Mary Agnes Edsall

title.none: Sargent, ed., Nicholas Love (Mary Agnes Edsall)

identifier.other: baj9928.0502.013 05.02.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Mary Agnes Edsall , Bowdoin College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Sargent, Michael G., ed. Nicholas Love: The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Reading Text. Series: Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2004. Pp. xlvii, 280. $32.95 (pb). ISBN: 0-85989-741-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.02.13

Sargent, Michael G., ed. Nicholas Love: The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Reading Text. Series: Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2004. Pp. xlvii, 280. $32.95 (pb). ISBN: 0-85989-741-9.

Reviewed by:

Mary Agnes Edsall
Bowdoin College

Michael Sargent, the leading expert on Nicholas Love's The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, has done a great service in providing a new critical edition of this fifteenth-century English translation and adaptation of the pseudo-Bonaventurean Meditationes Vitae Christi. Meditations on the life of Christ were an ubiquitous genre in later medieval culture, and Love's text is a valuable rendition of the genre's vivid, emotion-evoking imaginings of scenes from the Gospels. It is difficult, however, to describe the wider importance of the Mirror in late-medieval English culture without ventriloquizing Professor Sargent, with whom I first studied this text. Furthermore, his introduction to this edition encapsulates his deep understanding of Love, his text, and its cultural context. This introduction merits special attention and should be read and routinely assigned as a companion and provocation to other studies of fifteenth-century devotional literature, such as Nicholas Watson's 1995 Speculum article "Censorship and Cultural Change in Late-Medieval England: Vernacular Theology, the Oxford Translation Debate, and Arundel's Constitutions of 1409."

Erudite, clear, and concise, Sargent's introduction situates Love's Mirror within the history of Latin and vernacular Gospel harmonies, or narratives reconciling the accounts of the four different Gospels. Sargent deftly sketches the relationship between practices of monastic reading, Franciscan spirituality, and affective piety, showing how meditation on the incarnate Christ was considered appropriate for the "physically minded" laity, novices, and female religious (x). Focusing in on the author and late-medieval England, he then describes Nicholas Love's place in the Carthusian order, his connections with Thomas Arundel, the anti-Lollard archbishop of Canterbury, and the ways that The Mirror relates to Lollardy (admirably defined in a few paragraphs) and the movements against it. Particularly worth attention is Sargent's argument that Love's text and other conservative, orthodox fifteenth-century pieces of vernacular theology were part of what he calls a "premature counter- reformation" in a play on "premature reformation," Ann Hudson's title phrase for Lollardy (xix). Love's Mirror is revealed as an official exemplar of vernacular affective devotion for the laity that was intentionally deployed as an antidote to Lollard thinking, both successfully--it survives in sixty-four manuscripts and nine early print editions--and unsuccessfully; for example, it would seem to have failed as part of an attempt to pre-empt the Wycliffite Bible, since over 200 of these bibles survive (ix, xx).

Sargent's 1992 Garland critical edition of The Mirror marked the arrival of a new era for study of this text. Before this, the only version available was "Lawrence F. Powell's edition of 1908 (Oxford: the Clarendon Press, for the Roxburghe Club)" (xxiii). The Garland edition, however, is high-priced (Books in Print currently lists it at $80.00), and includes only a partial collation based on the manuscripts that had been available to its editor up to the time of publication (xxiii). As Sargent notes in the new version of The Mirror, work done after 1992 made it clear that a true critical edition needed a collation of all extant manuscripts and needed to take into account findings that suggest that "two of the three surviving manuscript families are authorial, not scribal, in origin" (xxiii). The new critical edition with full collation is based on Cambridge University Library MS Additional 6576, "a manuscript belonging to Mount Grace [Charterhouse] and written during the period that Love was alive there" and "supplemented by CUL MS Add. 6686 where it is deficient through the excision of decorated leaves" (xxiii, xxiv). These represent a later text as revised by Love, while Oxford, Brasenose College MS e.ix, which was weighted more heavily in the Garland edition, belongs to a family of manuscripts now considered to be an earlier version of The Mirror.

The volume reviewed here is not the entire new critical edition, as the subtitle "A Reading Text" suggests. It is intended for those who are primarily interested in the text and its contents and less concerned with the details of collation, manuscript description, and "the documentary evidence of the historical situation in which it was first written and transmitted" (vii). An edition with the complete critical apparatus is forthcoming. In the meantime, in this volume students and scholars have the text of The Mirror as constructed from Sargent's meticulous editing, thoughtfully laid out line-by-line and page-by-page identically to the full edition for ease of future cross-reference.

The modified apparatus that accompanies this "Reading Text" edition includes a select bibliography, an intelligently compiled glossary, a list of all manuscripts and early printed versions, and a table of affiliations showing the groups that the manuscripts fall into and the relationships of the groups. A section of explanatory notes follows the text of The Mirror, identifying "all citations of scriptural, patristic, and monastic sources" (241), describing major variations between manuscript families, and addressing points of theology as they relate to religious trends in Love's time. Furthermore, the text reproduces the authorial marginal annotations, which not only provide a type of marginal running index of contents and authorities cited but also distinguish between the parts of the text that come from the Meditationes Vitae Christi (signaled by a B. for the putative author Bonaventure) and the parts added by Love (signaled by an N.).

This edition of Nicholas Love's The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ is a volume that any scholar working on late- medieval English literature and culture or on pre-Reformation religion would want in her or his personal library. And thanks to the University of Exeter Press, who has published it in a reasonably affordable paperback edition, many of us can.