bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Andrew Holes in Paris II

Posted in Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 29 March, 2013

I ended the previous post Sheherazade-like, leaving the tale to be finished another night. I had explained how I had happened upon a manuscript of works by Salutati which provided evidence of its being associated with the voracious English book-collector of the early fifteenth century, Andrew Holes. It also included a seventeenth-century note by Richard Smith stating that the owner at that point had another similar manuscript and so I was waiting for the opportunity to investigate whether that codex had also survived through the subsequent centuries and had reached the same safe-house of a library.

Tracking down that manuscript proved much simpler than is often the case: the first volume I called up on Thursday immediately announced itself to be the book for which I was searching. It fitted Smith’s description of a manuscript of works by the same author as its main part included a collection of Salutati’s Epistolae. It did not have a note of ownership by Smith, but it did share with the other manuscript a style of seventeenth-century contents list, which here ended with a reference to ‘in alio lib. MSS ipsius Authoris in 4’, a definite reference to the other manuscript. What was more, as I walked back to my desk and turned over the leaves, it became clear that here there regularly appeared in the margin the manicula that appeared once in the manuscript I had seen the previous year. In other words, the manuscript could definitely be associated with Andrew Holes.

I have used twice the phrase ‘associated with’ rather than ‘owned by’ because, as I explained before, there has been some confusion about Holes’ marginalia: two strikingly different scripts having both been attributed to him. When I studied the known Holes manuscripts nine or ten years ago, this struck me as problematic, and I suspected at that point that there were two separate readers at work. But there was not enough evidence to hand to confirm my suspicion. What I did not expect was that the manuscript in Paris I saw the other day would present such helpful evidence to provide a definite solution.

I mentioned that the main part of the manuscript was occupied by letters of Salutati. It must be said that despite Smith’s suggestion that the book was a twin with the one in which he wrote his ownership note, the size, mise-en-page and script, while all being similar, are in each specific subtly distinct. Smith specifically mentioned the ‘same vellum’ and it is true that for both manuscripts, the parchment has been prepared to be very smooth on the skin-side but fairly dark on the hair-side – as is seen in other early-fifteenth-century codices constructed in Florence. What was particularly notable in this ‘new’ manuscript is that the style of parchment served not only for the part including Salutati’s letters but also for a second fascicule, with its own set of leaf signatures and with a script quite different from that of the first part. This second section, which provides a copy of Francesco Barbaro’s De re uxoria, was written by an English scribe who helpfully signs himself at the final colophon, giving his name as ‘Johannes Burgh’. Burgh not only writes this second fascicule; he also annotates the first, providing textual additions. It was, I must admit, only while looking at those marginalia that it struck me with real force: this spiky but elegant gothic cursive bookhand is identical with one of the two scripts that have been attributed to Andrew Holes.

We can say a little more about John Burgh: as Josephine Bennett explained in her 1944 article, like Andrew Holes, he had been a student at New College; he was sent to the papal curia and became Holes’s own secretary. It is hardly surprising, then, that he should frequently intervene in his master’s manuscripts, though his addition of Barbaro’s work is the only occasion (to date) that we know of him acting as the scribe for a complete text – which is suggestive, surely of how much we must have lost.

The identification of him as one of the two annotators here makes it likely that we can identify the other reader, with his stubby manicula and his gothic cursive script which suggests some acquaintance with the Italian pre-humanist fashions as practised in Salutati’s circle, as Holes himself. That, in turn, should allow us to reconstruct with more precision his own reading habits. For instance, in this manuscript, what is notable is his interest in contemporary characters – he once notes ‘de poggio’, referring to Salutati’s protege and our friend, Poggio Bracciolini, whom Holes presumably knew personally – and in Salutati himself, noting the author’s own listing of his compositions. Holes seems to have been one of those book-collectors who chose to associate his activity with a particular writer: we already knew that he owned some books once owned by Salutati, but now we can see more fully his interest in the Florentine Chancellor who acted as mentor to the first generation of fifteenth-century humanists.

There is much more that this discovery can teach us. Let me, for the moment, note just one other implication. As I mentioned previously, most of Andrew Holes’s books were given to his alma mater of New College and most of them remain there. Some of them migrated and we can now add to that story because it is clear that both these Salutati manuscripts are examples of that. When the antiquary John Leland visited the library in the mid-1530s, the books he saw included two volumes of letters by Salutati, and a copy of the same author’s De verecundia. One of the epistolaries is now in the British Library but the other one, and the manuscript of De verecundia are surely those in Paris. It would seem, then, that they left the library but may have travelled together until they came into the hands of Richard Smith in the 1670s. With some more work, it may also be possible to trace in more detail the stages of ownership before they reached him.

Let me, though, return to the issue with which I began the last post. According to the diktats of the ‘Research Excellence’ culture in Britain, the work that I did about a decade ago on Holes’s manuscripts should have been printed at that point: in this system, one is not allowed to spend significant time without it showing a clear return in ‘published outcomes’. But, if I had done, what I would have been able to present to the world would have been a detailed discussion which showed there was a problem, without providing a solution. It may have been worthy, but it would have been singularly down-beat and, frankly, unsatisfying for author and audience alike. I am pleased that I failed: it was right not to write it up for publication. Indeed, if it had been, it may be harder to justify returning to it later, when it is possible to give a fuller, more pleasing and revealing tale now. Some academic research can be like fast food, rustled up quickly for instant gratification. There is a place for that. But there is surely a place also for Slow Study, the art of refraining from publishing until the recalcitrant jigsaw has, with a miraculous shake of the pieces, fallen all into place. I launch, then, the Slow Study Movement, with its motto, Festina Lente, and its guardian angel, patron saint of palaeographers, Serendipity.

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  1. […] in the drug to which you, like me, may be addicted: it is serendipity. I have called serendipity before ‘the patron saint of palaeographers’, but perhaps that understates its importance or […]


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