Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Vision in a Trance: A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Purgatory

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Vision in a Trance: A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Purgatory

Article excerpt

Vernacular visions of the Otherworld were popular reading matter in the fifteenth century throughout western Europe. In England the visions circulated in a variety of manuscripts and were among the first incunabula.' Yet the vast majority of these visions originated in earlier centuries. Far fewer, it appears, date to the fifteenth century itself. The visions of William Stranton and Edmund Leversedge and A Revelation of Purgatory alone feature in scholarly studies of Otherworld visions from England in the period before i soo. To these, however, should now be added the vision experienced in 1492 by John Newton, a sherman and draper of Congleton, Cheshire. The text printed below survives in a single manuscript, a fifteenth-century commonplace book compiled by a Cheshire gentleman, Humphrey Newton of Newton and Pownall (1466-156), who entitled the text he copied A Vision in a Trance of John Newton. It is a little-known vision which does not appear in any printed list of Otherworld texts.3 This article provides a brief introduction to the vision, the manuscript in which it appears, the scribe, and salient features of the work.

The manuscript

A Vision in a Trance was recorded on six sides of a commonplace book now held at the Bodleian Library as MS Lat. Misc. c.66.4 The entire commonplace book has 129 folios, measures 402 x 225 mm, and is predominantly of paper with a few parchment additions. It is written mainly in English and Latin with a number of legal notes in French. Like all commonplace books it is a miscellany of diverse information gathered together incrementally over time. Internal evidence suggests that Humphrey Newton, as compiler and scribe, created the earliest parts of the manuscript between 1498 and 15o6; later additions were made c.1519-24. Overall the manuscript consists of several sections, and it is likely that each component was compiled separately with Humphrey joining them together at an unknown date. The manuscript can be divided broadly into three parts: a general miscellany (fols 1-74), a medical miscellany (fols 75-91), and a literary section (fols 92-129). The general miscellany has three main divisions: fols 1-23, begun in 1498, gather together legal notes, religious pieces, and family memoranda; fols 24-48 form a unit of household and estate accounts dating 1498-I5o5; and fols 49-57 comprise family land deeds. Other miscellaneous items, notably a courtesy treatise on fols 66-g, make up the section. The medical miscellany was formed by an earlier, commercially produced treatise of urine (approximately dating to I 475) to which Humphrey appended his own records of medical recipes. Finally, the section of predominantly literary pieces includes extracts from Chaucer and Lydgate, and a number of courtly love lyrics seemingly composed by Humphrey himself.

A Vision in a Trance fills the final six sides of the paper gathering fols 123.5 Holes are visible along the inner spine suggesting that the section was at one time tied together with thread (these do not appear in other parts of the manuscript). The unity of fols I-z3 is confirmed by watermark evidence. Where marks appear they are uniformly a cuffed hand, with fingers and thumb close together, and a five-point star extending from the middle finger.6 Unfortunately several folios are missing from the booklet. The loss seems to have occurred prior to its incorporation into the commonplace book. An obsolete contents page, upturned and reused as fol. 64, reveals that ten pages are now missing from the front of fols 1-z3. There may have been a corresponding number lost at the end (this would suggest a booklet of two quires with perhaps a covering folio). Whatever the precise loss it means, unhappily, that A Vision in a Trance is incomplete. The folios have also suffered from damp. Wear and tear to the edges and a mouse hole at the top outer corner have resulted in word loss. That said, the majority of the text has survived and offers a largely readable document. …

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