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A note on the collation of BL MS add. 37492 (The Fillingham Manuscript).

The most recent edition of a text from the Fillingham manuscript, Richard Firth Green's re-edition of its unique copy of the poem The Eremyte and the Owtelawe, includes a short paragraph on the manuscript. (1) It is described as "an undistinguished paper manuscript of the second half of the fifteenth century." Its five texts are listed, (2) and the reader is referred to previous publications for further details:
   The description in the Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts in
   the British Museum, 1906-1910 may be supplemented by those of Mary
   Isabelle O'Sullivan, in her edition of Firumbras and Otuel and
   Roland, and C. W. Marx, in his edition of The Devil's Parliament.

The British Museum Catalogue records the extent of the manuscript as vi + 92 folios. O'Sullivan notes that the extant gatherings are in sevens (by which she means quires of seven bifolia, so in fourteens), although the manuscript has suffered the loss of some material at the beginning and the end as a result of injury to the volume, and "the first half of the fifth [quire] has been torn away." (3) Marx refers to O'Sullivan's description, observing that the manuscript is too tightly bound to verify it by examination, and adds that there is modern foliation. (4) There are also, however, the clearly visible remains of a set of medieval quire signatures which, together with what can safely be seen of the gathering structure, allow one to confirm O'Sullivan's finding that the manuscript was originally constructed of regular gatherings of fourteen leaves, and to add some further observations.

The quire signatures appear in six of the eight remaining complete or partial gatherings and run from Ei (fol. 15) to Li (fol. 91). Many are cropped or missing through damage (notably, all the signatures for the fifth quire [H], whose first seven leaves are all absent, as O'Sullivan states), but enough remain to indicate that the sequences of letters with roman numerals i to vii were originally inscribed on the first seven folios of each quire. The collation of the manuscript is as follows (assuming that quire L followed the pattern of the previous quires):
   [D] fols. 1-[14.sup.14,] E fols. 15-[28.sup.14], F fols.
   29-[42.sup.14], G fols. 43-[56.sup.14], [H] fols. 57-[63.sup.14],
   lacks 1-7, I fols. 64-[77.sup.14], K fols. 78-[90.sup.14], lacks 1,
   L fols. 91-[92.sup.14], lacks 3-14.

This shows that the manuscript originally consisted of at least eleven quires, of which A, B, and C are now lost (or twelve quires if preceded by a quire marked with a cross); there may have been others, now lost, following L. It also shows that there is a leaf missing at the beginning of quire K between the folios numbered 77 and 78.

The acephalous text of Firumbras (fols. 1-30r) represents the second half of the Old French Fierabras, from which it derives (corresponding to ll. 3070-6408). (5) If it is assumed that the missing part of the text rendered the original with a similar ratio of Middle English to Old French lines, it would have occupied quires B and C and a folio or two at the end of quire A and so would presumably have been preceded by one or more other texts in quire A (or + and A). If, on the other hand, Firumbras as the major text was placed first in the manuscript and occupied all the missing quires A to C as well as the extant quires [D], E, and part of F, then the (lost) first part of the Middle English version must have been of a rather more expansive nature as a translation of the Old French original than the extant rest of the poem. An interesting possibility to consider here is whether this longer text (if it existed) might have been a composite poem, with a translation of La Destruction de Rome added as a shorter "prequel" to Fierabras, on the pattern of The Sowdone of Babylone, (6) itself following the model of such combined Anglo-Norman texts as found in British Library, MS Egerton 3028 and Hanover, Niedersachsische Landesbibliotek MS IV.578 (olim K.24). (7) However, unless the missing folios come to light, this can be nothing but speculation.

More significant in relation to our reading of an extant text is the discovery that a leaf is missing after folio 77, for this occurs part of the way through the third text in the manuscript. Green notes that the tail-rhyme stanza scheme in The Eremyte and the Owtelawe is evidently interrupted between folios 77 and 78. He calculates a minimum of fifteen missing lines, perhaps omitted accidentally by the scribe:
   At least fifteen lines are missing here; the scribe may have
   skipped them when his attention was diverted from his exemplar by
   beginning a new leaf. This passage must have served to introduce
   the vicar and the beginning of the exemplum he tells to reform the
   outlaw. (8)

In fact, based on the numbers of lines per page on the surrounding folios of this text, which vary between thirty and thirty-five lines, the missing folio would probably have carried a further four twelve-line stanzas in addition to the missing six-line and nine-line portions of the incomplete stanzas (ll. 94-99, 100-102). These extra sixty-three lines would give ample space for narrating the outlaw's meeting with the vicar and for a substantial story to be told by the vicar, leading up to the exemplary conclusion:
   Tyl that God hym sent grace
      That fayre conuertyd he was
           Wt thondyr blast, wynde, & reyne.

   And sythene he was apostyl gode;
   For Goddys loue he schedde hys blode;
      Hys sowle ys nowe in blysse.
   And 3yf thou wylt thy synnys forsake
   And do penaunce that y the take,
      So may thou thryue, ywys. (ll. 100-108)

A nineteenth-century editor of this text suggested that the missing story was that of the Conversion of St Paul, (9) and it is certainly the case that the interpretation of this feast in the Golden Legend makes it very suitable for this context: "No sinner, no matter how grievous his sin, can despair of pardon when he sees that Paul, whose fault was so great, afterwards became so much greater in grace." (10) Nevertheless, Green points out the inappropriateness of the reference to thunder, wind, and rain instead of the biblical bright light from heaven that blinded Saul and caused him to convert. (11) Given that the poem The Eremyte and the Owtelawe is derived from the combination of "two common sermon exempla," (12) perhaps a source for the vicar's missing story may be sought not in the orthodox lives of the saints, but among the same kind of exemplary tales. There are many tales of spectacular wickedness and dramatic conversion to be found in collections of sermon exempla, cycles of miracle stories, penitential literature, and popular romances. As Andrea Hopkins observes in her study of penitential structures in Middle English romances (sinful life, sudden conversion, good deeds, and holy death), "stories exemplifying the moral that God's grace is sufficient to forgive even the gravest sin are abundant, particularly in the forms of sermon exempla and miracles of the Virgin and saints." (13) Green suggests that the combination of different sermon story motifs in this poem needs no specific source: "It was evidently composed from traditional motifs in widespread oral circulation, and I see no reason for denying our poet the credit for molding them into this particular form," (14) and the same may be said of the missing exemplum.

Green draws attention to the "not insignificant" literary merits of the poem with its "coherent and vigorous narrative," (15) and to this appreciation may now be added a recognition of the carefully symmetrical way in which the diverse story elements are balanced. The whole poem consists of thirty-eight stanzas, if we include those on the missing folio Ki. Two introductory stanzas are followed by two stanzas contrasting the two brothers, sinful outlaw and virtuous hermit. (16) The rest of the poem is presented in four scenes, each with a different location and different interlocutors. Scene 1: four stanzas (ll. 46- 93) cover the outlaw's conversation with the repentant whore; Scene 2: thirteen stanzas (ll. 94-99 + 63 lines lost + ll. 100-186) cover the events in the church, which are clearly subdivided into two halves, with seven stanzas focused on the exemplary story of conversion and six stanzas devoted to the vicar's attempt to find a penance for the outlaw; Scene 3: eight stanzas (ll. 187-282) chronicle the outlaw's resistance to temptations and holy death; Scene 4: eight stanzas (ll. 283-378) recount the hermit's conversations with the angel and the vicar. The final stanza (ll. 379-90) balances the good ends of both brothers with the concluding prayer.

University of Reading


(1.) Richard Firth Green, "The Hermit and the Outlaw: An Edition," in Interstices: Studies in Middle English and Anglo-Latin Texts in Honour of A. G. Rigg, ed. Richard Firth Green and Linne R. Mooney (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 137-166, 144.

(2.) Firumbras (begins incomplete), fols. 1-30; Otuel and Roland, fols. 30v-76; The Eremyte and the Owtelawe, fols. 76v-82v; The Fendys Parlement, fols. 83-90v; The Myrrour of Mankind (ends incomplete), fols. 90v-92v.

(3.) Mary Isabelle O'Sullivan, ed., Firumbras and Otuel and Roland, EETS, o.s. 198 (London: Oxford University Press, 1935), xiii-xv.

(4.) C. W. Marx, ed., The Devil's Parliament and The Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem, Middle English Texts 25 (Heidelberg: Winter, 1993), 12.

(5.) Marc Le Person, ed., Fierabras: Chanson de geste du xiie siecle, CFMA 142 (Paris: Champion, 2003).

(6.) Emil Hausknecht, ed., The Sowdone of Babylone, EETS, e.s. 38 (London: Oxford University Press, 1881). The material derived from La Destruction de Rome occupies 938 lines, and that from Fierabras 2336 lines.

(7.) In the Hanover MS, La Destruction de Rome occupies 24 folios and Fierabras 76 folios.

(8.) Green, "Hermit and the Outlaw," 159.

(9.) M. Kaluza, "Kleinere Publikationem aus me. Handschriften, I: 'The Eremyte and the Owtelawe,'" Englische Studien 14 (1890): 165-182.

(10.) Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan, 2 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), I: 119.

(11.) Green suggests a number of other saints' lives as possible candidates for this exemplum (Nicholas, Norbert, Christopher) but notes that all are "equally problematic" in relation to the details given; Green, "Hermit and the Outlaw," 159-160. St. Augustine records his own conversion consequent upon a mighty storm (Confessions, VIII, 12: 28), but he also does not fit the later life indicated in the poem.

(12.) Green, "Hermit and the Outlaw," 138.

(13.) Andrea Hopkins, The Sinful Knights: A Study of the Middle English Penitential Romance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 146. The romances studied are Sir Gowther, Sir Isumbras, Guy of Warwick, and Robert of Sicily.

(14.) Green, "Hermit and the Outlaw," 143.

(15.) Green, "Hermit and the Outlaw," 137-8.

(16.) Green points out that the last of these stanzas is apparently missing three lines; "Hermit and the Outlaw," 158.
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Title Annotation:Nota Bene: Brief Notes on Manuscripts and Early Printed Books: highlighting little-known or recently uncovered items or related issues
Author:Hardman, Phillipa
Publication:The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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