Against ‘Iberic Crudity’:
Balliol MS 238E, Bodleian MS Douce 204,
and Laurentius Dyamas
Anna Espínola Lynn, MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture (Wadham College, Oxford), will be speaking on the transmission of style in fifteenth-century Catalan manuscript production.
All welcome! Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last about half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at the Balliol manuscript discussed.
Unlocking Archives is an interdisciplinary graduate seminar series of illustrated lunchtime talks about current research in Balliol College’s historic collections: archives, manuscripts and early printed books, and the connections between them.
Talks take place at 1pm in Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church, Holywell. St Cross is next door to Holywell Manor and across the road from the English & Law faculties on Manor Road; directions http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Services/visit.asp#f.
Last week I had the privilege and huge fun of planning and teaching a class with Stephanie Solywoda, Director of the Stanford Program in Oxford. We were talking about medieval Oxford – town, gown and especially books…
Stanford people get up close and personal with medieval manuscripts – here we are discussing the complicated layout of this Aristotle manuscript, and the functions of illuminated initials other than just being amazing – navigation, mnemonics, sometimes didactic or humorous (or even inexplicable) comment on the main text.
Colours and lines are still bright and sharp after 7 or 8 centuries – it’s hard to imagine someone spending the weeks or months it would have taken to copy this text out by hand. Not to mention manually justifying every line while keeping letter spacing consistent, using abbreviations and having to allow for imperfections in the parchment interrupting the writing space.
Bindings on the other hand, may not last so well – note the spine break in the manuscript above.
Old books, new technology – online gateway to Parker on the Web, and a modern facsimile of the ancient Book of Kells that lets us safely handle a binding using medieval techniques.
Kells facsimile – not strictly related to Balliol’s special collections (alas, no early Irish manuscripts here) but a facsimile is a wonderful teaching resource. The pages feel like the modern shiny light card they are, but they faithfully reproduce weight and thickness of parchment, dirty smudges at the edges, the way some fugitive pigments show through to the other side of a page (e.g. lower right of this opening) and even the holes in the original. These Stanford students will be visiting the real Book of Kells, the centrpiece of a dedicated exhibition, at Trinity College Dublin later in their time in the UK, so this was particularly apposite.
Some recently conserved administrative documents from Balliol’s history, contemporary to the books displayed, were on show to demonstrate the differences in layout, hands and contents between academic texts and legal records.
Balliol’s Foundation Statutes of 1282, still with the original seal of Dervorguilla de Balliol, in their new mount and box from OCC. Like nearly all legal documents of the time, this is in formulaic, heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, but we were able to find the word ‘Balliol’ in several places in the text (and a full transcription and translation was available 😉 ) We talked about the evolution of early college statutes, the similarities and differences between colleges and monastic houses, the heavily religious language of the statutes and the practical stipulations included.
Balliol’s historic seal matrices and modern impressions – all featuring female figures, like the foundation statutes. St Catherine is the College’s patron saint, and we talked about the college chapel system and the fact that Balliol had a side chapel dedicated to St Catherine in St Mary Magdalen church – just outside Balliol’s walls – before it received permission (and had the funds) to build its own chapel.
Another beautifully mounted document, two copies of the Bishop of Lincoln’s permission to Balliol College to build its own chapel.
An opening from the first Register of College Meeting Minutes (1593-1594) showing formal but more workaday recordkeeping in the College, still in Latin but often with English phrases or sections, annotations, amendments and crossed out sections.
MS 301 has a typical layout for legal and Biblical manuscripts, with a central section, here decorated, of the main text to be studied in larger hand, and surrounding layer or layers of formal commentary plus shorter notes and personal reader annotations toward the outer edges. (No, the book is not hanging over the edge of the table – it’s the camera angle!)
Details of the decoration in that central section, showing rubrics (headings in red), regular red and blue penwork initials and still-familiar paragraph/section marks, plus more pigments, white highlights, and gold leaf on the most important initial.
A plainer study text, made for university use and leaving plenty of room for commentary and annotations to be added.
We enjoyed these whimsical doodles, turning initials into faces so full of character they might be portraits – or caricatures. They may also have had mnemonic and navigational value, particularly in a manuscript without folio numbers, as was usual. The manuscripts are foliated now, but most foliation is either early modern and/or 20th century.
The oldest document (ca. 1200) in the College Archives has been mounted to allow it to be displayed without damaging it; I also had two C14 legal documents out for the students to handle, and so we could talk about seals, seal attachment, and pre-signature authentication methods.
A mounted charter with pendent seals, still with their green and red silk cords intact. The conservators’ inner box cover includes photographs of the reverse of the whole document, the seal and the label, as well as a caption. Instant display without having to disturb a fragile manuscript.
For extra resources and further reading, I had a small selection of the College’s modern printed books on archives and manuscript studies topics out as well. The Manuscript Book compendium has recently been translated from Italian and is a brilliant resource for eastern as well as western manuscripts.
Links to relevant projects:
- Stanford Libraries: Parker Library on the Web
- British Library: Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts – virtual exhibitions
- Huntington Library: Manuscripts collections
- Balliol College: Manuscript images on Flickr
- Bodleian Libraries: Digital.Bodleian
- Cambridge: MINIARE
- Trinity College, Dublin: the Book of Kells
- Chester Beatty Library, Dublin – images
Guest post by Sian Witherden
Balliol College Library has one copy of the Rudimentum Novitiorum (‘Handbook for Novices’), an encyclopaedia of world history whose author remains anonymous. This book was printed on paper in Lübeck by Lucas Brandis on the 5th of August 1475. The volume is quite large at 380 x 290 mm, and it is still in the original stamped leather binding. Other copies from the same print run are held in libraries across the globe, including Berlin, Copenhagen, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Princeton, Vienna, and Zürich. Each of these copies has its own unique history, but what is perhaps most remarkable about the Balliol copy is the way it has been dismembered by a later reader (or perhaps readers). Many of the woodcut prints in this volume have been cut out, though there seems to be no obvious reason why certain images were selected for excision and not others. Perhaps the reader wanted to keep these particular ones for a scrapbook or put them to use in another volume. Unfortunately, leaves are also missing from both the front and back of the book.
Another reader was evidently so dismayed by the extent of the losses that he felt impelled to make a comment in the margins: “Is it not a great shame to the scholars of Balliol College to suffer such a choice book as this is to be thus defaced?” There is of course a distinct irony to this, as the annotator takes issue with the defacement of the volume while simultaneously adding his own blemishes to the same book.
In the sixteenth century, the book was evidently owned by John Wicham, whose name appears twice on the outer cover along with the year 1584. Curiously, the book is incorrectly identified as the Opus Historicum of Guillerinus de Conchis both on the spine and within a flyleaf note written in “a late sixteenth or seventeenth century hand,” according to Dennis E. Rhodes. The Rudimentum Novitiorum has no connection with Guillerinus de Conchis.
* * *
For further reading on this book, see Dennis E. Rhodes, A Catalogue of Incunabula in all the Libraries of Oxford University outside the Bodleian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 296–7.
 Abbreviations have been silently expanded and orthography has been modernized.
– Sian Witherden, September 2017. Follow Sian’s tweets @sian_witherden
Change and Decay: a history of damage and conservation in Balliol’s medieval manuscripts
Balliol College Historic Collections Centre
St Cross Church, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UH
A new exhibition of medieval manuscripts will be in place for Oxford Open Doors (9-10 September 2017) and throughout Michaelmas Term (until 10 December).
Opening hours: Saturday 9 September and Sunday 10 September 12-4 pm both days for Oxford Open Doors, Saturday 16 September 2.30-6.30 pm for Balliol Society and Oxford Alumni Weekend, and tba. Individuals and groups are also welcome to visit at other times by appointment with the archivist – contact
Visiting hours are normally Mon-Fri 10-1 and 2-5; appointments aren’t meant to be exclusive, it’s just that the exhibition and reading room are in the same space and we need to plan ahead to ensure that visitors and researchers are here at different times.
Further information and related events will be advertised here.
The exhibition, curated by Balliol’s Archivist and Curator of Manuscripts, Anna Sander, includes more than 20 of Balliol’s 300+ original medieval manuscript codices and a number of contemporary documents from the college records, and highlights a decade of work on the archives and manuscripts by the team of professional conservators at the Oxford Conservation Consortium, of which Balliol has been a member since 2006.
2017 medieval mss catalogue print format [PDF, 9MB]
List of manuscripts on display
– with links to exhibition catalogue entries, more images and articles on related topics. Catalogue entries may not be identical in the blog posts and the print-ready PDF – the latter has been formatted to fit each manuscript’s entry on 2 sides of A4, i.e. a single opening, but there is no such restriction on blog post length.
Case 2. College Archives Membership 1.1. First Latin Register of College Meeting Minutes 1514-1682, in Latin and English, on paper. Earliest surviving records of Balliol College’s Governing Body. [exhibition entry] [images online]
Case 3a. MS 349 15th century. Collection of nine texts related to the office of priesthood, in Latin, on parchment. Bequeathed to Balliol by Dr George Coningesby in 1768. Closed to show the only medieval binding in Balliol’s manuscript collection. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]
Case 3b. MS 350 12th, 13th & 14th centuries, 3 medieval treatises on English law, including Herefordshire section of Domesday. Victorian vellum binding, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, on parchment. Bequeathed to Balliol by Dr George Coningesby. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 4. MS 263 14th-15th century. Texts on poetic and rhetorical composition, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]
Case 5. MS 238E ca.1445. 5th volume of medieval encyclopedia, Fons Memorabilium Universi, compiled by Dominicus Bandini de Arecio, in Latin, on parchment. Conserved and rebound ?early 2000s. Copy commissioned and given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d.1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 6. MS 148 2nd half 13th century. ‘Bernardi opuscula’, collection of short texts by 12th century Cistercian theologian and reformer Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 7. MS 253 13th century. ‘Logica vetus’ and other texts by Aristotle, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Provenance unknown; late medieval Balliol ownership inscription. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 8. MS 12., aka Arch C 1 6. Ca. 1475. Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae (History of the Jewish People), in Latin, on parchment. Printed at Lübeck by Lukas Brandis, ca. 1475. Rebacked/rebound several times, conserved 2010-11. Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [ISTC entry] [not yet digitized]
Case 9a. MS 367 11th century. Antidotarium – medical recipes and remedies, in Latin, on parchment. Victorian binding. Probably given to the College by Sir John Conroy, 1st Bt, Fellow of Balliol 1890. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 9b. MS 348 13th century. Vulgate Bible, in Latin, on very thin parchment. ‘Pocket Bible.’ Rebound 1720s.In Balliol by the 17th century; provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]
Case 9c. MS 451. 1480s. Book of Hours (Use of Rome), perhaps from Ghent or Bruges, in Latin on parchment. Early 19th century binding by by C. Kalthoeber of London. Given to Balliol by the Rev. EF Synge. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet fully digitized]
Case 9d. MS 378 Undated. Prayers to the Virgin Mary, in Ethiopic, on parchment. Original wooden boards without cover. From the personal library of the Rev. Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol 1870-1893, other provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 10. MS 396 Early 14th century. Five leaves of a noted Sarum Breviary, one of the liturgical books used for the Daily Office, in Latin, on parchment. These leaves were found and removed from the binding of an ‘old dilapidated’ College account book in 1898, by George Parker of the Bodleian Library. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 11. College Archives E.1. 1320s-1350s. Title deeds relating to property at Long Benton (Much/Mickle Benton) near Newcastle, given to Balliol College by Sir Philip Somerville, in Latin, on parchment, with seals. [exhibition entry] [images online]
Case 12. MS 116 Later 13th century. Commentary by Eustratius, an early 12th century bishop of Niceaea, on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. At Balliol by the late 14th century; provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 13. MS 277 Late 13th century. Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Meteorology, trans. Moerbeke, and Ethics, trans. Grosseteste, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. May have been at Balliol in the 14th century, alienated and returned in the 15th; given by Mr Robert Rok (Rook). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 14. MS 384 15th century. English Book of Hours according to the Use of Sarum, in Latin, on parchment. 18th century binding. At Balliol since the 18th century; provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [some images online]
Case 15. MS 210 1st half 13th century. Several texts by C12-13 University theologians, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Given to the College by Roger Whelpdale, sometime Fellow of Balliol and Bishop of Carlisle in 1419-20 (d. 1423). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 16. MS 173A 12th and 13th century. Two collections of short texts bound together, on medieval music theory, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 17. College Archives B.22.1. Ca. 1200, charter re St Lawrence Jewry, London. (Jewry?) Parchment, 2 pendent seals. Balliol’s oldest document, predates Balliol’s association with the property. Rehoused by OCC, 2007. [exhibition entry] [images online]
Case 18. MS 354 Early 16th century. Commonplace book of London grocer Richard Hill, in English, Latin and French, on paper. Medieval song or carol texts, literary extracts, poems, religious and spiritual texts, notes on farming and trade, recipes, proverbs, etc. Original limp parchment cover. Provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Case 19. MS 240 12th and 14th centuries. Miscellany of religious texts, in Latin, on parchment. Conserved and rebound by Andrew Honey, 1990s. From the priory of Monks Kirby (Warwickshire). Given to the College by Richard Bole, Archdeacon of Ely (d.1477). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]
Find out more
- Flickr collection for the exhibition – not all the mss have been photographed in full yet, so this collection will grow.
- Notes on light by Anna Sander
- Tiny books, tiny writing by Sian Witherden and Anna Sander
- Manuscript fragments in early printed books project
- Fragment Fridays by Annaliese Griffiss
- A description of Balliol Arch.C.1.9 by Sian Witherden
- Further reading – online and print resources
‘Look to the rock from which you were hewn’: Hebraica and Judaica at Balliol College
Historic Collections Centre, St Cross Church, St Cross Road
Michaelmas Term 2016
A guide to the exhibition
Exhibits selected by Professor Elliott Horowitz, Visiting Fellow and Oliver Smithies Lecturer at Balliol College 2014-15.
Captions compiled by Anna Sander from Prof. Horowitz’s forthcoming essay for the exhibition catalogue.
We are indebted to Prof. Horowitz for shining a knowledgeable and sympathetic light on a previously rather neglected aspect of the College’s special collections, and bringing together such a wide range of fascinating text- and image-bearing objects in different formats from across nearly two millennia. Prof. Horowitz’s forthcoming companion essay details the many connections among the early producers of Hebrew texts, particularly in (and for) the early western European printed book market, their later collectors and scholars, and the 19th century Oxford academics, particularly theologians but also historians, linguists and antiquarians, who rediscovered an interest in Hebrew language and texts at Balliol and in the University. Medieval and later manuscripts and ancient coins are also included.
Prints of digital scans or photographs are used in the exhibition to complement original material: to show tiny details at a magnified size, and as a way of presenting pages from more than one opening in a codex, or both sides of a coin or letter.
1. Thomas Kelly Cheyne, Notes and Criticisms on the Hebrew Text of Isaiah , 1868. [Balliol Broad Street 1005 g 18]
2. Thomas Kelly Cheyne, The Book of Isaiah Chronologically Arranged: An Amended Version with Historical and Critical Introductions, and Explanatory Notes, 1870 [Balliol Broad Street 1005 g 20]
Robert Scott had been Master of Balliol from 1854-70, and Benjamin Jowett, who succeeded him, held the position until his death in 1893 – as was required of all Oxford dons, both were ordained Anglican clergy. Thomas Cheyne’s appointment to Oxford’s first fellowship in Semitic and Biblical studies at Balliol in 1869 came at a turning point in the leadership of the College, as well as in the study of theology at the University, where it made him ‘the first in Oxford to teach the methodology of biblical and textual criticism.’ Having studied at Göttingen under Heinrich Ewald after his undergraduate degree at Oxford, he was keen to adopt German scholarly methods of biblical criticism when he returned to Oxford as an ordained academic.
Notes and Criticisms on the Hebrew Text of Isaiah was Cheyne’s first book, published in 1868, when he was already Librarian and Lecturer in Hebrew at Balliol College, but not yet a Fellow. The historico-critical method of criticism which he advocated required a background of rigorous linguistic study as well as historic contextual understanding. As we will see, the study of Hebrew by Christian scholars in western Europe is a long tradition, reflected in Balliol’s collections since the early days of printed books. Cheyne notes Ewald’s scholarly influence on his own work in the introduction to Isaiah Chronologically Arranged.
3. Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (1853 ed, trans. Tregelles). [Balliol Broad St 1055 f 15]
Gesenius, a German scholar, had first published his Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary in 1833 under the Latin title Lexicon Manuale Hebraicum et Chaldaicum in Vetus Testamentum Libros. That work had been recommended to Thomas Arnold early in the 1830s, and may also have served Stanley when he began studying Hebrew late in that decade. Thomas Cheyne was succeeded as Pusey and Ellerton Scholar by an even more serious Hebraist, John Purves (Balliol 1860, Fellow 1866), who later wisely acquired the Tregelles translation of Gesenius’s second edition; his copy is on display. The Latin title of Gesenius’s dictionary clearly alluded to Johann Buxtorf’s influential Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum, which had originally appeared early in the seventeenth century and was republished well into the nineteenth.
4. Nicholas Crouch (ca. 1618 – ca.1690), Fellow of Balliol. MS 455.6, an unusual piece of direct evidence of a particular person’s use of a specific book: a single folio in Crouch’s hand, neatly copied in both Hebrew and Latin, from the introductory chapter of Crouch’s own copy of Buxtorf’s Epitome, with which it is displayed.
5. Johannes Buxtorf, Epitome grammaticae Hebraeae (Basel, 1613) [Balliol St Cross 30 b 227 (1)] – Nicholas Crouch’s copy. Shown in enlarged facsimile is the volume’s contents page, in Crouch’s hand.
6. Johannes Buxtorf, Epitome grammaticae Hebraeae (first published 1613, 6th ed pub 1669) [735 a 4]
7. Johannes Buxtorf, Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum, (first published 1602) [Balliol St Cross 735 c 5-8]
In 1613 the prolific Johannes Buxtorf (1564-1629), Professor of Hebrew at Basel and ‘the principal founder of rabbinical study among Christian scholars’[] published two important works on Hebrew lexicography and grammar: the Manuale Hebraicum et Chaldaicum, a practical abridgement of a much larger work, and Epitome grammaticae Hebraeae, a revision of his earlier Praeceptiones grammaticae de lingua Hebraea (1605). Balliol owns two copies of the Epitome, one of the fifth edition, published in 1629, and another copy published four decades later. Its copy of the earlier edition, had been acquired for a shilling by Nicholas Crouch (Balliol 1634, Fellow. Upon his death in 1690 Crouch, as John Jones has noted, “left the College the choice of all his books.” Another of those books, to which we shall return, was a bilingual (Hebrew and Latin) edition of three medieval Jewish commentaries on a single chapter of Psalms.
Buxtorf’s Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum originally appeared early in the seventeenth century and was republished well into the nineteenth. The later edition of the Lexicon represented here was edited and expanded (to four volumes) by the Dominican monk Joseph Montaldi, published in Rome in 1789, and was the earliest edition of the Protestant Buxtorf’s Lexicon to appear in a Catholic country.
8. Abraham ben Meir de Balmes (ca. 1440-1523), Mikneh Avram, Latin title Peculiam Abrae [The Possession of Abram], first published 1523.
9. Daniel Bomberg [Baumberg], printer, Rabbinic Bible [Mdrsh shmṿl …] Midrash Shemuel Samuel , 1546, [Balliol St Cross 550 e 2]
The Mikneh Avram is a bilingual work on Hebrew grammar, written in Hebrew and translated into Latin by the Italian physician Abraham de Balmes, and printed in a side-by-side bilingual edition by Daniel Bomberg shortly after the author’s death. Bomberg (van Bombergen, d.ca. 1549), a Roman Catholic printer from Antwerp, based in Venice, was one of the most important early publishers of Hebrew texts in the early decades of European printing. His introduction gives his reasons for publishing a Hebrew grammar directed to non-Jews; humanistic scholars in the Latin west had a growing interest in the Hebrew language and particularly the Kabbalah. The book is displayed with a page of Hebrew type on the left and Latin on the right; the languages switch positions in each opening. This will have allowed the typesetters to print all the Hebrew rectos and versos together, and the Latin together – a notable feat of typesetting, and of planning the layout to get all the pages of both languages in the right order. [Balliol St Cross 0560 e 16]
Bomberg’s Hebrew press produced the first Rabbinic Bible, which includes the definitive text of the Tanakh (‘Hebrew Bible’ – source of texts for the Christian Old Testament) and several sets of interpretive notes and commentaries.
10. Augustin Calmet (1672-1757), Historical, Critical, Geographical, and Etymological Dictionary of the Holy Bible, first translated into English (from French) in 1732, [Balliol 100. s. b. 2-4, 3 vols.]
Roman Catholic scholars such as Augustin Calmet (1672-1757) appreciated the importance of masoretic materials (interpretive notes) – and hence Jewish editions of the Rabbinic Bible – for Christian study of the Old Testament. Calmet’s Historical, Critical, Geographical, and Etymological Dictionary of the Holy Bible (first published 1720, enlarged edn 1730) was first translated into English from French in 1732. He also recognized that medieval Jewish exegetes had made valuable contributions to biblical scholarship. In his survey of Jewish commentators on the entire Hebrew Bible, whom he listed separately from Catholic and Protestant ones, Calmet included the Spanish-born Maimonides, “who wrote a great deal, and everything of his composition is very much valued.” The Benedictine monk was clearly familiar enough with the writings of the Jewish philosopher to recognize that his Guide of the Perplexed, originally written in Arabic, could be regarded as a commentary on the entire Hebrew Bible.
In the entry on “Massorah” in his eighteenth-century dictionary Calmet explained that “those Hebrew Doctors…called Massorites… have counted with a most scrupulous Exactness all the words, verses, and even Letters” of every biblical book, so that “the Reading of the Bible may be fixed forever.” One of the chief features of the Masorah, he explained, was the distinction between Ketiv and Kere – between the text as it should be written and the text as it should be read. Calmet noted that this distinction was maintained not only in cases where spelling or grammar might be equivocal, but also if the written form “was a Word which Modesty forbad to use, they put one instead of it which might be read.” Perhaps out of his own considerations of modesty, the monk did not provide examples.
11. Moses Maimonides, 1135-1204. Moreh nevukhim [Guide for the Perplexed] (first published in Venice, 5311 [i.e. 1551]). [Balliol St Cross 0590 b 12]
Just as Christian scholars eagerly made use of Jewish coins, biblical manuscripts, and printed editions of the Bible, so too were the writings of certain Jewish exegetes and philosophers particularly esteemed. Paramount in the latter category was Moses Maimonides. One composition that came to be especially valued by Christians was his philosophical work Guide for the Perplexed, which had originally been composed in Arabic – the philosophic lingua franca of medieval Jews through the twelfth century – and soon after translated into Hebrew.
The late fifteenth century translation by Samuel ibn Tibbon had been composed in consultation with Maimonides himself; the Venice 1551 edition [ʿim perush Shem Ṭov ve-ʿim perush ha-Efodi ] was the first to include the commentaries by Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov and Profiat Duran.
As a Protestant critic of Roman Catholic doctrine, the French-born humanist Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614) was particularly interested in the chapter Maimonides devoted, in the first section of his “book of miscellaneous observations on sacred matters” (I, 16), to the various meanings in biblical Hebrew of the word “rock” [tsur], which could denote, the philosopher asserted, a mountain or hard stone, but might also be used “figuratively to designate the root and principle of every thing.” The figurative sense was the one that Maimonides favored with regard to Isaiah’s exhortation “look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged (Is. 51:1, RSV),” an argument he supported by citing the opening words of the verse immediately following: “Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you.” For Maimonides this meant that “the rock from which you were hewn is Abraham your father,” the practical application being: “Tread therefore in his footsteps, adhere to his religion, and acquire his character.” Casaubon slyly suggested that this figurative interpretation might also be applied to the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
12. Oxford, Balliol College MS 382. One of the finest extant examples of the complete Hebrew biblical codex (24 books), including decorative masoretic notes composed in intricate micrography. Given to Balliol College in 1804 by the Revd. Richard Prosser (BA 1770, Chaplain-Fellow of Balliol 1773).
The text was written on parchment by the Hebrew scribe Samuel b. Isaac de Medina and completed in Lisbon late in 1490, only a few years before the Jews were expelled from Portugal. Unlike most manuscripts and printed copies of the Hebrew Bible, it ends not with the books of Chronicles (1-2), but with the Five Scrolls, the last of which is the book of Esther. The last page of Esther, and thus of the entire codex, was left unvocalized, leaving the impression of an uncompleted work by the manuscript’s otherwise scrupulous scribe. De Medina did, however, compose a detailed colophon in which he gave both his name and that of the person who commissioned the manuscript: Judah b. Gedaliah ibn Yahya. Much of the manuscript’s ownership history in the intervening centuries remains unclear.
13. Oxford, Balliol College, MS 427. One parchment membrane, text in Hebrew, the last section of a Torah scroll, containing the final chapters of Deuteronomy (chs. 32-34). Written according to masoretic strictures , by a Jewish scribe. Purchased as a fragment in Tunis by the Rev. Greville Chester in 1865.
Chester (1830-92, Balliol 1849) amassed an enormous and wide-ranging collection of ancient and modern artefacts, both for himself and the British Museum, during his annual visits across the Mediterranean, which began in 1865. Following those visits he made numerous donations, as Gertrude Seidmann has shown, to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and to Balliol College [MSS 364, 366, 371, 376, 377, 427, 466]. In our exhibition this scriptural fragment is contrasted with a complete codex of a Hebrew Bible – both would have been treated as holy objects, not merely authoritative texts, by the Jews who originally owned them.
14. Oxford, Balliol College Archives, Library Donors’ Register. Open to the page recording the gift to Balliol College of four volumes by Isaac Abendana (d.1699), a Hamburg Jew of Sephardic origin. Abendana, who had studied at the University of Leiden, taught Hebrew at Trinity College, Cambridge, and later at Magdalen College, Oxford. The gift entry, which records the book’s title in both Latin and Hebrew, is undated, but most likely occurred in the last decade of the seventeenth century, while the donor was teaching at Magdalen. Three of the books Isaac Abendana gave to Balliol are obviously relevant to Biblical and Hebraic studies, including the item above, Mikneh Avram / Peculiam Abrae, which is still in the College’s collection. The fourth may have been considered to have a link to Balliol’s history via Founder’s Kin Edward de Balliol (ca. 1249-1314, grandson of John de Balliol and Dervorguilla).
15. Three ancient coins: one minted by the Jews of Judea during their first revolt against Roman rule (66-70 CE), and two of the “Judea capta” series minted by the Romans several years later, showing the head of Vespasian on one side, and a captive Jew on the obverse. . [Ashmolean Museum, Strachan Davidson Coin Collection: HCR9562, HCR21481, HCR21499]
James Leigh Strachan-Davidson (1843-1916; Balliol 1862, Fellow 1866, Master 1907-1916), an undergraduate at the time that Chester made his gift, later became a considerable collector himself. At the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition of 1887, held in London’s Royal Albert Hall, these three ancient coins from his extensive collection were exhibited. MS 382, the biblical codex donated by Prosser also displayed here was displayed in the same exhibition. Strachan-Davidson left his coin collection to the College upon his death in 1916; they were first held in the Bodleian, and then in the Ashmolean. With the latter’s kind cooperation, and with thanks for their excellent images, this is the first time that they are being exhibited at Balliol
16. Siméon Marotte de Muis, In Psalmum XIX. Trium Ervditissimorvm Rebbonirvm commentarii, bilingual (Hebrew and Latin) edition of three Jewish commentaries on Psalms 19 (first published 1620). [Balliol 30 b 209 (7) and 630 a 21]
Maimonidean ideas were able to spread to wider audiences, including Christian ones, not only through the Guide for the Perplexed, but through the publication of biblical commentaries whose authors had responded to that multifaceted work. Among these was David Kimhi (known also by the name Radak), a resident of southwestern France who was an active member of the pro-Maimonides camp in the early thirteenth-century controversy over the latter’s writings.
Kimhi’s commentary on the Psalms, first published in 1477, was particularly popular among Christian scholars despite its occasional anti-Christian cricticsms – which were sometimes softened, and which in the 1517 Rabbinic Bible were published separately. English interest in Kimhi is perhaps best represented by Thomas Neale’s 1557 translation into Latin of the Jewish exegete’s commentary on the last three of the Latter Prophets – Haggai, Zacharia, and Malachi. The volume, which appeared in Paris, was dedicated to Cardinal Reginald Pole.
Siméon Marotte de Muis, Professor of Hebrew at the Royal College of France, published in 1620 a bilingual (Hebrew and Latin) edition of three Jewish commentaries on Psalm 19: Kimhi, Rashi and the Spanish-born Abraham ibn Ezra. Balliol’s copy of the 1620 volume is from Nicholas Crouch’s personal collection.
17. Jonathan ben Uzziel (active 1st century CE). Chaldæa Ionathæ in sex Prophetas interpretatio: Michæam, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophoniam, Zachariam & Malachiam, Latinitate nunc primùm donate. (first published in Paris, 1559). [Balliol St Cross 30 c 259]
Targums (Targumim) are an important genre of Jewish scriptural interpretation: vernacular glosses, paraphrases or explanations of the Hebrew scriptures (Tanakh). Parallel with the project of translating medieval Jewish commentaries into Latin, from 1550 Jean Mercier (d. 1570), who preceded de Muis as Professor of Hebrew at the Royal College in Paris, published there several bilingual editions of the ancient Aramaic Targum, attributed to Jonathan b. Uzziel, on later books of the Hebrew Bible. That Targum, which combined commentary with translation, had been made widely available through the two Rabbinic Bibles published by Bomberg, but was well beyond the comprehension of most Christians. Mercier’s project testifies to exegetical value attributed by sixteenth century Christian scholars to ancient Jewish traditions. Balliol owns a copy of his bilingual edition of the Aramaic Targum on the last six books of the Latter Prophets, which appeared in Paris in 1559.
18. Jakob Koppelman, Targum shel Hamesh Megillot bi-Leshon Ashkenaz (Freiburg) [Yiddish Targum] (first published 1584). [Balliol St Cross 560 b 16]
Not only Christians had difficulty understanding the Targum attributed to Jonathan, which was composed in Palestinian Aramaic rather than the Babylonian variety more familiar to students of the Talmud. In 1584, Jacob Koppelman published a Yiddish rhymed paraphrase of the Targum to all ‘Five Scrolls’ – including Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, as well as Ruth . Koppelman’s work, composed in Metz, was published only once – in Freiburg, 1584 and was intended, as stated on its title page, for “men, women, and children (Jer. 40: 7).” Its dual intended audience – popular as well as learned – is reflected in the work’s bilingual nature. Side by side with the Yiddish paraphrase, Hebrew glosses were provided to explain some of the Targum’s difficult terms. Parallel with its two languages, the pages of Koppelman’s work were printed in two colours – an unusual and rather expensive process. Hebrew sections appeared in block red letters and Yiddish ones in black, set in the Vaybertaytsh font traditionally used for that Judeo-Germanic language.
19. Timberlake, Henry, True and Strange Discourse of the Travailes of Two English Pilgrimes (first published 1603). [Balliol St Cross 580 b 14]
As Calmet recognized, recent works of travel describing flora and fauna, peoples and their practices could be useful to early modern scholars for understanding the Bible and its world as well as translations and commentaries. Neither the scholars nor the travel authors they read had an adequate sense of how much Palestine and its environs had changed since biblical times; when the merchant Henry Timberlake published his True and Strange Discourse, an account of his recent travels in Palestine and Egypt with John Burrell, his subtitle informed readers that it would include “notable memories” of those countries, “concording with the ancient remembrances in the Holy Scriptures.”
Like many Christian travelers over the centuries, Timberlake sought to show ‘how justly the Scriptures are fulfilled,” and one of his prime illustrations was that Jerusalem, as punishment to the Jews, had been made “a heape of stones” for some fifteen miles in each direction, and was “the most barrenest place in all Mesopotamia.” The only place he could compare it with in England “for the like sterilitie” was “the unfruitfull place in Cornwall, where there is nothing but rockes and stones.” Like many other European travel accounts, Timberlake attempts, not always accurately, to provide equivalent distances between places, based on his own country. Thus, “Gaza, which is the south-west part of Palestine, is from Jerusalem as Salisbury is from London.” Timberlake’s brief but colourful account, which included descriptions of riding with ‘wild Arabes’ on dromedaries, was frequently reprinted during the early seventeenth century, appearing seven times by 1620.
20. ‘T.B.’, A journey to Jerusalem, or, A relation of the travels of fourteen English-men in the year 1669… , first published 1672. [Balliol St Cross 30 a 22 and 580 b 14]
The semi-anonymous ‘T.B.’ prefaces his text with a “brief description of Palestine” presenting the entire country as being in a state of “utter desolation” on account of the Jews having crucified “the son of God.” This goes a step beyond Timberlake, who confidently confined the desolation to Jerusalem and its environs. The later account also provides interesting information on the fate of England’s Jews after their expulsion by Edward I. Many, ‘T.B.’ asserted, fled to Scotland, “where they have propagated since in great Numbers.” As evidence of the prominent presence of Jews in Scotland’s population the author cited “the Aversion this nation has above all others to Hogs-Flesh.” This argument draws (silently) on James Howell’s assertion in his preface to The Wonderfull and Most Deplorable History of the Latter Times of the Jews, which was translated from medieval Jewish sources and first appeared in 1652, soon proving popular in England.
‘T.B.’ does not, however, repeat Howell’s description of the state of the Jewish people since their exile from Palestine: “a kind of curse [had] fallen upon their bodies,” as evidence to “the uncouth look and odd cast of eye whereby they are distinguished from other people.” That claim has well-known medieval roots, but unlike Howell, who wrote before the Jewish readmission to England, ‘T.B.’ would have seen Jews in person while travelling to and from Palestine, as well as inside the country. Although he judged the country to be utterly desolate as a consequence of divine punishment, he did not regard the Jews themselves as similarly cursed by God.
The above two items are in poor physical condition and are displayed closed, demonstrating their portable pocket size. Both are supplemented with enlargements of illustrations.
21. Thomas Shaw (1694-1751), Travels, or Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant. First published in 1738; 2nd ed 1757. [Balliol St Cross Arch. F.X.13]
Countering more recent allegations than Timberlake’s of the desolation of Palestine was a concern for Thomas Shaw (1694-1751), an Oxford-educated Anglican divine, naturalist, and classical scholar, in his Travels, or Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant, first published in 1738. His purpose was not to demonstrate the fulfilment of divine prophecy, but rather to question the veracity of scriptural descriptions of the Promised Land as flowing with milk and honey – i.e., as a fertile agricultural land.
Shaw acknowledged that the city of Jerusalem and the parts surrounding it were indeed “rocky and mountainous,” and had “been therefore supposed to be barren and unfruitful,” but responded that “a kingdom is not to be denominated barren or unfruitful from one single portion of it, but from the whole.”
During his time in North Africa as chaplain to the English “factory”, an establishment for traders doing business in a foreign country at Algiers, he travelled to Egypt, Sinai, Cyprus, and Palestine (1721-22), and later visited Tripoli and Tunis as well. On returning to England in 1733, he worked on his Travels. His research notes for that 1738 work (in the Bodleian) show that he made use not only of his written impressions and drawings made while travelling, but also extracts from the second French edition of Calmet’s Dictionnaire historique, even before it appeared in English.
A previous owner of Balliol’s copy of Shaw was clearly contemplating a trip to Egypt, as the margins of its pages dealing with the Nile and the pyramids are filled with handwritten comments comparing his observations with those of other authorities, from Herodotus to Pococke. Other reader comments pertain to the respective uses of watermelons and camels.
22. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-81), Sinai and Palestine: In Connection with their History , (1856) [Balliol Broad Street Morier 32]
In 1852-3 Arthur Penrhyn Stanley set off with three Oxford companions to visit “the well-known scenes of Sacred History in Egypt, Arabia, and Syria. His 1856 work, based largely on letters he wrote while travelling, was immediately popular; by the following year there was already a fourth edition. Balliol owns a copy of that edition, purchased in August of 1857 by Robert Morier (1826-93) [Morier Collection 32] , who after concluding his studies at Oxford pursued a diplomatic career, eventually becoming British ambassador to Russia.
Stanley, like Shaw sought to counter claims concerning Palestine’s alleged barrenness, asserting that its “countless ruins…tell us at a glance that we must not judge the resources of the ancient land by its present depressed and desolate state.” Like Shaw, too, he was convinced that the sites of sacred history had not changed since biblical times. Such travel was therefore a crucial component in fully comprehending the ancient biblical world. “There is hardly any limit,” he further remarked, “to the legitimate advantage derived by the historical and theological student from even such a transient glimpse of Eastern life which forms the basis of the previous volume.”
23. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-81). Lectures on the History of the Jewish Church (1863-76). [Balliol Broad Street 1005 g 1]
A decade after his initial sojourn in those Eastern lands, Stanley, by then Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford, was asked, partially owing to his Sinai and Palestine‘s great popularity, to accompany the Prince of Wales (Albert Edward, 1841-1910) on his own first (and last) trip to the region. Shortly after returning from that royal journey, Stanley published the first volume of his Lectures on the History of the Jewish Church (1863-76. As he explained in the preface, they had been addressed to his “usual hearers at Oxford, chiefly candidates for Holy Orders.”
In his initial lecture, devoted to “the Call of Abraham,” Stanley took issue with those who had criticized one of his ecclesiastical colleagues for describing Abraham as “a Bedouin Sheykh.” Anyone who had travelled in the East, he argued, could not disagree. “Every English pilgrim to the Holy Land,” wrote Stanley – alluding perhaps not only to himself and his three initial companions, but also to the Prince and members of his recent entourage- “is delighted to trace and record the likeness of patriarchal manners and costumes in the Arabian chiefs.” He added that refusing to do so “would be to decline the use of what we may almost call a singular gift of providence.” God, he suggested – and Stanley, as he presumably realized, was not the first to do so – had intentionally held back, or preserved, the Holy Land from change so that Scripture could be better understood by subsequent generations.
24. Matthew Arnold, The Great Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration: A Bible Reading for Schools, 1872. [Balliol St Cross Arnold 8/1 and 2]
It was ostensibly in his capacity as Government Inspector of Schools that Matthew Arnold in 1872 published The Great Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration: A Bible Reading for Schools, a volume, intended for “young learners,” of Isaiah’s final twenty-six chapters (40-66). It is likely, however, that his decision to follow the traditional order of chapters in the Authorized Version – and adhere closely to its language- was intended as a response to Cheyne’s rather radical Book of Isaiah Chronologically Arranged (1870). In his introduction to The Great Prophecy Arnold acknowledged that his command of Hebrew was far from expert; nonetheless, he felt confident enough to question and indeed criticise some of Thomas Cheyne’s corrections to the King James version.
Arnold was a literary intellectual of considerable weight, and the young Balliol Fellow felt obliged to respond – perhaps after consultation with Jowett, by the Master of the College, who had also been criticized (albeit more mildly) by Arnold. Cheyne published a review of Arnold’s Isaiah in The Academy, (19 Feb. 1876) in which he noted somewhat acerbically that although its introduction was “full of criticisms involving points of Hebrew scholarship,” the author’s knowledge of that language is as “a smoking flax” – alluding ostensibly to Isaiah 42:3 in the King James Version. This in itself was clever enough, drawing on a passage included in Arnold’s volume. But as both Oxonians presumably recognized, the verse from Isaiah reappears in the Gospel of Matthew (12:20). Cheyne may have intentionally alluded to its derivative character in the Gospel as an additional dig at the derivative Hebraic knowledge of his distinguished critic, who shared the evangelist’s name.
* * *
After his death in 1915, Thomas Cheyne was eloquently praised by the Harvard scholar Crawford Howell Toy for “the variety of his learning, the vital character of his style, and his frankness and courage in the expression of opinion.” When Cheyne left Balliol for Oriel, upon being appointed Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, the College lost its greatest Hebraic scholar ever. The books and objects included in this exhibit testify to its continuing engagement, over the centuries, with the Hebrew language, the Hebrew Bible, and the Hebraic tradition.
Most of the information in these captions is quoted directly from Prof. Horowitz’s essay for the exhibition catalogue, forthcoming.
For more information about Balliol’s special collections, exhibitions, open days, public talks and other events, please follow us:
 Joanna Hawke, ‘Cheyne, Thomas Kelly(1841–1915)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32395, accessed 8 Sept 2016]
 Crawford Howell Toy, Meyer Kayserling, ‘BUXTORF (BUXTORFF), JOHANNES (usually called “Father,” or “the Elder”), 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia; online edn, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3860-buxtorf-buxtorff-johannes
 Masorah – authoritative text of the Hebrew Tanakh, the Jewish scriptural canon and a key source of the texts in the Christian Old Testament.
Resources and further reading:
Constructing Borders & Crossing Boundaries: Social, Cultural, & Religious Change in Early Modern Jewish History, An Online Exhibition from the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies 2013-2014 Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Libraries. http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/cajs/fellows14/
More of Nicholas Crouch’s manuscripts at Balliol College: http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Modern%20Papers/crouch.asp
Papers of JL Strachan Davidson at Balliol:
This week, James and Anna set out a display of Interesting Things from the historic collections for the now-annual visit by current members of Balliol JCR.
A guest post to close the research year at St Cross:
Robert Cowton was an early fourteenth century theologian based in Oxford, and Balliol archives house three manuscripts containing some of his treatises. I spent my week on a “micro-internship”, organised through the careers service, digitising these manuscripts for a group of researchers based in Germany. Making the images available online will hopefully save them, and the planet, a flight over. The three manuscripts, Balliol MSS 199, 200 and 201, are all executed in the same hand with matching decorations in red and blue ink.
I started off by photographing each of the pages attempting to give a clear and legible picture of the text. Wrinkles, curling pages and minute annotations did not make this an easy task. Handling a manuscript carefully and making the pages sit flat often seem to be diametrically opposed aims. If some of the pages are a little hard to read, this is because I have erred on the side of caution. Despite these challenges it was a real pleasure to work with the manuscripts; getting to feel the parchment and see at first hand the way the skin has been stretched and tanned to make it fit to write on. The tiny marginalia left by successive readers; from the eighteenth century page numbering (often with corrections) to the little pointed fingers indicating important parts of the text show the continued life of a text in a way that a modern printed edition cannot.
Once I had finished photographing the manuscripts I then jumped to the other end of the temporal spectrum and attempted to upload the images to Flickr. In order to get both Windows Explorer and Flickr to read the right title field data, each file had to be named twice, in two different programs. Once I had got through the renaming and uploading process it was very satisfying to see the whole manuscript online, waiting to be read.
I am very grateful to Anna Sander, the college archivist, for giving me this opportunity and patiently dealing with my questions and problems, as well as to the staff at Balliol library for giving me a desk on Friday afternoon and covering my lunch in college during the week.
– Mary Maschio (Queen’s College)
Anna adds: Some of Mary’s images have already had dozens of views, and I am very grateful for her help furthering the progress of manuscripts digitisation and sharing. I also thank the Oxford University Careers Service for organising the microinternship scheme, and appreciate their consistently excellent pools of applicants for these placements!
A guest post by Matthew Main (New College, 2012), our first OUIP (Oxford University Internship Programme) intern of summer 2015.
In the archives of Balliol Library there are two Folio ledgers, with dimensions suited for the task of recording tall columns of accounts. Alongside Bursar’s accounts and a partial early Library catalogue, they contain fragments of a lending register from the main College Library, chronicling intermittent periods between roughly 1677 and 1712. The register consists of a total of 565 entries, including some that are illegible or too vague to be identified. As part of my role as an intern at Balliol Library in the summer of 2015, I transcribed the lending register, before converting it into a searchable database for researchers interested in libraries and their usage in this period.
Use of the register was haphazard. A considerable portion of the entries remain unidentified, for various reasons; some are scored out, presumably upon the book’s return to the Library, while others are no more than an abbreviated scribble or a faded pencil mark. There appears to have been no agreed conventions for entering a record; one or more of the date, book, author, shelf mark and even borrower name may be missing from any given record. This made compiling a useful set of data a challenging task, but not an insurmountable one; I identified most books through a process of elimination and by consulting old Library catalogues.
It is difficult to say exactly how much the register can tell us about the historical intellectual community at Balliol. Officially, the Library was for Fellows of the College, although the register occasionally records instances where undergraduates and external visitors were apparently granted special dispensation to borrow from the collections. In Balliol College: A History, John Jones remarks that if one takes the register to be a picture of the College’s scholarship, ‘the impression is left . . . of a dilettante approach, lacking in concentrated effort or application’, an impression borne out by the dearth of meaningful academic work produced by the contemporary set of Fellows. This should not, however, put us off investigating the way that Fellows interacted on the page, and the entries offer an insight into the type of texts most commonly read in the wider period, as well as the specific, changing Balliol environment. After the Civil War, Balliol had been placed under the administration of the Bishop of Lincoln in an attempt to remedy its ailing financial health. The Fellows and successive Masters were engaged in raising funds in order to pay down accumulating College debts, many originating from years of unpaid battels, and a charitable explanation for the lack of academic output in the period might be that attentions were primarily focused elsewhere.
Close inspection of the register reveals plenty of instances where a community of readers appear to recommend certain works to one another, suggestive of interaction between scholars. The College subscribed to Philosophical Transactions and the rival journal Acta eruditorum, and Fellows perused both frequently. Plenty of books were seemingly passed around, some of them more obscure; five different people are recorded as having borrowed mostly forgotten French writer Louis Ellies du Pin’s 13-volume History of Ecclesiastical Writers (1692–1699). Mathematics and theology were generally the dominant subjects, and as Jones reminds us, these were the only fields in which anything of note was published out of Balliol between 1675 and 1725. The nature of progress in both fields is somewhat cumulative, and existing work is often superseded rather than lasting on in our cultural imagination, which means that many of the mathematicians and theologians studied at the time are not household names today. Thus the lending register allows us to recover the names of people who shaped the discourse of their respective subjects but might otherwise have been forgotten. It might be tempting for us to think of the 17th century as the era of Paradise Lost, but if Balliol possessed a copy of the poem – and catalogue records suggest that it did – then the lending register suggests that it did not appeal to any of the Fellows at the time. The register offers a rare insight into what was actually read in the College, not simply owned or bought, and might force us to modify our understanding of what readers considered to be important.
During my time at Balliol I was privileged to borrow from the expertise of the archivist, Anna Sander, and the librarians, Naomi Tiley, Fiona Godber, and Rachel McDonald, all of whose guidance has been invaluable. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to gain research and professional experience and the funding that has made that possible. I hope my work can play some small part in opening up this manuscript for further study by experts in this field.
– Thanks to Matthew’s research project, new digital images of three important archival sources for the history of Balliol College Library are now online:
Oxford, Balliol College Archives, Library Records:
Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts and the Oxford Conservation Consortium recently completed a condition survey of all of Balliol’s medieval and early modern manuscript books, as well as a number of later items catalogued in the same series. (See RAB Mynors, Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, OUP 1963.)
The survey of 497 items, ranging from single sheets and home made booklets of a few bifolia to palm leaves strung between wooden boards and huge bound volumes on parchment, took 39 sessions averaging 3 hours each (ca 120 hours total, more than 4 items per hour) over 29 weeks, from mid-January to the end of July 2014. The staff hours required were twice that, as each session required two people: a conservator handling the manuscripts and a Balliol staff member entering data into an Access database on the OCC laptop. This was a much more efficient use of the college’s OCC subscription time than having the conservator enter the data as well as assess the manuscripts. It also provided a once-in-a-career opportunity for Balliol Library staff, particularly the Archivist, who is responsible for the manuscripts, to become familiar with every manuscript in the collection, in some detail. Most of the data was entered by the Archivist, but all members of Library staff participated during the course of the survey, as did five members of OCC staff. The process was speeded up considerably by having the 10-15 items scheduled for each day’s session ready in advance and waiting on a trolley in the reading room when the conservator arrived.
Each item received an average of 15 minutes of assessment, but in practice it varied from 10-25 mins depending on the complexity and condition of the item. The survey template included sections for descriptions of each item and assessment of its current physical condition as well as recommended repair/conservation treatment: survey information (date seen and name of assessing conservator); physical dimensions; current boxing or other container; text block materials, binding type, cover and board materials; attachments and supports, sewing, endbands, fastenings, text block edges, binding decoration, labels or titles; condition of text block and its media; condition of binding (cover, boards, joints, sewing, endbands, labels); whether the volume had been rebound or rebacked; its overall condition or usability; any treatment required or recommended, including new or replacement preservation boxing/packaging; and any other notes.
- good lighting and seating, a large stable table
- large document trolley
- measuring tape
- conservator’s tools e.g. large tweezers, selection of dentistry tools!
- magnifying glass
- cold (LED) desk lamp
- foam wedge book supports of various sizes
- bone folders
- lead weight/snakes
- laptop for entering data
The template for the survey database was adapted for the Balliol survey into Access format from OCC’s existing Word document, which had been used for several previous similar surveys at other colleges. We also kept a paper copy of the form handy during survey sessions for easy reference to descriptors. It was pre-loaded with all the MSS numbers, short titles for identification and centuries of production. At the end of each session the updated database was copied to a memory stick and to the archivist’s networked drive.
Having the survey information in a database format, not only electronically searchable but also sortable, makes possible many of the future uses of the data listed below.
We found that while the template provided an excellent structure for focused investigations and vocabulary for nearly everything we needed to describe, it would have been useful to have a notes field as well as tick-boxes for description of the writing materials. Most texts fell into the usual categories of iron-gall ink, black-brown ink, pigments etc, but we also found various types of ‘pencil’ in some of the medieval books, and modern inks, pencil and typescript in some of the modern mss. In some cases we noted these in the Notes field at the end, but more information would have been captured with another field in the writing materials section. The same applied to the Bindings description section, especially for some of the unusual amateur bindings and coverings. We began noting the number of binding supports partway through and found it a useful addition.
Data entry was done directly into the Table view of the Access database; this helped to keep investigations very focussed, as the Table view layout made it difficult for the data enterer to skip around between sections, but an Access user interface would give access to more fields at once and should be considered for future use. Some users might prefer to convert the database to Excel, and we have found it useful to extract and convert parts of it to Word for reports and printing.
Aside from the professional and custodial benefits to staff and the college, we all enjoyed this survey immensely! It was an exciting time of (re)discoveries in the collection and much learning for all involved.
Benefits and uses
1) The most obvious function of the survey is to inform conservation treatment priorities for the future, but it is far from the only one. For each manuscript, its current condition and recommended treatment will be balanced with its contents/research interest and likelihood of exhibition or teaching use. We have good data going back more than 10 years on the ‘research popularity’ of the manuscripts.
2) In addition to conservation treatments needed, the survey has identified basic important preservation improvements e.g. numerous mss are not yet boxed, or need wrappers inside their otherwise good acid-free envelopes
3) The survey acts as a shelf check of the manuscripts.
4) Although the manuscripts were catalogued by Mynors, some of the descriptions date from as early as the 1930s and many reflect Mynors’ own research interests, heavily biased toward the texts of western medieval books. The survey has helped to identify underdescribed manuscripts needing improved catalogue entries to serve the wider interests of students of codicology and the history of the book. Areas particularly needing improvement are descriptions of historic bindings, details of illumination and book decoration, early modern manuscripts and non-western manuscripts.
5) Electronic records make it easy to flag the manuscripts’ physical condition to potential users on our website, so it is clear in advance which need (extra) special care in handling and which (few) will not be produced to researchers in their present condition. This will inform staff handling and manuscript-specific instructions on handling to readers. Better handling will improve long term preservation by decreasing the likelihood of further damage.
6) Similarly, exhibition/loan requests can receive quick and detailed responses about the suitability of specific mss for display and particular considerations needed. Where necessary, treatments can be prioritised or alternative candidates found. Staff will be able to balance the physical exposure of manuscripts across the collection rather than repeatedly displaying the same few well-known and regularly requested ‘treasures’. Increasing the breadth of manuscripts displayed will lead to institutional appreciation of the collection as a whole rather than a set of highlights with an anonymous hinterland of unknown quality.
7) Staff can easily find FAQ statistics e.g. largest, smallest, oldest, unusual characteristics, shared features, authors, texts, dates; these will be useful for reports, teaching, outreach, displays and online features.
8) Improved staff/institutional knowledge of the whole collection has already led to use of some of the less-frequently consulted (and formerly less valued) manuscripts for teaching and school outreach purposes.
More benefits and further uses of the survey are still emerging:
- Conservators are adapting database template for use in similar surveys with other colleges.
- a research-experienced volunteer is gaining curatorial experience and starting improvements to descriptions of codicological and decorative features to support teaching, research and exhibition requirements (see (4) above).
- an academic researcher has been provided with the most complete list available to date of all Balliol manuscripts within a date range containing illumination (in this case, decoration using pigments and metal e.g. gold leaf). The list derived for these criteria from the survey database is considerably longer than any comparable list yet in print.
A few survey numbers
- MSS surveyed: 497
- people involved: 9
- staff hours: ca. 240 (ca. 120 each Balliol and OCC)
- no. & % of mss in good condition: 211
- no. & % of mss in fair condition: 196 + 22 in ‘fair-to-good’ condition, indicating that some minor repairs would make the manuscript significantly safer to produce.
- no. & % of mss in poor condition: 38 + 24 in ‘fair-to-poor’ condition, usually meaning that one of the boards is detached but the MS is in otherwise fair condition
- no. & % of mss in unusable condition: 6
- largest MS: two answers: largest volume MS 228, dimensions 480x350x125 mm, vol 0.021 m3; and largest boards MS 174, dimensions 480x370x090 mm, vol 0.0159 m3 .
- smallest MS: MS 378, a book of prayers in Ethiopic, written on parchment with wooden boards and a nice example of Coptic binding. It measures 081x062x035 mm.
- oldest MS: MS 306, part of which is a 10th century copy of a text by Boethius
Have a look at our conservation survey series of posts for more details of our discoveries! Still more to come…
It’s that time of year – here’s one for the series ‘What can college librarians possibly find to do all summer while the students are away?’ Well, the Library staff are currently carrying out a Grand Shelf Check of all the early printed books – it’s especially important that we know, and record, where everything is because some of the EPBS were moved to St Cross in 2011-13 and some are still in Broad Street. And as always happens with thorough checks like this, all sorts of interesting things are turning up! Some of them include significant proportions of manuscript material – more about this as they emerge. From yesterday:
the cover is in fact a cut-down and reused administrative document. This is not unusual – palimpsests (erased texts that have been written over) get the press these days, but old parchments were often reused in humbler ways, as pastedowns, fly/guard/endleaves, linings, fastenings, page markers and indeed as in this case, covers. Here we can see the title page and the inside of the front cover – the document is upside down.
Oh – the contents of the printed book? Prattica cioe inventione di Conteggiare, published in Brescia by Ludovico Britannico.
Now we know we’re in Italy, back to the cover!
Part of the document is conveniently shaped to form a fore-edge flap for the book. It’s now very stiff, and has been folded inside the back cover for so long it doesn’t function as a flap anymore.
Here is what we can see of the document – upper left of what remains of the text, now the upside down lower part of the inside back cover of the book.
Lower left of the document: the notarial sign and colophon – see Medieval Writing’s useful explanation.
Back to the front of the book for the right hand side of the document…
the upper right
and the lower right.
I don’t have time to familiarise myself with Italian legal documentary formulae, and I don’t know what kind of transaction this document records, or quite how much of it is missing (clearly we have the bottom but not quite the beginning), but I hope somebody who’s practising Italian palaeography and diplomatic may find it interesting! Do drop us a line if so…
Balliol MS 385 is written in Pali on lacquered and gilt palm leaves enclosed and strung between painted wooden boards.
Detail of one of the boards
The inner side of one board and the outside leaf
Detail of an outer leaf
leaves from the middle of the manuscript, with text and decoration
detail of decorated leaf
Balliol has few Oriental manuscripts – the term under which all the non-western mss in languages and scripts from Pali to Persian, Hebrew to Hindi, have been lumped together. Most of them were given individually to the College as antiquarian curiosities, and they have not, on the whole, been evaluated, described or studied much at all in comparison with the collection of western manuscripts. But there are discoveries still to be made!
A description of MSS 385 and 386 by Prof FW Thomas, cited by Mynors as ‘kept with the MSS’, is lost, so as far as we know Balliol does not have information about the date or origins of this MS. There is no obvious documentation of how it came to Balliol, but there is a lot of acquisition information, at least for the 20th century, in the Annual Record, so we will at least survey that to see what we can discover.
In the meantime, our descriptions remain inadequate, but thanks to the efforts of archives, libraries and museums to put images from their own collections online, it is possible to put these ‘Balliol orphans’ in some kind of context with other manuscripts of their kind(s). I have found some (to the untrained eye at least) similar manuscripts – and therefore several useful descriptors and explanations of particular features – at:
- Trinity College Dublin Digital Collections (Dublin, Ireland) – try searching for ‘manuscript’ and then add Hebrew, Arabic, etc. This post from M&ArL@TCD’s blog about a Pali MS from Burma has images of something similar to Balliol 385.
- Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts (Baltimore, MD, USA) image collections on Flickr – includes a large collection of Islamic manuscripts
- The Wellcome Library (London, UK) image collection – search for e.g. ‘Pali’
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, USA) – a small online exhibition on ‘Early Buddhist Manuscript Painting: The Palm-Leaf Tradition’
- Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, IL, USA) – manuscript collections in their Southeast Asia Digital Library
Very little of the British Library’s large Southeast Asia collections is online, either images or descriptions, but you can find some images here: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Default.aspx
For background knowledge rather than images:
- The Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation
- The Pali Text Society
- The Wellcome Library’s Catalogue of the Burmese-Pali and Burmese Manuscripts
Balliol MS 452 is a copy of the Koran, given to the College in 1983. The donor did not have information about its date or provenance. We will be asking experts in the field(s) to examine Balliol’s small collection of Oriental manuscripts and describe them in detail, most for the first time. Watch this space!
Physically, the book is currently in unusable condition. The spine and one cover are detached, and the unsupported sewing is weak with some breaks, making the textblock unstable. Any use in this state causes damage – we disturbed it as little and as briefly as possible for this examination, while documenting as much as we safely could.
The first folio features areas of illumination using gold and pigments above and below the text and on two, perhaps formerly three, sides of the border. This page shows some old repairs, of which there are many throughout the volume.
above, showing f1 with the blue linen spine lining exposed
The two sections of the fore edge flap have become detached, and the hinges between the three parts of the cover are mostly lost.
The red leather cover, now darkened, was painted with silver and gold or pigments resembling metals. The various layers, which would not have been visible when the book was new, are now showing more clearly as the materials age and wear.
The small square gold-coloured areas are made separately and stuck on – some are beginning to lift as the adhesives lose their strength.
A view of one of the endbands, showing the typical zigzag pattern, now broken about halfway.
This volume was housed until recently inside what was once a beautiful dark green silk velvet bag, evidently specially made for it. A stub remains from the bag’s lost tie, in a rather natty check or plaid. The textile itself needs conservation, and removing the book from the enclosure or replacing it is only causing further damage to both items, so they will be kept separately – but still together. Ideally, one both items have been treated they could be housed in separate areas of the same box.
Thanks to the survey, we hope that both the history and the future of this book will soon become clearer!