,] E fols. 15-[28.sup.14], F fols.
   29-[42.sup.14], G fols. 43-[56.sup.14], [H] fols. 57-[63.sup.14],
   lacks 1-7, I fols. 64-[77.sup.14], K fols. 78-[90.sup.14], lacks 1,
   L fols. 91-[92.sup.14], lacks 3-14.

This shows that the manuscript originally consisted of at least eleven quires, of which A, B, and C are now lost (or twelve quires if preceded by a quire marked with a cross); there may have been others, now lost, following L. It also shows that there is a leaf missing at the beginning of quire K between the folios numbered 77 and 78.

The acephalous text of Firumbras (fols. 1-30r) represents the second half of the Old French Fierabras, from which it derives (corresponding to ll. 3070-6408). (5) If it is assumed that the missing part of the text rendered the original with a similar ratio of Middle English to Old French lines, it would have occupied quires B and C and a folio or two at the end of quire A and so would presumably have been preceded by one or more other texts in quire A (or + and A). If, on the other hand, Firumbras as the major text was placed first in the manuscript and occupied all the missing quires A to C as well as the extant quires [D], E, and part of F, then the (lost) first part of the Middle English version must have been of a rather more expansive nature as a translation of the Old French original than the extant rest of the poem. An interesting possibility to consider here is whether this longer text (if it existed) might have been a composite poem, with a translation of La Destruction de Rome added as a shorter "prequel" to Fierabras, on the pattern of The Sowdone of Babylone, (6) itself following the model of such combined Anglo-Norman texts as found in British Library, MS Egerton 3028 and Hanover, Niedersachsische Landesbibliotek MS IV.

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