Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Library, W.H. Scheide Collection, MS 71 "The Blickling Homilies"

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Jonathan Wilcox


439. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University

Library, W. H. Scheide Collection, MS 71

"The Blickling Homilies"

[Ker 382, Gneuss 905]

HISTORY: This collection of anonymous pre-Ælfrician homilies with appended 14c and 15c material from Lincoln is, along with the Vercelli Book [482], one of the earliest OE homily manuscripts. There are three phases to the history of the Blick.ling Homilies: the Anglo-Saxon period, about which very little is known, a late medieval use in Lincoln, which is abundantly attested, and a well-documented period of modern ownership. All three are outlined here.

The dialect of the Blick.ling Homilies hints at a Mercian origin for the manuscript (Hardy 1899 and Menner 1949). The manuscript was written in or sometime after 971 in view of the dating formula included in Homily 11 on f. 72 and this approximate date is confirmed by the characteristics of the handwriting (which Ker ascribes to s. x/xi).

[Note: Kiernan (1996: xix-xx.ii) has suggested codicological and paleographical similarities to the Beowulf-manuscript (London BL Cotton Vitellius A.xv [251]). Following Forster's suggestion that the "hand of the second Beowulf scribe displays in overall appearance a striking resemblance to the first scribe of the Blickling homilies" (Forster 1919: 43, Kiernan's translation (1996: xx)), Kiernan notes similarities in the late square minuscule, in the writing grid layout, and in the irregular arrangement of quires (see below) to fit content. Coupled with the long-debated literary relationship between Blickling Homily 16 and the description of Grendel's mere in Beowulf, this evidence allows Kiernan (1996: xxi) to suggest "the possibility that the two manuscripts were copied at different times in the same scriptorium:' But for doubts about this theory see Orchard 2003: 21-22.]

Evidence for use of the homilies after their first writing is slight, but some clues do survive. While many corrections to the text are by the main scribes, a few were made by other hands, such as the linguistic preference that led to the insertion of"se" before 'hrelend' at ff. 14r/10, 14r/16, lSv/16, 16r/16, in the opening of Homily 3. The attention of later users is evident, too, in the insertion of rubrics for Homilies 11-14, probably in the late 11 c in view of such transitional spelling as 'dei' (f. 70v/2, Ker [ Cat., p. 453] characterizes this as "a rough hand of s. xi"). A further layer of later use is attested here, since the rubric to Homily 13 at f. 84v/7 has received a later pious addition, 'N<ost>ri Ie<s>u Chr<ist>i'. Later attention is also seen around the dating formula at f. 72r, where the comment 'fif elddo sindon ahgan. on pam syxtan sceal beon <lorn[ .. ?] | deih'. written in the upper margin, relates to the discussion of the ages of the world and suggests transitional English in the spelling of deih. Probably the same annotator entered 'on þa<m> sixta[.] | elddo' at f. 72r/8 margin, supplying a phrase that makes the text more explicit. While little is known for sure of the early circulation of this manuscript, it clearly received some attention from users of the text, apparently stretching into a transitional period of English.

[Note: A close relationship with part of the 11c homiletic manuscript CCCC 198 (41] has been convincingly demonstrated by Scragg (1985) and Swan (2006), a manuscript at Worcester at one time (Ker, Cat., p. 82). Part of a homily in CCCC 198 may have been copied from Blickling Homily 10.]

By 1304 the manuscript was in the possession of Lincoln city corporation. Here it was used as an oath book and as a book of record. The gospel sequentiae, made up of the gospel pericopes for Ascension, Epiphany, Annunciation, and Christmas, constitute a suitable range to serve as an oath book (Ker compares in this regard the Blickling Psalter, New York, Pierpont Morgan Library 776 [333], and MSS London, British Library, Royal 9 A. vii and 9 A. xii). It was probably as a result of considerable handling that followed from use as an oath book that some of the leaves became soiled and many of the bifolia split and disordered (Willard 1960: 18-25). At the same time, the manuscript became a somewhat haphazard ledger for the recording of city affairs and names, written into margins and other blank spaces. The earliest entry lists the roster of members of the Lincoln Common Council for 1304 ( on the margin off. 1 v ). The latest dated entry among the homilies is 'Martin Mason I belman 1608' at the foot of f. 119v, while on the calendar there is an entry from 1623 at f. v verso. Municipal records and names abound, along with other more miscellaneous marginalia, especially from the 14c and 15c (all those recoverable are listed by Willard 1960: 47-65). At this time, the OE texts must have had only totemic significance since the language would have been unreadable. The late medieval additions do not relate to the OE texts (with only a couple of possible exceptions, such as the internal gloss at f. 95r). Willard (1960: 48) speculates that the manuscript's "selection for use by the Common Council may have been governed by the fact that it was an ancient book, a religious book, that it is in the vernacular, and that it is both English and pre-Conquest:' Similar use was made of a glossed psalter, the Blickling Psalter, although in that case at least the Latin would have remained comprehensible.

The manuscript left the common council of the City of Lincoln in 1724, as made clear by a reference in the Lincoln Corporation Minute Book to the disposal of "two books writ in ancient character;' namely the Blickling Homilies and the Blickling Psalter, to a Mr. Pownall of Lincoln (see Willard 1960: 15-17, from whom the following history is drawn). From him both manuscripts passed to Sir Richard Ellys, ofNocton, Lincolnshire, on whose death in 1740 they were inherited by Baron Hobart of Blickling Hall, from which these manuscripts take their traditional names. The inheritance passed on to the Marquis of Lothian in 1850, from whose family Richard Morris borrowed the manuscript to make his edition of 1874-80. On the death of the tenth Marquis of Lothian in 1930, both manuscripts were sent to New York for public auction at the American Art Association -Anderson Galleries, Inc. On 27 January 1932 (Willard mistakenly gives 1928), the manuscript of the Blickling Homilies was sold to Cortlandt F. Bishop for $55,000. After his death, the manuscript was again sold at auction, on 5 April 1938, for $38,000, to John Hinsdale Scheide (1875-1942), of Titusville, Pennsylvania, who was building on the library of his father, William Taylor Scheide (1847-1907). From him, the collection has passed to his son, William H. Scheide (b. 1914), who allowed extensive use of the manuscript for the making of the facsimile in the 1950s and then lodged it in the care of Princeton University Library from about 1960. It was microfilmed in 1955. In 2008 new online digital photography of the complete 1nanuscript was released.

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