MEMC lecture recap – ‘Adventures with Langland’

Or, What I did on my sabbatical, by Lawrence Warner

A couple of weeks ago – on Wednesday the 17 of August, in fact* – the MEMC (formerly CMS) lunchtime lecture featured Lawrence Warner, who’s been busy noseying about in archives, looking at marginalia in medieval and early modern manuscripts/books of Piers Ploughman. The paper itself was a rather fun one, featuring lots of pictures of scrawly writing, organised in more or less the order he looked at them. And, notably, one hand-drawn picture of a dog baiting a bear, in which Lawrence put his artistic skills to the test by copying out someone else’s marginalia before he cottoned on that he could use his cameraphone for this sort of purpose.

A monk, writing; caption 'geekery pokery'As well as looking at manuscripts with the entirety of Piers in it, Lawrence has been chasing up manuscripts with fragmentary quotations, including some which, as I understand it, aren’t on the standard catalogue. He’s particularly interested in manuscripts which have all of Piers and fragmentary quotations; these don’t get listed as two separate manuscript records, but Lawrence pointed out that that’s kind of strange – if the fragment were ripped out in 1700-and-something and found later, it’d be counted as a separate witness; and the fragment might tell us completely different things about the way people interacted with the text.

There are, apparently, many fun stories associated with Piers manuscripts/early books: Lawrence told us about the Douce MS (1802), which contains 64 lines of Peirs translated into heroic couplets, by a Mr Duprie – who turns out to have been a notorious forger of letters not actually by Brunetto; and Douce exposed him in the Monthly. The MSS appears to have been given to Douce as sort of payment/apology.

Lawrence also talked at length about some 18th century scholars who were busy cross-referencing their Crowley editions against ‘Lord Weymouth’s copy’, now in the Huntingdon Library – apparently there was one really fabulously detailed one, I think in Bailol College, which has alphabetical cross-refs to Harley 857 and numberical cross-refs to Lord Weymouth’s copy (my notes here say ‘Weymouth/Spellman’ but I haven’t the faintest who Spellman was. Or indeed, Weymouth).

A child, reading. Caption - Joie du livreApparently the 18th century is generally supposed to have been a fallow period for Piers scholarship. Says Lawrence, of these cross-referencing scholars: “It may be ridiculous, but it certainly wasn’t fallow”.

So, in conclusion if you wish to know why Piers Ploughman marginalia is sometimes ridiculous, often interesting, and not at all fallow, Lawrence Warner is your man.


* This will remain the lunchtime paper I remember as “the time I dropped a lemonade fruit in my own juice cup, one of my students helped me clean it up, I assumed the lemonade fruit belonged to said student, and several hours later the student came up to me after class demanding to know why I’d put a citrus fruit in her bag”.


One Response to “MEMC lecture recap – ‘Adventures with Langland’”

  1. Annelise Says:

    Great post. Placing unexpected citrus fruits among others’ belongings is an excellent trick for the more adventurous of lecture-goers!

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