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13 - Auchinleck ‘Scribe 6’ and Some Corollary Issues

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 May 2021

Susanna Fein
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Kent State University.
A. S. G. Edwards
Affiliation:
Professor of Medieval Manuscripts, School of English, University of Kent
Helen Phillips
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Cardiff University
Derek Pearsall
Affiliation:
Professor Emeritus of English, Harvard University, Honorary Member, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York
Cathy Hume
Affiliation:
Visiting Scholar at Northwestern University, Illinois.
Ralph Hanna
Affiliation:
Emeritus Professor of Palaeography, University of Oxford
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Summary

I owe my engagement here entirely to the generosity of Kenneth Dunn, head of the Manuscripts Department at the National Library of Scotland, and to the persistence of Ruth Kennedy. Having twice written directly, as best I could, about Auchinleck, I felt, at the time of the LOMERS conference, that I had nothing very useful to say to anyone about the whole book. But Ruth would not let me off the hook, and we finally negotiated what she designated a ‘bonne bouche’, a ten-minute, late-afternoon presentation that would send conference participants to the bar, probably avid for rest and relief.

What I had to say on that occasion was an impolite presentation of the limitations of knowing this manuscript (and I would suspect, any other) mainly through its facsimile reproductions. The exhibit I offered LOMERS was entirely due to Kenneth, who has now twice (most recently in May 2014) let me spend full days handling the object itself. At this point, I take up my LOMERS script (rather miraculously found preserved on the back of sheets on which I had taken notes about the book), late in my discussion of the Burnley-Wiggins facsimile/transcription mounted on the NLS website:

I

A digitized version has one real downside: reload time. The machine requirement of reloading pages estranges one from visual contact with the book, now a discontinuous sequence of images. Handling a ‘live book’ interposes no such discontinuity and thus allows considerably more immediate perceptual refreshment. This is the way book scholars customarily get attuned to any individual manuscript – the persistent and repeated presence of similar features imposes itself on visual memory and becomes a rhythm of engagement.

I want to contrast the last time I saw Auchinleck, in the sheep flesh, as it were. I went at the book new, as if I had never seen it before – scrutiny of every page, dip in and read a little, pause over illustration, and so on. It was all quite wonderful, until … at a certain point, I realized something was wrong – that is, my visual memory was somehow disrupted. This led me to a fair amount of scuffling about to try to figure out what was responsible, comparing pages where I had been disconcerted by something, I did not yet know what, with others where I had been sailing blithely along.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2016

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