Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A puzzle

Miscellanea Marescalliana, v. II
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about two bound volumes of pamphlets and offprints from William Stubbs's library. Here I just wanted to share one more little bit from one pamphlet from one of those volumes.

The pamphlet here, the title page of which appears in the blurry image to the left, is by George William Marshall, and it identifies itself as volume II of his work Miscellanea Marescalliana, being Genealogical Notes on the Surname Marshall. It is a scarce book, I think it is safe to say: WorldCat/OCLC appears to turn up only ten or twelve copies in libraries, and the WorldCat descriptive entry on Vol. 1 indicates that there were only fifty copies for private distribution printed.

It was a labor of love, one imagines, a huge collection of 174 pages of documentary records (and indexes, etc) concerning the name "Marshall," gathered together in one place, printed, and handed out to a small circle of friends and family.

And, of course, it is always a treat for me to run across a truly rare or scarce item, even when (like this) it is unlikely to be of any great monetary value, except perhaps for folks named Marshall. But this particular pamphlet grew even more interesting for me when I took a close look at the small poem at the foot of the title page, as shown in my second picture.
Marshall's poem.
Obviously, this is some sort of puzzle: I see one "M", one "D", one "C", four "L"s, seventeen "V"s, and three "I"s, all picked out in red ink and capital letters. I make that out to be 1888, the date of publication. That would seem to cover the "When we go" part of the poem, but there should also, I think, be some way to read here the pamphlet's "From Where We Spring" bit: the foot of the title page, after all, is a very conventional place to put the date and place of publication for a book, and I don't see any reason to suppose that this little puzzle poem wouldn't be as good as its sense. 

The printer identifies himself on the final page of the pamphlet as "Robert White, Printer, Worksop" but so far I've not been able to work that out from the poem, or any other solution.  I'd love to hear from anyone who can solve the rest of this little bibliographic puzzle.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fugitive Leaves (another "Post-Academic" post about medievalists and manuscript leaves)

Fragment purchased in 2014, showing a passage from Psalm 50.
It was my great pleasure again this past month to purchase some manuscript fragments online and to discover, quite by surprise, that I already owned another fragment from the same medieval book. The fragments I bought most recently were offered in two separate auctions; the lone piece I had before looks to have had similar use in a similar binding. As always, I will make sure that these fragments all stay together while I own them, and if I ever sell them, I will do my best to find a buyer who will also value them more together than separately.

12 more fragments, apparently from the same twelfth-century manuscript,
purchased last month as two auction lots. These stack together to make two
full leaves, the left recording Psalm 108vv2-22, and the right running from
Psalm 58v13 to the end of Psalm 59.
But beyond the excitement of putting these fugitive fragments together once more (and keeping them together when they might so easily have been further separated), a couple of incidents in the last couple of months have prompted me to write once more about manuscript leaves. (I’ve done so before, here.) The first of these incidents, which happened at SEMA, the annual conference of the Southeastern Medieval Association, was actually a series of short conversations, where various people expressed anxiety of one sort or another about the ownership of individual manuscript leaves. “I see them framed and hanging on the wall of a friend’s house” said one acquaintance, “and I just cringe inside.”

In a conversation with another friend at SEMA, I pointed out how I had sometimes done real good for old manuscript leaves, bringing them together like the fragments I just bought, even leaves long separated but never used in bindings. This person had more or less naturally assumed that any participation in the market for such leaves must actively contribute to the breaking of books in the present day. In a third conversation, a new acquaintance asked how close I was to the “grey market” in rare books (or antiquities?)—the connection, at least as I imagined it, was that dealing with medieval manuscript leaves and fragments was perhaps linked in this person’s mind to illegal, or at least problematic, activity.

But the truth is, from my perspective, the part of the market I inhabit, where manuscript leaves frequently sell for under a hundred dollars, is not really lucrative enough to support a black (or even grey) market, I think. And I hope, in the case of each of these conversations, that I managed to convey that the market in leaves need not necessarily be the object of academic medievalists’ scorn, though it often is. That message—that it is sometimes acceptable, even right, to own, treasure, and preserve for the future even a single manuscript leaf—is a message of outreach I am likely to be called upon to make, here on this blog and in meetings in person, for the foreseeable future. It is part of what I do now.

The second thing that has prompted this post was an email from a young academic friend who had received a manuscript leaf as a gift. This person asked me if I could offer any reassurance that the person who had purchased the leaf had not contributed to the modern breaking up of its manuscript. According to this person’s description, the dealer who had sold it worked in maps and prints, but didn’t seem to have a batch of similar leaves for sale. I suggested that dealers in maps and prints must occasionally come by such leaves naturally, in the course of acquiring collectors’ collections, and that this particular purchase didn’t seem to have any obvious ethical concerns attached, as a result. (On the other hand, it is easy enough, I should note, to find online dealers who do offer—as separate items—multiple leaves that clearly come from the same book; these dealers may be a different matter).

In the course of my correspondence with this young friend, however, I drew an analogy that I found both revealing and perhaps a bit troubling: these fugitive leaves (as they have long been called) are refugees. The etymological root of both words, after all, is the same. By calling them refugees, I have no wish at all to minimize or diminish the real pain and plight of human victims of violence and displacement: they are all too real, and too difficult for me to imagine, insulated as I have been from much violence in my own fortunate life. But I do want to acknowledge that the medieval manuscript leaf (or incunabula leaf, or other early printed leaf, or, indeed, many a map or print) that is cut from its book has also suffered from a kind of violence and displacement.

The person who sees a framed leaf on a friend’s wall and cringes in response, of course, is cringing in awareness of the violence done and the resulting separation and displacement. But it seems to me to be incredibly important to note that the violence is not the fault of the leaf, and the leaf should not be blamed. Likewise, the owner who has taken the fugitive leaf in, and cherished it, and given it a place of prominence in his or her home, is not necessarily to be blamed for the violence either. Owning such a leaf does not mean one condones book-breaking, any more than taking in Syrian refugees (to name only the most prominent of too many recent examples) should be taken as supporting the perpetrators of the violence that displaced them.

For the foreseeable future, my own dealings in medieval material will likely remain focused on binding fragments, on charters and documents, and not on leaves cut from books. But I, too, will almost certainly come across cut leaves naturally, as a part of my own work of doing business. I cannot take them all in: no one possibly could. But I can harbor some of them for a time, and I can try to find homes that will take them in with as much sympathy for their fugitive status as can be. When their lonely, separated existence is neither their fault nor mine, I shall do my best to do them what little good I can by keeping them and transmitting them—as tiny pieces of our shared cultural heritage—to the next generation. Should anyone, really, be ashamed to take such a refugee in?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shelfie Thursday: A Book Bound in a Charter

1631 book bound in an older charter
I am always on the lookout for old books which have been bound in recycled or reused vellum, so it was a delight to come across this little book in the last couple of weeks. A tiny little thing, only about five inches tall, it is bound in an old charter (the first words read In Nomine D[omi]ni) probably dating from the fifteenth century.

[I should pause to say that by "charter" I mean some sort of legal document written on a loose single sheet. Here the text is practically unreadable, after the opening words, because the re-used vellum is worn, darkened, and stained. The text does respond a bit to UV light, but I've not been able to identify its place or date of origin at all, other than by script.]

The book itself is Guilelmus Spreuwen's Fasciculus Myrrhae, printed in Louvain in 1631. As a fairly undistinguished seventeenth-century book on a religious topic, the book has not been well collected: my quick search on WorldCat seemed able to trace only one institutionally-held copy, in Antwerp. For me at least, it's the binding that is far more interesting and worth collecting, though I am wise enough to know that another person might have a different view of it.
Title page

Just as interesting as the vellum binding wrap, though, were the pages of printer's waste that were used as endpapers in this binding of the book. Although Google is usually remarkably useful in identifying many old texts, I haven't found any matches for a number of the lexical collocations on these pages. Which is too bad, because even while they are fragmentary, it's clear that these pages offer some sort of historical material regarding Carolingian events, with references to Charles Martell (Martellus) of the Franks (Francorum) and the expulsion of some Saracens (Saracenis pulsis).

I should note that I have at least one additional book bound in an old charter, and I also have a binding scrap from a dated French charter of 1520, which was bound so that the plain side was on the outside. How the visual aesthetics of plain vellum or inscribed vellum were understood in this period is one of those questions that I think is fascinating to think about, especially as it must be the case that some vellum bindings use charters facing inwards, oriented in such a way that generations of owners, right up to the present, may have had no idea that the vellum is written on, on the inside. Others, like this book, have the charter writing upside down, but otherwise, right out in the open, a challenge to readers, even as the spine of this book has a title added over it in a seventeenth-century hand, in a kind of palimpsest.

And this is one more reason why these old books always fascinate me: even an old and old-fashioned religious book can end up being the opportunity for a whole variety of textual items, and practices, and ideas to be brought together.
Printed waste used as endpapers.