- Medieval Manuscripts, Their Makers and Users: A Special Issue of ‘Viator’ in Honor of Richard and Mary Rouse
The word ‘auto-defenestration’ – itself a bastard Greek–Latin neologism, but one as intriguing as ‘metempsychosis’ used to be – begins this fascinating book. For Richard and Mary Rouse ‘rien de ce qui touche aux manuscrits n’est étranger’ (Dolbeau, p. 114), and all students of manuscripts remain indebted in particular to their seminal work: Richard H. Rouse and Mary A. Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers: Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris, 1200–1500 (2 vols, Brepols, 1999). The variety of matters that arise out of the study of manuscripts, or even of a specific manuscript, is enormous, and this is reflected in this collection of essays from a conference in their honour held at UCLA. Many of us use manuscripts from a particular period but, for the Rouses, all manuscripts are grist to their mill. So this celebratory volume brings together papers concerning many different periods and a considerable variety of interests. Topics range from early (North) African manuscripts to annotations (vastly amusing and intriguing in Susan L’Engle’s article) to manuscript book collections.
Manuscripts are treasures. Unfortunately, in this capitalist age, these treasures are generally measured in dollars: tens of thousands even for a single leaf. Fortunately, images of more and more of these manuscripts can be viewed via the Web, though it has to be admitted that looking at the artefact can be a very different experience from looking at images on the Web.
The real value of manuscripts, or even just their texts, lies in what they tell us about our past, and how we can face the future. Peter Kidd’s article is salutary in guiding us on how to deal with dismembered manuscripts – manuscripts that have literally been torn apart and whose pieces now reside in alien hands: ‘If a dealer can sell items without going to the trouble and expense of including them in a catalog, he will generally do so’ (p. 284). Yet Kidd remains hopeful of finding everything from the particular manuscript he has studied. Sometimes that happens, as in the case of The Hours of Catherine of Cleves (eds Rob Drückers and Ruud Priem, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, 2009) which was rescued from two, should one say, rebound volumes.
The breadth of this collection – a challenge to any reviewer – means that most readers will only digest selected articles. Nevertheless, many insights emerge: the importance of travel by water and the machinations of patrons and authors, not to mention scribes and illuminators, are just some of the outcomes of studying manuscripts. As an extreme example, an ‘awkward [End Page 232] k may be imitated from printer’s type’ (Doyle, p. 201) reverses the usual understanding of print as imitating script rather than the reverse.
The names of certain special people inevitably recur: the Rouses, of course, and M. R. James and N. Ker to mention but two. On the other hand the articles are of very different qualities. Anne Hudson has convoluted prose but no significant new conclusions; Doyle’s article is not very illuminating. Yet Ralph Hanna’s piece on Dan Michel’s library, Patricia Stirnemann’s on the seemingly inexhaustible treasures of Richard de Fournival’s collections, and François Dolbeau’s work on a Dominican library catalogue alert us to the importance of past collections in understanding the spirit of those times, while Margaret Lamont’s article shows how genealogies, especially ancient genealogies, serve multiple purposes, some political. Civic foundations are based on lots of myths. Correspondingly there are many manuscripts about such events and Carrie E. Beneš shows how even this prolixity can be illuminating.
It is a great pity that Christopher Baswell, who convened the conference from which these papers come, was ill and therefore unable to edit the volume. This explains various infelicities such as the tortuous...