Vincent Gillespie: Looking in Holy Books. Essays on Late Medieval Religious Writing in England

By Connolly, Margaret | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Vincent Gillespie: Looking in Holy Books. Essays on Late Medieval Religious Writing in England


Connolly, Margaret, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


VINCENT GILLESPIE

Looking in Holy Books. Essays on Late Medieval Religious Writing in England.

Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. xviii + 348 pp.

This collection of essays draws on Vincent Gillespie's scholarship over the last thirty years. All of the eleven essays have been published before, but postscripts to each provide succinct updates of the subject's subsequent development and bibliography, including indications of much more material published by Gillespie himself. Although these are re-publications, there has been some effort to shape them into a newly coherent whole: each essay is assigned a chapter number, and the chapters are arranged thematically in three roughly equal sections entitled: "Instruction: What to Read"; "Rumination: How to Read"; and "Contemplation: Writing the Ineffable." In this selection, arrangement, and provision of apparatus to guide the reader, Gillespie is following practices habitually used by the compilers of fifteenth-century devotional anthologies, as discussed in Chapters Five and Six, and this imitation might serve as a reminder that the repackaging and re-presentation of existing writings is a worthy and useful exercise. The section titles, and indeed the title of the book itself, indicate that this collection is likely to be filled with interest for readers of JEBS, a suspicion confirmed by a peek at the very extensive "Index Manuscriptorum."

The first essay, "Doctrina and Predicacio: The Design and Function of some Pastoral Manuals," focuses largely on the Speculum Christiani, a popular work in the fifteenth century which survives in a large number of manuscripts, but which has (still) not attracted much scholarly attention. The second essay, "Cura pastoralis in deserto," gives an account of the production, traffic, and consumption of books among the English Carthusian houses, and will be of much interest to JEBS readers. The pastoral adaptation of The Scale of Perfection is the subject of the third essay where the footnotes are especially rich in manuscript references and appendices offer editions of the lesser-known texts discussed. Piers Plowman (specifically, Will's encounter with Patience and their interaction with Haukyn), forms the focus of the fourth essay where Gillespie also demonstrates the centrality of the Pater Noster in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century pastoral manuals.

In the second section, the first essay, "Lukynge in halybukes," is the one that provides the title to the whole collection. Many of the late medieval spiritual miscellanies discussed here are now much better known than they were in 1984 when this essay was first published. The same holds true for many of the texts covered in the next essay, "Vernacular Books of Religion," reprinted from the 1989 collection Book Production and Publishing in Britain 1375-1475, edited by Jeremy Griffiths and Derek Pearsall. It is still good to have these pieces made available here: the first is a pioneering article that originally appeared in the difficult to obtain Analecta Cartusiana series; the second is an unrivalled survey of the subject area that has not been superseded despite the ranks of texts which have been edited and studied in the last quarter century. There is some overlap of material between these two chapters, even though the focus of the latter is primarily on book production, and the reader will notice other points of repetition throughout the volume. …

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