Diary of a Rambling Antiquarian

Friday, 22 June 2018

British Library

This week I have been attending the annual meeting of WG2, which is being held in Britain for the first time since 1998. The meeting is being hosted by my alma mater, SOAS, University of London, which I graduated from exactly thirty years ago.

Senate House where the meeting is being held

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

After the meeting finished for the week at 3 pm this afternoon, I had just enough time to walk to the nearby British Library with my friend and colleague Michael Everson in order to consult some medieval Cornish manuscripts.

The British Library on a sunny summer's day

The main object of our attention is a Middle Cornish verse fragment from a Cornish play, dating to the late 14th century, written on the back of a charter held at the British Library (Add. Ch. 19491). This Cornish verse fragment is known as the "Charter Fragment", and is the earliest extant example of a Cornish language manuscript.

Michael Everson looking out of focus with the Charter Fragment

The Charter Fragment

Add. Ch. 19491

Next we examine a 15th-century illustrated manuscript of the Middle Cornish poem Pascon agan Arluth (The Passion of Our Lord). However, it is not permitted to photograph it, so here is an image of one of the pages from the British Library online catalogue.

Page from Pascon agan Arluth

Harleian 1782

For the remaining time available, we look at a variety of more recent printed books on calligraphy and handwriting styles.

Sample of lettre frizée calligraphy in a 1571 manual of handwriting

John de Beau Chesne, A Booke Containing divers sortes of hands, as well the English as French secretarie with the Italian, Roman, Chancelry & court hands (London: Thomas Vantrouillier, 1571)

Zeiglographia by Mary

Mary's writing practice on the back of a page in John de Beau Chesne's 1571 book of sample writing hands:

abcdefghiklmnopqrstuwxyz in Thomas Shelton's 1650 Zeiglographia shorthand system

(a few small errors: i is inverted; w is mirrored; and x and y are swapped)

Thomas Shelton's four and twenty zeiglographic letters

Thomas Shelton, Zeiglographia, or A New art of Short-writing never before published (London, 1659)

(I did not see this book at the British Library today)

We only have a short while before the library closes, and there are other books we want to see, so we agree to come back another day.

Monday, 11 February 2019

British Library Revisited

It is more than six months later before I have another opportunity to visit the British Library with Michael Everson. In the morning we go to see the Anglo-Saxons Kingdoms exhibition which is closing next week. A wonderful exhibition that collects together in one place all the Anglo-Saxon documents you could possibly imagine, and so much more besides. Unfortunately no photography is allowed, so I have no photographs to show.

After lunch we head to the Manuscripts Reading Room. First, we take another look at the Charter Fragment.

Looking at the Charter Fragment

Next we examine two very important early manuscript translations of the Bible into Middle English and Middle Scots:

However, these two manuscripts may only be consulted in the no-photography-allowed section of the reading room, so I have no photographs of my own to share.

Egerton MS 2880 : Part of f. 105v

Source: Michael Everson, Proposal to encode three cross symbols in the UCS p. 3

Finally, we take a look at the Cornish British Vocabulary, a long and rather disorderly manuscript vocabulary of Cornish (in a loose sense), written by William Hals (1655–1737) at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century (the manuscript is undated, but "December 16, 1701" is written on folio 501v). It is quite catholic in its scope, wih an eclectic mixture of vocabulary items from many sources, not at all restricted to the Cornish language.

Looking at the Cornish British Vocabulary

Title page of The Cornish British Vocabulary

Add. MS 71157: The Cornish British Vocabulary, written by the Author of Merlins Prophesys Translated; and Explained, and the Parochial History of Cornwall

The Cornish British Vocabulary folio 2r : To the Reader

The Cornish British Vocabulary folio 20r : The Restitution of Decay'd Intelligence or An Lhadymer ay Cornoack

The Cornish British Vocabulary folio 20v : First page of the vocabulary

Words starting with "ab": Abat, Abatou (abbot(s); cf. Welsh Abad, Abadau); Abatis, Abatssou (abbess(es); cf. Welsh Abades, Abadesau); Abhal, Abhalou (apples(s); cf. Welsh Afal, Afalau); etc.

The Cornish British Vocabulary folio 511v : Last page of the vocabulary

Deweth : finis

amen! nuill Gorthyan the Du

amen! Soli Deo Gloria Sine fine


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