14.03.16, Rouse and Rouse, Bound Fast with Letters

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Alexander Andrée

The Medieval Review 14.03.16

Rouse, Richard H. and Mary A. Rouse. Bound Fast with Letters: Medieval Writers, Readers, and Texts. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 570. ISBN: 978-0-268-04033-8.

Reviewed by:
Alexander Andrée
University of Toronto

Eighteen articles published over a span of forty years find a bele conjointure in this delightful volume, which takes its reader on a journey through one thousand years of book production. Divided into three sections and an epilogue, this collection offers its reader seasoned research on such seemingly disparate topics as wax tablets, Donatist Aids to Biblical Study, Carolingian liturgical texts, twelfth-century monastic sermons, the Waldensians and the schools, the manuscripts of Richard de Fournival, crusading collections in fourteenth-century France, a mysterious golden peacock, the habits of wandering scribes and traveling artists, and much more.

Though article collections often seem to lack cohesion, this is not the case with the present book. Its editors wisely saw fit to privilege concept over context as their guiding organizational principle. A brand new introduction, ditto vignettes for each section, uniform formatting and new page numbering further contribute to the unified aspect of the volume. And this book is, after all, about books. It covers scribal practices across a thousand years, parchmenting and decoration, patronage and book production. Though a book devoted exclusively to matters of codicology may perhaps run the risk of being a rather dry read except for the ardent specialist, this is, once again, not the case here. On the contrary, the authors consistently contextualize the material dimension of their manuscripts as they call attention to the implications this material has on medieval culture at large. This makes for a riveting read, which has something to offer every kind of medievalist. In short, this is "integral palaeography" at its best. Leonard Boyle would surely have been proud.

A most impressive aspect of this volume, and one that shines through most of its pages, is the special care with which the authors describe and contextualize the single manuscripts--or even manuscript leaves--held in North America. If the proper scrutiny of two Carolingian bifolia, for example, can yield unexpected insights into "previously unknown monastic liturgical practices in late-ninth or early-tenth-century Burgundy" (60), one can only imagine the fruits that might be reaped through equally detailed research into the much richer and more plentiful European manuscript holdings. This message can certainly be extrapolated from the opening section, "Writing It Down: Practicalities and Imagery, 500-1200" (13-112), where we also learn how a manuscript kept at Yale University's Beinecke Library provides the hitherto missing link between the Spanish Waldensians, on the brink of heresy, and the schools of Paris. It shows how the former, through tolerance and understanding, could be brought into the orthodox fold of the Church ("The Schools and the Waldensians: A New Work by Durand of Huesca," 89-112).

The central portion, "Patrons and the Use of Books, 1250-1400," is the book's longest (115-419) section and it perhaps reflects the authors' keenest interests. The main theme here is how, and it what context, a number of French vernacular texts were produced and circulated in the high Middle Ages. First comes a study of the surviving manuscripts of the Old French vernacular poet and patron of Latin manuscript production Richard de Fournival (d. 1260). Judging by his list of personal book-holdings, the Biblionomia, which mentions no less than 132 volumes, it has long been held that Richard was instrumental in preserving and transmitting rare works of classical Antiquity. Back in 1973, when the Rouses originally published on this subject, they were able to identify thirty-eight surviving manuscripts from this list, most of which were held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, with a few exceptions uncovered in such distant locations as Bern, Edinburgh and Florence. The authors have since successfully identified six additional codices (in Paris, Leiden, Valenciennes and at the Vatican) as originally belonging to de Fournivals's library. The longest article in the volume, "Context and Reception: A Crusading Collection for Charles IV of France" (215-279), considers how a Roman tractate on warfare, Vegetius' De re militari, copied in the company of the "right" texts and diffused under favourable circumstances, could be turned into a piece of papal propaganda. In a feat of codicological sleuthing worthy of a Lord Peter Wimsey, the Rouses manage to show not only that Vegetius' tractate was copied alongside crusading literature at Paris in the early part of the fourteenth century, but also that it was assembled for King Charles IV of France at the behest of none other than Pope John XXII, whose crusading plans were shared by the French monarch.

Particularly fascinating in the third section, "Commercial Book-Makers, French and Italian, 1290-1410" (422-522), is chapter 13, "Wandering Scribes and Traveling Artists: Raulinus of Fremington and His Bolognese Bible" (423-458), which reconstructs the career of a West Country Englishman using information gleaned from the Bible he copied toward the end of the thirteenth century. Not only were the authors able to gather that he learned his trade in Paris and worked in Bologna, they obtained insight into the scribe's personal life. Contrary to the habits of most copyists, Raulinus left personal notes scattered throughout the volume, not in the margins or otherwise separate from the text, but as part of the text proper. From these notes (the Rouses count sixteen of varying length, some of which are in verse), Raulinus emerges, even by modern standards, as "lustful, coarse, and self-absorbed" (425). His notes normally concern his encounters with two women, Meldina and Vilana. The former is described sometimes as a harlot, whore or leech and other times as a blossoming rose and a jewel of womankind, whose love for Raulinus is commensurate to the amount of change in his pockets. Vilana, according to Raulinus, stole his cloak, for which she obtained the epithet, "dung-heap." Indeed, it is the way in which the Rouses illuminate the human dimension of scribal activity (which is sadly so rare among surviving witnesses) that makes the book a cohesive delight to read. I only wish Raulinus' comments could have been printed as an appendix--like many of the other texts encountered in manuscripts in this volume--rather than being relegated to the footnotes. For, as stated above, Raulinus was not one to relegate his thoughts to the margins of his materials.

This book is undeniably a florilegium, but one hardly notices that the flores have been plucked from different pastures. Together, they give off the enticing scent of codicology come alive.

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Alexander Andrée

University of Toronto