193 leaves, 293mm. by 195mm., missing a gathering at the beginning and another (perhaps of only 4 leaves) after fol.71, else complete, collation: i-iii12, iv13 (x a singleton), v-vi12, vii4 (misbound here, and originally following fol.112), viii-ix12, x12 (originally 16, the missing 4 leaves now bound as quire vii), xi-xiv12, xv13 (vi a singleton), xvi12, xvii9 (last 3 blank and cancelled), written space approximately 130-150mm. by 230mm., two columns, c. 40 lines in three different hands using textura or anglicana scripts (the first, fols.1r-71v; the second, fols.76r-109v; the third, fols.112rv, 72r-75v, 113r-193v) in dark or light brown ink, some leaves in first part with extended calligraphic initials in upper border, numerous small initials in red or green, the larger ones with simple contrasting penwork, three large elaborate coloured initials with foliate penwork infill (fols.31r, 56r, 80r), some dampstaining to edges and minor discolouration throughout, last two leaves with tears and some losses (partially restored, early nineteenth-century dark brown leather over wooden boards with carved edges, with foliage sprays blind-tooled at corners around a central lozenge, title gilt-tooled on spine, with Clarke's MS. number added below
This is a notably early witness to Middle English, as well as a crucially important and early witness to Rolle's translation of the Psalter
1. Rolle's translation appears to have been made for female contemplation, and this manuscript was most probably copied by nuns in a convent in north-west Yorkshire c.1380, and added to there later in the fifteenth century: "Elizabeth" added in a late fifteenth- or sixteenth-century hand at the base of fol.177r. Subsequently marked up with distinctiones of the form used by preachers, and perhaps used for public reading within the community.
2. Adam Clarke (1762-1832), Wesleyan Methodist minister, scholar of theology and orientalist; his MS. LXIX. His sale in our rooms, 20 June 1836, lot 30, to Thomas Thorpe for £19, 19 shillings.
3. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), his MS. 8884, acquired in 1836 from Thorpe's Catalogue of upwards of Fourteen Hundred Manuscripts, no. 526; Phillipps' sale in our rooms, 17 May 1897, lot 623, to Quaritch.
4. John Scott of Halkshill, Largs (Ayrshire); his sale in our rooms, 27 March 1905, lot 1923.
5. Archibald P. Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery and Prime Minister (1847-1929), acquired at the Scott sale; and by descent.
Richard Rolle (c.1290-1349) was an important English religious writer and Bible translator. Driven by his mystical experiences, and a desire to sweep aside all conventions, he abandoned his studies at Oxford while a young man, and became a hermit in Yorkshire. He refused to be ordained and recognised no duty of obedience to any ecclesiastical authority, believing that his visions gave him a closer link to the divine than anything through the earthly church. Late in life he transferred his cell to Richmondshire, where he wrote a number of works in Latin and English, and attended on the Cistercian nuns of Hampole until his death in 1349. His works played an important part in the formation of the religious culture of fifteenth-century England, and the number of extant manuscripts indicates that they were more widely read than those of any other vernacular writer.
The present text, his translation of the Psalms and some of the Canticles into Middle English, is probably his earliest in English, and was composed c. 1340, approximately forty years before Wycliffe completed his translation of the Bible. Rolle's text had profound impact on Wycliffe and his followers. It has been argued that Wycliffe himself extended Rolle's translation of the Canticles, and a large portion of the manuscripts of Rolle's Psalter exist in versions heavily adapted and augmented for Lollard study.
The present manuscript includes the text in Rolle's original translation with his extensive and anecdotal commentary (Stegmüller 7298 & 7304, Bramley, pp. 5-493 and Allen, English Writings of Richard Rolle, 1931, pp. 4-7), beginning imperfectly in Psalm 17. At the end of this is a tract in Middle English discussing the sacraments, theological virtues and fourteen articles of faith, as well as the 'Twelve Degrees of Meekness' in rhyming couplets (both texts damaged by losses to the last leaf).
While the bulk of our knowledge of Middle English comes from texts composed in the second half of the fourteenth or the fifteenth century, this manuscript is a substantial witness to an earlier stage of the language, that between the thirteenth-century lyric verses such as the Owl and the Nightingale and the more mature compositions of Chaucer and Gower.
This copy is also one of the most important witnesses to Rolle's text. Verses preceding the text in Bodleian, Laud. Misc. 286 explain that the author composed the work for Dame Margaret Kirkby, a recluse at Hampole, and that the autograph was kept there, chained to his tomb. Paues traces twenty-three manuscripts of the original text (p.xxxiv; see also K. Christ, 'Eine vatikanische Handschrift des Psalmenkommentars', Archiv für das Studium der neuren Sprachen 1917, and Rand, p. 97, for manuscripts which have come to light since then), and places foremost among these six in the northern dialect of the author (p. xli; the present manuscript first in that list, followed by the Newcastle Public Library ms., late fourteenth century; Oxford, Bodl. Hatton 12, c.1400; San Marino, Huntingdon 148, mid to late fifteenth century; Eton College 10, c.1500; Oxford, University College, 64, c.1500 & 1590). The two earliest witnesses in this list (the Newcastle manuscript and the present one) were written within decades of the composition of the text, and were most probably made from the autograph itself, or an intermediary copy. It has been seen by only a small handful of scholars in the last century and a half, and what little is known of its readings is a single passage quoted by Clarke in 1810.
A. Clarke, Commentary on the Whole of Scripture (1810–24), vol. iv
J.B.B Clarke, Historical and Descriptive Catalogue of the European and Asiatic Manuscripts in the Library of Dr. Adam Clarke, 1835, item lxix
H. Bramley, The Psalter or Psalms of David and Certain Canticles ... by Richard Rolle, 1884, no. xvi and p. 276
A.C. Paues, A Fourteenth-Century English Biblical Version, 1902
D. Everett, 'The Middle English Prose Psalter of Richard Rolle of Hampole', Modern Language Review 17 (1922), pp. 217-27
D. McRoberts, Catalogue of Scottish Medieval Liturgical Books, 1953, no. 51
E[va, Countess of] Rosebery, 'Unfamiliar Libraries VII: Barnbougle Castle', Book Collector 11 (1962), p. 39
K.A. Rand, Index of Middle English prose, Handlist XX, 2009, p. 97
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