Neglected Old English in Trinity College Dublin

Among European countries, Ireland and England hold the accolade of having explored the possibilities of writing in their vernacular languages earliest and most extensively. Over three million words of Old English, the major language of England from around 500 to around 1100, survive, largely in manuscripts now in English libraries. But Trinity has one medieval manuscript containing Old English, TCD MS 174, a codex in Latin but which appears to pronounce its origins in the vernacular.

TCD MS 174, folio ir: ‘of searbyrig ic eom’: “from Salisbury I am”.

It also has a number of copies made by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century antiquarians of Old English texts, most famously William Lambard’s 1563 transcript of a now-all-but-conflagrated copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

TCD MS 631, folio 11r: King Alfred’s accession in annal 871 is marked with a three-line-high capital, presumably copied by Lambard from the manuscript he was transcribing.

While three million words may sound like a lot, it is still insufficient to answer some major questions about the Old English language and its literature, and the discovery of new texts in the language, even if only a few words in length, is a cause of interest. It was therefore with some excitement that examining a twelfth-century Trinity manuscript in October last year with Immo Warntjes, Ussher Assistant Professor in Early Medieval Irish History, I spotted some annotations in the margins of several leaves that appeared to be in English.

TCD MS 492, fol. 4r: the beginning of the first book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with English annotations in the outer margin.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r: the beginning of the first book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with English annotations in the outer margin.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘hronas’, “whales”.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘hronas’, “whales”.

Further research revealed that if not entirely unknown, these annotations – seven in all – were seriously neglected. This prompted a full investigation, the results of which have just been published in the German journal, Anglia: Zeitschrift fur Englische Philologie.

The first challenge was to decipher the annotations. Transcribing Old English is not difficult, whatever master’s palaeography students may tell you. However, these annotations presented several idiosyncratic challenges: first, the vast majority of them were written in the outer margin of the leaves, perpendicular to the text block, a position where readers’ fingers are liable to have rubbed any writing; second, the script was extremely small, almost wilfully inconspicuous. Thus one of the annotations in the margin of fol. 4r had formerly been transcribed as ‘seolas scaelie’, just about recognisable as Old English, but not intelligible as such because no word ‘scaelie’ exists; in good light and with patience, I was able to recognise the word intended as ‘weolocscælle’.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘<w>eolocscælle’, “whelks”.

The next challenge was to explain what the annotator was up to. Fortunately, I was well positioned for this task, having written my PhD on the ways in which medieval readers used manuscripts. One thing that immediately struck me was that the spelling of the annotations was at odds with their twelfth-century date. This suggested it would be worth checking if they had been taken from an earlier work. Investigation revealed this was indeed the case, with all having come from an earlier translation of the Latin work being annotated, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The annotation of a Latin work with equivalent phrases from an English translation might suggest a student cribbing his way to the understanding of the original Latin (my copy of Virgil’s Æneid still has my annotations from when I first encountered it as a sixteen-year old schoolboy). But closer consideration of two of the annotations suggested the actual situation was more complex.

TCD MS 492, folio 8v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘munuc’, “monk”.

TCD MS 492, folio 8v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘munuc’, “monk”.

Both of these annotations concern Bede’s account of St Alban, the man he celebrated as the first English martyr and the man who gave his name to the monastery and later town of St Albans in Hertfordshire. Both annotations give details found in the English translation not present in the Latin: that a visitor Alban received was a monk and that the place of Alban’s martyrdom was half a mile from the town wall. They suggest that the annotator was not a student struggling to understand Bede’s Latin, but a scholar making a detailed comparison of the Latin text and its Old English translation and, perhaps surprisingly, according them equal weight.

TCD MS 492, folio 9v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘half mile <em>a muro</em>’, “half a mile <em>from the wall</em>”.

TCD MS 492, folio 9v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘half mile a muro’, “half a mile from the wall”.

The annotations in TCD MS 492 are therefore a witness to the authority that the vernacular held in England before 1200, an authority paralleled in the Europe of this time only in Ireland. The publication of these neglected seventeen words of Old English adds just a little to the more than three million words of Old English already known to have survived, and it doubles the number of codices known to contain Old English in Trinity, but more importantly it tells us that Old English works continued to be read and studied well into the twelfth century, just as we still enjoy the novels of Dickens and Trollope today.

Mark Faulkner
Ussher Assistant Professor in Medieval Literature

The Wycliffite Bibles in the Library of Trinity College Dublin

In the later half of the fourteenth century a group of Oxford scholars, associated with the theologian John Wycliffe (c.1330-84), set out to translate the Bible from Latin into English. This Bible, known as the Wycliffite Bible, was banned by the hierarchy in the early 1400s and for the next 125 years anyone caught owning such a Bible could, in theory, be condemned for heresy. Despite these restrictions, the Wycliffite Bible was one of the most extensive productions of the Middle Ages, of which there are over 250 extant manuscripts. The Library of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) holds nine of these manuscripts.

The nine manuscripts in TCD offer some insight into the various stages of production. The first attempt at the Wycliffite Bible, for example, was a direct translation from the Latin and it reads rather awkwardly, more like a word-for-word translation because the Oxford scholars were keen to demonstrate that the English version was as trustworthy as the Latin text from which it came. It is usually referred to as the Early Version (EV). Towards the end of the fourteenth century, a later group of scholars decided it was time to improve upon this Early Version so that the English would read more fluently. Both the EV and LV version of the Wycliffite Bible can be found in the Trinity collection.

To talk about 250 manuscripts is a bit misleading because it indicates only the number of manuscripts that contain the Bible in whole or in part; it does not indicate the survival of so many complete Bibles. For example, MS 66 begins with Genesis, but concludes with the introduction to the Psalms. Mary Dove holds that its sister manuscript or the second volume of the same Bible, which begins with Proverbs and ends with Revelations, is London, British Library MS Additional 15580. It would be interesting to know how the manuscripts came to be separated and what became of the missing Book of Psalms.

Some manuscripts contain extra bits of information that illustrate the use that was made of the Bibles. For example, MS 75 is one of a hundred manuscripts to contain a set of tables setting out the sections of the Bible which are to be read at Mass each Sunday. [See images of ff. 9 & 100 below].

TCD MS 75, folio 9 r

Each table is laid out in a series of columns that lists the Sunday or feast day, the chapter of the relevant Bible passage, a letter of the alphabet to mark the passage in the main Bible, and the opening and closing words of the Gospel passage. If we compare the images of folios 9 [image above] and 100 [image below] from MS 75, we see that the ‘a’ in the margin of f. 100 occurs beside the words ‘be not ȝour hertes destorbled’ [marked with a red arrow].

TCD MS 75, folio 100r

This corresponds with the entry for ‘holy rode day’ on f. 9 of the table [green arrow], which indicates that the Gospel for that feast day is taken from John 14, where it will be highlighted in the main part of the Bible by the letter ‘a’ in the margin. We can also see that the opening words in the table correspond with those marked on f. 100, ‘be not ȝour hertes destorbled’ [blue arrow], which conclude with the closing lines of the Gospel passage ‘I schal do it’ [black arrow]. This kind of table opens up the debate on who were the actual readers and owners of the Wycliffite Bibles. Were these tables indicative of an enthusiastic lay readership, preparing the readings before or after the liturgical service as the translators intended? Do they suggest, on the other hand, that the Bible remained in the hands of the less Latinate clergy who were glad to access the Bible in English rather than Latin?

The Wycliffite Bible manuscripts in Trinity provide a valuable insight into the changing attitudes to religion among certain sectors of society in the lead up to the Reformation.

Further Reading:

Christopher de Hamel, The Book. A History of the Bible. Phaidon, 2001. Chapter 7 (pp. 166-90).

Mary Dove. The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions. CUP, 2007.

Matti Peikola. ‘Tables of Lections in Manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible’ in Form and Function in the Late Medieval Bible. Eds Eyal Poleg and Laura Light. Library of the Written Word 27; The Manuscript World 4. (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 351-78.

John Scattergood and Guido Latré, ‘Dublin, Trinity College Library MS 75: A Lollard Bible and Some Protestant Owners’, in Manuscripts and Ghosts: Essays on the Transmission of Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature. Four Courts Press, 2006. (pp. 163–80.)

Elizabeth Solopova. The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History and Interpretation. Brill, 2016.

Dr. Niamh Pattwell, University College Dublin.

Dr. Pattwell is currently working on a volume of the Index of Middle English Prose for Trinity College Dublin with Prof. V.J. Scattergood.

Link to IMEP volumes: https://boydellandbrewer.com/index-of-middle-english-prose-index-to-volumes-i-to-xx-hb.html

 

 

Brian Boydell: A Centenary Display

Brian Boydell 1917-2000

Brian Boydell 1917-2000

Born in Dublin on 17th March 1917, Brian Boydell became one of the most influential figures in Irish cultural life from the 1940s until his death on 8th November 2000. After studies at Heidelberg, Cambridge, and London, Boydell embarked on a multi-faceted career as composer, conductor, singer, teacher, broadcaster, academic researcher and writer. For many years he represented the interests of creative artists on the Arts Council. He was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Dublin (Trinity College) in 1962, and developed the School of Music to the point that it became a fully-fledged academic department in 1974.

Brian Boydell: A terrible beauty, op. 59

Brian Boydell: A terrible beauty, op. 59

Notwithstanding his date of birth (St Patrick’s Day), in his approach to composition Boydell believed that self-conscious reliance on folk music idioms to denote Irishness was a cul-de-sac; instead national character would emerge naturally from the composer’s engagement with the cultural environment in which he lived.

Map of Dublin Music Venues c.1790

Map of Dublin Music Venues c.1790

To mark the centenary of his birth a selection of items from the Boydell archive (TCD MS 11128) is on display in the Long Room until the end of July, and a special conference will be held in the Trinity Long Room Hub and the Royal Irish Academy of Music on 23-24 June. As well as several of Boydell’s compositions, the display includes items which represent his musicological research, his participation in the Arts Council and Aosdána, his career as a performer and director of ensembles, and his deep immersion in the life of the College.

An online exhibition, in collaboration with The Google Cultural Institute will follow.

Roy Stanley

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Diversity and similitude in Middle English Ten Commandments texts

TCD MS 70, folio 144r

Religious miscellanies feature prominently among the Library’s holdings of Middle English manuscripts. Intended as manuals for religious instruction, they frequently contain texts of and commentaries on the Ten Commandments. A survey and analysis of the content and contexts of selected examples suggest that the creation of a flowing effect, whereby the various instructions almost ‘bleed’ into one another, was part of their aesthetic. Thus, the texts are arranged in order to suggest a way of reading whereby the reader becomes deeply familiar with essential religious knowledge. Contrasts in these texts shed light on a vibrant and heterogeneous creative culture of religious instruction, wherein a range of audiences and communities of readers engaged with catechetical material during the late medieval and early modern period.

Continue reading

The Michael Davitt Papers in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library

Carla King, Michael Davitt After the Land League 1882-1906The Michael Davitt Papers, held in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, are a rich source for historians of late nineteenth-century Ireland. Davitt, a Mayo-born man of humble origins, was one of the leading political figures of the day. He exerted a significant influence over popular opinion, as an author, journalist and public speaker in Ireland, Britain, and internationally. For many years, Dr Carla King has studied this rich collection, in preparation for her newly published study, Michael Davitt After the Land League. Here she reflects upon Davitt’s life, the provenance of the Davitt papers, and the invaluable insights which the collection offers to researchers. Continue reading