Wednesday, May 29, 2019

John Hassall's Berlyn Tapestrie [ca. 1915]

Two weeks ago, I wrote here about some surprising (to me) war work undertaken by medievalists during World War I. This week, I'm happy to show off a different item; a parodic re-telling of Kaiser Wilhelm's invasion of Flanders in the mode of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Hassall's Berlyn Tapestrie

The format of this book is an unusual one: it is a long, folded panorama, printed on one side only (at Bayeux, one can purchase as a souvenir a similar accordion-fold reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry). Printed (probably) in 1915, it made use of cheap pulp paper, and the acidity of the paper now means that my copy is very fragile and subject to chipping, splitting, and loss.

The artist, John Hassall, was one of England's best-known commercial illustrators in his day, and his works were probably most often encountered in posters, advertisements, and children's books. But the Berlyn Tapestrie shows us at the very least that Hassall was familiar with the Anglo-Saxon Bayeux Tapestry.

I do not know if it was a commonplace the time to compare Flanders to England, and the Germans to the Normans, but certainly that's at least part of the effect of this little book. The Berlyn Tapestrie was reprinted by Oxford in 2014, but--as always--I find the original publication, despite its fragility, to be far more interesting. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A small collection of Great War pamphlets

I just came back from the big Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, where I got to catch up a bit with some old friends, and to meet or re-meet some newer ones—including some I hardly recognized, to my chagrin. As always, it was great fun to show off some of the manuscripts and other items I’ve found lately, even if I was pretty sure some of the things wouldn’t (and didn't) sell. And I went to the dance, but I did not dance.

But even while I was off in Kalamazoo, I still bought a thing or two, and while I was away, a big box of WWI pamphlets and booklets was delivered. Listed as containing 110 items, I guessed I’d find something of interest in such a big batch of booklets, and the price was right, I thought.

Around 100 WWI pamphlets
How surprising, however, to find the work of medievalists—and familiar names at that—cropping up over and over in the collection. 

Much of what is in the collection might come under the broadest heading of “propaganda”: arguments in support of entering or continuing the war, pro- and anti-German pamphlets, accusations of enslavement and other atrocities. Most of the items, it turns out, are not especially rare as individual pieces, but there are a couple scarcer items present, too. But the whole collection together gains something by its sheer mass.

Pamphlets by Lloyd George,
Parker, Noyes, and Hope.
It is interesting, for example, to see the literary names who published in this genre: besides familiar political figures like David Lloyd George, there are pamphlets by the English poet Alfred Noyes and the novelist Anthony Hope, best remembered today for The Prisoner of Zenda. The Canadian novelist Gilbert Parker is, perhaps, somewhat less well remembered today, but he was prolific as a propagandist. 

More surprising to me were the contributions of two medieval scholars. Two items in the collection were written by Joseph Bedier, best known for his scholarly critical editions of Old French romances. Seeing these works about German atrocities in WWI were very much a surprise to me. Equally surprising was the little pamphlet “Why America Fights Germany” by the well-known Stanford Chaucerian, J. S. P. Tatlock, published as part of the American “War Information Series” issued by the Committee on Public Information, a governmental committee created by an Executive Order from Woodrow Wilson.  

2 by Joseph Bedier and one by J S P Tatlock.

Today, of course, I can describe Bedier and Tatlock as medievalists: at the time, however, it may well have been more accurate to describe them as prominent literary men in the scholarly mode: like Noyes, Parker, and Hope, their reputations were of use in the propaganda business. The academy was, perhaps, less isolated from public affairs at that time, and medieval studies was the most prominent and important area in the literary academy. I am not sure I really regret the loss of that prominence, though it may be useful to remember that it was only a hundred years ago when most of the world's key literary academics studied the middle ages.

Most surprising of all to me in this batch of booklets was the name of Charles Homer Haskins. Haskins was a prominent Harvard historian, and his name lives on now in the Haskins Society, which puts on an annual conference, where I once presented a scholarly paper of my own. A handful of the pamphlets in this collection bear a stamp reading “Harvard College Library Gift of Charles Homer Haskins.” 

4 pamphlets donated to Harvard by Haskins.

Indeed, it seems likely that the whole collection was once deaccessioned by Harvard; many are noted in pencil as duplicates, and most have a notation like “dHC” which seems to mean “duplicate; Harvard College.” Throughout, there are often indicators of who donated these items to Harvard, including at least one apparently donated by Abbot Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president, the brother of poet Amy Lowell. 

Anyway, Charles Homer Haskins was, besides being a historian who wrote about the middle ages, a more prominent figure in the aftermath of the war. According to the Wikipedia entry on Haskins, he had met Woodrow Wilson at Johns Hopkins, and then served as one of three advisors to the president at the Paris Peace Conference where the Treaty of Versailles was drafted. Although they first caught my eye because I knew Haskins’s name as a medievalist, to have these books of “War Information” that were once owned by one of the few advisors Wilson brought with him to Paris makes this collection seems especially interesting: linked directly to Haskins and thence to Wilson and Versailles.

I sometimes dream of becoming a “public medievalist,” but I would be daunted to advise a president on something so momentous as the peace to follow a world war. I think my ambition is more modest: most often, I hope to find items like this collection that teach me something, and I hope to share what I learn and find such items a home.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Pre-Kalamazoo Work Frenzy

Things here at the Chancery Hill homestead look a bit like they've been stirred with a stick, as an old family saying has it (an alternative is to say the whole place "looks like a Hoo-ra's nest," although what sort of mythical beast a Hoo-ra might be has never been clear. But their nests are always a mess).
Large vellum binding fragment, about 13" tall. 

Anyway, I've been trying to gear up for the annual Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, where I am giving a paper and also setting up a booth to try to sell--or at least show off--some of the weird and wonderful things I've managed to acquire over the past year or so.

This has meant digging through the things I've bought, writing descriptions, and putting prices on them.

Every year, I fear I won't be able to replace the material I sell with equally interesting stuff. And it's certainly true that each year, I bring very different kinds of things: apparently, I don't so much have a typical range of stock as I have a penchant for moving into new areas.

But I always have room in my stock for interesting examples of medieval manuscript fragments that have been recycled in old bindings.

The example I'm showing in today's blog post is a large and handsome one, probably from France and probably from around the year 1400 or so. The shape of the folds and cuts make it certain this leaf was used in a later binding. The exceptionally large margins are notable, as is the folio number at the top (dxxvi) suggesting that this once came from a truly massive book.

Originally, the alternating initials here were in gold and blue, though much of the gold has now been lost: but it was an impressive book, too, in its use of gold. 

It appears to have been recycled as the wrapper for a document or book in 1612; that date appears in the lower margin of the verso, inverted--meaning the visible text on this fragment was upside down in relation to the newly-made book it was used upon.

All of this is only part of what makes this fragment interesting, though. As this second image shows, this leaf is accompanied by a thin plywood panel cut to match the shape of the leaf quite precisely. Indeed, pinholes (or something of the sort) pierce both leaf and panel at the corners, so it's clear this wood panel was made so the leaf could be hung upon the wall. While many another leaf, including binding fragments, has been framed behind glass, this one was not given quite such a formal presentation.

Remarkably the side edges of the plywood board have been painted white. Even more amazingly, traces of white paint can be seen on the edges of the leaf, for all the world not looking like later, dry offsetting, but looking rather as if the paint was applied while the leaf was on the board. 

And this is the marvelous conundrum of binding fragments: in 1612, when this leaf was recycled, and in the 20th century, when attached to this board, the original leaf was both seen as useful and valuable and as (comparatively) worthless and unimportant. Too good to throw away, but certainly not worth taking good care of.

I find the ways this contradictory impulse gets expressed in different centuries to be fascinating, and of course it remains in effect in some areas in our own time. 

Anyway, for those of your who are coming to Kalamazoo, please drop by and visit me in the Exhibits Hall. I would love to show off some of my interesting and oddball items to you, and if you have no intention of purchasing anything, that's no problem at all: anything that doesn't sell, I get to hold on to for a while. 

The verso of the leaf and the back of the board showing
the hanger and the white paint.