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  • The Working Practices of Magnús Ketilsson:An Icelandic Scribe at the End of the Seventeenth Century1
  • Sheryl McDonald Werronen

Magnús Jónsson í Vigur (1637–1702) has long been recognized as an important figure in the history of manuscript production in post-Reformation Iceland (e.g., Jón Helgason 1955; Jóhann Gunnar Ólafsson 1956; Springborg 1977; Þórunn Sigurðardóttir 2017; Lansing 2017). As far as we know, forty-three manuscripts survive that are in some way connected to him, and many of them are large and splendid saga volumes. This diverse collection could be seen as a cross-section of most of the literature available in Iceland at the time—ancient and contemporary literature in both poetry and prose. Indeed, Jón Helgason (1955, 15) said this of the poetry contained in just one of Magnús Jónsson's many manuscripts, AM 148 8vo (also known as Kvæðabók úr Vigur), but it could also be said of Magnús's collection of prose.

Magnús í Vigur was working within an existing context of contemporary manuscript production exemplified by, among others, his own father Jón Arason (1606–1673), minister at Vatnsfjörður. The Westfjords in general, and Vatnsfjörður and Vigur in particular, have been identified along with Skálholt and Hólar bishoprics and the vicarage of Útskálar [End Page 39] in the Reykjanes peninsula as the most important centers of manuscript production in seventeenth-century Iceland (Springborg 1977). In the latter half of the seventeenth century, building upon established practices of handwritten book production and also drawing on the new medium of print,2 Magnús commissioned books that set a new standard for luxury manuscripts, which also tended to preserve good textual copies. Several boast colorful title pages specifically naming Magnús as patron, while his patronage of others is determined through scribal notes within the manuscripts. In addition to the commissions,3 which have formed the core of my current research, manuscripts copied by Magnús himself, as well as manuscripts that are known to have been in his possession based on internal evidence, are generally included in the list of books belonging to his collection (Jón Helgason 1955, 8–12; Jóhann Gunnar Ólafsson 1956, 122–5).

Magnús's manuscripts can unfortunately no longer be consulted as a single library. While the majority remain in Iceland, housed in the National and University Library and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík (with a single manuscript also in the Skagafjörður District Archive in Sauðárkrókur), a handful are in the British Library in London, a couple of others in the Arnamagnæan Institute and the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen, and one is in Sweden's Royal Library in Stockholm. These books found their way out of the Westfjords and to their current locations by various means, but one brief example can be seen in those in the British Library. At eight volumes, this constitutes the largest group of Magnús í Vigur's manuscripts now outside Iceland, and three of them will be discussed as case studies in this article. After Magnús's death, some of his manuscripts passed via his daughter Þorbjörg (1667–1737) to her husband Páll Vídalín (1667–1727), who appears to have shared a limited number of these with his colleague Árni Magnússon (1663–1730). Others remained in the family a little longer, until they were acquired from the estate [End Page 40] of Bjarni Halldórsson (c. 1703–1773)—the husband of Hólmfríður Pálsdóttir (1697–1736), Magnús í Vigur's granddaughter—for the English naturalist Joseph Banks (1743–1820). At the time of Bjarni's death, Banks had just visited Iceland, seeking out printed books and manuscripts as well as scientific specimens (Halldór Hermannsson 1928, 15–7). Seven of Magnús's manuscripts, now in the British Library, can be traced through Banks (Jón Þórkelsson 1892, 200–4).4

Despite the importance of Magnús's collection in the context of early modern manuscript production and the transmission history of...


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