The Times Literary Supplement has been running — and then attempting to call off — a hunt for references to itself in literature. It occurs to me that there are other noble publications that could compile a similar (albeit rather select) collection. Here is my own favourite for reasons that will become clear. It comes from a novel which is more period-piece than classic, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954). The young academic anti-hero, the dypsomaniac medievalist James Dixon has arrived on campus:
‘Oh, Dixon, can I have a word with you?’ To its recipient, this was the most dreadful of all summonses. It had been a favourite of his Flight-Serjeant’s, a Regular with old-fashioned ideas of getting an N.C.O. out of the men’s hearings before subjecting him not to a word but to an uproar of abuse… Welch [the Head of the History Department] had revived it as a short maestoso introduction to the allegro con fuoco of his displeasure over each new item in the ‘bad impresssion’ Dixon had been building up… Intellectually, Dixon could conceive of such a request leading to praise for work done on indexing Welch’s notes for his book, to the offer of a staff post on Medium Aevum, to an invitation to an indecent house-party, but emotionally and physically he was half-throttled by the certainty of nastiness.
Beyond the intended humour of the passage, there is something comical about the idea that an academic journal like Medium Ævum should have a plethora of paid positions, even or perhaps especially in the early 1950s when it was barely itself in its teens. And I should know because, of course, I have myself had more than a passing acquaintance with said journal — more recently, I should rush to add, than in the mid-twentieth century. I am the person who, for a while, had the post to which Dixon dimly aspired. There is, then, an association between him and me, which makes we wonder or worry: what other similarities might there be?
That is for me to worry about — the challenge for you is to see if you can help add to this start of a catalogue of literary references to medieval studies’ small but, oh, so perfectly-formed green-backed periodical.
Thanks to those very nice people over at the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, I can provide a brief update on the volume that has just appeared. In their wisdom, they have decided to make a sample of the latest Medium Ævum Monograph, Humanism in Fifteenth-Century Europe, available on-line for free (none of this nonsense of Open Access at a price) and the sample provided is the front matter plus one chapter — my own on ‘The Structures of Contacts‘. That essay attempts to provide an interpretation that could knit together the other contributions to the volume (though, at times, a critical reader might feel, it unstitches a few of those chapters). The interpretation centres on the concept in which I strongly believe: that quattrocento humanism was, from its inception, an international enterprise, with a cast-list of participants or, at least, collaborators that was cosmopolitan, as were the locations both for humanist invention and of audiences for these works. In discussing this, I attempt to cover the geographical range of the volume, but concentrate on highlighting a series of themes: the differing nature of travel of humanists (the émigré, the migrant, the migratory), the eclectic nature of the community of humanist scribes in Italy, the role of merchants in the humanist enterprise (using a particular example relating to Bartomoleo Facio), and the chronological change over the century and, in particular, the impact of the intervention of print. I end with a side-swipe or perhaps rather a gentle cuff around the head for those early modernists who imagine the Renaissance is theirs. Read on…
Saturday saw the launch in Durham of a book I have edited for Medium Ævum Monographs: Humanism in Fifteenth-Century Europe. It is a set of essays covering much of the geographical span of Christendom, from Hungary to Scotland and from Castile to Poland. In order to make it all the more useful for readers, it also includes a collection of just over sixty potted biographies of humanists mentioned in the volume — an appendix which I compiled with the globe-trotting Oren Margolis.
The launch itself was a jolly affair, rounding out the Annual General Meeting and Lecture of the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, who publish the journal Medium Ævum and the Monograph series. The Annual Lecture was given by Prof. Helen Cooper and was a scintillating discussion of ‘The Ends of Story-telling’, reminding us how at a most basic level story collections sought to comprehend, to come to terms with or to cheat the final end of existence, through the character of the story-teller. The volume I have edited occupies similar chronological territory to Helen Cooper’s lecture (though she ranged beyond one century or even one millennium), but deals with a set of scholars for whom death was to be defeated by their achievement of fame, in their own country and elsewhere.
The launch was presided over by Anthony Lappin, both President of the Society and its managing Monographs Editor, with a response — brief to avoid keeping the audience away from the alcohol that followed — by myself. As you can tell, even if the speakers were not elegant, the setting of the Senate Suite in Durham’s Castle certainly was.
As I explained in my short speech, the volume is part of a new story for the Society — a collection of essays rather than a single-authored volume and one which has developed out of another new initiative, the Society’s one-day conferences. At the same time, it is in ways a return to an old story, for the casus belli for this project was the related one of creating a new on-line edition of Roberto Weiss’s Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century, a book which was itself one of the very earliest (old series) Medium Ævum monographs.
One thing I did not have time to note in my comments was that this volume is the thirtieth Monograph in Medium Ævum’s ‘new series’. The fact that the number appears in Roman numerals allows all sorts of possibilities: I could claim that this is a volume which is XXX-rated, which could boost sales (available from the Society website at a very reasonable £40 – or just £20 if you join the Society). Or perhaps it should signify that you shouldn’t give a XXX for any other study of humanism in fifteenth-century Europe.
One hears that there as many resources available on-line for the louche and the aficinados of the demi-monde as there were courtesans in Renaissance Venice. Now there is one more site for Weiss. Pardon the pun, out of which I should have grown by now, but it still amuses. Me, at least.
The Weiss in question is Robert(o), and more specifically his Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century. Habitués of these postings may recall that my summer has been spent writing addenda to his work, which remains the main guide to its subject. The first instalment of the new, fourth, edition is now available at the Medium Ævum website. Others will follow in the coming weeks and, eventually, it will not be just the text, with addenda, that is available but also a new appendix of unpublished texts and an introduction by myself.
The instalments each appear in two pdf formats, one closer to a printed version and one with the new addenda inserted as marginal glosses (how unhumanist!). I would be interested to hear views on both of these. My fellow editor, Anthony Lappin, prefers a style that moves us away from the printed version and, as I’ll mention in a moment, it has its real advantages, but I also have a sense that we need to keep in mind the concept of the old-style hard-copy book. That is partly because there will be those who prefer to print off and read than to view on screen; indeed, I could name those scholars in this subject area who would do just that. But there is also a wider point: scholarship still conceptualises itself in paginated, paper format and to deny that is to leave the on-line world as a ghetto blocked off from the greater universe of scholarship. We have to take the older styles of learning with us if what we do is to be of relevance.
But there are advantages to a version designed to be viewed rather than held. I have consciously attempted to include in the addenda references to works now available on-line, so that the extra information links this work with the wider web of knowledge that subtly criss-crosses the ether. The technology is not ideal: even with Firefox, a click on a link takes you from the pdf to the next site within the same pane; I refrain from using the obvious pun, this time. My advice is to have open the pdf in two tabs (or windows if you are bounded by timid Explorer), so that one can trawl beyond the text, while the other can by your port and portal. The result, we hope, is that the effect of attaching together text with other on-line resources is like providing the thin but perceptible bonds that tie together the figures in the Allegory of Good Government in the Palazzo Publico of Siena: it helps to found a well-ordered settlement — far from the sites of vice — in the new republic of letters. This is a community with no illiberal limits on immigration, so come and join us.