bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Postcard from Harvard I: a humanist manuscript owned by William Morris

Posted in Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 23 April, 2018

Do not be jealous: I am spending a month in that other Other Place — Cambridge MA. I am doing so at the beneficence of Harvard’s Houghton Library as one of their Visiting Fellows. The result is that I have to sit in the elegant surroundings of their reading room, overlooking Harvard Yard, assisted by supremely obliging staff, spending my days poring over humanist manuscripts. Those of you who know me will be able to decide whether I consider this a hardship. Sometimes my blessings seem so many, I lose count.

As I will be having an intense time of study here, I am going to experiment with a new initiative. It will also act, I hope, as a sort of mark of gratitude to my hosts. Their collection is rich in humanist manuscripts — so much so that I will have more than enough to occupy me over the next four weeks — and not yet fully catalogued. Some received extensive discussion by Laura Light in her 1995 catalogue of part of the collection; for others, there are records in Seymour de Ricci and its supplement, and all humanist manuscripts are noted in Kristeller’s indispensable Iter Italicum. Many, however, do not as yet have published technical descriptions. As what I am doing while here involves producing such descriptions for my own private use, I thought I would share them with you.

In doing so, I must emphasise that each of them comes with a health warning. They are in draft form, and cannot be thought to be full or final. In particular, they spend more time on the technical details and the provenance of the manuscript than on identification of contents. Moreover, they occasionally cite works by brief title rather than giving the publication details — one rainy weekend, I hope to provide a listing of those (though they will probably all be familiar to you). In addition, I intend to provide an explanation of my conventions to help you understand more clearly the necessarily succinct paragraphs of the technical description.

I also need your assistance with this experiment. I have many draft descriptions of manuscripts in other repositories in my files and I have been thinking for some time of sharing them. I would like your feedback on whether that would be useful and, if so, in what format. For the time being, I will provide them as pdfs, but I am open to suggestions about how else they could be presented.

Cambridge MA: University of Harvard, Houghton Library, MS. Typ. 289, fol. 1 (Florence, s. xv2/4).

Following all those prolegomena, here is the first such description. It is of Cambridge MA: Houghton Library, MS. Typ. 289, an elegant manuscript of Athanasius in Ambrogio Traversari’s translation. There is a brief entry for it in the online Harvard catalogue. For some its principal interest may be in the fact that it was owned by William Morris, who himself was a scribe and illuminator, inspired by medieval manuscripts. In truth, this arrived late into his collection and was owned by him too briefly to have been a specific source for his practices. It is, though, an interesting witness to the texts it contains, as I hope this description suggests. There are also elements of its production and history which remain opaque — and any thoughts will be welcome.

A final plea: do provide your comments on whether this is a useful initiative or not. Your views will shape how it develops – if at all.

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