Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501 "The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry" with 100. Cambridge University Library Ii.2.11, f. 202

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Matthew T. Hussey


130. Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501

"The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry"

with 100. Cambridge University Library Ii.2.11, f. 202

[Ker 20 /116; Gneuss 258]

HISTORY: This is the largest and most diverse single volume of OE poetry, representing many genres, ranging through Christian and secular topics. Written in a distinct A-S square minuscule by the same scribe who wrote Oxford, Bodi. Lib., Bodley 319 (357] and London, Lambeth Palace 149 [311] (Flower in Chambers et al. 1933: 85; Sisam, reported in Flower, in Chambers et al. 1933: 85; Ker, Cat., no. 20; Ker 1933: 230; Drage 1978: 348; Hill 1986; Conner 1993; Gameson 1996: 162-77; Muir 1991 and 2006: 1.25). The script dates the book to c. 950-990 (Flower in Chambers et al. 1933: 89; Conner 1993: 48-94; Gameson 1996: 160 and 166; Muir 2006: 1.1). Its origin is unknown, though strong cases have been made for Exeter (Conner 1993: passim) and Glastonbury (Butler 2004; cf. Gameson 1996: 179), while Crediton (Gameson 1996: 179), Tavistock (Swanton 1974: ii), and Canterbury (Dumville as reported by Rosenthal 1992: 147-48 and Dumville 1994: 137 n.23) have been suggested. Conner argues that the manuscript consists of three distinct booklets, copied by the scribe over a period of time (Conner 1986 and 1993: 95-147; however cf. Muir 1989: 274, 283-84) and explores how the book may have been used by the Exeter guild (Conner 2008), perhaps at ceremonial feasts (Conner 20ll). By 1072, the manuscript was associated with Exeter, as it famously appears to be included in Leofric's donation inventory as '.i. mice! englisc boc be gehwilcu(m) pingu(m) on leoowisan geworht' (inventory on ff. lr-2v and also in Oxford, Bodi. Lib. Auct. D. 2. 16 (340]; ed. Conner 1993: 232, also Lapidge 1994: 134). The book may have been unbound in the l lc (Forster in Chambers et al. 1933: 55-56; Conner 1993: 236) and was probably unbound (or at least without covers) when damaged by the circular stain and cuts on f. 8r and the burn at the back of the book. Conner speculates that the manuscript served in a scriptorium, as the circular stain may be from a pot of fish glue or size and the cuts from use as a board for removing leaves for repairing other books; the traces of gold leaf that remain in many openings suggest as much (Chambers in Chambers et al. 1933: 33; Conner 1993: 238; Muir 1989: 284-88; Muir 2006c: "Date, Provenance"). The book seems to have remained at Exeter through the Middle Ages; though it is not specifically recorded in the inventory of 1326, it may be present in the note, 'Multi alii libri vetustate consumpti Gallice, Anglice, et Latine scripti, qui non appreciantur, que nullius valoris reputantur' (Oliver 1861: 309). Its use in the scriptorium - perhaps as raw material, as cutting board, and/or as storage for gold- may date to the book collecting of Exeter's bishop John Grandisson (1269-1369) (Erskine in Barlow et. al. 1972: 43-55; Erskine 2004; Lloyd and Erskine 2004: 8-9; Conner 1993: 238) or the rebinding campaign of the early 15c (Lloyd and Erskine 2004: 6-7; Clarkson 1996: 157-58 and passim). The 1506 inventory does not mention the book specifically.

The antiquary Laurence Nowell (1530-c.1570) lightly glossed ff. 9-10 and added titles elsewhere, likely in the 1560s ( Chambers in Chambers et al. 1933: 34). Timothy Graham has persuasively argued that eight leaves were removed from Cambridge, University Library Ii.2.11 (100] in 1566 and inserted in Exeter 3501 as ff. 0, 1-7 (Graham 1994: 444-48). Likely soon after, John Joscelyn (1529-1603) made a working transcript (extant in London, BL Cotton Vitellius D.vii) of the Leofrician donation list now bound in the "Exeter Book''. and noted that there was an added quire of material appended to the beginning of the manuscript (Flower in Chambers et al. 1933: 91; Conner 1993: 243; Drage 1978: 348; Graham 1994: 429-30). At roughly the same time, another 16c scribe (perhaps with the surname 'Lyly') made a witness to the Leofrician leaves, now bound in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 101, perhaps while the leaves were still in Parker's possession (Graham 1994: 421-32). The "Exeter Book" remained in Exeter, even after the major gift of manuscripts to the Bodleian Library in 1602 and the deterioration and losses at Exeter Cathedral in the 17c (Lloyd and Erskine 2004: 15-19).

The late 17c and early 18c marks the advent of the "Exeter Book" in modern scholarship. George Hickes (1642-1715) studied the book for his Grammaticce lslandicce Rudimenta (part 3 of vol. 1 of his Linguarum veterum septentrionum thesaurus /Thesaurus linguarum septentrionium [ Oxford, 1703-05]) and marked the passages with runes in pencil, likely around 1700 (Chambers in Chambers et al. 1933: 34; Frank 1998: 217n.2); Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726) examined the book for his catalogue of A-S manuscripts in Antiquae literaturae septentrionalis liber alter ( Oxford, 1705, vol. 2 of Hickes' 1703-1705), noting that the book had material lacking from its beginning and end, and that it had been recently bound (Chambers in Chambers et al. 1933: 34; Conner 1993: 250-51). The repair work where thick parchment strips were glued over the burns at the back of the book preceded the rebinding (Conner 1993: 251; Forster in Chambers et al. 1933: 56; though see Muir 2006c: "Codicology" where he suggest these strips were 19c).

In 1831 the manuscript was borrowed by the British Museum, when Robert Chambers made a full transcription in imitative script, now London, BL Add. 9067, and this was subsequently collated by Frederic Madden. The manuscript returned to London in 1930 for the photography of the collotype facsimile (Forster in Chambers et al. 1933: 55; Graham 1994: 441; but see Conner 1993: 254 citing the Exeter Express and Echo for a departure to London from Exeter of 18 June 1932). Forster reports that the 18c binding was removed in 1930 and rebinding was underway at the BL at the time of his writing (Forster in Chambers et al. 1933: 55), as the new binding was complete in 1933 (Graham 1994: 441-42, citing Exeter Chapter records). The old boards are now kept in the Exeter Cathedral Library. Rebound with new boards in dark blue goatskin covers (see Pickwoad in Muir 2006c). In 1996 the backing was removed to expose the binding structure and to loosen the book for digital photography. Pickwoad reports that the 20c rebinding made use of the five sewing stations of the early 18c binding, but that the book was sewn on three stations at some point in its history (Pickwoad in Muir 2006c). The Exeter Book now regularly resides in a display case in the entry to the Exeter Cathedral library.

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