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  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts in the Library of Peterhouse, Cambridge by Rodney M. Thomson
  • Constant J. Mews
Thomson, Rodney M., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts in the Library of Peterhouse, Cambridge, Cambridge, Brewer, 2016; hardback; pp. xliv, 250; 130 colour illustrations; R.R.P. £95.00; ISBN 9781843844419.

The manuscript catalogues of Oxford and Cambridge colleges produced by Rodney Thomson have the same stature as those produced by Montague Rhodes James, but consistently introduce a level of analytic accuracy demanded by the passage of time. This is particularly true of this volume on the manuscripts of Peterhouse, the oldest of the Cambridge colleges, which James described in 1899, but which have now been freshly described by Thomson. The labour that goes into such a volume often passes in silence, as so many minor details will be relevant only to the rare scholar who needs to know about the content of a particular manuscript. In this case, the antiquity of Peterhouse makes its manuscript collection potentially valuable for the insights it might give into intellectual life in the early centuries of the University at Cambridge. In fact, as Thomson warns, we know little for certain about its library before its earliest library catalogue from 1418. As with most such college libraries, its collection was formed from donations by individual scholars over the centuries, sometimes long after the foundation of Peterhouse by Hugh of Balsam, bishop of Ely, in 1284. Nonetheless, enough interesting books survive for us to gain some insights into Cambridge intellectual life (often overshadowed by that of Oxford) in the earliest centuries of the university. Even when the early history of a manuscript is uncertain, there are still items that demand attention. Thomson's analysis, following in the tradition of James and R. A. B. Mynors (whose annotations on the James 1899 catalogue assisted Thomson in this task) focuses more on the historical than intellectual significance of the texts preserved in the library. Nonetheless, there are many treasures at Peterhouse worthy of note.

Occasionally the significance of the date of a particular manuscript is passed over. For example, Thomson describes MS 150, containing parts of the Conflatus of Francis of Meyronnes, in the introduction as pre-dating the College's foundation (p. xviii), but more accurately describes it as early fourteenth-century in the Catalogue itself (p. 90). It might have been helpful to add that this must be an exceptionally early MS of the work, as Meyronnes (c. 1288–1328), a French Franciscan, an independently minded follower of Scotus, only lectured on the sentences in 1320–21. He does observe, however, that, like two other MSS (109 containing Odo of Cheriton's sermons; and 178, a fourteenth-century copy of many medical texts, including some by Ricardus Anglicus), it has annotations in English as well as Latin, a revealing insight into the developing use of English within a scholastic context. Similarly, Thomson notes that MS 82 is a late thirteenth-century manuscript containing Giles of Rome on De bona fortuna and Aristotle's Rhetorica, and [End Page 261] Aquinas with the continuation by Peter of Auvergne on Aristotle's Politics. Given that Moerbeke only translated De bona fortuna (derived from Aristotle's Ethica and the Magna moralia) in 1270, and that Peter of Auvergne (d. 1304) completed the Aquinas commentary on the Politics sometime before the 1290s, the extraordinary intellectual importance of this manuscript deserves to be signalled.

There are many other treasures in this collection, whose early history is not known, including late eleventh-century copies of the Collectio canonum Lanfranci (MS 40), annotated before 1130 by Symeon of Durham, and of a glossed Boethius De arithmetica and Cicero on rhetoric (MS 248). Among later scholastic manuscripts, the reviewer observes that there are late thirteenth-or early fourteenth-century copies from England, not just of Aquinas (MSS 47, 48, 76) but also (MS 152) of Siger of Brabant and Albert the Great. For understanding the diversity of intellectual perspectives within England in a period which generated both Scotus and Ockham, this is of great importance. Only by browsing this catalogue, magnificently supplemented by over a hundred images, can the significance...


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