15.05.26, Hudson, Rolle's English Psalter Commentary, v. 2

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Tamás Karáth

The Medieval Review 15.05.26

Hudson, Anne, ed. Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentaries and the Related Canticles, Volume 2. Early English Text Society, O.S. 341. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. pp. 594. ISBN: 9780199674299 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Tamás Karáth
Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest, Hungary

Christopher Roman's review of the first volume of Anne Hudson's Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary and the Related Canticles in an earlier number of The Medieval Review celebrated the edition as "a testament to the editorial work needed to untangle thorny manuscript problems." [1] Thomas A. Fudge also considers Hudson's most recent critical edition as a scholarly feat admirably reflecting "[h]er attention to detail, archival sources, and a close study of manuscripts." [2] Indeed, the critical edition of two revisions of Rolle's English Psalter (Revisions 1 and 2, hereafter RV1 and RV2) crowns a long-lasting surge of scholarly endeavor. In her first concise analysis of the Lollard revisions, Hudson indicated that the major impediment to assess the Lollard uses of Rolle's English Psalter was the lack of both a critical edition of the Rollean commentary and an extensive study of the manuscripts and the textual relations of the Lollard revisions. [3] In her 2004 survey of Wycliffite prose and related scholarship, Fiona Somerset mentioned that Hudson was "at work on an edition of the two full-text versions [of the Lollard revisions]." [4] While I am writing this review of the second volume of Two Revisions, Hudson's project has fully been achieved, as the third and last part has also been published in Original Series 343 of Early English Text Society.

Needless to say, Volume 2 is dependent on the preceding and ensuing volumes of the edition not least because of the critical apparatus that contextualizes the "running text": the introduction and the explanation of editorial principles in Volume 1 and the notes, glossary and index of biblical references in Volume 3. However, Hudson designed the middle part of the edition so that it easily lends itself also for an independent use. A one-page preface recapitulates the division of the text; Volume 2 covers Psalms 35-135. The preface also reminds the reader that the main text in the second and third volume is RV1 with variants of RV2 in the footnotes. Finally, Hudson also lists the sigla of manuscripts relevant for Volume 2. Although it is not made explicit here, Plates 2 and 3, illustrating the switch from RV1 to RV3 in MSS Lambeth Palace 34 (R) and British Library Additional 74953 (D), as well as a footnote to Psalm 84, identify the MSS containing RV3. Variants from MSS D and R appear in the notes as long as they pursue RV2. Out of the eleven MSS considered in this volume (if we take the four manuscript copies of D and R as two), nine represent RV1 and RV2. MS Lincoln, Lincolnshire Archives Office, Madison Deposit 2/11 (F) is printed in the main text, while all the rest (CAHTVLBS) provide variant readings of RV2.

Volume 2, continuing the editorial conventions of Volume 1, is the unique "only-text" part of the series, which allows much freedom for the reviewer to comment on the potential uses of the edition. Eager to read this long-awaited work of "Wycliffite spirituality," one may immediately track the text for passages of a Lollard penchant with the confidence that these sections will strike the eye of the reader. Such an approach has its legitimacy also in Hudson's earlier assessment of the revisions: "With a reasonable knowledge of Wycliffite views, it is relatively easy to go through all the vernacular revisions and guess correctly many sections that do not derive in any way from Rolle." [5] Instinctive assumptions may be checked against Bramley's 1884 transcript of one manuscript of Rolle's Psalter. [6] The juxtaposition of the two editions helps us to appreciate the user-friendly format of Hudson's work. The Latin verses, Rolle's literal translations and the comments are visibly separated in type (bold, italics and normal, respectively), and the modernized punctuation of the comments guarantees a much more fluent reading of the expository parts than do Bramley's conventions.

The parallel reading also highlights the additions and elaborations of RV1 and RV2, which confirm the eclecticism of the Revisions' devotion and ideology. Certain themes indicate an engagement with Lollard interests: Psalm 88 castigates the false prerogative of priesthood to pardon sins and insists on God's mercy as the sole source of forgiveness. At the same time, to make a valid biblical argument, it also deconstructs a stance so commonly associated with Lollard attitudes to the Bible: the literal interpretation of the Scriptures. Here, the author warns that "al holi writte oweþ not to be taken after þe lettre" (855).

Psalms 39 and 40 further exemplify the dual nature of the Revisions' textual elaboration on Rollean themes. Both psalm commentaries emphasize God's mercy preceding the conversion of the sinner and the obligation to prove one's love of God with "work and word" and to speak up against feigned beggars and hypocrites. On the one hand, nothing strikes out from the stock Rollean themes (who also used the autobiographic motifs of backbiting, persecution, slander and conversion through divine mercy to justify his own religious perseverance). On the other hand, the interpretation of these passages in the context of later, obviously Lollard, extensions of the text ascribes them a specific Lollard taste.

While the edition of the Revisions may not bring us closer to answer questions of authorship, it certainly discloses a lot of details concerning the purpose, uses and eventual readers of the texts. Hudson attentively pursues the marginal glosses and notes added to MSS Oxford, University College 74 (V) and Lambeth Palace 34 (R). MS V is the shortest of all RV2 texts; it ends incomplete in Psalm 41, but its annotator is an excessively keen reader. Unlike the conventional and sporadic "nota" and "nota bene" remarks of the annotator of R, the V annotator leaves a plethora of reader's responses on the margin. Not only would he signal the importance of a passage with "nota (bene)" or "nota bene exposicione istius versi" (Ps 36.326) or "se wel here" (Ps 36.405; 38.133), but he would also record his emotional involvement in reading ("lo, lo", passim; "lo prechour lo lo", Ps 39.59; "lo folys. lo lo", Ps 39.85). Furthermore, he also gives clues to the understanding of a passage ("loke wel þis wedlak", Ps 36.223; "lo widowhood", Ps 36.229; "lo chastyte", Ps 36.234; "lovirgyns ȝour rule", Ps 36.250; "lo of almes", Ps 36.334), occasionally even imitates Rolle's cautionary tone in his own voice ("be war of lustis", Ps 36.367; "lo beþ war auerous men", Ps 38.89; "lo feyners of truþe", Ps 39.43; "lo how þou myȝt deme", Ps 39.50), and labels the character of a section ("lo a lamentacioun", Ps 36.372; "lo a confort for good men", Ps 38.135). It is evident from the comments of both the V and R readers that they perceived the text as a continuous reading with a high degree of thematic and argumentative coherence. It is also noteworthy that the glosses are blind to authority, i.e. the marginal notes not only react to the additions, but also to original Rollean passages.

While Hudson's edition will most probably invite scholars to nuance what has been uncovered about Lollard ideology, I can also see a great opportunity for this publication to contribute to Fiona Somerset's ongoing research on Wycliffite spirituality. The ways in which RV1 and RV2 embrace and shape key elements of the Rollean contemplative themes (the cult of the Name of Jesus, burning love and inward heat, and the role of melody-- canor --in true devotion) illustrate most aptly how a work slanting with "Lollard ideology" accommodates a model of devotion that transgresses the Lollard/non-Lollard divide and appeals to a much larger audience. In this respect, I would place the Revisions in the context of the early 15th-century translations of Rolle's Emendatio vite, some versions of which recast the original text for polemical purposes, while they also interfere almost imperceptibly in Rolle's mysticism by attenuating certain excessive features of Rolle's mystical experience, such as affective sighs and the sonorous components of the contemplative ascent.

Psalm 35 illustrates how the Revisions develop the Rollean theme of calor and dulcor. The RV1 author slightly simplified Rolle's rhetoric; nevertheless, the unprecedented repetition of the word "burning" recreates a sense of sweet and fervent yearning love with as much intensity: "For in þis liif þurgh plenteuouste þerof Goddes loueres ben drunken, for þe wondirful swetenesse of contemplacioun brenneþ hem greetly and deliteþ hem in þe brennyng dedes of Cristis l[oue]." (395) The corresponding passage in Bramley reads: "And in this warld godis lufers ere drunkynd in the wondirful swetnes of contemplacioun, and gretly delytid in the ardaunt accesse of cristis luf." [7] Similarly to the motif of burning, the Revisions also keep Rolle's devotion to the Holy Name. Time and again they elaborate on it with much inspiration and insert references to it even where it is absent from the original: "For in him is bigynning and ending of al goodnesse, and in þi name, þat is in loouyng of þi name Iesu þat is fulfilled wiþ ioyfulnesse, we shuln see liȝt; for after þis life þurgh þi grace þe loueres of treuþe shulen see clerely face to face þe Fadir and þe Sone and þe Holy Gost in endless liif and liȝt of heuen." (395, my own italics for the additions) Also: "Ryse psautrye and harpe, þat is delite of soule þat þe louer of Crist haþ in suffryng of persecucyoun in þis life, gladyng in touching of þe ten-strenged harpe, þat is, in mynde of þe plenteuous blessynges þat folowen kepyng of þe commaundementes, wherþurgh þe louer of Crist is upreysed into preisyng of his hyȝe holy name in þe dawenynge." (572, my own italics for the additions)

The latter quote from Psalm 56 also illustrates the Revisions' controversial attitudes to music as an expression of contemplative experience. While the Revision authors find themselves at ease with burning and the worship of the Holy Name, I have not found instances of additions elaborating on music as contemplative experience in Volume 2. The added motif of the ten-corded harp (itself a textual borrowing from Psalms 32.2 and 91.4 (Vulgate) in Psalm 56 is deployed as a metaphor of the Ten Commandments, whose contemplation should enflame the heart. In several other cases, the Revision authors give different trajectories to the discussion of music. Psalm 39.4 entirely rewrites the commentary in which the "new song" is interpreted as the praise of the clean in heart. Psalm 67 (verses 5 and 33) also interprets melody as a metaphor of purity of conscience. Psalm 68.31 suppresses the theme of heavenly melody, and in Psalm 97.4 it is replaced by an exhortation to kindle burning devotion with the added imagery of the coal and fire. If we see these passages in the light of Psalm 46.7, castigating "coryous syngyng in voice of lippes to stonye deuoute mennes deuociouns and delite fooles in vanyte" (515), one can hardly resist the tempting conclusion that the Revisions suspicion of the devotional use of music affected their authors' strategy of treating Rolle's treatment of mystical melody. But it would be hasty to decide at this stage whether this is really a sign of a "Lollard aversion" to music in general or the expression of a particular devotional mentality that found Rolle's musical proclivities a bit embarrassing.

Finally, I am confident that Hudson's careful and immensely valuable edition will inspire not only scholars and projects of Wycliffite textual culture and spirituality, but also research on the transmission of Richard Rolle, and more broadly on the role that translation played in shaping mystical authority and religious mentalities in the late Middle Ages. In spite of Hudson's claim that the Revisions "retain Rolle's translation of the biblical text" [8], the edition now permits us to nuance this view and explore the divergences between Rolle's and the Revisions choices. After the publication of the third volume of Hudson's Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary and the Related Canticles (though reviewing only its second part), I have the privilege to congratulate Anne Hudson on her full-fledged project. I can only hope that it will also catalyze a modern critical edition of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary.



1. Christopher Roman, Review of Anne Hudson, Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary and the Related Canticles, Volume 1, The Medieval Review 14.04.29.

2. Thomas A. Fudge, Review of Anne Hudson, Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary and the Related Canticles, Volume 1, Parergon 30:2 (2013): 246-47.

3. Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988, 259.

4. Fiona Somerset, "Wycliffite Prose." in A Companion to Middle English Prose, ed. by A. S. G. Edwards. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2004, p. 199.

5. Hudson, Premature Reformation, 261.

6. The Psalter or Psalms of David and Certain Canticles, with a Translation and Exposition in English by Richard Rolle of Hampole, ed. by H. R. Bramley. Oxford: Clarendon, 1884. (also online at https://archive.org/details/psalterorpsalms00bramgoog).

7. Bramley, ed., The Psalter, 129.

8. Hudson, Premature Reformation, 259.

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