bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Hearne, Tanner and Cantilupe, or why David Rundle is not to be trusted

Posted in Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 31 May, 2014

In my virtual post-bag has arrived this letter of complaint, from (it seems) my worst critic. I think it best to let you read it without further comment:

Dear Sir,

Someone who calls himself a Renaissance scholar really should uphold high standards of scholarship. I take no relish in pointing out to you how the research you have had the temerity to post on-line falls below what you should expect of yourself.

I refer to your discussion of Nicholas Cantilupe’s Historiola of the University of Cambridge and the manuscript of it now in Christ Church, Oxford, their MS 138. I congratulate you on identifying this as the copy used by Thomas Hearne in his printed edition of this little work – though one might wonder, with the antiquary Thomas Baker, whether Hearne did the opusculum ‘too much honor in giving it an Edition’. There is no doubt you are correct in that specific but in another you have made a grave error, and one which is obvious to see, thanks to the images of the manuscript that Dr Cristina Neagu of Christ Church Library has put on the web.

You claim that the inscription at the top of fol. 3 is in the hand of Hearne himself. I see also that you accept the description of that note as identifying the text ‘with reference to Leland and Tanner’. That, in itself, should have made you stop to think. Hearne, as you note (again, correctly), saw this manuscript in 1712; he released to the world his edition seven years later. Thomas Tanner, however, while he had compiled much of the information used in his Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica in the last years of the seventeenth century, did not complete the work by his death in 1735; it appeared in print, as you should know, in 1748. Hearne died in the same year as Tanner so how, do you suppose, could he have written a note referring to a work which had not yet been finished, let alone published?

As the note certainly is in an early eighteenth-century hand and, we can surmise, pre-dates Hearne’s edition (for if it were later, the learned reader would surely have cited it), we should realise there is a condundrum here. It is, though, one which is easily solved, if only you had eyes to see. If you look again at the note, you will (I fervently hope) kick yourself at the misidentification that you have perpetrated. The script there is clearly not Hearne’s but it is that of another antiquary, Thomas Tanner himself (for comparison, see the plates in that seminal article by Richard Sharpe in The Library in 2005 on Tanner). What is happening, then, is that the work was identified with reference to the Henrician bibliographer, John Leland, and the note signed by ‘Tho: Tanner OAS’. Those last letters should also have given you a clue to the dating of the note – OAS must stand for Omnium Animarum Socius, that is Fellow of All Souls, a position to which Tanner was elected on All Souls’ Day 1696. As Tanner left Oxford five years later, we can date this note to a short period – and thus appreciate that Hearne was not the first to identify the text.

I might go on to add that, in rushing to announce your little discovery (complete with errors), you did not wait to uncover the further evidence, which does exist, of Tanner’s interest in manuscripts in Christ Church, where he was later to be a canon. But I am aware that the information in question will be revealed in the catalogue of western manuscripts of that foundation which is nearing completion, where I also expect to see a more accurate discussion of MS 138.

Do you wish to attempt to defend yourself? Are you going to claim that your sin is less heinous because it was merely ‘pre-published’ on-line. I recognise you live in a culture where error is more readily condoned than non-publication, where it is thought better to put something into print, however incomplete or imperfect it is, rather than to allow the scholarship to mature until it is ripe to be read. You might point to others whose failures are yet worse – those who import citations into their footnotes without checking, those who copy information without doing the research, those who show little respect for the evidence in their keenness to develop an eye-catching argument. But you are not accused of their faults; your own are serious enough. I would have expected you to appreciate that you have a duty to hold yourself to higher standards, not to be drawn into the agenda for mediocrity that ‘research exercises’ and university league-tables have fostered. You are part of a culture that will publish and be damned in the eyes of posterity.

I am aware that you are fond of telling your students ‘we are historians, we trust nobody’. You should recognise that such healthy distrust must extend to yourself.

I am disappointed in you and am a little less respectfully yours,

David Rundle

Mea culpa is my post-script. This new discovery does mean that the files on the Christ Church Library website are inaccurate and out of date. They will be replaced soon – but with the former, imperfect file still present, as a monument to human error. Will that fate placate my alter ego? I will admit that I am still debating that.


Thomas Hearne and Nicholas Cantilupe’s fantastic history of the University of Cambridge

Posted in Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 23 June, 2012

Before the rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge was a clash of blades on the Thames or won and lost on the playing field of Twickenham, it was fought out through recourse to history. In the fifteenth – and on into the sixteenth – century, the universities debated their origins. Oxford claimed Alfred as their kind father, a ludicrous pedigree still remembered in the coat-of-arms of Univ. But at least Alfred existed: Cambridge sought to stretch the time-frame (and credulity) further by declaring King Arthur their founder. A foundation text for this foundation myth was the mid-century Historiola by Nicholas Cantilupe. It is a work which has received some recent scholarly attention in an article by Ad Putter that appeared in Medium Ævum, but there has been no edition of the work since the early eighteenth century when it was printed by the indefatigable Thomas Hearne.

Hearne, attentive readers may recall, was also the editor of the two Lives of Henry V which I discussed in an English Historical Review article of 2008; he was a giant among English antiquaries, even if his politics and character made him as many enemies as friends. His work on Cantilupe did not necessarily raise his stock among his contemporaries – it was a Cambridge man, Thomas Baker, who commented that the Historiola was ‘one entire Fable, & the fruitfull Invention of a teeming Monkish Brain, & you do it too much honor, in giving it an Edition’. But that did not stop Hearne working on it. What we do not know – or, as we shall see, did not know until now – is on which of the ten or more manuscripts he based his edition.

I happened the other day to be looking at some manuscripts in my alma mater of Christ Church, including their copy of Cantilupe, MS. 138, which – from its fifteenth century folio numbering – is clearly an excerpt from a much larger volume. Turning its leaves, I was struck that the antiquarian note recording details of the author of the Historiola was in a familiar hand: that of Hearne himself. I went to check the edition and noted that his transcription exactly matches that of the manuscript. The question then became how Hearne came by this slim fascicule – a question to which the answer, as so often with Hearne, lies in his diaries, edited a century ago by the Oxford Historical Society.

In his entry for 9th March 1712, he mentions that some manuscripts he had perused ‘In the Dean of Xt Church’s Study amongst Dr Aldrich’s Books (all which I have examin’d lately)’ and he goes on to say ‘I … saw there Cantilupes Historiola Cantabrigiensis, & I am promis’d the loan of it’. In other words, he was checking the collection of the recently departed Henry Aldrich, once himself Dean of Christ Church, and found there a copy of Cantilupe. Aldrich’s ownership of a manuscript comprising Cantilupe (and little else) can fortunately be corroborated, as Christ Church also holds his library catalogue in its archives and there, at fol. 9v.

Hearne, then, did indeed gain the promised loan and, clearly, returned it to its home at which point, presumably, it entered into the collection of the foundation over which Aldrich had once presided. Indeed, what is interesting is that this new nugget of information also allows us to identify other manuscripts – Greek, Hebrew and early-modern – as having reached the institutional library from the same individual source. In short, one brief note at the top of a folio can (as so often) open a window onto a world previously thought lost.