17-09-28: Oxford St. John’s College MS 190


On September 28, Matt Aiello (English) led our meeting by taking us through Oxford St. John’s College MS 190; Matt told us about his work on the manuscript and its short inclusion of Middle English, and we collectively transcribed some lines in Latin.

1. Could you tell us about this manuscript?
So this manuscript is Oxford St. John’s College MS 190. It has been dated, roughly, to the thirteenth century, but based on palaeographic dating I think it’s probably the third quarter of the thirteenth century s.xiii(b1). It is a miscellany of theological work in Latin with bits in French, and the attached folio (f. 237r), is the only place that English occurs in the manuscript. The English are couplets on Christ’s passion (which are translations of the given Latin right above it), and a quatrain on a friend’s death, but written as couplets. The hand is in a shaky Textualis/Anglicana hybrid. The page dimensions are 170 x 120 mm, and based on dialectal localizing, Margaret Laing, in her Catalogue of Sources for a Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English locates the manuscript to the Abbey of St. Peter in Westminster.

2. How did you become interested in this manuscript?
I became interested in this manuscript simply because it fell in the survey I was conducting of all thirteenth-century manuscripts at Oxford that contain English from this period. I really like this example of English, in particular, because I think the quatrain on the bottom right was a spontaneous composition that was inspired by the lines of grief on Christ’s passion copied adjacently, and I think it’s beautiful and it makes me teary-eyed and also makes me wonder about the life of this particular scribe and if he had recently lost a friend. I’ve reprinted it below:

Anglice. Wanne frend schal fram frend go . into unkuhelonde
nis no wunder þet frend bie wo .’ and wring bo his honde .

3. What is your favorite detail about this manuscript?
It is the only surviving copy of this quatrain on a friend’s death, and the scribe has sought to make it spatially separate from the other marginalia, which to me signals that one should pay special attention to it.


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