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The Teaching of Grammar in Late Medieval England: An Edition, with Commentary, of Oxford, Lincoln College MS Lat. 130.

Cynthia Renee Bland, Medieval Texts and Studies, 6 (East Lansing, Michigan: Colleagues Press, 1991). xxi + 235 pp. ISBN 0-937191-16-7. 19.95.[pounds]

This book is a revision of Bland's Ph.D. dissertation submitted to the University of North Carolina in 1984. Its heart is a detailed description of Oxford, Lincoln College, MS Lat. 130, which consists of seventeen fragments recovered from the binding of MS Lat. 129, together with editions of the two most significant texts written on them: a Middle English Accedence or elementary Latin grammar, and the only surviving copy of Regimina secundum Magistrum Wacfilde, rules on syntax written in Latin.

To these is added a 100-page introduction. After a nod in the direction of the |connection between the teaching of Latin grammar in the second half of the fourteenth century and the flourishing of English literature' (p. 16), it gives brief accounts of those aspects of the history of grammatical studies in the Middle Ages that are most relevant to the texts Bland is editing: the way in which Donatus' Ars Minor was developed as an introductory treatise; the growth of the syntactical theory of regimen; and the changes in grammar teaching in England which began with John of Cornwall in the 1340s and led on to the practice of the school over the New Gate, Bristol in the late 1420s which is the provenance of MSS 129 and 130.

The Introduction is conscientiously done but betrays its dissertation origins in an earnest attention to aspects of background which are important in themselves but of little relevance to the texts edited here (such as AElfric's grammar) and in a lack of focus on a particular readership -- we are expected, for instance, to pick up the reference to Piers Plowman on p. 19 without the work being named, while Chaucer's birth date is carefully given two pages earlier.

If the specialist may find too much familiar material rehearsed here and the general reader too much that is specialized, that is perhaps the inevitable result of presenting in a general series the |excruciating detail' (Bland's phrase, not mine) of research based on a relatively small corpus of material which is not particularly distinct from other texts and manuscripts of its kind. This is the sort of field where it is easiest to bat first, but it is also a field in which the painstaking sifting of the detritus of school life gives us a surer picture than broad generalizations. So this Accedence text, for example, although like the other twelve versions we have in so many ways, is the only Middle English grammar to give terms for regularity and irregularity in declension (ryth and unryth, pp. 137 and 147) or to give form (construction by suffix) as an accident of the verb (pp. 340 and (158). It would be all too easy without painstaking editing of the kind presented here to rush to false conclusions, and it is important that these texts and others like them are edited and published. Miss Bland is to be thanked for her work, and libraries which want to give a balanced picture of the subject should hold her book.
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Author:Thompson, David
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Words:526
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