Writing in Context: Insular Manuscript Culture 500-1200. Ed. by ERIK KWAKKEL.The Library


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Library and Information Sciences / Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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much set forth, one is left feeling that the sum of the parts has producd an encom passing whole. The Editor deserves the warmest congratulations for having seen into print so substantial a monument—a milestone itself—to the present state of knowl edge of the early book in Britain.

Oxford James Willoughby

Writing in Context: Insular Manuscript Culture 500–1200. Ed. by Erik Kwakkel. (Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Book Culture.) Leiden: Leiden University

Press. 2013. 318 pp. £27.50. isbn 978 90 8728 182 3.

This handsome little book, with thirty-four colour and twenty-six black and white plates, contains six papers, of which three were originally Lieftinck Lectures in Medieval Manuscripts at Leiden University, and one is Michelle Brown’s inaugural lecture at the University of London. They comprise surveys of Mercian manuscripts and English manuscripts in the century after the Norman Conquest, and studies of an eighth-century manuscript of Pliny’s Natural History and an early-eleventhcentury English gospelbook. All merit rereading, and the price of the volume and the excellent plates make it an ideal teaching tool, the closest thing to a successor to the

Oxford Palaeographical Handbooks.

Michelle Brown seeks to integrate the Staffordshire Hoard into what is known about Mercian manuscripts. Her account of the study of these manuscripts is col ourful: to describe the debate between Kuhn and Sisam about the Vespasian Psalter as a tug-of-war suggests that the honours were even, which they were not. Nor am I taken with the Vikings’ ‘entering the catflap of England’ (p. 40). Her own efforts to define a ‘Mercian Schriftprovinz’ creates a ‘Greater Mercia’ that stretches from Can terbury to Lichfield; though her discussion of its links to Carolingian Europe and to the east is helpful. But is she right to describe the Canterbury charters of Wulfred (surely an archbishop and not a bishop) as ‘mannered minuscule’? Her discussion of the Staffordshire Hoard inscription, despite an excellent account of the letterforms, makes no mention of the Latin inscriptions from Wales, and though her transcrip tion includes a point between Surge and dne she does not discuss this, nor is it found on the Staffordshire Hoard website. The inscription is so much earlier than any other writing linked to Mercia that it remains isolated. The lecture stimulates—we must hope for a full account of the manuscripts discussed.

Mary Garrison focuses on the twenty-nine surviving folia of an Insular copy of

Pliny, now in Leiden. They were part of a very large book and her table of the size of other large format insular books is particularly helpful. She bravely attempts to reconstruct the volume from which the fragment came, and suggests that it has a

York provenance and rightly draws attention to the similarity of the script to that found in fragments of Isidore in Düsseldorf and Gerleve. To her comments about the uncial lemmata in the Durham Cassiodorus can be added the fact that the A has a horizontal crossbar—a feature never found at Wearmouth-Jarrow. Her dismissal of any link between the Durham manuscript and the leaf of the text in Düsseldorf was not shared by James Halporn. Unfortunately, the format of this book means that the plates that should sustain the arguments of Garrison and Lowe are too small to be helpful.

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Francis Newton tackles the colophon of Eadui Basan, in a gospelbook in Han nover, and succeeds in getting further than those who have preceded him. He argues that Eadui (whose name Basan more probably means tall than fat) knew the first part of Cassiodorus’s Institutiones, and he recovers the elegiac couplet at the core of the colophon. The discussion and translation of Cassidorus is exemplary. Newton appears not to know a further instance of Eadui’s work published by S. K. Rankin, ‘An Early Eleventh-Century Missal Fragment copied by Eadwig Basan: Bodleian

Library, MS Lat. liturg. d. 3, fols. 4–5’, Bodleian Library Record, 18 (2003–5), 220–52), nor the discussions of Eadui’s work by Rebecca Rushforth.

Kathryn Lowe boldly attempts to explore the layout of Anglo-Saxon charters, sustained by research on pre-literate engagement with written text among four-yearold children. She discusses the identification of word boundaries and the increasing use of blank space in the layout of mid-tenth-century charters, and speculates on how an illiterate Anglo-Saxon layman might have viewed a charter. I find her valiant attempts to ‘narrow the perception gap between us and them, between now and then’ (p. 177) romantic—the passage she quotes from Kolelnick and Hassett on the rhetoric of visual conventions explicitly refers to readers. And it is strange that she has no place for Anton Scharer’s Die angelsächsischse Königsurkunde im 7. und 8.

Jahrhundert, still the best book on Anglo-Saxon charters.

The final two papers treat post-Conquest manuscripts. Tessa Webber’s account of

Neil Ker’s Lyell lectures, surely some of the most eloquent palaeographical prose on

English, conveys the scale of his achievement, and what it made subsequently pos sible. Her lecture is a magnificent expression of the nature of palaeography, and of the methodological problems involved in localizing manuscripts and identifying libraries, and should be read by all of those engaged in work on English manuscripts.

Erik Kwakkel’s discussion of continental scribes at Rochester shows how much an expert can learn from pen trials, and makes it clear that scribes trained in Germany,

Flanders, and Italy were at work in Anglo-Norman England.

These essays provide a superb introduction to the subtlety and precision involved in the study of manuscripts, and the rewards that they bring. We must hope that editor and publisher will offer further volumes.