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When discussing the provenance and history of the runic poem, a distinction should be made between the folio containing the runic poem and the rest of the manuscript. As the shelf mark indicates, the manuscript was part of the Cottonian collection. Hence, we know that it was in the possession of Sir Robert Cotton (1570/1-1631) before his collection was moved to the British Museum (now British Library) in 1753.78 The folio with the runic poem, however, belonged to another book according to Wanley (‘Folium quod olim ad alium quondam librum pertinuit’).79 Ker concludes that this folio, fo. 165, was probably a Derolez, p. 18.
‘IAMS040-001102864’, Catalogue of Archives and Manuscripts, Catalogue of the British Library, online edn, http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=IAMS_VU2 [Accessed September 2013] 78 C. G. C. Tite, The Manuscript Library of Sir Robert Cotton, The Panizzi Lectures 1993, (London:
The British Library, 1994), p. 39.
79 Wanley, p. 192.
single leaf, possibly from the end of the manuscript.80 Ker also notes that it has been bound up with #177, which in his catalogue corresponds with the surviving leaves. This of course complicates any research into the history and ownership of the runic poem.
Apart from the fact that it was part of the Cottonian collection, little is known about the provenance of Otho B. X. It is not possible to ascertain when the manuscript was bought or added to the Cotton collections, because Cotton did not keep an exact record of his acquisitions, and was wont to reassemble the various works he had in his possession. He could therefore have received the different parts of what is now Cotton Otho B. X at different points in time.81 It is similarly difficult to determine who possessed the manuscript (or its different parts) before Cotton. A few suggestions have been made by different scholars.
In his article ‘Anglo-Saxon Texts in Early Modern Transcripts’, Page suggests that the early Tudor antiquary Robert Talbot (1505/6-1558) may have annotated the runic page of Otho B. X, and added material from Cotton Domitian A. IX, which was in his possession at that time. Talbot annotated fo. 2v of the Domitian A. IX manuscript, and was one of the owners of Oxford, St John’s College MS 17, which also contains runic alphabets. His notebooks, now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 379, show that he had a general interest in runes, or more precisely, as his biographer Carley states: ‘He examined runic alphabets in several manuscripts, and made an attempt, not altogether successful, to understand the differing forms of runes’.82 It is interesting to consider the implications of Page’s suggestion. Assuming that Talbot was in a position to write on the folio, it is likely that he had either a close relationship with its owner or easy access to it. This could mean that he owned it, just as he owned Domitian A. IX, but it could also simply have been part of one of the manuscripts containing AngloSaxon which Talbot had a particular interest in, or he might have consulted it specifically for its runes. Carley notes that Talbot was part of a circle of collectors who frequently exchanged materials with others members of that circle, such as John Leland (1503-52), or N. R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), #179.
81 Tite, p. 45.
82 J. P. Carley, ‘Talbot, Robert (1505/6–1558)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26941 [Accessed September 2013], para. 3 of 5.
Robert Recorde (1512-58), any of whom could have provided him with the manuscript.83 Although this is speculative, it does suggest a new possibility for research into the history of the runic poem: perhaps a closer look at Talbot’s notes on runes could provide further insight, but that falls outside the purview of the current thesis.
Ker opens up another avenue of enquiry when he writes ‘A single leaf bound up with no. 177, perhaps by Joscelyn’ in his catalogue description of the runic poem.84 John Joscelyn (1529-1602) was an Old English scholar, and Church of England clergyman, who was appointed a chaplaincy as Bishop Matthew Parker’s (1504-75) Latin secretary in 1559.
He became influential in the house of the bishop, but is more important for his contribution to medieval studies and in particular the revival of Old English.85 Joscelyn was part of the group which Matthew Parker organised for the study of the manuscripts in his possession.86 Joscelyn is likely to have been involved in the binding and rebinding of manuscripts, especially as his employer was notorious for reorganising folios to suit his religious purpose.87 Even more interesting is Ker’s suggestion that Joscelyn owned the codex before Robert Cotton. This he infers from a note by Robert Cotton in what is now London, British Library, MS Harley 6018, fo. 162v, recording a loan to Camden of ‘A Saxon book of diuers saints liues and the Alphabett of the old Danish letter amonghs Mr Gocelins’.88 Joscelyn also made notes in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 9 and London, British Library, Cotton Nero E.i vol. 1, vol. 2, fo. 1-180, 187, 188, on the Latin lives of Basil, Julian and Basilissa, Sebastian, and Agnes, stating respectively ‘Habeo saxonice f.26’, ‘Habeo saxonice’, ‘Habeo anglice f.49’, ‘Habeo anglice f.57’.89 When compared to Carley, para. 4 of 5.
85 G. H. Martin, ‘Joscelin, John (1529–1603)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/15130 [Accessed September 2013], para. 1-2 of 6.
86 The Recovery of Old English: Anglo-Saxon Studies in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, ed. by T. Graham (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), p. 83.
87 ‘In his declining years Parker increasingly retreated into antiquarian studies, in part motivated by the need to find evidence for the existence of Protestantism in the remote British past, and so to answer the question tauntingly put to English reformers by Catholic adversaries: ‘where was your church before Luther?’’ D. J. Crankshaw, A. Gillespie, ‘Parker, Matthew (1504–1575)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/21327 [Accessed April 2013], para. 94 of 122.
88 Ker, #177.
89 Ibid., #177.
the above table of contents of Cotton Otho B. X, all four saints’ lives can be found, but the foliation is different. Ker assumes that there must have been nine more leaves at the beginning of the manuscript than when Wanley catalogued it. This seems not to be the case, for the life of Saint Sebastian can be found on fo. 40 in Smith’s catalogue and on 39b of Wanley’s. Ker considers the fact that Joscelyn annotated both vol. 1 and 2 of Cotton Nero E. I, of which only one went to Parker, as conclusive evidence that Joscelyn worked with more manuscripts than just those owned by Parker. 90 Given this, Ker’s proposal regarding ownership seems plausible, though there are still a number of unresolved details.
90 Ibid., #29.
2.6 Cataloguing discrepancies In the previous discussion the various uncertainties surrounding the history of the manuscript have become apparent. Discrepancies between the two catalogues in which it is described complicate matters even further. As mentioned earlier, the contents of the Cotton Otho B. X manuscript have been recorded in full by both Thomas Smith and Humfrey Wanley. A quick look at list of contents shows that both records differ only slightly, primarily in foliation. The folio containing the runic poem, however, is more problematic.
A comparison of the entries concerning fo. 165 in Smith and Wanley’s catalogues shows a
Characteres Alphabeti peregrini, numero tantum decem. Aliqui ex his videntur esse literis Runicis similes. 165 b.91 (Smith, p. 71) XXVII. fol. 165. Folium quod olim ad alium quendam librum pertinuit, nunc hujus pars, in quo continetur Alphabetum Runicum cum explicatione Poetica, Saxonice, quod non ita pridem descripsi rogatu cl. D. Hickesii, qui in Gram. AngloSaxonicae, cap. 22. de Dialecto Normanno-Saxonica. P. 135, illud typis evulgavit.92 (Wanley, p. 192) Smith’s description lacks the ‘explicatione Poetica, Saxonice’, and notes ‘ten characters of a foreign alphabet, similar to runes’ instead of a ‘runic alphabet’. The latter difference is the most intriguing, especially in combination with a note made by Wanley in his own copy of Smith’s catalogue: ‘Litterae antiquae Runicae numero plane viginti et novem cum observatt. Saxonicis’.93 It would appear that Smith and Wanley are talking about a different page. However, no references to other runes occur in either catalogue, eliminating [Characters of a foreign alphabet, as many as ten. Some of these appear to be similar to runic letters.
165b.] [XXVI. fol. 165. A folio that once belonged to a certain other book, now part of this, wherein is contained a Runic Alphabet with a Verse explanation, Anglo-Saxon, which not very long ago I copied at the request of the most renowned Dr Hickes, who published it in print in his Anglo-Saxon Grammar, in chapter 22, about the Norse-Saxon dialect, p. 135.] 93 Halsall, p. 22. [Ancient Runic letters clearly twenty-nine in number with Saxon comments].
the possibility that Smith’s runes appear elsewhere and one of the scholars made a foliation mistake.
This discrepancy has been commented on by remarkably few scholars; the most extended comments being made by Derolez in his Runica manuscripta. Derolez hypothesises that because there is no record of the runic poem in Smith’s catalogue, it is likely that it was inserted in between the respective viewings of both scholars.94 Hickes requested Wanley to collect runic material in 1697, one year after Smith’s catalogue was published. This implies that the insertion would have happened during a rather brief period of time. As Wanley spent at least a year writing the index to the Catalogus, a minimum of two years between both viewings can be estimated.95 There are, however, a few issues worth considering before accepting this hypothesis.
First, it should be noted that Smith records the runic letters on fo. 165 v (or b), while in Wanley’s catalogue the poem appears on fo. 165. Derolez does not consider this a problem, since Wanley’s description of Cotton Otho B. X also contains a few other foliation slips. He suspects that Wanley made a mistake in assigning the poem to that folio.96 Second, the runic poem as it appears in Hickes’s Thesaurus has nine superfluous runes at the bottom of the page. The difference between nine runes and the ten counted by Smith is small enough to allow the possibility that the runes at the bottom of the page are the ones that Smith noticed. This would imply that, if we assume that Hickes’s printed version is accurate, someone added the runic poem on fo. 165 (recto or verso), above the runic letters. This appears somewhat unlikely, because it would mean that someone at the end of the seventeenth century copied the poem from another manuscript into Otho B. X.
As the runes appear on the bottom of the first edition, this theory would presuppose that there was space on the manuscript page to add as reasonably-sized a text as the runic poem. This would then also indicate a wasteful scribe. The number of variables, however, seems a little too high to immediately accept this possibility.
The third issue is of a mathematical nature: the runic poem plus the extra runes contains forty-nine runes and not the twenty-nine counted by Wanley. However, even if Derolez, p. 18.
Harris, p. 95.
96 Derolez, p. 18.
the extra runes were not considered part of the poem, there would still be forty runes. The only way to achieve the number of runes estimated by Wanley is to solely count the runes that have a poetic description, and thus discount the runic variations and the runes without a line of poetry. These, however, remain part of the poem in the printed edition.
This leads then to the fourth issue. What if the aforementioned possibilities are incorrect and Smith’s ten runes have no bearing on the poem? Then the question remains what happened to these runes. Wanley did not note them in Otho B. X, and it seems unlikely that he would have missed them, since he was expressly looking for manuscript runes.
One possible option is that in between Smith and Wanley’s viewings, the folio with the ten runic letters was replaced by the runic poem, and the letters from the first folio were added to the second. This option would then exclude Talbot as a possible annotator, for obvious reasons. Another option is that the manuscript was rebound after Smith and that in the process the folio with the ten runes was lost and the folio with the runic poem, containing Wanley’s twenty-nine runes, was added. The extra runes would therefore have been added in the printing process. A final possibility is that Wanley did not mention these runes because they were clearly added more recently, and he did not consider modern annotations worth noting. This discussion, however, leads to the debate started by Hempl in 1903 on the authenticity of the runic poem and possible additions or omissions made by Hickes. This topic will be discussed in full in the next chapter which presents an overview of the scholarship on the runic poem.
3. Scholarship on the runic poem
Although the runic poem has attracted some attention over the years, little substantial work has been undertaken on it. Maureen Halsall’s The Old English Rune Poem from 1981 is the only monograph dedicated to the text. The runic poem has been discussed and included in discussions in a range of different contexts: it has been considered in the context of its first edition, against a background of various types of Old English poetry, and as a runological work. The first part of this chapter reviews the existing scholarly literature on the topic, starting with the first edition, and discussing the most important ensuing editions. This is followed by an overview of the scholarly debate on the authenticity of the poem’s first edition. The second part considers the wider background and definition of the runic poem, and discusses the various contexts in which it has appeared. The most prominent scholarship in those various contexts is summarised.