The Medieval Review 10.08.01

Fein, Susanna. John the Blind Audelay: Poems and Carols (Oxford, BodleianLibrary MS Douce 302). TEAMS/Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2009. Pp. x, 389. . $23 ISBN 978-1-58044-131-5.

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Schirmer
New Mexico State University

The challenge this impressive edition presents to its reviewer is how to give a sense of its scope and depth without resorting to mere catalogue. Fein's is the first complete edition of the fifteenth- century "author anthology" MS Douce 302, compiled and largely written by John the Blind Audelay, onetime chaplain to Lord Lestrange of Knockin, Shropshire and thereafter appointed by him "furst prest" of the family chantry at the nearby Augustinian house of Haughmond Abbey. The book was produced at Haughmond, overseen (as Fein persuasively argues) by Audelay and written by two scribes who were probably monks at the abbey. It contains a wide variety of materials in English and Latin, prose and verse, with a fondness for the 13-line alliterative stanza and an instructional emphasis on the remission of sins through the passion of Christ and the sacrament of penance. Two of the longer English alliterative poems, "Marcolf and Solomon" and "The Three Dead Kings," have been edited more than once and received a fair amount of critical attention; much (though not all) of the manuscript has been edited by previously by James Orchard Halliwell (in 1844) and Ella Keats Whiting (in 1971). But Fein's edition is unique in presenting the Douce manuscript as whole, considering its structure and ordinatio and taking it seriously as a coherent codicological project. Fein seeks through this editorial project to understand "just what "authorship," "authority," and even "canonicity" might have meant in around 1426 to the Shropshire canon who obsessively inserts his name into the book."

Fein divides the MS into four "mini-anthologies," based on content and genre. Her Introduction and Explanatory Notes devote much energy to tracing connections and developments within and between these four sections. The first section is entitled by Audelay "The Counsel of Conscience...or The Ladder of Heaven and the Life of Eternal Salvation," and it is said by him in his "Epilogue to the Counsel of Conscience" to contain "al that is nedful to bodé and soule." There are few, Audelay, laments, who seek the "soulehele" he offers here. That "soulehele" takes many textual forms but returns repeatedly to a few key themes: judgment for our deeds (in terms that echo the Pardon in Piers Plowman); remedies for sin; amends for wrongdoing; the remission of sin through penance and indulgences; free choice, obedience, and the Golden Rule; and the need to maintain the social order. The first surviving poem, the acephalous "True Living," provides didactic material, often verbatim, to many of the texts that follow. "Marcolf and Solomon," an alliterative satire whose relationships to Piers Plowman and to the Lollard controversy have been of interest to several recent critics, calls for a "loveday" between the different orders of the clergy, monks, friars, and secular priests. Here are throughout the MS, Audelay casts himself as a truth-teller who, along with good priests and other "trew Cristyn men," risks being accused of Lollardy. But Audelay is no Wycliffite: he insists on clerical privilege and orthodox sacramental theology while calling on princes and other secular men to join him in chastising the "lewdness" and "covetyse" of individual members of the clergy. The positioning of this poem in the MS suggests how important traditional clerical functions were to Audelay's salvation theology: "Marcolf" mediates, as it were, between the basic pastoralia of "The True Living" and a long series of devotional poems on the passion and the mass, which are interspersed with didactic material on confession and the remission of sins. As this structure implies and Audelay frequently reminds us, the clergy are responsible for both pedagogical and sacramental mediation, with the former enabling the latter. It is these vital functions that make clerical reform so urgent for Audelay.

The second and third sections of the MS are united by genre. The Salutations, as Fein notes, are linked further by the theme of "womanly healing," with "soulhele...arriv[ing] by means of holy women." They address Mary, Sts Bridget, Winifred, and Anne, and the Vernicle, the latter represented by the manuscript's only drawing (Fein draws connections to the Arma Christi tradition). The Carols, in turn, represent the first such collection in English, perhaps accounting for the interest of its fifteenth-century minstrel- owner, William Wyatt of Coventry. Whereas Fein divides the carols into five groups of five, I am inclined to see them as a single sequence built around the liturgical season of Christmas and loosely echoing the structure of the MS as whole. The manuscript opens with doctrinal material ("True Living") and closes with a meditation on death ("Three Dead Kings"), followed by a "Conclusion" that returns explicitly to the scene of reading and writing. The Carols, similarly, open with five carols on the Articles of the Faith and close with a moving macaronic meditation on the Dread of Death. The final carol on St Francis, which may seem tacked-on, is in fact typical of Audelay's concluding gestures in combining saintly and textual mediation, enjoining the reader to "read this caral reverently" and to pray for "Your broder John the Blynd Awdlay." In between, the Carol section uses the Christmas season as a framework for exploring key themes of the MS as whole. The sixth carol on the "Day of the Nativity" introduces the governing liturgical logic, and while Audelay digresses into topics ranging from Henry VI and the Four (!) Estates to Marian devotion and chastity, he returns consistently to the liturgical feasts of Christmas. In a manner reminiscent of Mirk's Festial, which Fein more than once cites as a point of comparison, the feasts of the church ground the pastoral and devotional material necessary for salvation.

Fein entitles the MS's final group of texts "Meditative Close," contrasting the individual devotional reading it invites to the (sung) carols that precede it. This toggling back and forth between models of reading, paralleled by a dual address to secular and religious audiences, is typical of this manuscript--and, I would argue, of the broader fifteenth-century textual cultures in which it participates. More distinctive, as Fein notes, are this manuscript's parallel obsessions with authority (clerical, authorial) and endings (of the book, of a life, of the seculum). The final section of the manuscript, like Audelay's ubiquitous "signature stanzas," brings together these two interrelated obsessions. Two prose devotional texts, "The Sins of the Heart" and "An Honest Bed," are followed by two alliterative poems, the "Paternoster" and the "Three Dead Kings," moving us again from pastoralia and devotional instruction to prayer and meditation on death. Scribe B now takes over, adding a Latin verse prayer on the vanity of worldly goods and Audelay's English "Conclusion" in his characteristic 13-line stanza. The codex's final poem begins with the book as repository of the world ("Here may ye here now hawt ye be. / Here may ye cnow hwat ys this worlde") and ends with the mortality of the author who wrote it "deeff, sick, blynd, as he lay." The moral for both, for the reader and for the world: "For alle ys good that hath good ende." Authorship, authority, canonicity; for Audelay, all of them have to do with making a good end.

Fein, who recently edited a collection of essays on Audelay and Douce 302, is a learned and astute reader of this manuscript. Her deep knowledge of its wide range of constituent materials makes the edition invaluable to the scholar as well as to the (relatively advanced) student. The Introduction lays out Fein's reading of the codex as a whole, and the notes are full of cross-references within and beyond the manuscript. Together they demonstrate the coherence of the project and locate Douce 302's "anthologizing impulse" within a "budding culture of vernacular canonicity." Brief "Instructions for Prayer" and "Instructions for Reading," so labeled by Fein and omitted from other editions, highlight Audelay's pastoral presence throughout the manuscript. From the Explanatory Notes the diligent student could gain a solid introduction to topics ranging from alliterative prosody to the Lollard controversy, from late-medieval eucharistic theology to the latest editorial methods. A headnote to each text identifies (as relevant) IMEV and NIMEV references, hand(s), initial(s), ornament, Audelay signature(s), meter, source(s), other manuscripts and versions (frequently from the Vernon manuscript), metrical variants, analogues, and related Middle English texts, and editions--even, for one of the carols, modern choral adaptations and recordings. The textual notes record not only variants from the MS and points of disagreement with earlier editors, but also "points of important physical detail" relevant to the ordinatio of the manuscript. Fein is a painstaking and conservative, but by no means slavish, editor, inclined to favor the MS reading--though in the older, trickier alliterative poems, such as the "Three Dead Kings," she is more likely to emend. Helpful indices to biblical citations and to the first lines of texts are included. The glossary is minimalist (perhaps a TEAMS protocol?) but amply supplemented by the Explanatory Notes, which pay special attention to issues of vocabulary. Paying special attention to the areas of my own expertise, notably the Lollard controversy and Syon Abbey, I found one or two minor errors in the notes, of the sort generally corrected in a second edition, but nothing to undermine the significant value of this edition for scholars and students alike.