Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Treatment And Cataloguing Of Manuscripts

( Originally Published 1893 )



LET us suppose that a private collector has purchased a MS. at some sale, that it has just reached him, and that he is inexperienced in the treatment of such volumes. Let us further assume, for the sake of definiteness, that it is one of those very common MSS., of which perhaps a hundred are sold and bought every year in London auctions, lettered outside ` Missale Romanum,' described (it may be) in the catalogue as ` Breviarium,' and in reality a Latin book of Hours (Horae). How should the owner proceed to investigate and treat it ? The natural order of dealing with it is perhaps to consider in turn its contents, its age, its state, and the best way to catalogue or describe it.

1. Contents

No MS. written before the invention of printing has a title-page. The volume presented may bear on its first page a rubric beginning, ` Incipit . . .' or ` Incipiunt Hore Beate Marie Virginis ' ; but more usually the title, if there is any, will be found on the last page, in some such form as ` Expliciunt Hore secundum usum Curie Romane, scripte per me Willelmum de Gorham canonicum de Bridlington anno incarnacionis dominice McccxLV J. Gracias Deo. Amen.' If these distinctive rubrics fail, how shall we distinguish between the three cardinal kinds of ordinary liturgical books, Missals, Breviaries, and books of Hours ?

A Missal, which corresponds to the Communion Service of the Church of England, may be detected very quickly by searching for the Canon of the Mass. This is the invariable part of the book, and has not appreciably altered for 1500 years. It begins with the words ` Te igitur,' and this particular T is hardly ever an ordinary letter, but either treated finely as a capital letter, or interwoven in a splendid picture of the crucifixion, forming itself the cross. Unfortunately, since the leaf containing this illumination was often the finest in the volume, it has occasionally been abstracted ; but words belonging to the service of the Mass can usually be distinguished, while such rubrical words as Introitus, Offertorium, Communio, Post-communio, are proper to a Missal. A Gradual contains only the musical portions of a Missal, as an Antiphoner does of a Breviary, and can be distinguished by the musical notes, and the omissions.

A Breviary may be said to correspond to a Common Prayer Book with Proper Lessons, omitting the Communion Service and the Occasional Offices. It falls into six parts, which ought to be recognizable with or without the rubrics in any ordinary volume : —i. The Calendar, with rubrics and tables. 2. A Psalter, with the versicles and responses of the week-day Hours (see below), sometimes with small Offices appended (this is equivalent to, but has never received the title of, Commune de Tempore). 3. Proprium de Tempore, collects and lections for particular Sundays and week-days. 4. Proprium de Sanctis, the same for particular Saints' Days. 5. Commune Sanctorum, the same for Saints who have no special service assigned to them. 6. Small Offices, such as for dedications, commemoration or burial of the dead, the Hours of the Virgin, etc. Often the mere bulk of the volume will show that it is a Breviary and not a book of Hours ; often its division into two parts, for summer and winter (pars aestivalis, pars hiemalis).

A book of Hours is usually in some form or other the Horae Beata Maria Virginis. There are two Offices of the Virgin, one, the greater, often found in the latter part of a Breviary ; one, the lesser, usually found in books of Hours. The ordinary composition of this lesser Office, which is properly for the use, not of the priest as such, but of the laity, is as follows, the usual subjects of the accompanying illuminations being enclosed in brackets :—i. Calendar (emblems or scenes suited to each month). 2. Four lessons from the Gospels (the four evangelists or their emblems), followed by some preliminary prayers. 3. The Hours proper, that is to say, the order of the service for each of the Canonical Hours, each consisting essentially of preparation, hymn, psalms, lections (i.e., lessons), hymn, canticle, prayers, but subject to special lengthening and shortening. The Hours are Matins, ad Matutinas (Annunciation) ; Lauds, ad Laudes (Visitation of Elizabeth) ; Prime, ad Primam (the Nativity) ; Tierce, ad Tertiam (Angels appearing to the Shepherds) ; Sext, ad Sextam (the Magi) ; None, Ad Nonam (Presentation in Temple) ; Vespers, ad Vesperas (Flight into Egypt) ; and Compline, ad Completorium (Coronation or Assumption of the Virgin). The Psalms and more usual prayers, hymns, versicles, etc., are often only indicated by their first few words. 4. The Penitential part, consisting of the seven Penitential Psalms (David praying, or David and Bathsheba) and a Litany with prayers. 5. The Office for the Dead, or strictly the choir-service part of the Office, the actual Mass being in the Missal. This choir-service consisted of special vespers and matins, called respectively from the first words of the antiphons to the first Psalm,

Placebo ' and ` Dirige ' (funeral, day of judgment, etc.). 6. Private and miscellaneous prayers. This is the simplest analysis and the commonest order of a book of Hours, which corresponds to the Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Church of England. Sometimes other Hours are found inserted after the fourth part, such as Hours of the Holy Cross, Horœ Sancta Crucis (with illuminations of the crucifixion) ; Hours of the Holy Spirit, Horæ de Sancto Spiritu (Pentecost) ; but in these cases the barest skeleton is given, showing just the parts in which such Hours differ from the precedent Hours of the Virgin.

Among the more important liturgical books which maybe met with are, the Antiphoner (Antiphonarium, containing the musical parts of the Breviary), the Hymnary (Hymnarium), the Legenda (longer lessons from the Bible, books of sermons, and lives of Saints), the Collectarium (shorter lessons, with their Collects or short prayers), the Processional (Processionale, services during the frequent processions to or from an altar, round a church or cathedral, etc.) Epistolaria and Evangeliaria (containing the Epistles and Gospels of the Mass), the Gradual (Gradale, containing the musical part of the Missal), the Manuale (usually called on the Continent Rituale, comprising the Occasional Services, which, when they were such as only a bishop could perform, were written in the Pontificale), and the Ordinale (containing the rules for the proper sequence of the parts of a service). A Primer is the ordinary Hours of the Virgin with English rubrics, and often with English prayers, the amount of English varying very greatly in different primers. The Portiforium is only the term used commonly in England for the book elsewhere called a Breviary; while a Sacramentary is an early form of Missal before it included the Epistles and Gospels,

It is hardly possible to give more help towards identifying the contents of a book, but in the case of a charter or deed the analysis given on p. 174 will be useful. For other assistance recourse must be had to a librarian or to works of reference.

2. The Age and Place of Writing

After the subject of a MS. has been ascertained, the commonest question asked is, When was it written ? Unfortunately no part of manuscript lore is more difficult to learn or to impart to others when learnt than the determination of the age of a MS. Not only have many converging lines of evidence to be considered,— the character of the writing, the details of letters, the style of illumination, the look of the parchment, the binding, the known circumstances of its history,—but empirical rules have a way of breaking down. It may be that two MSS. written in the same year are presented to us, one by a scribe in extreme old age with conservative habits, and the other by a young copyist of the newest school. The style of these two would probably appear to differ by at least fifty years. Nothing but a course of paleography such as is adumbrated in Chapter III. will teach a student the way to arrive at a correct judgment ; on the other hand, it is wonderful to what insight experienced librarians may attain. The thing not to do is to venture rashly on too precise a statement, or, as Waagen, to mistake the word isto on an illumination for 1530 ! I have known a person who, when engaged on dating a MS., asserted that a particular form or contraction in it was not found before 1424, and another not after 1430 ! The minimum of labour by which a collector could acquire sufficient information to date a volume between A.D. 500 and 1600 would be to compare in detail a set of facsimiles such as are supplied by Wattenbach or Arndt or Steffens or the Paleographical Society, and to study the article on ` Paleography ' by Sir Edward Maunde Thompson for the Encyclopedia Britannica, or the same author's longer Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography.

With respect to localization, the answer to the question, Where a MS. was written, considerable progress has been made of late years, and it is in this direction that the most fruitful results may be expected. It may be doubted, as has already been pointed out (p. 44), whether any scriptorium was without its peculiar difference, whether of style or illumination. Take a Canterbury MS., and you can usually tell whether a monk of St. Augustine's or a monk of its great rival Christ Church wrote it. The Austin Canons, for instance, were fond of a sloping line as an edge to the long up or down strokes of such letters as b or p. The Christ Church monks had no such predilection, but were fond of appending a little upward tick (') to mark the beginning of an m or n or i, and such examples can be multiplied.

The broken-backed letters and peculiar orthography of St. Alban's have also already been mentioned.

3. Condition

Is the MS. complete ? Have any leaves dropped out or been abstracted ? This question can only be certainly answered by an examination of each section (see p. i5) of the book. Turn the leaves over till you discern a thread lying close to the back at the extreme inner edge of the inner margin of a page ; then turn over a few leaves, usually eight, till you come to the next thread ; half-way between the two threads, if the book is uniformly made up, will be the end of one section and the beginning of another, often slightly gummed together. By continuing this process you will soon discover if the MS. is composed of sections of eight leaves (quaternions), or six or twelve, or whatever it may be. Then simply verify each section to make sure it is complete. Possibly there may be a signature (such as I, II, III, etc.) on the first or last page of each section to help one, or as in printed books, b i, b ii, b iii and the like, or perhaps catchwords to mark the transition from one section or leaf to another ; but even with-out these a leaf can hardly be absent without causing a section to consist of an odd or unusual number of leaves— which should at once arrest the attention.

Next, is the binding firm ? Is it the original binding ? Are there book-worms in it ? The first point needs simple inspection ; and if the stitches are giving way, or the board sides are broken, a binder's aid should be called in, who should be carefully instructed to destroy nothing of the old binding ; every written title along the back, every auction sale label, every piece of writing, should be preserved ; and if the back has to be renewed, the surface of the old back should be pasted on the inside of one of the sides. The second point needs a knowledge of the history of binding ; but if the sides are composed of boards covered with leather stamped even with simple lines and devices, they are well worth pre-serving, whatever their date. The third point the presence of book-worms, is easily settled. If there are small round holes, where book-worms have been, hold the volume up so that any fine dust in the holes would drop out, and tap it with the fingers. If dust does fly out, the worms are alive and have been lately at work, and a further close inspection will probably show a white worm about a quarter of an inch long, or, if the season be summer or autumn, the small, brown-winged beetles (Anobium domestictum or striatum) . The volume should then be put in an air-tight box with a saucer of strong benzine and left for a night, at the end of which the animals will be dead. The worm lives, not on the pages of a volume, but on the paste of the binding ; and it is the irony of fate that the insect should object quite as much as the possessor of the volume to its self-imposed task of boring a tunnel to connect two happy feeding-grounds.

Finally, every part of the back, edges, sides, and fly-leaves of a AIS. should be searched for indications of its history. The very strips of vellum, sometimes found under the thread in the centre of a section, inserted to prevent the thread from wearing the sides of the hole through which it passes, may yield fine proof of the provenance of the binding and of the volume.

4. Cataloguing

The description of a MS. should consist of three parts—(1) The technical description ; (2) the list of contents ; (3) the history and present shelf-mark.

The technical description, though it will be under-stood that the extent and arrangement of a catalogue entry are fairly matters of opinion, should include the language, the material, the date, the size, the number of leaves, the fact of illuminations, of imperfection, or of injury, and a note of the kind of binding, if remarkable. The size had better be reckoned by the minimum length and breadth of the inside of a box in which the book would just closely lie, and the height should always precede the breadth. It is more correct, but very unsatisfactory in practice, to measure the actual size of the average or largest leaf in the book ; and in favour of the rule here advocated, it may be remembered that if the binding is secure and firm, it is unlikely that it will have to be renewed, and your measurements altered, for many years to come. Every MS. must be foliated ; that is to say, every leaf, not page, marked with a consecutive number. The only safe rule is to lift the front cover of a volume, and to begin steadily at the upper right-hand corner of the fly-leaf which meets you, and so to go on marking every leaf (and, if some pieces of paper are pasted on a leaf, first the leaf and then each piece of paper), or, in the case of many blank-leaves together, every fifth or tenth, to the very end, appending ` ult.' to the last number. Then no abstraction of a leaf can possibly take place without detection. If you have missed foliating a leaf, say after fol. 25, mark 25 as 25a, and the omitted one as 25b (wt.) ; if a very faulty foliation has preceded you, put your own foliation at the lower right-hand corner, independently. Never send the volume away, even to the binder, till the whole is foliated. If, when a volume of say 293 leaves comes back from binding, there are four new fly-leaves at the beginning and end, mark the former i, ii, iii, iv (ult.), and at the end carry on your old foliation, describing the number of leaves as iv ± 297. For describing illuminations, reserve the word ` miniature ' for a scene or figure, keeping illuminations as a general term, covering both miniatures and coloured capitals or rubrics.

The contents should be divided and described according to the circumstances ; see the typical example given below. As a rule, use English (unless special circumstances, such as the probable use of your catalogue in foreign countries, make Latin desirable ; and certainly Latin is admirably adapted for terse and accurate description), but wherever possible use the actual words of the volume with inverted commas. Number each division, and mention the leaf on which it begins, ` fol. 14,' meaning the back or verso of leaf 14, and ` fol. 14,' or, if necessary for distinctness, ` fol. 14,' the front or recto. The extent of the description must depend on the scope of your catalogue ; but in all cases of anonymous works, the first few words should be cited. Very often a few general words of description prefixed to the first division of the contents saves repetition, and makes the information clearer. A separate paragraph may be given to a description of illuminations or other striking features.

Lastly, the history, so far as known from internal or external evidence, should be succinctly told, and the successive shelf-marks which the book has borne under different owners.

A collector is no doubt, in ordinary cases, subject to certain weaknesses, such as a gradual tendency to lose his power of discrimination, and thus to ac-cumulate instead of selecting, and to buy and not use ; a refined form of selfishness which makes him nervous if any one else wants to see or use his books ; a plethora of unrealizable schemes for publishing the contents of his volumes ; a secret hope that his own books are altogether unique (as in the case of that Frenchman who, hearing that a friend had a second copy of a printed book which he had deemed his unique possession, set fire to his friend's house, and burnt owner and book together). But all may be reasonably forgiven, if the possessor of a collection will only print a catalogue of it.

The collector would also do a great service to the readers of his catalogue by making use of photography to represent pages of some of the treasures which he is describing. The processes of collotype (which preserves the appearance even of the surface of the parchment) and photo-lithography (which is rather less expensive, and is similar to an engraving in being simply a black design printed on the white surface of paper) are now rapidly becoming cheapened, so that with a small expenditure the catalogue can be immensely improved in interest and permanent value. Colour printing is also being wonder-fully improved, and colour-photography is in active progress towards success. For some purposes bromide prints, or even (for collation) rotographs (a single copy with white writing on a dark back-ground, very inexpensive) are sufficient.

The following may be given as a typical (fictitious) catalogue entry on the principles just laid down :—XVII

In Latin, on parchment ; written in the second half of the fifteenth century in England ; 6 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches, iii + 157 leaves ; with illuminated capitals and four full-page miniatures ; in part imperfect, see below.

Poems of Virgil, etc.:

1. (fol. 3) The Georgics, from ii. 120 to end, some leaves being lost at the beginning.

2. (fol. 60v) ` Incipit Expositio Seruij grammatici in libros Vergilij Bucolicon et Georgicon.'

(fol. 75) The AEneid.

(Description of the miniatures.)

On fol. 155v, ` Qui me scribebat Gulielmus nomen habebat.' ` John Rousham oweth this book ' (early 16th century). In the Graham sale (1834) this volume was no. 1415 and sold for 155-Now MS. Collier 17.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com