Nosey around Parker
A facetious title for an event which really should be celebrated: the ambitious project to digitise the manuscripts of the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge is now fully available on-line. As a click on the link will reveal, full access does not come without a price. Through the summer, the site has been teasing and tantalising us (those of us who get excited by such matters) with selected riches glistening for all to see. Now, any viewer can see for free complete manuscripts, but without zooming, and catalogue descriptions, but without bibliography or search facility. The other facilities are provided on subscription and any good university should be moving post-haste to sign up, if they have not already done so.
This site provides a resource the full potential for which will only become understood over time. The educational potential is immediately obvious, in the possibilities of both on-line palaeography tutorials and transcription exercises. The quality of the images will be a joy to those whose attention centres on illuminations. The search facility provides the ability for researchers to find their own route through the collection, hunting, for instance, for annotations by the Archbishop-collector, Matthew Parker himself, or by provenance (though, as always, some ingenuity is required in defining the right terms for a search). What the site also makes accessible are texts which have never made it into print. Let me give one example from my own area of study: the dialogue, written in England by Pietro del Monte, De Vitiorum inter se Differentia, has never enjoyed a wide circulation, and most would say justifiably so. As I discuss elsewhere it is a derivative work, lifting most of its text from Poggio’s De Avaritia. But how it takes that text and how it was read in England, to where its audience was nearly completed confined, are themselves interesting issues. The learned eighteenth-century successor to del Monte as Bishop of Brescia, Angelo Maria Querini, put into print a small section of the work, and its preface has received a modern edition, but now, for the first time the full text is available — admittedly, in a derivative copy, written in an uneven, though legible, anglicana cursive, but one which shows signs of Parker’s own interest, marked in his characteristic red crayon.
In other cases, what is now available on-line adds to the methods in which we can engage with a text. The Life of Henry V by Tito Livio Frulovisi is a work which those of you who read closely this site will know has been a recent focus of my attentions. It was edited in 1716 by Thomas Hearne, and that printed volume is available from Mr Google. Hearne worked from a transcription collating two copies, one in the Cotton collection and the other a manuscript in ‘Biblioteca collegii sancti Benedicti, sive Corporis Christi’, that is MS. 285 in the Parker Library. It is, in fact, the dedication manuscript of the work to Henry VI, written throughout in Frulovisi’s attractive littera antiqua script. I am an admirer of Hearne’s work but I know which version I will prefer to read in future.
In short, our bookshelves are changing. I still sit surrounded by wooden cases, which bow under the weight of hardback volumes. I would not want to give up the touch or the smell of that physical proximity. But new vistas for our libraries extend before us, as we can now complement what we have on the desk with what we view on screen. And what is on screen is not confined by the old economics of print circulation; there is a new age of manuscript culture.
These comments are only my first response to the potential of Parker on-line. Only over time will more become appreciated, as our own skills at ‘virtual discovery’ develop. But, for the time being, let me finish with a word to Christopher, Nigel and all those involved in the project: plurimas gratias vobis ago agamque.