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

"Classicising Friars," Miscellaneous Transmission, and MS Royal 7 C.I

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

"Classicising Friars," Miscellaneous Transmission, and MS Royal 7 C.I

Article excerpt

In 1960, the great scholar of exegesis Beryl Smalley introduced a sequence of fourteenth-century English friars, mainly Oxonians, who exhibited what she took to be rather peculiar tastes. Smalley was intrigued by these figures' involvement in an occupation that she understood very well, biblical explication. But she was struck by the unusual source from which they had derived the materials they used for the task, classical and pagan history and mythography. Although she seems never to have investigated the field in any detail, Smalley argued persistently that such works had been generated to aid in the production of sermones moderni, with their interest in argumentative amplification and exfoliation of a text. In this pursuit, Smalley thought, productions of, in particular, Nicholas Trevet OP, John Ridewall OFM, and Robert Holcot OP addressed a different and distinctive way of going about the exegete's task. (1)

I am interested in testing Smalley's thesis and here offer, as preliminary to a more extensive study, a manuscript analysis to underpin an extensive critical study of her friars. Here, although it is a very complicated book (and testimony to the fact that qua books, Latinate models are often considerably more interesting and challenging than their vernacular derivatives), I consider evidence provided by British Library, MS Royal 7 C.i. I hope my analysis not only sheds light on Smalley's theory (and indicates how manuscript study might interface with some more general literary-historical concerns), but also offers an argumentative exemplification about reading complicated miscellaneous books.

The Royal MS has a fourteenth-century ex libris; it belonged to one "Dompn[us] William de Kettering," who identifies himself as a Benedictine monk of Ramsey, Huntingdonshire. I imagine that this relatively large volume could well have been Kettering's single book. It probably (given a reasonable consistency of page format shared by diverse hands) represents, not just found or collected materials, but was constructed from scratch to Kettering's specifications. The whole formed an expansible one-volume library (as added texts at the end indicate). A further testimony to the volume as a personal initiative comes from the rather shabby materials used, in some instances involving parchment that professionals would have rejected for formal purposes.

Kettering's volume presents twenty-seven texts, all in Latin. These were copied by four different individuals, one of whom (my Scribe II) I imagine to be Kettering himself. The production clearly went on piecemeal; its products are disposed in thirteen separate fascicles or booklets. These may have retained some integrity, if apparently a shifting one, at various points between copying and the manuscript we now have. Although in a modern binding, the whole survives in its fixed later-fourteenth-century form; this is indicated by a flyleaf table of contents and an accompanying foliation.

I reserve demonstration of most of these basic points to the appendix. This offers a formal description of the volume. I maintain that such an examination, whether formally presented or not, remains a primary and fundamental approach to any book. Particularly in the complicated production process that underlies the received Royal 7 C.i, much of my subsequent argument depends upon the observation and analysis of the detail reported in my description. (2)

I do, however, pause for a moment over one portion of this material, my division of the volume into booklets or fascicles. This prominently underwrites the main argument I wish here to pursue, the disposition of the volume's texts. Although recognition procedures for identifying fascicular production have long been available, (3) the variety of forms here exemplified is various and instructive. These features include most prominently:

* self-contained texts, filling more or less exactly a sequence of quires: these are ubiquitous in marking off the thirteen units among which I divide the volume. …

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