William Snell

title.none: Blumreich, ed., The Middle English "Mirror" (William Snell)

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.032 04.02.32

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: William Snell, Keio University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Blumreich, Kathleen Marie, ed. The Middle English "Mirror": An Edition Based on Bodleian Library, MS Holkham misc. 40. Series: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, vol. 182; Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, vol. 9. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. Pp. xlv, 558. $55.00 0-86698-265-5. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.32

Blumreich, Kathleen Marie, ed. The Middle English "Mirror": An Edition Based on Bodleian Library, MS Holkham misc. 40. Series: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, vol. 182; Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, vol. 9. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. Pp. xlv, 558. $55.00 0-86698-265-5. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

William Snell
Keio University

Based on the author's Ph.D. thesis (Michigan Sate University, 1991), this is the first complete edition of the anonymous Middle English prose translation of Robert de Gretham's Anglo-Norman Miroir, or Les Evangiles des Domnees (ca. 1250-1300), a sermon cycle in verse. It is a work is of considerable cultural and historical interest as well as being an important text for the study of late medieval religious life.

The text, a prologue and sixty homilies for Sundays and feast-days throughout the liturgical year, was seemingly dedicated to one 'Dame Aline', whose positive identity eludes us today but whose literary tastes do not, as they apparently ran more towards "romaunces & gestes" than prayer books. Intending the work as a 'spiritual restorative' in an attempt to remedy the situation, Gretham proposed that Aline read the Mirror instead. In it, Gretham argues, she would surely find material more profitable for the soul than stories of "Tristrem, oþr of Gy of Warrewyk...". Through an analysis of Gretham's clerical discourse, Blumreich argues that the sermon exempla intended for Aline's religious improvement assert different, but not particularly better, virtues than what she might have gleaned from a romance, especially when these moral tales are considered from a feminist perspective. However, the collection also seems directed at a broader lay audience because, as Blumreich points out (xiv), Gretham addresses his audience with masculine plurals such as 'barons', and the work concerns itself largely with the question of how a person, regardless of rank and status, can be a good Christian.

The Middle English translation exists in six manuscripts and indeed this volume's publication coincides with that of another edition, Glasgow University Library, Hunter 250 by Thomas G. Duncan and Margaret Connolly, with a parallel text of the Miroir edited from Nottingham University Library Mi LM 4 (Middle English Texts: 34. Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag Winter GmbH, 2003). THIS is predicted to be the first of several volumes, and contains at the present stage of the project only the first twelve sermons, from Advent to Sexagesima. Both books have been published independently, but Blumreich does acknowledge the fact that she has relied on Duncan's past research (xxiii-xxxvi).

Seventeen of the sermons contain a 'tale' or exemplum, and Blumreich provides useful summaries of these. However, the Wycliffite associations of both her base manuscripts cry out for comment, particularly as at least two of the other four (Harley 5085 and Cambridge Corpus Christi College 282) share them. They would be even more notable if Blumreich's suggestion that the multiplication of copies of THIS work is due to Augustinian houses were correct. The dissemination of dubiously orthodox works by the Augustinians is conceivable, but more evidence is needed, particularly in view of the extensive contemporary dissemination of the impeccably orthodox sermon-cycle of the Augustinian John Mirk (see A. J. Fletcher, "Unnoticed sermons from John Mirk's Festial", Speculum 55 (1980): 514-522). No inferences are drawn from the analysis of the dialect of the Holkham manuscript. However, the Essex basis of the language of all four hands suggests a religious community, while the "curious combination of Essex and West Midland features" in the dialect of Hand 1 indicates layering; most probably, the West Midland layer is that of the exemplar. There are possible implications here for the transmission of the text and its milieu, which would require some discussion of the language of the remaining five copies that Blumreich does not provide. Duncan and Connolly state in their introduction that "about twenty...complete vernacular collections have survived" and that "on linguistic evidence the majority of the Middle English manuscripts may be associated with the London area..." (xi). The matter of Lollardy is taken up in Duncan and Connolly (l) who maintain that although the changes in emphasis in the Mirror may sometimes be harsh in tone, the translators views do seem to be "balanced and moderate" rather than extreme, and they refuse to view the changes that translator makes in the Middle English Mirror as reflecting convictions of a wider currency rather than anything that can specifically labeled as 'Wycliffite'.

Blumreich provides several contradictory hints about the dating of the work, but no cohesive discussion. She suggests it was translated "in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth century" (xiii), although four of the manuscripts are dated to the fourteenth century, and the stemma given shows that three of these are separated by at least two copies from the original. Yet Blumreich on p. xv states that "more than a century separates the lost Middle English archetype from the oldest and best of the Mirror manuscripts", implying that the translation was made before 1300. It is only on THIS assumption that one can entertain Blumreich's suggestion that Robert of Gretham, who wrote the French original c.1250-1260, may have also made the English translation. The question of whether the language is compatible with such an early date is not addressed. Yet an inspection of Blumreich's text shows that if it is derived from a thirteenth-century original, there has been heavy modernization not only of orthography and accidence, but also of lexis, taking into account the appearance of later words such as "comfortable" and "unpeaceable". The statement that the translator rendered the verse of the original into prose "in an effort to better meet the exigencies of oral delivery from the pulpit" (xv) is questionable, given the widespread evidence for the use of verse in vernacular preaching, with a shift to prose late in the Middle Ages. Cambridge Trinity College B.14.39 may be relevant, for it gives only the (versified) exempla of the French Miroir: Is the user expected to supply the framework (in prose, of course)? Karl Reichl's discussion of THIS copy in Religiose Dichtung im Englischen Hochmittelalter: Untersuchung und Edition der Handschrift B. 14. 39 des Trinity College in Cambridge (Munich: W. Fink, 1973) 454-456 might with advantage have been added to the bibliography. Given that only ten pages were available for the section "Authorship and text", devoting of half the space to summarizing the exempla seems excessive, in view of the unresolved issues outlined above.

This is a best text edition, preserving the reading of the Holkham manuscript provided it is grammatically and semantically plausible. The policy is defensible, though it involves the risk of reproducing sophisticated corruption, which might have been reduced through comparison with the remaining manuscripts and the French original. At any rate, substantive variants from Magdalene College Cambridge, Pepys 2498 are given in the apparatus. However, much variation of possible linguistic interest is excluded, such as that between double and single negatives, 'hem' and 'þem', and between 'to' and zero before an infinitive. On the last point, we read on page xlii: "the infinitive form is clearly implied; hence the 'to' is frequently elided"; but the implication that scribal convenience rather than syntactic variation is at work is improbable. On a minor note perhaps, the dimensions of the leaves and writing spaces are given in inches; what happened to standard units?

Duncan and Connolly's volume provides more detailed description of the various extant manuscripts, more in-depth analysis of the translation technique and discussion of the way in which the Sermon Cycle was employed; but Blumreich has evidently beaten them to the post in publishing a complete edition of one of the many hitherto unedited late Middle English prose works, with a clean, readable text and a selective glossary. Her edition should be viewed as complementary to Duncan and Connolly's work. As Blumreich asserts, "The Mirror has much to share with us: about the lives of medieval people--their needs, concerns, obligations, hopes, and beliefs; about the nature of the medieval Church--its teachings, its influence on the daily activities of its members, and its role in shaping social policy" (xxii). There are other, similar, extant vernacular (such as the Speculum Sacerdotale, which contains 69 sermons and exists in only one extant manuscript), but as Duncan and Connolly point out, they do not resemble the Mirror in terms of scope. In addition, the "linguistic and social shifts" contained in the translation "may also be indicative of increasing levels of literacy" (Duncan and Connolly, lx).

One question remains, however: how much of a 'spiritual restorative' did the Mirror prove to Dame Aline?

(I am greatly indebted to my friend and colleague John D. Scahill for his acuminous assistance in writing this review.)