Rouse, Richard H. and Mary A. Rouse. Foreword by Robert Somerville.
Bound Fast with Letters: Medieval Writers, Readers, and Texts.
Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 570.
$89.00 ISBN: 9780268040338.
Reviewed by Alexander Andrée
University of Toronto
Eighteen articles published over a span of forty years find a bele
in this delightful volume, which takes its reader on a
journey through one thousand years of book production. Divided into
three sections and an epilogue, this collection offers its reader
seasoned research on such seemingly disparate topics as wax tablets,
Donatist Aids to Biblical Study, Carolingian liturgical texts,
twelfth-century monastic sermons, the Waldensians and the schools, the
manuscripts of Richard de Fournival, crusading collections in
fourteenth-century France, a mysterious golden peacock, the habits of
wandering scribes and traveling artists, and much more.
Though article collections often seem to lack cohesion, this is not
the case with the present book. Its editors wisely saw fit to
privilege concept over context as their guiding organizational
principle. A brand new introduction, ditto vignettes for each section,
uniform formatting and new page numbering further contribute to the
unified aspect of the volume. And this book is, after all, about
books. It covers scribal practices across a thousand years,
parchmenting and decoration, patronage and book production. Though a
book devoted exclusively to matters of codicology may perhaps run the
risk of being a rather dry read except for the ardent specialist, this
is, once again, not the case here. On the contrary, the authors
consistently contextualize the material dimension of their manuscripts
as they call attention to the implications this material has on
medieval culture at large. This makes for a riveting read, which has
something to offer every kind of medievalist. In short, this is
"integral palaeography" at its best. Leonard Boyle would surely have
A most impressive aspect of this volume, and one that shines through
most of its pages, is the special care with which the authors describe
and contextualize the single manuscripts--or even manuscript leaves--
held in North America. If the proper scrutiny of two Carolingian
bifolia, for example, can yield unexpected insights into "previously
unknown monastic liturgical practices in late-ninth or early-tenth-
century Burgundy" (60), one can only imagine the fruits that might be
reaped through equally detailed research into the much richer and more
plentiful European manuscript holdings. This message can certainly be
extrapolated from the opening section, "Writing It Down:
Practicalities and Imagery, 500-1200" (13-112), where we also learn
how a manuscript kept at Yale University's Beinecke Library provides
the hitherto missing link between the Spanish Waldensians, on the
brink of heresy, and the schools of Paris. It shows how the former,
through tolerance and understanding, could be brought into the
orthodox fold of the Church ("The Schools and the Waldensians: A New
Work by Durand of Huesca," 89-112).
The central portion, "Patrons and the Use of Books, 1250-1400," is the
book's longest (115-419) section and it perhaps reflects the authors'
keenest interests. The main theme here is how, and it what context, a
number of French vernacular texts were produced and circulated in the
high Middle Ages. First comes a study of the surviving manuscripts of
the Old French vernacular poet and patron of Latin manuscript
production Richard de Fournival (d. 1260). Judging by his list of
personal book-holdings, the Biblionomia, which mentions no less
than 132 volumes, it has long been held that Richard was instrumental
in preserving and transmitting rare works of classical Antiquity. Back
in 1973, when the Rouses originally published on this subject, they
were able to identify thirty-eight surviving manuscripts from this
list, most of which were held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France
in Paris, with a few exceptions uncovered in such distant locations as
Bern, Edinburgh and Florence. The authors have since successfully
identified six additional codices (in Paris, Leiden, Valenciennes and
at the Vatican) as originally belonging to de Fournivals's library.
The longest article in the volume, "Context and Reception: A Crusading
Collection for Charles IV of France" (215-279), considers how a Roman
tractate on warfare, Vegetius' De re militari, copied in the
company of the "right" texts and diffused under favourable
circumstances, could be turned into a piece of papal propaganda. In a
feat of codicological sleuthing worthy of a Lord Peter Wimsey, the
Rouses manage to show not only that Vegetius' tractate was copied
alongside crusading literature at Paris in the early part of the
fourteenth century, but also that it was assembled for King Charles IV
of France at the behest of none other than Pope John XXII, whose
crusading plans were shared by the French monarch.
Particularly fascinating in the third section, "Commercial Book-
Makers, French and Italian, 1290-1410" (422-522), is chapter 13,
"Wandering Scribes and Traveling Artists: Raulinus of Fremington and
His Bolognese Bible" (423-458), which reconstructs the career of a
West Country Englishman using information gleaned from the Bible he
copied toward the end of the thirteenth century. Not only were the
authors able to gather that he learned his trade in Paris and worked
in Bologna, they obtained insight into the scribe's personal life.
Contrary to the habits of most copyists, Raulinus left personal notes
scattered throughout the volume, not in the margins or otherwise
separate from the text, but as part of the text proper. From these
notes (the Rouses count sixteen of varying length, some of which are
in verse), Raulinus emerges, even by modern standards, as "lustful,
coarse, and self-absorbed" (425). His notes normally concern his
encounters with two women, Meldina and Vilana. The former is described
sometimes as a harlot, whore or leech and other times as a blossoming
rose and a jewel of womankind, whose love for Raulinus is commensurate
to the amount of change in his pockets. Vilana, according to Raulinus,
stole his cloak, for which she obtained the epithet, "dung-heap."
Indeed, it is the way in which the Rouses illuminate the human
dimension of scribal activity (which is sadly so rare among surviving
witnesses) that makes the book a cohesive delight to read. I only wish
Raulinus' comments could have been printed as an appendix--like many
of the other texts encountered in manuscripts in this volume--rather
than being relegated to the footnotes. For, as stated above, Raulinus
was not one to relegate his thoughts to the margins of his materials.
This book is undeniably a florilegium, but one hardly notices
that the flores have been plucked from different pastures.
Together, they give off the enticing scent of codicology come alive.
The Medieval Review