If it is true that books have their fates, Abbot Wibald's (1098-1158) letter book provides a fine example of that aphorism. Compiled during Wibald's lifetime and under his direction soon after he became abbot of Corvey in 1146, what the editor describes as the autograph (xx) lay neglected until the sixteenth century when Stablo monks copied it and consulted its rich archival contents for their own purposes. In the late eighteenth century the Stablo community sent Wibald's book to Germany for safe-keeping before advancing French forces. There it remained in Aachen and Düsseldorf until 1946 when it came to its permanent home in the state archives in Liège. Its editorial history has been no less interesting. The letters have been edited twice before, first by those voyaging Benedictines, Edmond Martène and Ursin Durand, in 1724 and then by Philipp Jaffé in 1864. In 1929 the Monumenta Germaniae Historica commissioned a new edition under the direction of Heinz Zatschek (1901-1965), but other opportunities and the war years stalled the project and Zatschek's transcriptions and notes lay forgotten in the MGH archives in Munich. Zatschek's great insight was to recognize that the letter book was not compiled after Wibald's death, as earlier editors had thought, but during Wibald's own times. Zatschek's materials were eventually unearthed and under the leadership of Timothy Reuter (1947-2002) the project was formally approved again by the MGH in 1975. Reuter brought the edition into the computer age and contributed fundamental studies of the Liège manuscript's scribes, of Wibald's methods, and of letter collections in general before his death again interrupted the project.
Martina Hartmann generously credits the valuable work of both her predecessors on the title page of her edition and throughout its 145-page introduction. Hartmann not only brought the 83-year odyssey of the MGH edition to a very successful conclusion, she also fundamentally changed how we should consider Wibald's letter collection. Both previous editions, especially that of Martène and Durand, made important contributions when they tried to identify persons whose names were recorded only by their initial letters and when they offered conjectured readings of troublesome passages. Martène and Durand especially mined the letters to reconstruct Wibald's complex and far-flung career. Both editions also sought to establish the proper chronological order of the letters, a daunting task since so few of the 451 surviving letters record their specific dates of composition. Internal clues encouraged the Benedictines and Jaffé to attempt chronologically organized editions, attempts that ended up with different chronologies. The actual first letter in Wibald's collection (the first quire of the manuscript has been missing for centuries, so the actual first letter in the present collection was not originally the first in Wibald's collection), an acephalic letter from Abbot Reinhard of Reinhausen to Wibald congratulating him on his appointment as abbot of Corvey, was printed as letter 12 in the Martène-Durand edition and as letter 28 in Jaffé's edition. Beside confused chronologies, Martina Hartmann maintains that there is a more basic issue at play. Modern editorial concerns for chronology are anachronistic and betray Wibald's own organizational scheme for his letter collection. This is a point that Constance Brittain Bouchard well makes in her important Rewriting Saints and Ancestors: Memory and Forgetting in France, 500-1200 (2015) apropos of monastic cartularies. Monks organized their document books in ways that made sense to them and chronology often was not determinant. In restoring Wibald's arrangement of the letters in his collection, Hartmann restored the letter book's "archival character" (xxv). Hartmann offers her edition as a model of how other twelfth-century letter collections should be edited, that is, in a manner that respects the intentions of original compilers.
The arrangement of the letters in Wibald's collection is broadly chronological by year, it would seem, but not by month. The Liège's codex's small format (c.13.5/14.2 x 21/22 cm) and the modest quality of its parchment suggests that it was meant for travel and consultation, not for memorialization. The book was Wibald's thumb drive, at the ready to consult on a wide range of matters and a wide circle of individuals among whom Wibald moved. And Wibald did move about quite a bit, from his native Belgium to France, Germany, Italy, and Byzantium. It was on his second trip to Byzantium that he died in Macedonia. In 1150 alone, a representative year, he travelled to fifteen different places (xvii). Wibald wrote 149 of the letters in the collection, while 146 were written to him. Often and helpfully a letter and its answer were paired in the collection. Some 136 letters of other correspondents, popes, emperors, kings, and lesser dignitaries among them, also appear in the collection. Hartmann reasonably conjectures that Wibald was the author of letters sent under the names of distinguished others. Many of the letters also preserve royal and papal decrees. Wibald's own letters have to do with monastic politics in Corvey, such as his election and property issues. As an amanuensis for popes, kings, and emperors Wibald was intimately involved in the complex politics of his day. It is a testament to his standing that Pope Eugenius III (1145-1153) authorized Wibald to speak for him and that he represented German monarchs twice in Byzantium. His favorite biblical passage (1 Cor.15,10) occurs 108 times in his letters: "by the grace of God, I am what I am" (993). What Wibald was was a monastic school master of wide reading and acute learning who appears never to have abandoned the love of learning while flying high in rarefied circles. In the midst of a period of intense political activity Wibald carved out two nights to answer a letter from Magister Manegold of Paderborn. His reply to the cathedral teacher, at sixteen pages the longest in the edition (290-306), discussed the arts, wisdom, and the mutuality of secular and religious learning. His letter and the edition's index of citations (994-997) document the abbot's comfortable familiarity with Roman writers (Cicero, Horace, Frontinus, Ovid, Sallust, Seneca, Valerius Maximus, Virgil, for example), early Christian authors (Augustine, Gregory the Great, Jerome, Lactantius, Orosius, among them), papal decretals, and Roman law (including Gratian). Among medieval writers he especially admired Bede, Ambrosius Autpertus, Haimo of Auxerre, Hrabanus Maurus, and John Scottus (Eriugena) (293, 10-11). What truly surprises in this vicarious perusal of Wibald's book cupboards that his letters afford is the appearance of up-to-date modern titles among his books. Wibald read contemporaries such as Anselm of Laon, William of Champeaux, Alberic of Bourges, Hugh of Saint-Victor, William of Conches, Peter Lombard, Honorius of Autun, and Bernard of Clairvaux. Hartmann detected in Wibald's reading a real taste for the dialectic of early scholasticism over the more contemplative tendencies of his first teachers, Rupert of Deutz and Reinhard of Reinhausen.