Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Making Miscellaneous Manuscripts in Fifteenth-Century England: The Case of Sloane 2275

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Making Miscellaneous Manuscripts in Fifteenth-Century England: The Case of Sloane 2275

Article excerpt


British Library, MS Sloane 2275, deserves attention for any variety of reasons. The book provides a major collection of Latin texts composed by the fourteenth-century hermit Richard Rolle "of Hampole" (West Riding, Yorkshire). In addition, the manuscript unusually brings an extensive piece of the central Middle English literary canon, the widely dispersed poem The Prick of Conscience, into contact with sophisticated Latin texts. Finally, as a production, Sloane 2275 is a thorough mess, indeed after Oxford, Magdalen College, MS lat. 93, probably the most difficult book to explain that I have ever run across. (1)

The mid-fifteenth-century Sloane manuscript might be described as having a triple focus. Its only extended English, The Prick of Conscience, appears near the book's center and involves, not a consecutive bout of copying, but fits and starts, in three of the eight units in which the book was produced. This segment is wedged between two more extensive endeavors in Latin. The Rolle anthology opens the volume. Excepting some brief filler texts at the end of constituent units, some of them (items 3 and 4) decidedly post factum additions, presentation of Rolle absorbs more than half the book, 150 folios and four of the production units.

The Rolle materials here rank among the seven or eight most extensive collections of the hermit's Latin. (2) Moreover, these materials are largely focused upon Rolle's larger and more challenging, nonexegetical texts, actually a minority of the works ascribed to the hermit. Besides Sloane 2275, only BodL, MS Bodley 861, and its probable grandchild Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 193, provide readers with the complete set of Rolle's four Latin "treatises." Among fullscale efforts at reproducing Rolle's works, BodL, MS Laud misc. 528; Oxford, Balliol College, MS 224A; Hereford Cathedral, MS O.viii.1 (probably the direct source of Corpus 193); and BNF, MS lat. 15700, all lack the difficult Melos amorist

In Sloane 2275, these materials have been presented--and read--with unusual care. The texts are equipped with extensive marginalia--finding notes, "nota" marks, textual corrections. But such extensive annotation occurs in Sloane only in portions dedicated to Rolle. The most extensive materials appear in about the first seventy folios, then through early portions of Incendium amoris (through fol. 85), and resume in Rolle's Super novem lecciones, before ceasing. (4) In those portions, this annotation is accompanied by a great deal of page-foot textual correction; such materials imply not only very thorough engagement with these texts, but an equally conscientious effort at "correction" through consultation of multiple exemplars, an activity evidenced elsewhere in the book.

At the end of Sloane 2275, two booklets present Latin devotional/instructional texts. Unlike the Rolle at the head, a collection with minimal parallels, these materials are utterly commonplace. They are texts so canonical in medieval Latin anthologies that they were familiar to, and frequently translated, in whole or in part, by medieval persons writing in English (and are even familiar to monolingual modern English scholars): the pseudo-Augustinian "Speculum peccatoris," Honorius's Elucidarium, Innocent III's De miseria, the pseudo-Bernardine Meditationes ("Multi multa sciunt ..."), for example. I return to consider this Latin/vernacular overlap of textual interests at the conclusion of the essay.

Although one can divide the contents of the manuscript into more or less homogeneous chunks of material, their physical transmission is a thorough mess. The seventeen texts are disposed across what I would describe, probably a bit tendentiously, as eight production units, some certainly expansions of already standing copy, some breaking a single text into separate chunks. In addition, the volume evidences the activity of something like a dozen to fifteen scribes, although five hands are responsible for over 90 percent of the whole, the remainder appearing together to provide very short stints in two isolated segments of the book (fols. …

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