R. A. Rosenfeld

title.none: Brown and Lovett, The Historical Sourcebook for Scribes (Rosenfeld)

identifier.other: baj9928.0007.012 00.07.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: R. A. Rosenfeld, The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Brown, Michelle, and Patricia Lovett. The Historical Sourcebook for Scribes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Pp. 5, 127. $29.95. ISBN: 0-802-04720-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.07.12

Brown, Michelle, and Patricia Lovett. The Historical Sourcebook for Scribes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Pp. 5, 127. $29.95. ISBN: 0-802-04720-3.

Reviewed by:

R. A. Rosenfeld
The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies

Th ere have always been scholars for whom the temptation to dirty their hands in their work has proved too much. Archaeologists have had little choice in the matter. Military historians used to be made out of Colonel Blimps after they retired, and had had enough of tasting (or ordering others to taste) the conflicts of their day. Some philologists have proved memorable poets, and decent authors. Epigraphers, historians, and art historians have, by and large, kept their hands clean and not become 'vile mechanical artists' for a seemingly more immediate experience of what was usually encountered in the study. Although I can site no exceptional epigrapher who took chisel in hand, in their respective domains Gibbon, and Winckelmann, are notable exceptions, the first riding around Hampshire with the militia (a colonel but no Blimp), the second experimenting with writing tools from Herculaneum. Few have been the palaeographers who have followed Winckelmann's example, but the names of Otto Hurm, E. A. Lowe, Jean Mallon, and Julian Brown stand out. In their efforts to gain insight into 'furrowing' text (Isidore, Etymologies, VI, 14, 71), palaeographers have not had the benefit of a text specifically written for them, a work which can assume professional knowledge of ancient and medieval remains of manuscript culture, and which can instruct the learned in the construction, range, capability, and handling of tools used to write the scripts of Antiquity, and the Middle Ages. They have had to rely on works chiefly penned for calligraphers. Edward Johnston, Writing, Illuminating and Lettering (London, 1906), Marc Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (Montclair, 1980), and The Calligrapher's Handbook, ed. Heather Child (London, 1985) are useful and improving works, but they were penned to revive and develop, or improve and nourish a modern craft, not to aid inquiry into an historical technology (Lowe and Brown used Johnston, Drogin is cited in the bibliography of the commentary volume to the 1990 Kells facsimile, and Child contains contributions by Donald Jackson, chief scribe of the 'scriptorium' currently producing the monumental bible for St. John's, Collegeville). It is probably fair to say that theoretical knowledge is best when mediated through practical experience. We will never have definite knowledge of how the scribe of folio 110r of the Vespasian Psalter (British Library, Cotton MS Vespasian A.i., ca. 730) cut his nib, the appearance of the profile of the blade on his pen-knife (or knives), the exact sequence of strokes in the ductus of his letters, or the shape and material of the tool used for ruling the page, but we can have definite knowledge of the likely possibilities. Skilfully attempting to reproduce the Vespasian scribe's hand with a quill whose nib is cut to the proper size and shape, writing on a parchment page similarly prepared to folio 110r, should help define those possibilities.

Michelle Brown is currently Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, and a former student of Julian Brown's. She is the author of numerous works, from the widely used introductory text A Guide to Western Historical Scripts, From Antiquity to 1600 (London, 1990), to the monograph The Book of Cerne: Prayer, Patronage and Power in Ninth- Century England (London, 1996), which appeared in The British Library Studies in Medieval Culture, a series of which she is co-editor. Dr. Brown's particular specialty is Insular palaeography and codicology, but her position perforce makes of her a generalist. Her co-author, Patricia Lovett, works as a professional scribe, and 'trained at art college focusing on the skills of the medieval scribe' (according to the dust- jacket). Ms Lovett is currently a fellow, and chair, of the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society. Collaborations between palaeographers and artisans of the book should be seen as mutually beneficial. They are certainly not as frequent as they ought to be, but that is not so much a matter of fault, as of time, and contacts. George H. Brown of Stanford has had the professional scribe and illuminator Kathryn Finter lecture his students, and Mark van Stone taught calligraphy to medievalists at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in the 1980s. Collaborations between historians and practitioners are much more frequent in a field such as musicology, and experience there teaches that the more the collaborators know about the limitations in the methods of the other, the more effective the collaboration can be. The best model for such an undertaking, however, is probably provided by the most rigorous examples of experimental archaeology, such as the Trireme Trust's Olympias project, or the projects at Butser Ancient Farm, under Dr. Peter J. Reynolds.

The purpose of Brown and Lovett's work is stated variously. In their collaboration, Brown "...analyses the production of manuscripts, setting them in their historical context and relating them to the people who produced them", and Lovett "...uses the manuscripts to analyse the letter-forms in detail, and then gives clear guidance on how to write the letters." (back dust-jacket) The work "Includes a clear and concise introduction to calligraphy", and offers "Approachable advice designed for [sic.] non-specialist at all levels". (ibid.) The boldest claim is "This book is the first to put the needs of the historian and the scribe at the forefront." (front dust- jacket, inner flap) Is this, then, that missing research tool, a book on ancient and medieval scribal techniques and tools addressed to scholars? Authors cannot in fairness be held entirely responsible for what publishers impose on the dust- jackets covering their words. The authors themselves do provide a more measured statement of purpose: "... the practical experience of the contemporary scribe and illuminator can help to inform the palaeographer in an historical assessment of script." (5) This is laudable. A substantial work could be devoted to the endeavour. Brown and Lovett promise more, however: "Being able to reproduce these historical scripts is not, however, an end in itself. We hope that understanding something of the motivation which fired these scribes to produce some of the West's most beautiful scripts...will inspire you to use them as a springboard to create new works...which can take their place in that chain of creativity..." (6); "Use these manuscript help you capture the spirit of the hand rather than that of only one specific manuscript, as this will lead to more successful outcomes in your interpretation of historic hands." (20) That sounds like a rather different book, aimed at a somewhat different audience, artists (or would-be calligraphic hobbyists), rather than palaeographers and codicologists. I am not convinced that manuscript scholars and beginning calligraphic hobbyists can be satisfied by the same work. The level of discourse appropriate to the former will overwhelm the latter. One of these groups will be disadvantaged in the writing of such a book. In this case, that group is the tribe to which I belong. It is not a bad thing to write a work which seeks to introduce the would-be calligrapher to good examples of ancient and medieval scripts (both Stan Knight and Michael Gullick have written works which do that, and which make heavy demands on beginners), but the extremely light level of documentation here, and the nature of the technical advice concerned as it is with writing interpretations of ancient and medieval scripts with modern tools and materials, makes The Historical Source Book for Scribes rather distant from the principles, practices, controls and goals of experimental archaeology.

After an engagingly written introduction by Brown, Lovett presents two chapters on "Tools and Materials", and "Analysing the Scripts". Thereafter the duties are shared throughout the remaining ten chapters, Brown being responsible for the historical material, and Lovett for the technical instruction. The combination works well. The chapter on "Capital Scripts" presents capitalis quadrata, here termed "Roman Capitals" (type specimen: the Bracciano inscription of Pope Paul V), capitalis, here termed "Rustics" (type specimen: Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. Lat. 3867, fol. 22r, saec. V/2, Vergilius Romanus), and a fifteenth-century Italian version of quadrate capitals, here termed "Renaissance Capitals" (type specimen: London, BL, Royal MS 14. C. iii, fol. 2r, ca. 1480-1490, Eusebius, scribe Bartolommeo Sanvito). The "Uncial" chapter gives southern English Uncial (Canterbury), here termed "Flat Pen Uncial" (type specimen: BL, Cotton MS Vespasian A. i., fol. 110r, ca. 730, Vespasian Psalter), Northumbrian Uncial, here "Angled Pen Uncial" (type specimen: BL, Loan MS 74, fols. 46v-47r, ca. 698, Stonyhurst Gospels). "Half-Uncial" features Insular Half-Uncial (type specimen: BL, Cotton MS Nero D. iv, fol. 208r, ca. 698, Lindisfarne Gospels, scribe(?) Bishop Aldred), followed by a chapter on Insular Minuscule, with Insular Pointed Minuscule (type specimen: BL, Cotton Ch. Aug. II. 61, 803, charter of the synod of Clofesho). Two chapters on Caroline script are next, "Caroline Minuscule" (type specimen: BL, Harley MS 2797, fol. 43r, saec. VIIIex., Gospels, Reims(?)), and "English Caroline Minuscule" (type specimen: BL, Harley MS 2904, fol. 122v, saec. Xex., Ramsay Psalter), which also includes Compressed English Caroline Minuscule (type specimen: BL, Add. MS 34890, fol. 107r, Grimbald Gospels, scribe Eadui Basan). "Gothic Book Script" gives textualis quadrata (type specimen: BL, Add. MS 42131, fol. 183r, ca. 1420-1430, Bedford Hours, Paris). "Batarde" offers that bookscript (type specimen: BL, Royal MS 16. G. iii., fol. 8r, 1479, Vita Christi etc., scribe David Aubert). A chapter on "Italian Rotunda" presents that attractive script (type specimen: BL, Add. MS 28025, fol. 137v, ca. 1400, antiphoner, Ferrara?). The final chapter offers Humanistic Cursive Book Script (type specimen: BL, King's MS 24, fol. 15r, saec. XVex., Virgil, scribe Bartolommeo Sanvito), and Cancellaresca (type specimen: BL, Royal MS 12. C. viii., fol. 6r, ca. 1509-1547, Lucian, scribe Ludovico degli Arrighi). The authors are to be commended for including some scripts which are usually not included in works for calligraphic tiros; the fifteenth-century quadrate capitals, and a charter hand, though a tame one which would not be out of place in a book (Insular Pointed Minuscule).

There are several things this book does well. It provides plates of very good quality of material from the British Library, at a very reasonable cost. The plates are consistently crisper than those in the volumes in The British Library Studies in Medieval Culture. The dry-point ruling is clearly visible on several images (e.g., pp. 61, 68, 70, 78). The best writing is in Brown's historical introductions, which should provide much of interest to those coming to these images for the first time. An example is her brief but vivid account of the manuscript culture associated with the short-lived archdiocese of Lichfield (pp. 60-61). Some of the comparisons she draws between characteristics of script and other arts, or social customs, are memorable (e.g., batarde with Burgundian court dress, pp. 95-96). Nor does she neglect the possible political purposes, or ideological connotations of some scripts (e.g., post-Roman use of capitalis, and capitalis quadrata, pp. 23-24). Lovett's attention to nib angle is excellent, and more sophisticated than is found in most guides at this level (i.e., many angles may be used in a script, at different parts of letters, and sufficient sampling is necessary to determine the predominant nib angle). Similarly, Lovett's advice to draw extended line segments " a tangent across the narrowest parts of the letters..." (18), to determine the angle of a pen nib to the base line with the aid of a protractor, is good advice. And it is helpful to have practical directions in marginal boxes.

This book is not without its faults, however. There are some technical problems, which may be due to haste in production. One concerns a choice of illustration. Brown writes: "...the example illustrated from the Appian way, one of the great motorways of the Empire". (21) The example of fine capitalis quadrata referred to is Baroque, not Ancient. It is the Bracciano inscription (22), marking that part of Pope Paul V's (1605-1621) restoration and extension of waterworks associated with the aqueduct of Trajan. The "Index of Manuscripts Cited" (4) is very inaccurate (e.g., Cotton Nero D. iv not cited on p. 56, but on p. 58). Much more serious is the lack of any indication of scale in the plates, nor are total dimensions given. One of the beginners to whom this book is primarily directed, could, on the basis of the reproductions offered, believe that image of Ezra from the Codex Amiatinus (39) is a quarter the size of a page of the Stonyhurst Gospels (47)! (Amiatinus: 505 x 340mm; Stonyhurst: 135 x 91mm). A general weakness in the sections on writing technique is that usually only one method is given for creating a graphic feature. A script formed by a nib held at an angle close to 0 degrees from the horizontal could have been written with an obliquely cut nib, or a straight-cut nib held at the appropriate angle, or with the writing support held at the angle necessary to produce the effect. There is usually no possibility of telling from the script which method was used. It is vital to consider all of the techniques which would have been available to a scribe, to gain some idea of which he, or she, may have employed. Equally troubling is the fact that the technical sections of the book seem to be written mainly with modern writing instruments in mind. The chief exception is the section on quills, but that mostly describes post-medieval techniques of preparation (see below).

The chapter on "Tools and Materials" is particularly weak, and misleading. At one point the wording implies that turkey feathers have always been a fine choice for quills ( 8-9)! How extensive was their use in Western Europe in the Middle Ages? The process of 'dutching' (artificial curing of quills), and the use of the dutching tool is discussed at some length (8-9), yet there is no evidence that the curing process was artificially hastened in the Middle Ages. It is stated that: "The blades of almost all early pen-knives were curved, with one side of the sharpened edge ground to a curve, the other straight...." (8-9) Would that were so! Reliable evidence for the profiles of pen-knives only dates from the later sixteenth century. The blades of most ancient and medieval artifacts which could possibly be pen-knives are too highly corroded to allow much to be said about how they were ground and finished. Research has barely begun on this question. All of the artifacts reproduced in this section of the book are from the collection of the late Philip Poole (a collection now sadly dispersed). These instruments are mostly from the nineteenth century. Why use these for illustration, when, in London alone, there are numerous extant ancient and medieval writing tools in public collections, such as the British Museum, and The Museum of London? Even more puzzling is the decision to show a parchment runner (also known in the scholarly literature as a "pricking wheel"), and a mechanical quill cutter. At present, we do not have certain evidence for the parchment runner before the early nineteenth century, or the late eighteenth century at best. Joseph A. Dane, "On the Shadowy Existence of the Medieval Pricking Wheel", Scriptorium 50 (1996, 1), 13-21, has shown that no one has yet succeeded in identifying traces of this instrument in the Middle Ages, and Denis Muzerelle, "La machine a rouler... les codicologues!", Gazette du livre medieval 31, 2 (1997), 22-30, has discussed constructional difficulties with the proposed medieval tool. As for the mechanical quill cutter, I am unaware of any evidence for its existence in the period covered by this book. The discussion of ink is problematic. After a brief treatment of Egyptian Pharonic, or Hellenistic methods of ink storage, there is a jump to sixteenth-seventeenth century ink recipes. Certainly it would have been better to cite some of the abundant, and more relevant evidence gathered by Monique Zerdoun Bat-Yehouda, Les encres noires au moyen age (jusqu' a 1600) (Paris, 1983)? It is unfortunate that some very good British work on text supports carried out over the last six decades is not reflected in this text. The reader is informed that: "Papyrus, however, can be quite brittle, and it will not withstand a definite fold and constant opening and closing...without breaking" (13) Prof. Napthali Lewis very effectively disproved these assertions in his thesis of 1939 (now see Napthali Lewis, Papyrus in Classical Antiquity (Oxford, 1974), pp. 60-61), and his proof was echoed in Colin H. Roberts and T. C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex (London, 1983), pp. 6-7. The reader is also informed that it was a disadvantage inherent in the roll form for the user to have to unroll " find a particular reference". (13) After the publication of T. C. Skeat's "Two Notes on Papyrus. 1. Was Re-Rolling a Papyrus Roll an Irksome and Time-Consuming Task?", in Scritti in onore di Orsolina Montevecchi, ed. Edda Bresciani et al. (Bologna, 1981), pp. 373-376, there is now no excuse for believing the roll form was unwieldy. I think it unlikely that the author's really meant to say: "Early scribes used simple tools and equipment as aids to their writing". (15) There is nothing simple about fifteenth-century multiple stage writing desks. We still don't fully understand their support mechanisms. What of dividers, proportional dividers, double- tined ruling pens with variable openings, portable Roman atramentaria, Wachsspachteln, and pivoting knives (should these be proven to be pen-knives)? The engineering of ancient and medieval scribal tools was anything but 'simple'.

The graphic interpretations of ductus, and Lovett's attractive versions of the scripts often diverge too far from the type specimens to be of scientific use. It is instructive to compare Lovett's instructions and versions of her "Flat Pen Uncial" (45-46) with the model, folio 110r of the Vespasian Psalter. (42) In the model, the placement of the tongue of "E" is in the upper half of the letter, with the serif of the tongue in contact with the serif of the top stroke, and even occasionally in contact with the serif of the bottom stroke. In Lovett's version, the tongue lies in the mid-point of the letter, or in the lower half of the letter, and the serif of the tongue is not contiguous to any of the other serifs. In the model, the bottom compartment of "B" is significantly larger than the upper compartment, but this feature is not reproduced in Lovett's version. The ascender of "d" is much longer in the model than in Lovett's version. "S" is more square in form, with longer hairstrokes at base and headlines in the model, than in Lovett's version. The top right stroke of "X" is thinner in relation to the main down stroke in the model, and the bottom left serif of the model is missing from Lovett's version. The general proportions of Lovett's letters do not reproduce those of the model, for in the model the forms are taller in relation to the thickness of the principal downstrokes than in her versions.

Although the account of tools and techniques is wholly inadequate to any serious study, I do recommend that readers consider purchasing the book for the sake of the excellent plates which Brown and Lovett have so carefully chosen, and reproduced. And Brown's writing can entertain, and Lovett's art work delight.