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  • The Bristol Merlin: Revealing the Secrets of a Medieval Fragment by Leah Tether et al.
  • Aaron Kestle
The Bristol Merlin: Revealing the Secrets of a Medieval Fragment. By Leah Tether, Laura Chuhan Campbell, Benjamin Pohl, and Michael Richardson. York, UK: Arc Humanities Press, 2021.

The Bristol Merlin: Revealing the Secrets of a Medieval Fragment offers its readers multiple conclusions, tools, and innovations. Among these, a fairly long selection from a now inextant manuscript witness of the Suite vulgate du Merlin with facing translation figures prominently. On par with or perhaps more important than the textual edition, The Bristol Merlin contains a detailed and rich accounting of the fragments, their provenance, and their importance as historical artifacts. In the course of this accounting, the project team makes use of the fragments to show their readers something of the life of a manuscript and to explore the nature of the exchange of literature and culture between England and the Continent from a relatively early date in the rise of vernacular Arthurian prose romance, the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Furthermore, it is the team's explicit ambition to create in this book a model for the collaborative and interdisciplinary study of manuscript fragments.

The Bristol Merlin is divided into two parts. The first contains four chapters: (1) "Codicology and Paleographical Analysis," (2) "Bindings," (3) "Provenance," and (4) "Redaction, Language, and Localization." The second contains a brief "Principles of Edition and Translation," an edition of the Old French text, and a facing modern English translation. Roughly half of the book serves as an exemplar of how to perform a holistic and detailed study of fragments; the other half constitutes a partial edition of a less common and fairly idiosyncratic version of the Suite du Merlin or Les Premiers faits du roi Arthur.1 The singularity of this witness is noteworthy. For starters, The Bristol Merlin contains a portion of the Suite vulgate du Merlin that is sometimes referred to as the Suite historique du Merlin (historical sequel) as opposed to the Post-Vulgate Suite romanesque (romance sequel).2 The Suite Vulgate is a continuation of The Merlin that transitions to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Moreover, the project team has determined that The Bristol Merlin is part of the α manuscript tradition as opposed to the β tradition according to the system of classification established by Alexandre Micha (1958).3 At present, the α version of the text remains unedited; however, an edition by [End Page 228] Richard Trachsler is forthcoming. The project team both acknowledges and makes frequent reference to Trachsler's project. Collaboration between Trachsler and The Bristol Merlin team appears to have been amicable and extensive as evinced by the team's use of the Trachsler edition in their "Table of Concordance." Nevertheless, The Bristol Merlin selection contains some unique elements, which the team addresses.

In the first section of the book, the team uses paleography, language, marginal annotation, and every scrap of evidence available to trace the provenance of the fragments as far as possible. The team reaches several convincing conclusions regarding both the origin of the fragments and their journey to the Bristol Central Library. They propose that the manuscript from which the fragments came was written in northern France between roughly 1250 and 1275. It likely also contained the Estoire del saint Graal, the Estoire de Merlin, and possibly other texts from the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, though this cannot be confirmed. The team also concludes that, before becoming scrap, the manuscript likely made its way into England by the early fourteenth century. Though the book may have been in a private collection, the team makes an interesting case that the manuscript could also have been kept unbound as an exemplar text in the English book trade. Subsequently, by the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, the book was scrapped and likely sold to a bookbinder in either Oxford or Cambridge for recycling. Both alternatives are pursued by the team and discussed in some detail. The fragments finally ended up as pastedowns and then flyleaves in a four-volume edition of the works of Gerson.

Though the book may have taken any of a number of possible routes from...


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