Richard W. Pfaff

title.none: Webber and Watson, eds., Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues (Pfaff)

identifier.other: baj9928.9901.001 99.01.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard W. Pfaff, University of North Carolina,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Webber, T. and A.G. Watson, eds. The Libraries of the Augustinian Canons. Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, Vol 6. The British Library, in association with the British Academy, 1998. Pp. xxix, 572. $175.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-712-34501-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.01.01

Webber, T. and A.G. Watson, eds. The Libraries of the Augustinian Canons. Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, Vol 6. The British Library, in association with the British Academy, 1998. Pp. xxix, 572. $175.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-712-34501-9.

Reviewed by:

Richard W. Pfaff
University of North Carolina

This latest addition to the British Academy's Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues series shows how the enterprise grows in value and interest with each new volume. The standard of editorial work and presentation, high virtually from the outset, is fully maintained here; the collaboration of the editors, each a scholar of the most exacting standards, has resulted in a work with which it is close to impossible to find fault. Indeed, the reviewer's task here should rather be to alert those who have not used this series to how it works and to highlight some of the quite extraordinary interest of the present volume.

The enterprise as a whole is now roughly halfway to completion: six volumes have appeared (the first came out in 1990) of a total originally intended to be twelve, now probably to be sixteen plus a volume of general indexes. When complete, the series aims to comprise editions of all the surviving booklists of identifiable medieval libraries compiled before approximately 1540 (the terminal date of John Leland's itineraries, concluded just as the monastic houses were being dissolved). Obviously the whole will be vastly greater than the sum of the parts, in the sense that the "union catalogue" aspect will be fully apparent only when the index volume appears. In the meantime, every volume is constructed the same way, with a consecutive letter-number sequence of the entire series, the volume under review being the "A" volume: Augustinian Canons' libraries, from Anglesey, Cambridgeshire (A1) to Worksop, Nottinghamshire (A41).

Within the libraries of the thirty-four Augustinian houses represented here great variation obtains, both in the numbers of volumes each contained and in the amount of information the lists for each library include. (A word may be needed as to what is understood by a list: any indication as to the nature and contents of any book, even a single volume, or a summary comment on a collection, counts as such, as well as quite full inventories.) These range from Thornholm, from which only a single volume has been identified, to Leicester, where there appear to have been nearly a thousand codices, not counting liturgical books and documents like rentals.

The Leicester catalogue (Bodl. MS Laud misc. 623) outweighs all the others so greatly as to take up over half of the present work's 572 pages; it epitomizes the tantalizing discrepancies frequently found between the numbers of books known to have existed at a particular library and the number that can now be identified as extant: in this case, fewer than twenty, something between one and two per cent. This catalogue has been well known since the late 1930s, when a (very imperfect) edition by M.R. James was published posthumously, in the Leicestershire Archaeological Society Transactions (James's date of post-1493 is here corrected to 1477-94, but a fair copy of an original dating for the most part to before 1463). If indeed William Charyte, precentor and later prior, is, as is thought, the figure responsible for this catalogue, he deserves a place among the notable bookmen of English history.

If Leicester's is the largest catalogue (and arguably the largest library), the most interesting one may well be that of Lanthony in Gloucestershire, called "Secunda" to distinguish it from its Monmouthshire predecessor and namesake. The big Lanthony list (there are two others for that house in this volume) is a freestanding catalogue of c. 1355-60 showing how some 508 codices were arranged in five cupboards (armaria), each with a varying number of shelves. Of these nearly thirty percent can be either certainly or conjecturally identified as extant, the largest number being in the Lambeth Palace library. Many of those that can be identified are works of Augustine: an impressive collection of the smaller works but no City of God. Between the De doctrina christiana and the De fide et simbolo was kept the volume (not extant) containing Plato's Timaeus in Latin translation and Macrobius' commentary on the Dream of Cicero. Such enlightening details are to be gleaned partly from the titles themselves, but in no small part also from the editors' determined digging to effect identifications, especially of codices including a variety of contents. (A rare nod is at no. 153 [p. 54], where no mention is made of the fact that the MS, now Lambeth 380, includes one of the five known texts of the Abbreviatio Amalarii of William of Malmesbury.)

Another Austin Canons' house of great magnitude was that at Cirencester. The case of its library can be used as a necessary caution. Leland noted only ten books there but, as the editors point out in the preliminary note for that house, 98 titles are accounted for in the early fourteenth-century Registrum Anglie (see below) and some 40 volumes can be identified as extant, though not all among these 98. This is a useful reminder that the surviving lists for a particular establishment are not necessarily -- indeed, perhaps seldom -- truly indicative of the bookholdings of a given house. In this case one needs to consult the second volume of this series, the full title of which is Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum veterum, edited by Richard and Mary Rouse (1991). Of the titles noted by the Registrum's compilers at Cirencester, only fourteen out of the 98 are of works later than Bede, whereas nine of the ten that Leland saw do not figure in the Registrum -- among them four codices of works by Alexander Nequam (Neckham), Cirencester's abbot around the time of Magna Carta. As it happens, nearly half of the 40 identifiable extant books -- that is, according to the other indispensable aid to this kind of study, Neil Ker's Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (1964, with A.G. Watson's Supplement of 1987) -- are now in the library of Hereford Cathedral, which means that they are treated in the magnificent catalogue of R.A.B. Mynors and R.M. Thomson (1993). But twelve are in the collection of Jesus College, Oxford, for which there is no more recent, or adequate, catalogue than that of H.O. Coxe (1852); among this dozen are twelfth-century codices of Gregory Nazianzen, Hegesippus, and five of Bede (but not, apparently, of the History): all of them the sort of thing to arouse intense, and so far largely unsatisfied, curiosity. (Partial satisfaction comes via Neil Ker's 1955 essay, "Sir John Prise," reprinted in his collected papers, Books, Collectors and Libraries, ed. A.G. Watson, 1985.)

This rather lengthy example shows both how tricky it can be, despite such splendid assistance as this series offers, to establish even the basic facts about the book holdings of medieval England, and also what sorts of positive assertions are possible even where the corresponding negative is not. We can, to take one more instance, now say that at Thurgarton abbey (Notts.), where Walter Hilton lived the last decade or so of his life, the library contained (probably during his lifetime) the revelations of Mechthild of Hackeborn, Catherine of Siena, and Brigid of Sweden, and also a volume of the lives of monastic worthies including almost certainly John of Ford's Wulfric of Haselbury and Reginald of Durham's Godric of Finchale. How useful it would be to be able to say definitively whether he could also have read there the (anonymous) life of Christina of Markyate, of which there now appears to be only a single manuscript, a late enough one to be the product of considerable transmission: but we cannot.

Intrinsic frustrations -- which are of course the obverse of the manifold fascinations of the subject -- aside, the highest praise is due both to the series and to the editors of the present work. May the remaining volumes appear with such seemly haste as is possible and be edited with such erudition and skill as this one for the Austin Canons.