- A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts of the Queen's College, Oxford by Peter Kidd
Peter Kidd's catalogue is the first in a new special series of manuscript catalogues produced under the auspices of the Oxford Bibliographical Society. It covers fifty-nine volumes (two housed in the College Archives) and three collections of fragments dating from the tenth to the sixteenth century, the majority of them English, a significant number French, with Italian, Netherlandish, German, and Scottish material also represented. Each one is thoughtfully illustrated by a black- and-white image embedded within the text and in a separate section of colour plates. Its meticulous scholarship and generous production values set the bar for further catalogues in the series very high indeed.
The Introduction is a highly informative historical survey of the development of the collection from the earliest record of a library there (1378) through significant medieval and later bequests. It describes the detailed but unpublished mid-seventeenth-century catalogue of the Provost of Queen's Gerald Langbaine (1609–58), the first to impose some order on the collection; and the published mid-nineteenth-century catalogue of Henry Octavius Coxe (1811–81), 'the greatest cataloguer of Oxford's manuscripts' (p. 33), whose number sequence for the collection still pertains. Kidd also discusses bindings (including 'Henry VIII' bindings on seven manuscripts) and the chaining of some of the books, noting that fewer than twenty of the manuscripts currently at Queen's have chain-staple marks. A description of the Form of Entry helpfully restates the convention for noting estimations of date in the form s. xiiiin, while reserving the use of arabic numerals for manuscripts which are more precisely dated or datable (c. 1305), a distinction increasingly ignored but surely worth preserving.
All catalogues are situated on a spectrum from summary to descriptive, and this is very definitely a descriptive work where the information provided under each of the essential, long-established headings is detailed and at times fulsome. But whatever the level of detail, the overriding obligations in any catalogue must be accuracy and clarity, and this catalogue fulfils those obligations admirably. For accuracy, it is necessary only to cite the entry for MS 305, a densely illustrated southern French legendary of the third quarter of the fifteenth century, previously described by Coxe and then by Paul Meyer in the early twentieth century. Kidd uses the emergence of a related manuscript, formerly in private hands but now Add. MS 41179 in the British Library, to identify each of the 124 saints' lives correctly, and can therefore describe the related iconography in 115 painted scenes accurately, for the first time. [End Page 77] Similarly, the work of identifying the texts of well over a hundred fragments in two guard-books, and reconnecting them accordingly (MS 389 and MS 389B) is exemplary. As for clarity, the practice adopted of numbering each item under Textual Contents, with sequential numbering of the discrete elements under Proven-ance, is extremely welcome. Equally, the use of Roman numerals to distinguish self-contained codicological units or booklets goes some way to answering recent concerns that formalized manuscript descriptions labour under an alien conception of unified book production modelled on the printed book (Ralph Hanna, 'Manuscript Catalogues and Book History', The Library, Vii, 18 (2017), 45–61).
However, there are moments when the balance between admirable detail and its necessary counterpart—concision—is lost. Is it really necessary to list the folio numbers after every element of an unproblematic collation? Similarly, while completeness of coverage is important, so is economy, and it is perhaps to be regretted that rather than having a consolidated Bibliography allied to a system of abbreviated references (whether short-title or author-date) within entries, each entry is encumbered with full references, sometimes repeated, in very full form, again and again...