03.01.10, Hanna, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Medieval Manuscripts

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Thomas M. Izbicki

The Medieval Review baj9928.0301.010


Hanna, Ralph. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Medieval Manuscripts of Saint John's College Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. xxxiv, 371. ISBN: 0-19-920239-7.

Reviewed by:
Thomas M. Izbicki
Johns Hopkins University

Until this catalogue was published, the most complete guide to the collection of medieval manuscripts at Saint John's College, Oxford was Henry O. Coxe, Catalogus codicum MSS. Qui in collegiis aulisque Oxoniensibus hodie adservantur, 2 vols., Oxford, 1852. Ralph Hanna, Professor of Palaeography and Tutorial Fellow, Keble College, Oxford, has provided us with an impressive guide to that collection, completing a project undertaken by the late Jeremy Griffiths. As with all catalogues of manuscript collections, Professor Hanna has availed himself of the aid and advice of many other persons in the course of his labors.

The catalogue opens with Acknowledgments, a List of Plates, Abbreviations and Introduction. The Introduction is a substantial piece of work in its own right. Hanna relates the history of the collection, not just the acquisition of manuscripts but the management of the collection. This history extends beyond the mere naming of donors and listing of donations. The history of England and of the college itself can be read in the history of manuscript acquisition in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The impact of the Reformation can be seen in the dispersion of monastic libraries and the donation of volumes from religious houses to the college. Among the houses represented are the Augustinian priory of Southwick (Hampshire) and Reading Abbey. Among the donors, early in the history of Saint John's College, was John White, who had ties to Sir Thomas Wriothesley, who had "farmed" the former Southwick estates. More substantial numbers of volumes were donated in the early seventeenth centuries in the presidencies of John Buckeridge (1605-1611) and William Laud (1611-1621). Laud himself was a notable donor of medieval manuscripts. The interests of the early donors were heavily, but not exclusively, religious. A scientific bent, however, can be found in the bequest of William Paddy (1633-1634). These manuscripts were ordered on shelves or in chests until they were assigned their present numbers at the time of President William Derham (1748-1757).

The Introduction also lays out the design of the catalogue that follows. The Format begins with the Header, which notes shelf mark, place of origin with an indication of date, a brief indication of contents and the opening words of the second folio. The Header is followed by a physical description of the volume. This includes the material of which the manuscript is made, usually vellum; and the watermarks of any paper employed. The number of leaves, the dimensions of both page and writing space, the number of columns employed and any known scribes also are treated. Pricking and ruling, scripts and punctuation also are described. Composite volumes received somewhat different treatment as needed. Next the Contents are noted using a numbered sequence. The foliation of each work is followed by its incipit and explicit. These excerpts are followed by an interpretive paragraph, which may include references to editions and standard bibliographic sources. Corrections and annotations are addressed in this paragraph. Some of these paragraphs, especially when they do not describe known works, must be read with care. The identification of Contents is followed by Collation, Textual Presentation and Decoration, Binding and Provenance. (The rebinding of most of the manuscripts in the early twentieth century caused losses in physical evidence that Professor Hanna rightly laments.) Texts in the English vernacular also are assigned a note identifying the dialect.

The Catalogue covers a range of shelf marks from 1 to 209, but nearly one manuscript number in five is not included here. The full manuscripts are followed by a collection of binding fragments (MS 235) and scattering of other manuscripts (MSS 255-257, 265-266, 293, 320, 340, 344 and 346). MS 164 is missing, and non-Western manuscripts fill out the rest of the numbers. Bibles, patristic texts, theological works of the Middle Ages and hagiographic texts are found frequently. Some works of law, ecclesiastical polemic scientific texts also are represented. Texts in Middle English, prose and verse, appear in several manuscripts. No text is left unidentified where other copies are known. A few brief texts, like the note on reform (De reformacione racionis), no. 12 in MS 173, are not identifiable.

There are a few minor flaws, of course. MS 149 is called a "theological miscellany," but it is almost entirely a hagiographic compilation. The documents of the Council of Constance (MS 45) are insufficiently described; the Catalogue simply points to their inclusion in Finke's Acta Concilii Constanciensis, 4 vols., Munster, 1896-1928. More could be done too with the incomplete commentary on the Liber sextus decretalium in MS 149. Without some indication of the specific chapters comments in the text it would be difficult for an interested scholar (this reviewer for one) to estimate whether the manuscript is worth a visit to attempt an identification of the work. Most often, however, the Catalogue provides an exemplary description of each manuscript in every detail. The description of the copy of the Summa Pisanella in MS 53 points the researcher to the works of Thomas Kaeppeli and Pierre Michaud-Quantin. The description of the sermons of Richard Fitzralph in MS 65 is admirably annotated, and its Provenance is worth reading to illustrate the fortunes of the manuscripts that were donated to St. John's College. So too is the description of Juan de Toquemada's De ecclesia in MS 74, a copy this reviewer has had occasion to examine in recent years. Complicated manuscripts like MS 202, with its hagiographic content, including a quire of front matter, receive meticulous descriptions complete with bibliographic references for the additions in prose or verse. Even the binding fragments receive detailed treatment, including cross referencing of remnants that are related to one another (e.g., Fragments 62 and 68). Professor Hanna shows at every turn his meticulous concern for the details without slighting the larger framework of the individual description or the architecture of a unified catalogue.

The Catalogue is followed by Appendix I: Conspectus of Shelf Marks. This appendix provides both the list by Edward Bernard (1697) with their modern equivalents and, conversely, the modern numbers with their Bernard equivalents. The indexes follow. One provides incipits of anonymous works. Others cover previous owners and users, named scribes and artists, manuscripts cited, and authors and titles. All of these are very thorough. The catalogue also contains a handsome frontispiece (from MS 17), eleven full-color plates and 21 plates in black and white. All of the illustrations are useful, and each is well produced. For example, the glosses to Priscian in black and white plate 17 can be read with no trouble. Overall, this is an impressive achievement, a labor of love. Would that Jeremy Griffiths and the late Angela Williams (of the library of Saint John's College) had lived to see it completed.

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Author Biography

Thomas M. Izbicki

Johns Hopkins University