Dáibhí Ó Cróinín

title.none: Sharpe, A Handlist of Latin Writers (Ó Cróinín)

identifier.other: baj9928.9801.007 98.01.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, National University of Ireland, Galway,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Sharpe, Richard. A Handlist of Latin Writers of Great Britain and Ireland Before 1540. Publications of the Journal of Medieval Latin, vol. 1. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997. Pp. xxxvii, 912. £70.00. ISBN: ISBN 2-503-50575-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.01.07

Sharpe, Richard. A Handlist of Latin Writers of Great Britain and Ireland Before 1540. Publications of the Journal of Medieval Latin, vol. 1. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997. Pp. xxxvii, 912. £70.00. ISBN: ISBN 2-503-50575-9.

Reviewed by:

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín
National University of Ireland, Galway

Callimachus, Librarian at Alexandria, is said to have remarked once: mega biblion mega kakon. Had he been asked to review Dr. Sharpe's Handlist he might have been of a different view. In a tour de force of bibliographical scholarship, the author has provided an invaluable guide to the Latin writers of the British Isles, together with a brief indication of where the best editions of their texts are to be found, and--where editions are either lacking or inadequate--a list of manuscripts for the principal works. Sharpe follows in the great English tradition of John Leland (1506-1552) and John Bale (1495-1563), and Thomas Tanner in the century following them. He lists over 5,000 works and 2,283 authors, from the first century A.D. to the sixteenth, who either wrote in Britain and Ireland, or produced their works on the continent of Europe (as well as some continental writers whose careers brought them to the British Isles). As General Editor of the British Academy's Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues (and himself the author of one of its volumes), Sharpe brings formidable qualifications to his task. Allied with his previous involvement in the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, and his co-authorship (with Michael Lapidge) of the Bibliography of Celtic-Latin Literature (400-1200) -- which defined the database for the Royal Irish Academy's Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (Dublin 1990) -- this experience has enabled him to provide a panorama of quite breath-taking extent. By including an index of authors and a key to the lists in Leland and Bale, he has added still further to the utility of the volume.

The texts listed range in date and subject-matter from a letter of one Chrauttius (No. 185, fl. 100), based at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, on Hadrian's Wall, requesting a pair of castrating-shears, to a namesake of the author's, Richard Sharpe (No. 1381, d. 1528), chaplain to John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester -- though Sharpe the Younger adds wryly of his predecessor: "It grieves me to discover that among his surviving letters...there is nothing composed in Latin"! This bizarre example serves to point out one of the many difficulties that faced the author: what criteria should apply in selecting writers, and what grounds should be used for excluding others? Following the charmingly leisurely example of Sir Roger Mynors, who "read his way through the catalogues of many English manuscript collections, over breakfast in Balliol, recording copies of works by English writers" (vii), Sharpe has based his lists on those of Leland, Bale and Tanner, for the most part, and their modern counterparts, Baxter, Johnson, and Willard (Index to the Latin Writers of the British Isles, published in Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi 7 (1932) 110-219), plus Mynors's collection of some two thousand slips. He has, however, made a rigorous examination of each text and author, conscious of the fact that "[a] flaw bedded deep in the bibliographical tradition is the habit of handing down a list of works from one to another, sometimes adding, but with little clear evidence" (xx). A salutary instance is "Gilbert of Downham" (No. 2246, ?15th-c.), one of whose supposed works is appropriately numbered 0077 in Bloomfield's Incipits of Latin Works on the Virtues and Vices; he is a ghost writer created out of a succession of errors, which Sharpe forensically traces. Another casualty is "Vinisius of Bath" (No. 1879), a figment of the imagination of no less an "authority" than E.W.B. Nicholson (Bodley's Librarian), who "read" the Roman cursive of his inscription upside-down!

To avoid these kinds of pitfalls, Sharpe has opted to list only named authors, a policy that excludes anonymous texts and appears to rule out pseudonymous writers as well, though in this he is not always consistent. Thus the mid-seventh-century Irish author known as Augustinus Hibernicus is listed for his De mirabilibus sacrae scripturae (No. 138), but the Irish Pseudo-Hilary, who authored the oldest-known (7th-c.) commentary on the Catholic Epistles, is not. To a certain extent, this is the inevitable legacy of the policy adopted earlier by Sharpe (and Lapidge) in the Bibliography of Celtic-Latin Literature, which slashed large numbers of previously-recognised Irish and Insular authors and texts from its lists, such as, e.g., the grammarian "Asporius" (on the unacceptable grounds that Vivien Law, in her Insular Latin Grammarians (Woodbridge 1982) had supposedly exorcised this "ghost"). But even those authors who passed the test for the Bibliography have not all made it this time: Laurentius of Rath Melsigi (s.VII/VIII) and his fellow-scribe, Virgilius, both wrote charters for the monastery of Echternach, in Luxembourg, founded by Willibrord (d.739); Irish charters -- in any language -- are like the proverbial hen's teeth, and it would be interesting to study the legal language and style of these two Irishmen, but Sharpe has excluded writers of administrative and legal texts (xiv), which is a pity. And although Virgilius Maro Grammaticus gets in (No. 1882), the Echternach Virgil, who composed several verses, does not.

Some anonymous texts should surely have been included, where Insular authorship is hardly in doubt (as, e.g., with the acrostic and telestich poem in the Augsburg (formerly Maihingen) Gospels which wishes long life to the Laurentius mentioned above). Sharpe is not unaware of the difficulties, but states (xiv): "How best to provide a guide to anonymous works remains an open question." However, the unsuspecting reader might be led astray by his further remark (xv), that he has "tended rather towards inclusion than exclusion" -- "It ain't necessarily so". Under Alfred the Great (No. 106, d. 899), there is no mention of the (lost?) work on falconry entitled Liber Alvredi Regis [de] Custodiendis Accipitribus mentioned in a catalogue of Christ Church, Canterbury, c. 1300 (M.R. James, The Ancient Libraries of Canterbury and Dover (Cambridge 1903), p. 58, No. 496). He merits an entry only because Leland and Bale, Tanner and Wright, and, of course, the DNB, all have entries for him; the catalogue attribution is not discussed.

The Handlist is arranged alphabetically, by authors' names, and (Sharpe adds further) "Writers are wherever possible entered under their baptismal names" (xv). But in the case of No. 536, the nun Hugeburc of Heidenheim, who composed the Vitae of the Anglo-Saxon missionary brothers Willibald and Wynnebald, she is listed as "Hygeburh", though that form of her name occurs nowhere in the Vitae. This is a minor irritant; more disconcerting is the policy of citing authors only -- but not texts -- by number. This is not a problem where authors of one or two works are concerned, but it becomes awkward where prolific writers are involved, such as Alcuin or Bede, and downright impossible when it comes to authors like Walter Burley (No. 1902, with 87 separate titles and lengthy lists of manuscripts); or Stephen Langton (No. 1669, with 60 titles); Honorius Augustodunensis (No. 494, with a modest 35 titles); Richard of Saint-Victor (No. 1375, 41 titles); or the daddy of them all, Grosseteste (No. 1467, with a whopping 126 separate titles, authentic and spurious, running from p. 539 to p. 551).

These few quibbles apart, however, Sharpe's Handlist is clearly going to be an indispensable tool for every scholar working in the field of Insular Latin, and thoroughly deserves a revised and updated reprint, when the time comes. There are a surprising number of lacunae in the manuscript references (including many Oxford libraries), but the author was of the view (rightly, I should think) that such a catalogue should be published and not lingered over; as the fruit of three years' labours (December 1994 to January 1997) it is a miracle. There are very few slips, given the length and complexity of the work: the Warner & Gilson reference (Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Old Royal and King's Collections listed in the abbreviations, p. xxx, is repeated inadvertently at p. xxxvi; the St. Gallen MS. cited at p. 37 (No. 87) has folio references rather than pagination (and again at p. 209 (No. 574); the acronym "BAA" cited on p. 589 (No. 1569) is not listed among the abbreviations. Misprints too are remarkably few: p. 68 (No. 144) corr. "pasage" and del. "the" before "Adam's"; p. 122 (No. 313) corr. "Catatlogus"; p. 164 (No. 434) del. the second "with"; p. 179 (No. 493) corr. "Weigand" to "Wiegand"; p. 181 (No. 494) corr. "Endrés" to "Endrès [with grave accent over second 'e']"; p. 187 (No. 516) corr. "uner" to "under"; p. 220 (No. 619) del. "that"; p. 223 (No. 633) corr. "head" to "heard"; p. 232 (No. 661) corr. "texte" to "text"; p. 246 (No. 692) corr. "latter" to "letter"; p. 343 (No. 970) add "is" after "writing"; p. 482 (No. 1330) corr. "statutues". All in all, though, both author and publishers can be justly pleased with this volume, which kicks off the Subsidia series of the Journal of Medieval Latin in fine style.