November pigs in calendars

Calendar pages for November

Those wonderful people at the British Library regularly feature on their ‘Medieval Manuscripts’ blog relevant ‘labours of the months’ and other beautiful materials from illuminated MS calendars in their collections, so here’s a flavour of some items for this month, November.

The London Rothschild Book of Hours (aka the Hours of Joanna I of Castile – a tenuous ownership connection; more detail at this link)

Rothschild Hours Nov

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is BL Add MS 35313, f. 6v: entry in Digitised Catalogue, with full apparatus on contents and links to images. Here’s their blog entry description of the scene:

Threshing and winnowing is taking place: in the background, a male figure wields a flail, beating wheat to separate the grains from the husks.  Two peasants in the foreground are beating flax to break down the stem fibres, while a woman to the right in the background is using a stick known as a ‘swingle’ to ‘scutch’ or dress the flax.  A woman is pouring swill out for the pigs, while doves and pigeons gather in the dovecote and on the thatched roofs of the barns waiting to feed on any loose grains. This month, marked by the Zodiac symbol of the centaur for Sagittarius, saw the celebration of several important festivals in the Christian calendar, each illustrated in the roundels to the left…

Here’s a link to a Jan. post on the BL blog which gives more background information on this MS and its provenance.

A comment on the blog post for Nov. finds a similar scene in this page (f. 12v, another calendar, made in Bruges c. 1515) from Morgan Library MS 399, which shows more clearly men working inside a ring of flax for beating, and behind them a woman engaged in the scutching process. In the village street behind, pigs and chickens feed – a seeming visual reference to the usual ‘pig-feeding’ image for this month.

The images on this site appear to be copyright, so I’ll simply provide a link here – but I’d urge you to take a look – there is clearly an iconographical pattern here which painters of illuminations for such scenes followed carefully – as did visual artists of hagiographical scenes – ie devotional images of the saints, many of which would be found in the relevant pages of calendars, as well as in stained glass windows, other devotional texts like legendaries, etc.

This image was tweeted today by @melibius, who kindly supplied the relevant link to the BL catalogue entry; it’s from BL Add MS 21114, the Psalter of Lambert le Bègue (‘the Stammerer’) of Liège, 1255-65 (though he died 1177; its provenance is the Béguine house of S Christophe, which he founded). Interesting departure from the usual pig-feeding scene here; less fun for our porcine friends this time – one’s been slaughtered, and the outlook for the other doesn’t look too good.

bl-nov-cal-pg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image from the BL catalogue for the November page from the famous Bedford Hours also wouldn’t load when I tried it, so here’s a link to the BL blog dated today, in which this MS page is shown in full, with glorious marginal decorations, plus an enlarged detail of the pigs-with-acorns scene (and a centaur).

It follows the usual iconographic practice of showing a peasant knocking acorns from trees while pigs cheerfully snuffle them up under the branches. What the happy pigs don’t realise is that they’re being fattened up for slaughter in the winter. The borders are intricately and beautifully decorated with twining vines, with stylized leaves and flowers.

I’ve posted on previous months (links for October here

And April and May here)

In those posts I’ve shown the calendar pages from the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry. Here’s the November page, which also shows the traditional pig-feeding scene for that season:

Berry November scene

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Werewolves and fleas: Gerald of Wales, ‘Topographia Hiberniae’, part 2

Two Connaught men in a boat; a rider, f. 29 of the BL Royal MS 13. BVIII, f. 29

Two Connaught men in a boat; a rider, BL Royal MS 13. BVIII, f. 29

Last time I introduced Gerald of Wales (c. 1146-1223) and his Topographia Hiberniae, a Latin guide to twelfth-century Ireland, in the invasion and settlement of which the Norman branch of his family had played a prominent part.  I described some of the material found in the first of the three parts of the text, which focused on flora and fauna.  Here I shall turn my attention to part 2: Wonders & Miracles.  Translation from the Latin into English is by John J. O’Meara in the Penguin Classics edition, published as The History and Topography of Ireland.  Images are from the detailed record for BL Royal MS 13 B.VIII in the Catalogue of Illuminated MSS held in the British Library.

Man killed with axe, f. 28

Man killed with axe, f. 28

O’Meara points out that this section of the book consists largely of tall tales which would have been told to Gerald during his visits to the island, but he also made use of written Irish sources (themselves probably arising from an older oral tradition; see O’Meara, n. 15, p. 130).  As we saw last time, he makes use of the familiar hagiographic topos of insisting on the truth of his stories:

I am aware that I shall describe some things that will seem to the reader to be either impossible or ridiculous.  But I protest solemnly that I have put down nothing in this book the truth of which I have not found out either by the testimony of my own eyes, or that of reliable men found worthy of credence and coming from the districts in which the events took place (p. 57)

The fish with golden teeth, f. 16v

The fish with golden teeth, f. 16v (and a deer)

After relating the miraculous qualities of various natural phenomena such as wells and islands, he tells of the fish from Ulster ‘with three gold teeth’.   Strangely, this creature ‘seemed to prefigure the imminent conquest of the country’ – but Gerald neglects to explain how.

Royal 13.B.viii,  f. 17v. detailIn section 52 comes my favourite story in the book: the ‘wolf that talked with a priest’.  While travelling from Ulster to Meath this priest spent the night in a wood.  As he sat by the fire a wolf came up to him and said: ‘Do not be afraid!’  Naturally he and the small boy who was with him were terrified.  When the wolf spoke of God in a ‘reasonable’ manner the priest adjured him not to harm them, and to explain himself.

The wolf’s story was that he was a native of Ossory, where every seven years, because of the imprecation of abbot Natalis, a man and a woman are compelled to go into exile from their territory in the form of wolves.  If they survive seven years they will then be replaced by another couple, and restored to their former status.  The wolf’s companion, he went on, was lying nearby, close to death.  He begged the priest to perform the last rites for her.

The wolf led the priest to a tree in the hollow of which lay a she-wolf ‘groaning and grieving like a human being’.  He performed the last rites, but did not give the viaticum, insisting that he did not have with him the elements of communion.  The wolf pointed out, however, that he knew the wallet hanging from the priest’s neck contained consecrated hosts, and begged him not to deny his partner the ‘gift and help of God’.  Thereupon he pulled the skin off the she-wolf from the head to the navel, ‘folding it back with his paw as if it were a hand.’  He thus revealed the the torso of an old woman.  The priest, terrified once more, administered the sacrament and the skin resumed its former place.

Royal 13 B.VIII, f.18

Royal 13 B.VIII, f.18

The wolf spent the rest of the night with the priest by his fire, chatting amiably, and in the morning directed him the best route onward.  As they parted he thanked the priest.

Gerald says that two years later when passing near Meath his advice on this matter was sought, for the priest had passed on his version of these extraordinary events.  As a result the priest was sent to the Pope ‘with his documents in which was given an account of the affair and the priest’s confession’.  Sadly we never hear whether the wolf ever made it back to human shape.

I may return, in a future blog, to the subject of werewolves in medieval literature.

Bearded woman and man-ox of Wicklow, f. 19

Bearded woman and man-ox of Wicklow, f. 19

Other stories follow, mostly illustrated in the BL MS.  There’s the bearded woman with a mane on her back ‘like a one-year-old foal’.  She is no centaur, however, and followed the court of Duvenaldus, king of Limerick, ‘wherever it went, provoking laughs as well as wonder.’  Gerald seems to approve of her wearing the beard long, for such is the custom of her country (albeit among the men, not women).  Other hybrid creatures appear, and some less salubrious tales of bestiality.

St Kevin and his blackbird, f. 20

St Kevin and his blackbird, f. 20

Then comes the most famous story of all: St Kevin and his blackbird.  When taking eremitical refuge in a remote cabin he put his hand out of the window, as was his custom, and prayed.  A blackbird settled there, nested,  and laid its eggs.  St Kevin was so patient and sympathetic that he waited in that same posture ‘until the young were completely hatched out’.

The rats of Fernegigan, wandering bell of Mactalewus, f. 21v

The rats of Fernegigan, wandering bell of Mactalewus, f. 21v

St Colman’s teal, the fleas banished by St Nannan, the rats expelled from Ferneginan by St Yvor, the tame falcon of Kildare and other wonders follow, some involving bells, miraculous fires and books.

Part 3 deals with the history of Ireland, but even Gerald is sceptical about the veracity of some of these old legends.  It seems, for example, that the Basques were early settlers there.  He goes on to describe the contemporary condition of the Irish in fairly unflattering terms.  They are, he says, barbarous: ‘wild and inhospitable’, primitive, hirsute, lazy, ‘deplorable’, ‘wallowing in vice’, and largely heathen, despite the best efforts of saints such as Patrick and Bridget. All

St Colman's ducks, f. 21

St Colman’s ducks, f. 21

Irish saints are confessors; there were no Irish martyrs, he asserts.

As my surname attests, I’m of Irish ancestry myself, but it’s hard to find Gerald’s criticisms of my ancestors too offensive.  He writes in the medieval spirit of recounting tales collected from various sources, attested and unattested.  Notions of credibility were different from ours.  As the frequent Christian morals attached to the stories indicate, God is considered capable of all kinds of wonder, and it is therefore to be expected that miraculous events and objects abound in His world. Everything is a lesson to be interpreted by the cleric.

The Kildare Gospels falcon, f. 22

The Kildare Gospels and falcon, f. 22

As the Viking exhibition opens at the British Museum, I’m more inclined to marvel at the artistic skill and psychogeographic acumen of early medieval travellers.

 

 

 

Kingfisher mothballs, barnacles, cranes; Gerald of Wales, ‘Topographia Hiberniae’. Part 1 of 2. BL Royal MS 13 B.VIII illustrations

Part One:

Ten-legged spider, f. 11v

Ten-legged spider, f. 11v

Giraldus Cambrensis, Gerald’s Latin nom de plume, was born at Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire, fourth son of William de Barri, and grandson on his mother Angharad’s side to Nest ferch Rhys, mistress of Henry I (youngest son of William the Conqueror), who became, through marriage, mother of the first members of the illustrious and powerful Norman fitzGerald family, which included Maurice, one of the main leaders of the Norman invasion of Ireland.  This began in 1169, and continued under Henry II in 1171.  The Tudor royal family traced its descent from Nest (as did the Stuarts, President JFK and Diana, Princess of Wales).

Manorbier Castle (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Manorbier Castle (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Little is known of Gerald’s upbringing or education.   He became an Archdeacon in 1175, but seems never to have succeeded in his ambition to become Bishop of St David’s.  His first visit to Ireland in 1183 would have enabled him to meet members of his family.  In 1184 he joined the entourage of Henry II, and became tutor to his son John, with whom he came to Ireland a second time in 1185.

The Topographia was composed by Gerald between 1186 and 1188. He produced a second edition before the death of Henry II in 1189, followed by a third, fourth and various ‘late’ editions before his death in 1223.  It is from this text that most of what is known about Ireland in this medieval period derives.

Two snakes with legs.

Two snakes, one with legs, f. 11. Gerald reports the absence of poisonous reptiles, including snakes, banished according to legend by St Patrick

Among the wonderful digitised literary resources provided online by the British Library is a description and reproduced photos of the images from BL Royal MS 13 B VIII, date  c. 1196-1223, which contains at ff 1r-34v the text of the Topographia Hiberniae (Topographia Hibernica).  All the reproductions from the Royal MS in this post are taken from the BL site.

The illustrative programme of the BL Royal MS, with its 45 marginal miniatures of animals, wonders and people, was probably formulated by Gerald or under his direct supervision during his sojourn in Lincoln (1196-1198), according to the BL catalogue. There are three other manuscripts of the Topography illustrated with a series of marginal tinted drawings: Dublin, National Library of Ireland, MS 700, Bodleian Library, Laud. Misc. MS 720, and Cambridge University Library, MS Ff.1.27. According to Brown 2002, the Dublin manuscript is the closest to the original copy, whilst this manuscript, produced in Lincoln, probably in Gerald’s presence (1196-1198, or 1207-1208) is the earliest known.

Full-page image of f. 8v, with crane and barnacle geese

Full-page image of f. 8v, with crane and barnacle geese (see also below)

The Topographia is divided into three parts: Landscape, flora and fauna (which I shall focus on in this post); the Wonders and Miracles of Ireland (supposedly witnessed by Gerald first-hand, or else reported to him orally by reliable sources).  This is the most interesting part of the book, and the one I shall focus on next time.  Part 3 deals with the Inhabitants of the country, their history and culture.

In his introduction to the Penguin Classics translation from the Latin, John O’Meara scathingly describes Gerald’s account as indicating ‘the single-minded flattery of an ambitious flatterer’ (the text is fawningly dedicated to Henry II by his ‘Silvester’ or Merlin-like prophet), ‘the haughty contempt of one who came with his family to reform and invade, and the apparent credulity which must have delighted the hearts of the Irish’.  He writes in a lively rhetorical style, and embellishes almost every aspect of description with allegorical Christian moral tags.

Animals, f. 10v

Stag, hare, badger and beaver(?), f. 10v – but he says there are no beavers in Ireland, see below.

In Part I there are several unusual claims about Ireland’s flora and fauna.  There are bees, he says, but they are not plentiful, for they are ‘frightened off by the yew trees that are poisonous and bitter’.  Here in talking about the sources of stories about who first brought bees to Ireland he makes a statement similar to those found in numerous works of medieval hagiography about verisimilitude:

Neither would it be strange if these authors sometimes strayed from the path of truth, since they knew nothing by the evidence of their eyes, and what knowledge they possessed came to them through one who was reporting and was far away.  For it is only when he who reports a thing is also one that witnessed it that anything is established on the sound basis of truth.

Crane and barnacle geese, f. 8v

Crane and barnacle geese, f. 8v

There are no poisonous creatures in the island.  Cranes, he says, are numerous; O’Meara thinks Gerald might be mistakenly identifying herons here.  They stand on one leg, he says, ‘while in the other featherless claw they hold a stone’.  They do this so that if they fall asleep the dropping of the stone into the water will wake them.

He writes of the barnacle geese in the island what is described elsewhere in medieval bestiaries: that they hatch from shells sticking to seaweed on logs in the water (see the picture above).  Here he claims to have seen with his own eyes up to a thousand such hatchings; surely he was taken in by the popular belief that barnacles washed up on shore flotsam were incubating goose embryos.  Religious folk at the time felt it reasonable to eat the flesh of these geese ‘without sin at fasting time’, as they were regarded as more akin to fish than flesh.

Osprey, f. 9

Osprey, f. 9

Ospreys, he says, have talons on one foot for snatching prey, but the other ‘is closed and peaceful and suitable only for swimming’.  Kingfishers when they die, if kept dry, will not putrefy, Gerald claims.  Keep such corpses among your clothes and they will keep the moths away.  Storks, he thinks, are black, whereas crows are not: they are of many colours. 

 

Kingfisher, Stork, f. 9v

Kingfisher, Stork, f. 9v

Fox and wolf, f. 11v

Fox and wolf, the only ‘harmful’ creatures in Ireland, according to Gerald, f. 11v

There are badgers (or ‘melots’) but no beavers in Ireland, he asserts.

Part Two of this post will deal with the second and third sections of the Topographia: werewolves and priests, bearded women and other wonders.

 

 

Dérive part II: birds, beasts, explorers in Africa

Busy couple of weeks, hence the  posting hiatus.  My last post was about the wonderful collection of digital images made available by the British Library, via their Digital Scholarship Blog.  I came across a wonderful illustrated Portuguese book: Expedição portugueza ao Muatiânvua. Descripção da viagem á Mussumba do Muatiânvua … Edição illustrada por H. Casanova. [With plates, including portraits and maps.] vol. 1-3
Author: DIAS DE CARVALHO, Henrique Augusto (Lisboa, 1890); there’s an online facsimile edition available online at the Internet Archive site.

I focused on images of birds.  Today I shall finish with a few more lovely bird pictures, then move on to animals, people and places.

Let’s start with a few more birds whose images appealed:

 

Online edition p. 277

Online edition p. 277

First is Coracias Spatulata, or the Racket-tailed Roller.  Largely found in Angola, but also in other southern and central African countries.

There are some lovely public domain photographs of this bird:

The Secretary Bird, Sagittarius serpentarius, has a raptor’s body rather like an eagle’s, but with crane-like legs:

Called 'Secretario' in the 1890 book illustration

Called ‘Secretario’ in the 1890 book illustration

 

 

 

 

A Wikimedia Commons photo provides a slightly less dishevelled-looking portrait:

300px-Sagittarius_serpentarius_Sekretär wikiIt’s an unusual predator, in that it hunts terrestrially: it walks about the sub-Saharan savannah, flushing its prey out with its stamping.  Previously thought to subsist largely on snakes, hence the Latin name, it’s now known to eat all kinds of small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates.

Aca I’ve selected just a couple of animals, largely on the grounds that they resembled nothing I’d ever seen (in the 1890 illustrations): this is called ‘Aca’ in the book, but looks like a pangolin (or scaly pangolin) to me.  Named from a Malay word meaning ‘something that rolls up’ (in a ball, not arrives unexpectedly) – they’re found in tropical Africa and Asia – they have sharp claws for digging up termite nests.

Cavallo-marinho p26 The text calls this next creature ‘cavallo-marinho’.

No idea what this is.

Here it is on the online edition p. 400:

 

 

Here’s an image, from p. 671, of a lizard (or maybe a chameleon) eating an insect:

p671 lizard eats fly

 

 

 

 

 

 

And something called a Pelumba in Carvalho’s text, but all I can find is that’s the name of a place in Moxico region, Angola; this little chap looks like some kind of sloth to me.

Pelumba

 

 

 

 

 

Dias de Carvalho, photo from the BN de Portugal album

Dias de Carvalho, photo from the BN de Portugal album

These engravings can be compared with the extraordinary photos in an online album found here, taken from his expedition 1884-88, from the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal. Here is Carvalho himself (1843-1909), who explored extensively in Africa, ending up in Lunda in 1895, where he ended up as governor.

 

 

 

I’ll finish this second part of the dérive with three typical portraits from BL site, compared with one from the online edition of the book:

Cacuata Tambu

Cacuata Tambu

 

 

'Major', from p. 291

‘Major’, from p. 291

O chefe p 475 online

O chefe p 475 online edition

O sub-chefe p89

O sub-chefe p89

A virtual dérive

This will be a virtual derive:

Theory of the Dérive, by Guy Debord: Les Lèvres Nues #9 (November 1956)
reprinted in Internationale Situationniste #2 (December 1958)

Translated by Ken Knabb (link here)

ONE OF THE BASIC situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.

But the dérive includes both this letting-go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities. In this latter regard, ecological science — despite the narrow social space to which it limits itself — provides psychogeography with abundant data.

The average duration of a dérive is one day, considered as the time between two periods of sleep. The starting and ending times have no necessary relation to the solar day, but it should be noted that the last hours of the night are generally unsuitable for dérives.

 

My drifting, however, was initiated this morning when I came across this link to the British Library’s blog, The Mechanical Curator: Randomly selected small illustrations and ornamentations, posted on the hour.   Rediscovered artwork from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th Century books.  I browsed the links and followed this one:

Exped cover pg online edExpedição portugueza ao Muatiânvua. Descripção da viagem á Mussumba do Muatiânvua … Edição illustrada por H. Casanova. [With plates, including portraits and maps.] vol. 1-3
Author: DIAS DE CARVALHO, Henrique Augusto (Lisboa, 1890)

The image which first caught my eye, from the hundreds of thumbnails on offer at this site, was this one of an egregiously sulky-looking bird:

Sulky bird(Helotarsus ecaudatus)

aka ‘jester’, or Gaukler in German; I found this out from this site, which has been translated with customary inattention to idiomatic English, by

Bing (which gave up, evidently, on many words, and left them untranslated):

‘A beautiful matte black, head, neck, back and the whole bottom engaging, stands by that, Graulich Brown on the internal flag is made white, decorated with a wide, black end edge last four hand – and the consummation scapulars lively off from the bright chestnut coat, the similarly-colored tail, slightly thinner lower back, as well as a broad wing bandage, in opposition to the deep black first flight. The deck spring of the primaries are black, the arm swings brown-black with Brown Endsaume, the other upper deck feather wings dark brown, lighter margins who know under deck spring wing. The eye is nice and Brown…’

The bird is also called Short-tailed eagle (or kite), Bataleur (or Bateleur) eagle (‘tumbler’, or ‘tightrope walker’ in French), the name given by the ornithologist François Le Vaillant.  Born in Surinam in 1753, he studied in Metz (where I once lived – a nice situationist coincidence).  I found this about him at Wikipedia:

As a traveller in Africa, Le Vaillant tended to describe the African people without prejudice. He shared Rousseau’s idea of the “Noble savage” and condemnation of civilization. He described the beauty of Narina, Khoekhoe woman in Gonaqua named after a flower in terms that were not to be found later in the colonial period.[3] He was infatuated with Narina, and she stopped painting her body with ochre and charcoal and lived with Le Vaillant for many days. When he left, he gave her many presents but she was said to have sunk into deep melancholia.

Le Vaillant parrot by Jacques BarrabandThere’s this lovely image on the same site of this parrot from Le Vaillant’s Histoire naturelle des perroquets, 2 vols, 1801-05, illustrated by Jacques Barraband.

I wondered how accurate an image of the Bateleur eagle the one above was, so did some online searching…Bateleur Eagle (NY Public Library, image ID: 820528)

Bateleur Eagle (NY Public Library, image ID: 820528): from Gustav Mützel (1839-93), ‘The Royal natural history’, Warne 1894-96.

This bookplate doesn’t look much like the Portuguese one: nobler, less grumpy.  Digging deeper I came upon this alternative name for the bird:

Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, s.n. mountebank,  n. 3: The short-tailed African kite, Helotarsus ecaudatus: so called from its aërial tumbling. (via Finedictionary.com).

The online images at the NYPL led me on to this plate of a collection of Accipitres (diurnal birds of prey):

Bateleur eagle is no. 6

Bateleur eagle is no. 6

 

 

 

Next was a bird called ‘bucorax’ (or Cazovo, I think the text in the caption to Carvalho’s image reads; it’s not very clear.)

Here it is: Bucorax p384 online edn

 

 

 

 

 

This is from an online edition of the book found via Google booksearch.   Mützel has a clearer image (also at the NYPL site, Image ID: 820820) where it’s called Hornrabe, Bucorax Abyssincus Bodd. It’s also called the Ground Hornbill, I discovered.Bucorax Mutzel

And now I’ve run out of time.  I’ll continue this post next time, with more images of birds, animals, people, places.

 

What would Gerald of Wales make of Gamel Woolsey?

My recent posts here have been mostly reviews or critiques of books.  I felt a change was needed today.  What else should I write about?  I’d begun drafting a piece about Rupert Thomson’s latest novel, Secrecy, that I’d heard discussed with the author on Eleanor Wachtel’s podcast for Canadian radio.  It sounded good, and I read it over Christmas.  As I drafted the post, though, I became disenchanted with the task: I hadn’t enjoyed the book much, and the piece tailed off.  Maybe I’ll incorporate the material in a roundup of 2014 reading later in the year.  (I meant to take a picture of the cover to include here, but have put the book away on some less-frequented bookshelf and can’t find it now.)

BL Royal MS 13.BVIII, f. 9v: a kingfisher and stork (from a 12C copy of Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hiberniae

BL Royal MS 13.BVIII, f. 9v: kingfishers watch fish in a river, and stork with a worm (or is it an eel?)(from a 12C copy of Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hiberniae)

This morning, having some time to devote to this post after a busy period at work, I sat at my desk waiting for inspiration.  My interest in medieval literature persists, even after spending years on postgraduate research into medieval hagiography.  I love clicking through the beautiful images of British Library digitised illuminated MSS, and found myself making notes on Gerald of Wales.  The project became too complicated for today’s post – it’s easy to see why it took so many years to finish my PhD, I’m so often side-tracked – so that piece is on ice.

Instead I thought I’d search for the Penguin Classics copy of his The History and Topography of Ireland that I thought I had on my shelves somewhere.  True to form I became distracted.  I couldn’t find the book, but what I did find is what I want to write about today. As I made these happy discoveries I started reshelving the books into themed clusters – a task I always find strangely (worryingly) satisfying.  Many of these books I’ve still to read, so I must stop buying new ones.

Celtic Misc 001I found my Penguin Classics copy of A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from the Celtic Literatures (odd plural), edited by Kenneth Hurlstone (splendid name) Jackson.  A student of the legendary medievalist Chadwicks at Cambridge, he went on to teach at Harvard and Edinburgh.  This anthology was first published by RKP in 1951; a revised edition in Penguin was published in 1971; this is the reprint from 1976.  I must have bought this secondhand in Cambridge, for pencilled inside the front cover is the price paid: 40p.  The retail price printed on the back cover is 95p, so if I bought it in the early eighties that’s not exactly a great deal.  Among the sections in the anthology are ‘Hero Tales and Adventures’, ‘Love’ and ‘Religion’, which includes an extract (from the Cornish-language miracle play of about 1505) dramatising the arrival in Cornwall (where I live) of the sixth-century (?) Breton St Meriasek (or Meriadoc) and his miraculous creation of a spring of fresh water.  This spring, near his oratory outside Camborne, was reputed to have healing powers.  He later returned to Brittany, founded monasteries and became a bishop.  Can’t say I’ve ever seen this spring.  My wife once bought me a wonderful book about the sacred wells of Cornwall; I must look again to see if Meriasek’s spring is mentioned.

Some years ago I taught at a college some miles from where I now live.  Because of a change of site the old college library was culling much of its stock of books; staff were invited to salvage what they wanted, and I acquired a pile which I rediscovered while searching for Gerald of Wales:

Books 2014 jan 008Hardback: a Chatto and Windus copy of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, from the 1970 Collected Edition.  Had I known I possessed this I wouldn’t have used the tatty paperback Penguin for my blog piece on this superb novel a few months ago.

A Chapman and Hall (1965, rather battered) edition of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, which I’d read in Books 2014 jan 013paperback a few years earlier, so I have still to re-read this early novel of his.

There’s a rather fine 3-volume edition of Coleridge’s extraordinary anthology of essays, Biographia Literaria; not surprisingly I could only find vols 1 and 2 for this picture (in which I’ve included the fine anthology of English Prose published in the now sadly defunct Pelican imprint – though I believe it’s about to be revived.)

Books 2014 jan 004Paperback: two rather interesting DH Lawrence volumes – Selected Literary Criticism (first published 1956; this is the 1969 reprint) edited by Anthony Beal; I have looked into this from time to time; and DH Lawrence: A Selection (also Heinemann, 1970), edited by R.H. Poole and P.J. Shepherd.  The title page tells us the disarming news that Poole was a Senior Lecturer at Wolverhampton Teachers’ College for Day Students, while Shepherd was SL at Eastbourne College of Education.  As a teacher in Further Education myself I’m intrigued, and wonder how many of my colleagues today would be commissioned to edit such prestigious academic tomes…

Books 2014 jan 005Two volumes of literary essays now sit together: Edmund Wilson’s The Wound and the Bow and the one that inspired one of my earliest blog posts, T.S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood .  I like the symmetry of their austere covers.  All of these books still have the old library shelf-mark taped to their spines.

I still haven’t read the Penguin MC edition of e.e. cummings, The Enormous Room, or Edward Upward’s  The Railway Accident and Books 2014 jan 010other stories.  An anti-fascist in the thirties and member of the Isherwood, Auden and Spender set, he’s now largely derided or forgotten.  Must get round to reading this book.  I like the surrealist cover.

Also rather obscure now is Gamel Woolsey’s Death’s Other Kingdom, in the distinctive green covers of the early Virago Travellers series (this one dates from 1988).  An American by birth, and perhaps better known as a poet, she moved to the UK to be near her lover Llewellyn Powys, and later (1930) married the writer and Spanish scholar Gerald Brenan; Bertrand Russell had also wanted to marry her.  This book is an account of her experience, with Books 2014 jan 006Brenan, of living through the Spanish Civil War; it was first published in 1939.

There are two fine hardback Everyman novels: Moby-Dick, and the now neglected Thomas Love Peacock’s Headlong Hall and Nightmare Abbey (he featured recently in Robert McCrum’s weekly list of great novels in the Observer Books 2014 jan 007newspaper).

There are several elderly Penguin Classics editions, in the distinctive black livery with fine colour pictures on the front cover, of Balzac’s novels, including The Chouans and The Black Sheep.  I’ve read neither, but have fond memories of Goriot – a set text for A Level French.

Books 2014 jan 003Let me finish with some happily random rediscoveries – all from the one bookcase in my front porch (I didn’t get as far as the living room, or the boxes relegated to the cellar by my spring-cleaning wife, who found the double-stacked cases, with the inner layers hidden from view by the horizontal second layer, just too untidy to countenance; no doubt I’ll have more serendipitous discoveries when I look properly at these).

There’s one of the first books I recall owning: a purloined library copy of Scholes and Kellogg’s The Nature of Narrative (OUP, 1966; this is the paperback reprint of 1971).  I was an A Level student (English, French and Spanish; today my students are required to study four subjects, poor things), and this was one of the first works of lit crit I ever encountered; I was mesmerised by the authors’ erudition and by their fascinating thesis; I still look into this book occasionally, and always find gems in there.

Finally, also as yet unread, is a paperback copy of a novel by M.J. Hyland, Carry Me Down.  It’s a nice clean copy with an attractive cover.  Somebody left it on a train a few years ago, and as I’m a bibliophile magpie I rescued it and brought it home.

Maybe on my next free day I’ll go to the cellar and search the boxes for Gerald of Wales.  The nearest I’ve come up with from the one bookshelf so far is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history of the kings of Britain…