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22.06.06 Kuczynski, A Glossed Wycliffite Psalter

22.06.06 Kuczynski, A Glossed Wycliffite Psalter

The Psalter (including the Psalms and related biblical canticles) was of central importance to both worship and scholarship in the Middle Ages. The Psalms had pride of place in medieval liturgical practice and were habitually drawn upon by preachers; they also formed the central focus of medieval exegesis. The process of glossing or commenting on the Psalms allowed a confluence of scholarship both contemporary and ancient, thereby permitting the fullest possible understanding of God’s word and its import. Michael P. Kuczynski’s edition of A Glossed Wycliffite Psalter makes available for the first time the early fifteenth-century commentary on the Psalms that survives in MS Bodley 554. Although there are some other witnesses to this commentary amongst manuscripts of the later version of the Wycliffite Bible, the version preserved in MS Bodley 554 is the most extensive.

This edition is a most welcome addition to scholarship on later medieval religious culture in England. Its editor humbly suggests that it “could be used conveniently as a supplement” (vi) to the monumental edition of the Wycliffite Bible prepared by Josiah Forshall and Frederic Madden, two of the giants of Victorian editing, and whilst this is certainly true (Forshall and Madden only partially included marginal glosses in their 1850 edition), this also understates the importance and significance of Kuczynski’s own work. The present edition fills a lacuna in scholarship on the Wycliffite movement, and on the Wycliffite Bible translation project in particular, whilst also speaking to considerable current interest in the Psalms and their importance to medieval literature. More broadly, Kuczynski’s edition provides insight into traditions of medieval commentary and glossing that are not so easily grasped, and in its direct representation of those levels of exegesis it reminds modern readers of medieval texts of some of the complexities of medieval books.

The edition is published in two equally sized volumes. Volume I comprises an introduction, bibliography, and the edited texts of Psalms 1 to 119 with their attendant glosses; full critical apparatus is provided for both texts and glosses. The remainder of the Psalms (120 to 150) and the Canticles (1 to 11) are offered in Volume II, again furnished with full critical apparatus; Volume II also contains a very detailed listing of Latin Sources and Explanatory Notes to the glosses, a Glossary, an Appendix of Hebrew Words, and multiple Indexes covering Scriptural References and Allusions, Proper Names, and Key Subjects. As is standard for volumes published in the Early English Text Society series the introduction is extensive, offering an overview of the glosses and their purpose; a detailed description of the edition’s base manuscript (collation, binding, contents, script, decoration, dialect, provenance); a consideration of the other manuscripts that contain the same glosses; a study of the context of MS Bodley 554 including its assemblers and users; and a statement of editorial method.

Editions in the Early English Text Society series are always prepared to a high standard, and this is no exception, but what makes Kuczynski’s edition stand out is its sheer complexity. A glance at any double-page spread in the Text section will make this instantly apparent, and anyone who has any knowledge at all of editing medieval texts will quickly feel a sense of awe at Kuczynski’s dexterous execution of the very intricate process of representing the medieval text on the modern page. Those familiar with the particular difficulties of dealing with Middle English prose will be even more deeply impressed with the mastery of materials in evidence here. Unlike medieval verse, prose texts lack the discipline of fixed lineation, which makes editing any prose text a considerable challenge. (This is one reason why medieval verse texts have been edited more frequently than their prose counterparts.) In the Glossed Wycliffite Psalter this problem of the lack of fixed lineation is multiplied, since as well as the prose lines of the Psalms themselves there is the prose of the gloss which must be set alongside the Psalm to which it relates. All of the Psalms are glossed, and the glosses are of variable length, sometimes short and at other times very substantial; there are 1363 glosses in total. This was a challenge to the medieval compiler who had to arrange a copious commentary within a small and often cramped textual space, since MS Bodley 554 is a small-format book. This is also a challenge to the modern editor: somehow the relationship between these two prose narratives of text and gloss must be preserved and represented on the modern page where not one but two sets of bas-de-page apparatus must be displayed as well. The typesetters at Oxford University Press deserve some credit for achieving this complex layout, but in all current publishing a high degree of effort is devolved to the author who certainly bears the responsibility for accuracy. An edition such as this will have necessitated many rounds of laborious checking, and that task has been well done; although it is almost impossible not to make mistakes in this kind of work, this reviewer has not been able to spot any.

Although the final typeset layout is achieved by the press, only the editor’s academic expertise and ingenuity can do the heavy lifting involved in interpreting and replicating the sophisticated critical apparatus devised by the medieval glossators. Kuczynski’s detailed observation of scribal marks and his explanation of how scribal punctuation was used in relation to text and meaning takes the usual palaeographical description of such features to a new level. At the same time there is a richly penetrative explication of the wider context of such glossing and its contents. Kuczynski discusses the paradoxical position of the Wycliffites, suspicious of scriptural glossing and above all of “false gloseris” (xlvix), yet reliant on Latin exegesis and sharply conscious of the need for critical study of the divine text. He is able to demonstrate that the vast majority (more than 80%) of glosses rely on the Psalms portion of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla super totam Bibliam and that most of the remaining 20% derive from Augustine’s Ennarrationes in Psalmos. Detailed information about sources is presented in Volume II, with only very few sources unattributed; these notes are full of interest and will be useful to anyone whose research leads them into an encounter with psalms.

Kuczynski’s edition of A Glossed Wycliffite Psalter cannot be faulted for accuracy, clarity, scope, and sheer erudition. This is scholarship at the highest level, which distils the benefits of Kuczynski’s work in the field of later medieval religious culture over several decades; the value of this edition will be enduring.