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21.03.09 Atkin/Rajsic (eds.), Manuscript and Print in Late Medieval and Early Modern Britain

The Medieval Review

21.03.09 Atkin/Rajsic (eds.), Manuscript and Print in Late Medieval and Early Modern Britain


Festschriften allow the contributors to offer scholarship driven by personal interests and affections. These thirteen essays honor Julia Boffey, known for her distinguished studies of medieval books and for her generosity to fellow scholarly travelers. There is also an introduction by the editors, an afterword by Derek Pearsall, a twelve-page bibliography of Boffey's work compiled by A. S. G. Edwards, and a most welcome index. This review will offer brief observations on each essay in this fine tribute.

The star of the collection appears first: R. F. Yeager's reassessment of John Gower's "Epistle to Archbishop Thomas Arundel" that prefaces Oxford, All Soul's College 98. Revisions to the letter, along with evidence that the manuscript contents shifted over time, indicate that Gower himself felt threatened by Arundel's Constitutions and his De heretico comburendo. The telling words "sub cinere" ("under ashes"), substituting for "sub modio" ("under a basket") found in Matthew 5.15, may evoke the Smithfield burnings, and Yeager demonstrates how the letter responds to the "first" (pro-Richard) and "second" (anti-Lollard) Arundel, each phase corresponding to his non-consecutive terms as Archbishop.

Martin Camargo studies the annotations of John Maunshull in a fifteenth-century copy of the Tria Sunt, a rhetorical manual often copied with the better known Poetria Nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf. The manuscript in question, Oxford, Bodleian Laud misc. 107, is for teachers, not students, to inculcate morals and to expose the arts of amplification, contraction, ornamentation, and conclusion. Camargo offers a glimpse into the mind and method of a "priest fellow" (39) at Oxford and at Eton.

Confraternities of the Holy Blood gave rise to numerous public and private performances, and Pamela King concentrates on a banner--the Fetternear banner, National Museum of Scotland--that figured in such rites. One corner bears the episcopal arms of Gavin Douglas, the early sixteenth-century translator of the Eneados (the reproduced image is too small to make out the arms). King connects the banner to Douglas's poetry by noting the authorial anxiety evinced in both the Eneados and the Palice of Honour when secular poetry distracts from more serious, "presumably theological" (64), work. The connection is strained.

Priscilla Bawcutt also features Gavin Douglas and his Eneados in the next essay, an essay that might appear before King's since it gives some welcome background on the author and the work. Bawcutt concentrates on the 1553 edition of the Eneadospublished by William Copland, a Protestant sympathizer who omitted references to the Virgin Mary and Purgatory in the prologues. This printing (in London) did much to make the work more widely known. There is much to admire and learn from Bawcutt's codicological detective work on the thirty-seven extant copies of the printing, their owners, and annotators, Francis Junius among them.

Matthew Payne queries what the most famous English printer, William Caxton, was doing at Westminster besides printing books. The archives at the Exchequer of Receipt document numerous small payments to Caxton, notably from 1489 to 1490, during Henry VII's campaign to hold Brittany against the French. Payne suggests that at least some of the payments were not for printing or book purchases but for services rendered to Exchequer officials during that campaign.

Margaret Connolly shows how four Tudor books of hours associated with London were personalized over time by additions, deletions, and other forms of customization. They thus become more than props used for devotional purposes and exhibit evidence of varied reading practices. Detective work on the material artefact, with its annotations, page trimmings, rebindings, and even chemical treatments to expose writing (but with precisely the opposite effect) shows how manuscript context and contents are fluid as these books move from owner to owner and place to place.

Antiquarians (good) and chroniclers (bad) face off in Joel Grossman's study of London, British Library, Harley 367. The manuscript is associated with the historian John Stow, and Grossman shows how its diverse contents "construct an ideal version of antiquarianism" (124), a calling infused with civic duty. Whereas chroniclers like Richard Grafton respond to the profit motive and "repackage" (130) events, citizen-antiquarians discover, interpret, and serve. Harley 367, like Stow's Survey of London, itself becomes a kind of civic monument.

Corinne Saunders draws upon two Wellcome Trust funded projects to attempt new insights into Margery Kempe's Book. As she notes, "neurological and psychopathological readings [of the Book] remain limited," but unfortunately the essay offers little in the way of health-humanities inspired practice or new knowledge. Comparisons to Rolle, Hilton, Julian, Bridget of Sweden, and Mary of Oignies are all apposite. All claim to hear the voice of God, and Kempe engages in a dialogue with divinity. How these medieval phenomena parallel the experiences of present-day voice-hearers who presumably could be examined in a clinical setting is not made clear.

The ghosts of Thebes haunt Robert R. Edwards's essay. Reading "backwards" (168), Edwards demonstrates how Thebes inspires "Exemplarity and invention" (167) from Shakespeare and Fletcher's Two Noble Kinsmen to Chaucer's work, especially Anelida and Arcite and the Knight's Tale. The Thebaid, for Chaucer, "has a hermeneutic rather than a narrative function" (169) as cities--Athens, Troy, Rome (and London, one would assume)--variously succeed and fail at containing Theban violence. The providence of the Knight's Tale becomes the expedience of the Two Noble Kinsmen. The essay is an incisive reading of how the Theban seeds (re)sown by Chaucer grow--and then wither--in the blighted sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century.

In a learned and suggestive essay, Alfred Hiatt examines maps included in medieval manuscripts of Sallust's Bellum Iugurthinum to trace the complex late-classical and early-medieval reception history of Dido in Servius, the Roman d'Eneas, Petrarch, and other works and authors. Inscriptions on some maps indicate that "the story of Dido was originally separable from Virgil's hero" (185). Dido, whose home is always Phoenicia, is "in, but not of, Africa" (190) and maps of her exile describe Africa and overlay the travels of early Christian disciples. The maps become maps of migration as much as maps of places.

Susanna Fein studies the Middle English Pistel of Swete Susan to demonstrate how Trinitarian piety sanctifies marriage. Susan (from the apocryphal Daniel 13) conventionally figures as the Church, as Eve, and as an exemplar of Chastity. The Triune God triumphs over the duplicitous suitors, and Fein reminds us that in exegetical tradition there really was a man consorting with Susan in the garden: Christ.

Something as well-known as the Vernicle still repays study. Barry Windeatt traces the mouvance of the Vernicle, from its earliest mentions in accounts of the destruction of the Temple in 70CE to its associations with Veronica, its role in histories and legends (by Gerald of Wales, Gervase of Tilbury, Matthew Paris, in Gospel Harmony accounts, cycle plays, et al.), and its status as a relic. The most interesting parts of the essay (with images) examine the representation of Christ's face, sometimes black, and sometimes shining white. Windeatt ends with a fascinating account of how the Lollard Walter Brut invoked the Vernicle to argue for the ordination of women.

Laura Ashe concludes the collection with a tour de force across sixteenth-century drama, poetry, and history. Her touchstone is Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey's "curelesse wound that bledeth day and night" (from "The stormes are past"). By heredity (blood) and by superior artistic competence Surrey intimates that he should be King. Exchanges between Surrey and Thomas More explore the "nexus of associations between poetry and politics" (244) as they and others (e.g. Anne Askew) navigate the terrors of the Tudor court. The longed-for conditions of "constancy and stability" (253) reside only in the privileged modes of oratory and poetry.