bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

A little more information about Tito Livio Frulovisi

Posted in Humanism by bonaelitterae on 14 May, 2012

I have broken my New Year’s resolution. At the start of 2012, I promised myself that I would have twelve months off reviewing. It was a commitment to enforced abstinence: I enjoy reviewing books, I like the challenge of both summarising and engaging with a work in the space of a thousand or 1,500 words. But it is time consuming: it does not involve just making the space to give the book sustained reading time (a challenge, as it is); it also requires research in itself — sample-checking the author’s primary evidence to gain a sense of trust, or otherwise, in the scholarship, reading those secondary works that have been central to the construction of their argument but which one has not yet had chance to read. And then you have to wonder how many people pay attention to your wise comments anyway.

So, I had good intentions to avoid all reviewing this year. It did not last long. The offer to write on a volume in which Cristina Cocco edits one of the comedies of Tito Livio Frulovisi had a double attraction: first, the text being printed was by an author with whom I have more than a passing acquaintance, having written about this wandering humanist in the English Historical Review and elsewhere. Second, it was for the The Medieval Review, an on-line project housed at Indiana University. Its website is not as elegant or as user-friendly as that the Reviews in History site of London’s IHR, which I have had cause to mention recently; but it is a worthy project and one which surely has the future on its side: for how long can print journals continue to justify taking up space with notices of individual volumes which often appear long after publication? I can see an ongoing purpose to hardcopy review articles, and to more combative debates aroused in response to a single work, but the shorter review is something to which the internet is best suited.

And so, reader, I succumbed to temptation. And now the review is available on-line. I will not repeat here what is freely viewable elsewhere on the web. But I do want to mention here two facts about Frulovisi one of which appeared in that review and another which seems not to have received recent scholarly attention.

The first is a discovery I made a while ago; I have alluded to it both in print in Studi umanistici piceni and on this website but not discussed it in full. It is the fact that the sole copy of Frulovisi’s comedies, a holograph manuscript which is now Cambridge: St John’s College, MS. C. 10, includes evidence of its early provenance. Alfonso Sammut tentatively attributed the manuscript to the library of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, but knew of no corroboration of his assumption. In fact, using a UV light in the darkest corner of the college’s upper library, ten years ago, I was able to decipher an ownership note that had been remarkably succesfully removed by rewashing — and it was, indeed, the duke’s mark of ownership, recording that it was a gift of the author. As I have argued elsewhere, the fact that Frulovisi presented to his barbarian patronthis manuscript of comedies most written for performance before a Venetian audience — a manuscript itself produced in England — raises questions about perceived cultural distance within quattrocento Christendom.

The other piece of information is one that seems not to have been mentioned in recent discussions of Frulovisi and which, indeed, revises my own chronology of his time in England. It is the fact that we can state with some certainty the date of the humanist’s departure from London for Italy. In the collection of papers Mediceo avanti il principato of the Archivio di Stato of Florence which are now magnificently available on-line (and I have to thank Angelo de Scisciolo and Fabrizio Riccardelli for bringing this resource to my attention) there is a document written in an English script which is a letter of introduction from Henry VI for Frulovisi to Cosimo de’ Medici. It explains that Frulovisi at that point was returning to his homeland (in natale solum ire); the letter is dated 26th August 1440.

The letter mentions Frulovisi’s services to the king and to his uncle, that is to Humfrey, duke of Gloucester — suggesting (against the tendency of recent scholarship) that he was by no means persona non grata in Greenwich, but also implying that the humanist had gained the attention of Henry VI, which he had so clearly craved. The dating of the letter is also notable, not just because it post-dates Frulovisi’s final departure by at least year from what is usually credited; it is so close to the time of the departure of the papal collector, Pietro del Monte, from England, that one wonders whether they travelled together, despite the somewhat fraught relations between the two as revealed in del Monte’s letter-book. Finally, the letter ends with the monogram of Thomas Bekynton, then secretary to the king, and it raises the question of whether Bekynton himself conjured up the prose the described Cosimo as someone who loved lettered and well-behaved men (literatos et bene moratos viros) — or were the words put into his pen by Frulovisi himself? That opens up a broader discussion about the presence of humanist Latin in the English chancery, something on which I have been writing recently and about which I could discuss further now, if only the length of this short post had not already become as long as a book-review.

Putting shelfmarks in their place

Posted in Manuscripts, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 5 December, 2010

I have been proof-reading a chapter that is about to appear in a volume on the production of books in late medieval England, edited by those fine young scholars (young in comparison to me), Alex Gillespie and Dan Wakelin. The publishers, CUP, in their wisdom have decided in one case to move the shelfmark of a manuscript I mention from the footnote into the text itself. Apparently, their house style tends to place shelfmarks in the body of a work — something I strive to avoid. This has set me thinking about the most appropriate way to cite manuscripts or specific copies of printed works.

Let me start by saying that there are some cases when I would certainly provide a shelfmark in the text itself: you only need to look at the manuscript descriptions I have put on-line to find instances of that. When I do that, I like to mark out the shelfmark typographical, my preference being for small caps. There is a difference, though, between a description or a catalogue, and continuous prose forming an article or chapter. Even in this latter case, I could see an argument for citing shelfmarks within a sentence, if you were having to publish with endnotes rather than footnotes. Then again, it would be better to avoid being published in such a format – but that is a debate for another time.

Considering why my strong preference is for avoiding shelfmarks in the text and having them cited at the bottom of the page, in the footnote, it seems to me that there are two reasons. The first could be dismissed as stylistic — but style is central (or should be central) to our practice as authors. The presence of a shelfmark, with or without the library abbreviated, is an intervention in the flow of the prose, a distraction from the words and their argument. If the manuscript needs to be identified in the text, much better to think of a verbal designation rather than a formula of words and number. Those who favour shelfmarks in the text would probably argue that it aids precision — but what I think they mean is that it looks more ‘scientific’. And that, indeed, is probably the nub of this issue: as authors, we are not scientists who cite equations or formulae, and we should not pretend we are by adopting a pseudo-scientific rhetoric. Placing shelfmarks in the text may exude an aura of forensic scholarship, but all it actually does is make the text less readable than it really should be.

The second point is equally important and also defines more tightly the alternatives for citing a manuscript in continuous prose. Reference to a shelfmark in text does not only distract, it can also mislead:  it necessarily associates the book in the reader’s mind with its present location rather than its earlier history.  This is a problem, obviously, also with talking a manuscript by a loconym based on its present home, like ‘the Madrid Hours’. That manuscript was of Low Countries manufacture (illuminated by the ‘Vienna Master of Mary of Burgundy’) and was owned by an Englishman. It might be said that there is no harm to this practice, as the loconym so obviously does not relate to its origin, and that would, of course, be the case for an American or antipodean repository. But in other cases it is positively dangerous because there is still a tendency to assume present location may relate to origin, when usually the history is more complex. Let me give a specific example: it relates to a manuscript made by Thomas Chaundler, now Oxford: New College, MS. 288 (a description of it is available on-line). Chaundler was Warden of New College and so it might seem logical to assume that the volume was always in Oxford. But that is demonstrably not the case: he had it made for Thomas Bekynton, bishop of Bath and Wells, and it was in Wells that it lived, certainly into the 1530s when it was seen by John Leland. Its eventual arrival at New College presumably reflects a later appreciation of the author’s association with that Wykhamist foundation and so tells us more about the subsequent history of the construction of the College’s identity, rather than its earlier history.

In short, let us keep shelfmarks in their rightful place: they are welcome on the page, as long as they confine themselves to the footnotes and avoid distracting or misleading readers by inserting themselves in the text. Shelfmarks are, I suppose, a little like Victorian children: they should be seen but not have erred into the flow of one’s prose.