Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae, with the gloss of Remigius of Auxerre, in Latin with some words in Greek, manuscript on vellum
The only complete Anglo-Saxon manuscript in private hands, now making its sixth appearance at Sotheby’s since 1785.
(1) Written in England, probably at Christ Church Cathedral Priory, Canterbury, perhaps at St.Augustine’s Abbey (see below), partly by a scribe perhaps trained in Winchester under Saint Aethelwold. It may have remained in Canterbury, where there were no fewer than seven copies of the Consolatio in the fragmentary twelfth-century catalogue of Christ Church (M.R. James, The Ancient Libraries of Canterbury and Dover, 1903, p.9, nos.80-86). However, the few late medieval glosses and the added colophon seem to be in French hands, and the book may have moved to the continent around the time of the Norman Conquest.
(2) Dr Anthony Askew (1722-1772), physician to St.Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, traveller and classicist; bound for him; his sale in our rooms, 7 March 1785, lot 433, bought by Lowes.
(3) Re-sold in our rooms, 17 February 1787, lot 1506, among additions to the sale of the Rev. Mr Edwards, bought by Wodhull.
(4) Michael Wodhull (1740-1816), of Thenford, with notes on the flyleaf in his hand; by descent to his sister-in-law and to J.E. Severne, M.P.; his sale in our rooms, 12 January 1886, lot 441, to Quaritch.
(5) Howell Wills, of Florence, bought from Quaritch, 31 March 1886; his sale in our rooms, 11 July 1894, lot 205, to Quaritch (their Rough List, 144, August 1894, no.143).
(6) Laurence W. Hodson (1864-1933), of Compton Hall, Wolverhampton, bought on 14 January 1899, with his booklabel in Kelmscott type.
(7) Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962), his oldest manuscript; bought privately from Hodson, 21 May 1909; his sale in these rooms, 3 April 1957, lot 1, to Eisemann, for Bodmer, the single most expensive item in any of Cockerell’s sales.
(8) Dr Martin Bodmer (1899-1971), formerly on deposit as Cod. Bodmer 175 at the Fondation Bodmer, Cologny-Genève; and now the property of his descendants.
V. Meynell, ed., The Best of Friends, Further Letters to Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, 1956, p.253.
P. Courcelle, La Consolation de Philosophie dans la tradition littéraire, Antécédents et postérité de Boèce, 1967, p.405.
D.K. Bolton, ‘The Study of the Consolation of Philosophy in Anglo-Saxon England’, Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge, XLIV, 1977, pp.57 and 61.
F. Troncarelli, Tradizione perdute: La ‘Consolatio Philosophiae’ nell’alto medioevo, 1981, pp.34, 112 and 255-6 (no.118).
H. Gneuss, ‘A Preliminary List of Manuscripts written in England or owned in England up to 1100’, Anglo-Saxon England, IX, 1981, no.829; revised and reprinted as H. Gneuss, Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A List of Manuscripts and Manuscript Fragments Written or Owned in England up to 1100, 2001, p.125, no.829.
E. Pellegrin, Manuscrits latins de la Bodmeriana, 1982, pp.411-15, and pl.27.
C. de Hamel, ‘Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts from the Library of Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962)’, British Library Journal, XIII, 1987, pp.201-2, no.58.
P.O. Kristeller, Iter Italicum, Accedunt Alia Itinera, V, 1990, p.103.
M.T. Gibson, L. Smith and M. Passalacqua, Codices Boethiani, A Conspectus of the Works of Boethius, II, 2001, pp.185-6.
Any books or even fragments written in England before the Norman Conquest of 1066 are of legendary rarity and importance. Apart from a few isolated fragments, no books from Anglo-Saxon England remain in private hands, except for the celebrated Blickling Homilies in the Scheide Library at Princeton University, MS.71, missing more than 50 leaves and last sold in the Cortlandt Bishop sale in April 1938, lot 285. None of the great English manuscript collections of the twentieth century, such as Yates Thompson, Chester Beatty, Dyson Perrins or Major Abbey, possessed any Pre-Conquest English books. Apart from the present volume, probably no entirely complete Anglo-Saxon manuscript has been sold at auction for several centuries. The last substantial portion of any Pre-Conquest volume to change hands was the Brodie Pontifical, Sotheby’s, 12 July 1971, lot 35, now in the British Library. A single flyleaf only, probably also from Canterbury and of comparable date to the present manuscript, was sold in these rooms, 2 December 1997, lot 13, £22,000; a horizontal ribbon of 2 lines only from a Pre-Conquest Augustine was sold in these rooms, 19 June 2001, lot 3, for £19,000. It seems almost inconceivable that it is now possible to offer for sale a complete English Pre-Conquest manuscript, in almost perfect condition, of an entirely secular late classical literary text, partly in verse, with high quality script, scientific diagrams and music, with (since it has been in Switzerland since 1957) no legal restrictions on re-export. If the present book goes into permanent public collection, it could never happen again.
The manuscript is by two principal scribes. The first, described by D.K Bolton as a “loose shaky, slightly sloping hand”, wrote fols.2r-21r. The second, whose script Bolton calls “a beautiful, firm, almost perpendicular hand”, wrote fols.22v-111r. We should begin with the latter, who wrote most of the book. This is the script defined as ‘Style I’ of Anglo-Caroline minuscule in T.A.M. Bishop, English Caroline Minuscule, 1971, and D.N. Dumville, English Caroline Script and Monastic History, Studies in Benedictinism, A.D. 950-1030, 1993. English minuscule evolved out of Carolingian France and early exemplars may have been brought back from Fleury in the 950s by Saint Oswald, bishop of Worcester 961-92, and by Osgar, representative of Saint Aethelwold, later bishop of Winchester 963-84. England had been completely devastated by the Viking raids of the tenth century and book-production had virtually ceased altogether. The monasteries that remained were few and isolated. The new ‘Style I’ script is associated almost exclusively with Winchester, principal seat of the royal court, and with monastic houses directly associated with the patronage and reform of Aethelwold. It is a very pure and highly controlled calligraphic script. Note the graceful shape of the open English ‘g’, the ‘ra’ ligature, and the tapering ascenders. This is fundamentally a liturgical script, and its use here in a literary text suggests patronage of a very high level. It is probable that Aethelwold himself had a great deal to do with the training of scribes and the promotion of the ‘Style I’ script as part of his programme of reviving education and learning in Wessex (for which, cf. A. Prescott, The Benedictional of St.Aethelwold, 2001, pp.4-5). To judge from fols.22v-111r alone, one might fairly confidently have ascribed the book to Winchester, or at least to the close reforming circle of Aethelwold. However, the first scribe of the manuscript and that on fols.111v-112r, both write what is known as ‘Style II’ of English Caroline. This connects the book with the scriptoria of Canterbury. Caroline minuscule may have reached Canterbury through Saint Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury 959-88, or through Aelfric, archbishop 995-1005, both of whom had earlier been associated with Aethelwold at Glastonbury and Abingdon respectively. “About the turn of the tenth century, the search for a perfected minuscule was pursued in the scriptorium of Christ Church, Canterbury, where scribes may have been modifying and refining their work from book to book and almost from page to page … In the script of Christ Church at the beginning of the eleventh century, the Caroline minuscule attained a possible limit of perfection” (Bishop, pp.xxii-iii, cited by Dumville, p.91). It is a hybrid hand, mixing the pure Aethelwoldian minuscule with archaic and more fluid insular ligatures and abbreviations. The collaboration of scribes using both Styles I and II can hardly have occurred anywhere except at Canterbury, the most cosmopolitan (or, rather, the least isolated) of Anglo-Saxon towns.
The present book has generally been ascribed to Canterbury, late tenth century. Margaret Gibson and her collaborators in the Boethius census, suggested St.Augustine’s as a possible origin. The cathedral priory of Christ Church is perhaps more probable historically, although the two great scriptoria were scarcely a mile apart. We are grateful to Timothy Bolton and Peter Stokes for assistance in this attribution. If one could date the book into the first decade of the eleventh century, there may be an explanation. Aelfheah, Aethelwold’s successor as bishop of Winchester 984-1006, was promoted to the archbishopric of Canterbury in 1006. He brought with him Aethelstan’s cantor and precentor, Wulfstan, who doubtless influenced the scriptorium of Christ Church (Dumville, p.105, n.115). The book may have been begun by a Christ Church scribe but taken over by a Winchester scribe in or soon after 1006. However, in 1011 Christ Church was utterly sacked by the Vikings. Archbishop Aelfheah was kidnapped and afterwards clubbed to death (1012). The present manuscript may well have been looted or abandoned in the turmoil, and the glossing hand may even be continental.
It is worth noting in passing that English Caroline minuscule of around 1000, especially the Aethelwoldian Style 1 from Winchester, was the principal model used in the reform of handwriting by modern scribes, including William Morris, W.R. Lethaby, Edward Johnston and, notably, Sydney Cockerell (cf. F. Wormald in Calligraphy and Palaeography, Essays presented to Alfred Fairbank, ed. A.S. Osley, 1965, pp.43-46). Cockerell wrote to Dame Laurentia MacLachlan (1866-1953) on 31 August 1910, describing the present manuscript, “The Boethius is wonderfully written, late 10th century” (Meynell, p.253), and he certainly showed it to every practising or aspirant scribe in England for almost 50 years.
It is not the least part of the interest of the manuscript that it includes 18 pages with musical notation. Pre-Conquest English music is of extreme rarity. On the flyleaf Sydney Cockerell cites a letter from Dame Laurentia, “Eleven of the ‘metra’ have neums, not contemporary with the text: or at least not written at the same time, for I think the first hand might be late 10th century. They are English neums by two hands … The first is very like the notation of the Portiforium Oswaldi (C.C.C. 391); the second is slightly later”. The extract then lists the two hands, noting melodies and strophs.
Anicius Manlius Torquatus Boethius (c.480-c.524), like Cassiodorus, stands half way between the classical world and the beginning of the Dark Ages. He was a close friend of the emperor Theodoric and was consul in 510. He was a principal translator of Aristotle into Latin. However he became caught up in injudicious political wrangling and he was charged with treason and was imprisoned and finally executed. His ancient tomb is in Pavia. The Consolatio Philosophiae is Boethius’s greatest and most celebrated text, a synthesis of classical learning and neoplatonic philiosophy in verse and prose, written while he was in prison awaiting his death. Philosophy appears to him and she and Boethius elegantly dispute the meaning of life and the search of the soul for knowledge. It is generally assumed that Boethius himself was Christian, although the text has no specific Christian references.
The Consolatio was not especially well-known before the Carolingian period. One of the oldest surviving copies (now Vatican, cod. Vat.lat. 3363) was perhaps written in Orléans in the early ninth century but was evidently brought to England, perhaps to the court of King Alfred (d.899), where it was annotated by Saint Dunstan. Alfred himself translated the text of the Consolatio into Old English, endorsing it as a suitable text for the upper-ranking nobility of Wessex. The present manuscript is one of “a group of exceptionally fine 10th- and 11th-century manuscripts of Boethius’s Consolation of Philiosophy [which] bear witness to the unique position occupied by that work in Anglo-Saxon England … treated almost as Holy Writ” (D.K. Bolton, p.33). There are no fewer than fourteen copies and fragments of the Consolatio from Anglo-Saxon England, all beautifully written at about the same time on high quality vellum. In the approximate order of date assigned by Bolton, they are: (1) Cambridge, Trinity College, MS.0.3.7, Gneuss no.193, from St.Augustine’s, Canterbury, late tenth century; (2) Paris, BnF, ms. lat.6401a, Gneuss no.886, probably from Christ Church, Canterbury, late tenth century; (3) Bodleian, MS. Auct.F.1.15, Gneuss no.533, from St.Augustine’s but probably at Christ Church by c.1000 and later given to Exeter by Leofric (d.1072), late tenth century; (4) Paris, BnF, ms. lat.17814, Gneuss no.901, probably from Christ Church, Canterbury, possibly from St.Augustine’s, late tenth century; (5) London, B.L. Egerton MS. 267, fol.37, Gneuss no.408, a single leaf only, perhaps from Abingdon, late tenth century; (6) Paris, BnF, ms. lat.14380, Gneuss no.899, perhaps from Christ Church, Canterbury, later at St-Victor in Paris, c.1000; (7) Cambridge U.L., MS. Gg.V.35, belonged to St.Augustine’s, Canterbury, early eleventh century; (8) Cambridge U.L., MS. Kk.III.21, Gneuss no.23, a virtual twin of no.1 above but “almost certainly from Abingdon” (Ker, Cat. of MSS. Containing Anglo-Saxon, p.38), c.1000; (9) Antwerp, Plantin-Moretus Museum, MS. 190, Gneuss no.776, probably from Abingdon, c.1000; (10) the present manuscript, c.1000; (11) Escorial, Real Biblioteca, cod. E.II.1, Gneuss no.823, c.1000, from Horton nunnery, Dorset; (12) Oxford, Merton College 3.12, 2 leaves only, c.1000; (13) Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS.214, early eleventh century, southern English, probably not Canterbury; and (14) Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS. 74, Gneuss no.671, incomplete, early eleventh century. From this, it does appear that Canterbury was the original centre for the dissemination of the books, although the consistent recurrence of Abingdon may suggest an early link with Aethelwold, who was abbot there before moving to Winchester.
Most of the Anglo-Saxon copies of Boethius, including the present manuscript, have versions of the gloss of Remigius of Auxerre (c.841-c.908), the most important Carolingian commentator on the seven liberal arts; cf. H.F. Stewart, ‘A Commentary by Remigius Autissiodorensis of the De Consolatio Philosophiae of Boethius’, Journal of Theological Studies, XVII, 1915, pp.22-42, and E.T. Silk, Saeculi noni auctoris in Boetii Consolationem Philosophiae commentarius, 1935, pp.305-43. According to D.K. Bolton, the gloss in the present manuscript derives from two sources, represented in Books I-II and V here by Cambridge U.L. MS. Kk.3.21 (no.8 above, formerly at Abingdon Abbey), and in Books III-IV here by the revised version in Paris, BnF ms.lat. 6401a (no.2 above, probably from Christ Church).
The manuscript opens on fol.1r with the preface by Lupus of Ferrières (c.805-862), “Quinque libros philosophice consolationis …” (R. Peiper, ed., Boethii Philosophiae Consolationis Libri Quinque, 1871, pp.xxv-xxviii), ending on fol.1v, second column, line 14, “…eiusque initium”, followed by an addition “Observa autem quisquis legeris …”, also found in Vatican, cod. Vat.Reg.Lat. 206, and Valenciennes, Bibl.mun. ms. 298, both eleventh-century.
The Consolatio Philosophiae of Boethius opens on fol.2r, preceded by a long heading in rustic capitals, “Anicii Manlii Severini Boetii …Philosophiae Consolationis” (fol.1v), Book I beginning on fol.2r, “Carmina qui quondam …”, followed by Books II (fol.17r), III (fol.54v), IV (fol.68r) and V (fol.93r), ending on fol.111r, “… cuncta cernentis”, with a later explict. The text has the gloss of Remigius of Auxerre throughout, both in the margins and between the lines. The gloss in the upper margin of fol.2r begins with a quotation from the life of Boethius, “Multi dicunt ista nomina …” (Peiper, pp.xxxiii-iv) with the gloss of Remigius starting in the fourth line, “Ordinarius dicebatur qui in dignitate consulari …” (Silk, p.6, lines 10-14).
Short texts at the end include: (1) fols.111v-112r, an extract from the Ars Maior of Donatus, beginning “Vox est aer ictus sensibilis auditu …” (L. Holtz, ed., Donat et la tradition de l’enseignement grammatical … et édition critique, 1981, pp.603-4, line 10); (2) fol.112r, classical verse, “Almo Theon thyrsis orti sub colle pelori …” (A. Reise, ed., Anthologia Latina, I, i, 1894, p.307, no.393); (3) fol.112v, Carolingian verse, “Quattuor et pentas duo monas …” (K. Strecker, ed., Poetae latini aevi Karolini, IV, 1896, p.1119; Walther, Initia Carminum, no.15298; Schaller and Könsgen, Initia Carminum, no.13123); and (4) fol.113v, a hymn, “Deus piissimum nostra vox …”, glossed with two proverbs, “Omnis homo primum preponit …” (Walther, Proverbia Sententiaeque, no.20220), and “Omnis homo vere debet …” (ibid, no.20228).
The manuscript is elegantly laid out, with wide margins for glossing and initials throughout in purplish red and bright green. The opening initial on fol.2r is formed of interlaced patterns which derive ultimately from Celtic manuscripts, with five dragon heads biting the foliage. Notes by Sydney Cockerell on the flyleaf compare Oxford, Bodleian MS. Bodl.718, the Penitential of Ecgberht, archbishop of York, late tenth century; B.L. Add. MS. 37517, the Bosworth Psalter, late tenth century; and others.
The description in the sale catalogue of 1957 concluded with a note in capitals: “It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this complete manuscript of a philosophical work of far-reaching influence, written in England before the Conquest.”