Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript of the Month: A Previously Unknown Witness to a Medieval Dictionary and the Origins of Librarians

April 29th, 2020

In memory of Richard Sharpe (1954-2020)

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

MS 9/2:16 is one of dozens of fragmentary medieval manuscripts that are part of the holdings of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Originally part of a larger manuscript, this single parchment leaf was cut to size to be used as the cover of another book. Since the fragment was folded to fit this new host and the folds left quite an impression on the parchment, it can be estimated that the dimensions of the book our fragment was covering were about 156 x 96 x 43 mm. We do not, however, know what this book was.

Image of a manuscript fragment (recto) possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century? The fragment had been repurposed as the cover of a codex.
Recto of a manuscript fragment containing a list of terms, which was used as the cover of another book. Call #: MS 9/2:16. Click image to enlarge.
Image of a manuscript fragment (verso) possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century? The fragment had been repurposed as the cover of a codex.
Verso of the manuscript leaf, which served as the inner side of the cover of the book. Call #: MS 9/2:16. Click image to enlarge.

As it stands, 27 lines of text in three columns on both sides of the leaf remain. The three-column layout with ample margins on either side suggests that this fragment was part of a manuscript of substantial size. The widest part of the width of the fragment measures approximately 290 mm. We can therefore estimate that the original manuscript leaf perhaps measured something like 450 x 300 mm. That is to say, this parchment leaf is now perhaps half the size it used to be. A reading of the text immediately reveals that this is some kind of glossary, dictionary or encyclopedia, as it contains an alphabetical list of terms with explanations. The part we have includes terms that begin with the letter L, and that is why there are repeated decorated initial Ls on both sides of the leaf, two of which are pen flourished in red and the other two in plain blue. We can see that not all the terms begin with a decorated initial but only the ones that have relatively lengthier explanations.

Ordinarily, a glossary would be at the end of a book or accompany a text and include terms particular to that work. It is, however, difficult to see what the terms in this fragment might have in common as they vary not only in the length of their descriptions but also in their subject matters. For example, the words included on the recto page range from “liber” (book) to “liberalis” (of or belonging to freedom), “libia” (Libya, a country in North Africa) and “libidinosus” (passionate).

As it is seen in the images of the manuscript above, the fragment has sustained significant water damage which caused some of the ink to bleed and smear on the page, especially on the recto side. In order to uncover the text on the parchment that was lost due to the water damage, I applied some digital manipulation techniques to the images before I began transcribing the text. Different contemporary image processing techniques can be applied to images of manuscripts to recover ink that is not visible to the naked eye. And, sometimes even only recalibrating the sharpness and the contrast of images will yield results, depending on the extent of the damage and the erasure. The images of this particular fragment required a little bit of more work than that but the results were really promising.

Image of a manuscript fragment possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century?, digitally processed to enhance the legibility of water-damaged text.
Recto of MS 9/2:16 after image processing with ImageJ/Fiji. Click image to enlarge.

As I was transcribing, at first I thought this was a copy of part of the Etymologiae [Etymologies] by Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636). Also known as the Origines, Isidore’s work is an etymological encyclopedia. Due to its comprehensiveness and the overall encyclopedic mindset of medieval scribes, authors and compilers, the Etymologiae was one of the most copied and consulted books throughout the Middle Ages. The entirety of the Etymologiae consists of twenty books but it is common to see selected books, chapters or even individual passages copied in medieval manuscripts. If you have read my last blogpost on MS C189, you may remember that I mentioned that another work by Isidore of Seville, the Sententiae (Sentences), also was fairly popular during the Middle Ages, and selected parts of this work were found in manuscripts as part of larger compilations.

When I compared the text of MS 9/2:16 with Isidore’s Etymologiae, I noticed that the fragment did not follow the order of books and chapters of the work, although individual passages certainly were directly taken from the Etymologiae. For example, on the recto side of the fragment, the text moves from the fourteenth chapter to the twelfth chapter of the sixth book of the Etymologiae in the first column with no apparent break and then on to the fifth chapter of the ninth book in the second column before going to the fifth chapter of the fourteenth book in the third.

These kinds of textual rearrangements are no surprise when it comes to medieval manuscripts. Many texts were not simply copied but reorganized and rewritten in the Middle Ages to better suit the particular needs of individual scribes or authors at given times. Moreover, in MS 9/2:16, I found out that there were sentences, albeit only a handful, that did not originate from Isidore’s Etymologiae. This phenomenon of additions to existing texts is also not uncommon in medieval manuscripts and could have been done by the scribe of this manuscript. Yet, in this case, I think the scribe of MS 9/2:16 was just following an existing exemplar and not necessarily making new additions. I now believe Spencer’s fragment is not directly from Isidore’s Etymologiae, but from a copy of Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning].

Described by Richard Sharpe as the “first fully recognizable dictionary,” the Elementarium was composed sometime before 1053, probably over several years in the 1040s. One of the sources for Papias’s Elementarium was the Etymologiae, and that is why we find passages that go back directly to the Isidore’s seventh-century encyclopedia in this fragment. A notable feature of Papias’s Elementarium is that it is organized in alphabetical order based on the first three letters of each word. We can easily confirm this by looking at MS 9/2:16, in which each entry starts not only with the letter L but also with the letters LIB before moving on to LIC and then to LID. Among other features of the work, this alphabetical organization in itself has been considered very innovative for its time.

It is very serendipitous that MS 9/2:16 as we have it begins in the middle of a chapter entitled “De librariis et eorum instrumentis” in Isidore’s Etymologiae (VI.xiv). We would be justified in reading the title of this chapter as “on librarians and their instruments” since the adjective “librarius” (“librariis” in dative) means a person concerned with or employed about books when it is used as a noun, and that is what librarians do! In the Middle Ages, though, “librarius” usually referred to a copyist, scribe, secretary or bookseller. Yet, the Latin word “librarius” is indeed the origin of the word “librarian” in English and all the way into the eighteenth century the word “librarian” still (also) carried all these meanings in English.

According to A Census of Medieval Latin Grammatical Manuscripts by G. L. Bursill-Hall, over a hundred manuscripts of Papias’s Elementarium survive. There are also at least four print editions dated before the fifteenth century, the first of which was published in Milan in 1476. (Three of these incunabula dated to 1485, 1491 and 1496 respectively are digitized by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Germany.) Perhaps the high number of the witnesses in addition to the complexity of the work are the reasons why a full edition of the Elementarium has not been undertaken in modern times. Since there is no modern edition of the text with which our fragment can be compared, I soon will make available an annotated transcription of MS 9/2:16.

For an introduction to medieval dictionaries, read Richard Sharpe, “Vocabulary, Word Formation, Lexicography.” In Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide. Ed. by F. A. C. Mantello and A. G. Rigg (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996). 93–105.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Meme K.U.

April 22nd, 2020

In this time of pandemic, we are all facing issues of material access and spending inordinate time in the halls of the internet. And if you’ve spent much time in the halls of the internet, then you are well familiar with memes. These pictures taken out of context and often slightly edited or at least with added text deliver small, precise, and often entertaining snippets of thought in an easily digestible, easily shareable format. 

Let’s do this!

Meme created from a photograph of two soldiers on a Fort Riley porch, 1904
A meme created from a photograph of two soldiers on a Fort Riley porch, 1904. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 1256, Box 30. Click image to enlarge.

I mean, I suppose there are a few considerations. It is important to be aware of copyright concerns when it comes to both making and sharing memes. Is the work transformational? Is the selected image in the public domain? How do I do this meme thing anyway? 

This post will deal primarily with finding and using University of Kansas digital collections as a source for memes. As such, I will focus on things that are clearly okay to use. This is going to mean things which clearly state use is possible as well as anything from before 1925. Beyond that, use may be possible but pay close attention to any rights statements and be aware of Fair Use doctrine application. The Kenneth Spencer Research Library addresses much of this in our section “Request Reproductions.”

Many use statements are going to include attribution. One of the easiest ways to do this in a meme format image is that once you have your meme generated, but before you share it, open the file properties. In the file properties you should be able to add author/artist and a note/comment including the attribution statement. Once those have been added to the file, then share!

Meme created from a photograph of Ziegler's dog, 1897
A meme created from a photograph of Ziegler’s dog, 1897. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 212.05, Box 6. Click image to enlarge.

A few collections to search for materials to use: 

From the Ground Up: Collection of landscape art with a few other things. Use statement allows use with attribution. 

Invertebrate Paleontology: Photographs of invertebrate fossils. Use statement allows use with attribution. 

KU Libraries – Digital Collections: Many images prior to 1925, published by a government entity, or otherwise available for use…still important to check the rights information of any image you use! 

Once you have selected an image to use in making your meme, you will want to figure out what service you may want to use. There are several free-to-use options out there as well as using software such as Photoshop or Paint. I have used Adobe Spark, KAPWING, and imgflip in making the memes I’ve put on this page. They were all similar in ease-of-use. KAPWING offered a few features that were easy to find but has a more intrusive watermark. Imgflip was straightforward, but maybe not as many features. Adobe Spark required a registration that the others didn’t. 

A couple of other articles you may find helpful in your meme-making future: “How to Make a Meme” by Gannon Burgett on Digital Trends and “Copyright for Meme-Makers” by Colleen McCroskey at Public Knowledge.

Meme created from a photograph of a woman driving a buggy through the Kansas countryside, 1902
A meme created from a photograph of woman driving a buggy through the Kansas countryside, 1902. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 939, Box 24. Click image to enlarge.

Shelby Schellenger
Public Services

Love in the Time of Corona: How to Write Love Letters

April 16th, 2020

Picture it: You’ve met someone interesting, funny, exciting, attractive – someone who could be something really special. Then, POOF! Social distancing happens and you have no option for in-person contact with your romantic prospect for who knows how long.

How do you continue getting to know each other and keep that initial connection flourishing? Texting? Emails? Video calls? While all are great options, why not take this opportunity to try another choice? Everyone, it is time to break out those pens and paper and start writing love letters again!

Photograph of a soldier writing a letter in a barracks room at Fort Riley, 1908
A soldier writing a letter in a barracks room at Fort Riley, Kansas, 1908. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Now you may ask, “Why write letters when we have phones and computers at our disposal?” The logic is three-fold:

1) Tangibility: Since you can’t embrace the one you fancy, why not create something physical for one another to have and hold during this time of distance?

2) Permanence: Typically, text messages are deleted automatically after a certain period of time. Phone calls and video chats exist only at the time they are happening (unless you record them). Letters, on the other hand, will last – as long as they are cared for properly.

3) Hobby option: Social distancing has prompted many people to explore new hobbies – particularly creative ones. While people learn to bake from scratch, sew masks, and try their hands at knitting, writing letters or keeping a journal is another creative outlet to explore!

Personally, I do not do much letter writing (let alone ones of an amorous nature) and I know that most of my friends, family, and colleagues do not either. Thankfully, I found a great source of advice: How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun (1927), one of the Little Blue Books in Spencer’s Kansas Collection.

Cover of How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
The cover of How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927. Call Number: RH H-J 1244 Little. Click image to enlarge.

Using the long-distance love story of Clementine and Thomas (a traveling salesman), this quaint publication gives examples of love letters appropriate to various levels of relationships – Better Acquaintance, Avowed Tenderness, Betrothed, and Married – and for a variety of situations within those relationships. In the midst of the letters, Markun also provides advice so that the reader may maintain the appropriate level of formality with regard to language, expectations, and even writing materials to use. For example, Markun writes that “amorous correspondence should be written in black or blue-black ink, and gentlemen usually write on white paper, although various light tints are occasionally in fashion” (10-11).

Part of the Introductory Note in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
Part of the Introductory Note in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927. Call Number: RH H-J 1244 Little. Click image to enlarge.
Selected pages in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
Selected pages in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927
The first four pages in the first chapter (“Better Acquaintance”) in How to Write Love Letters by Leo Markun, 1927. Call Number: RH H-J 1244 Little. Click images to enlarge.

I decided to focus my attention on the advice and examples for the first two levels of relationships: Better Acquaintances and Avowed Tenderness. After reading through the highly entertaining letters and advice featured, here are the five tidbits that I think will be most useful for those attempting to write a love letter in the 21st-century:

1) Respect the other’s wishes. Before courtship by mail can even begin, make sure that both of you are on the same page regarding your interest in each other. If one party isn’t interested in corresponding and has communicated their wishes, the other should not be angry when further letters are left unanswered.

2) Dates, dates, dates. Always include the full date on every letter. This will help avoid confusion and potential misunderstandings because it helps the recipient keep track of when the letter was written.

3) Think before you ink. You want to be clear about your intentions and not say things you do not mean. As Leo Markun wrote in the Introductory Note of How to Write Love Letters, “it is very unsafe to put into a love letter any matter which may not be proclaimed to the whole universe” (6). Saying “I love you” in person is fleeting; saying “I love you” in ink is forever. In addition to considering the permanence of what you write, know that it is possible that your letter may be read by someone other than the intended recipient. As Markun advises, “before sending off a letter, then, it is well to consider if it is one that may safely be read in a court room” (7).

4) Be yourself. Your letter should have personality! Show off your humor, share your thoughts, give your writing your style and voice. Because this is so vital, remember that merely copying a letter and changing the names is not going to give you the desired results.

5) Grammar is sexy. Personality does not come at the expense of proper grammar. Per Markun, “there is less excuse for slipshod grammar in a letter than there is in talking… If necessary it may be rewritten” (14).

And with this advice in hand, it’s time to start writing! So let’s break out the stationary, spread the love (without spreading the germs), and help keep the postal service afloat.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Pulitzer Pride: Gwendolyn Brooks in the Kansas Collection

April 8th, 2020

You are a very dear person indeed to think of me and the word Pulitzer within the same moment. I was amazed to read your letter. It must be every verse-writer’s dream to be considered, some day, for such an honor – but, to say nothing of other poets, this has been a ROBERT FROST year.

–Letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950, Call #: RH MS 152:A:1

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1950 Pulitzer Prize win for her volume of poetry Annie Allen (1949). Illinois justly claims Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) as one of the state’s most-celebrated literary citizens. Her first collection of verse, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), offered portraits of life in Chicago’s South Side, where Brooks grew up and lived, and she would return to that setting across many of her works. She also served as Illinois’s poet laureate from 1968 until her death in 2000. However, Kansans are quick to remember that Brooks also had ties to the sunflower state. She was born in Topeka in 1917, before she moved a month later with her Kansan parents two states to the east. Spencer Research Library’s Kansas Collection holds first editions of many of Brooks’s books, particularly her early ones, and although her papers reside at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Spencer houses a small but significant collection of the poet’s correspondence with Van Allen Bradley (1913-1984). Bradley served as literary editor of the Chicago Daily News, and Brooks occasionally wrote book reviews for the newspaper. Though her relationship with it wasn’t as longstanding or deep as with the Chicago Defender, the influential African American newspaper that combated segregation and racial injustice, several of the letters with Bradley in Spencer’s collection offer insight into her 1950 Pulitzer win. 

Dust Jacket of Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Annie Allen. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949. Image courtesy of The Pulitzer Prizes website. Kenneth Spencer Research Library copy at call #: RH B1594.

On April 19, 1950, Van Allen Bradley wrote to Brooks, 

I have just tried to call you at the South Side Community Art Center [where Brooks worked as a part-time director’s assistant] but got no answer there. 

What prompted it was this –

The Saturday Review asked for my Pulitzer choices, and it occurred to me that you are going to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry.  Nice thought, isn’t it!  Seriously, I hope you do – and I have you as my choice.

But what I am writing about is this –

Suppose you were to win it: We’d want to carry a story about you, who you are, what you have written, etc. etc.  A profile no less.  And I’d like to write the piece. I wonder if you can supply me – at the earliest moment possible – with the relevant detail: all facts, a biography in brief, your likes and dislikes, your life, your family, etc. etc. […]

_
Carbon copy of lettter from letter from Van Allen Bradley to Gwendolyn Brooks, April 19, 1950, speculating that she may win the Pulitzer prize and requesting that she send biographical information for a profile
Carbon copy of letter from Van Allen Bradley to Gwendolyn Brooks, April 19, 1950, speculating about her possible Pulitzer win. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

Bradley’s Pulitzer speculation was not the first awards attention directed at poems from Brooks’s second collection. In November of 1949, Brooks had closed a letter to Bradley with good news. “Guess what:” she wrote, “I won a prize from Poetry Magazine this month – The Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize of one hundred dollars!” The award honored “a poem or a group of poems by an American citizen published in Poetry,” and Brooks had won it for “Four poems” published in the magazine’s March issue (three sonnets from the sequence “The Children of the Poor” and the poem “A Light and Diplomatic Bird,” all also included in Annie Allen).

Even with that win under her belt, Brooks’s response to Bradley’s Pulitzer speculation was modest. In the remark quoted at the beginning of this post, she ventured that the prize would go instead to Robert Frost. “I’ll never forget that with all of the other poets to choose from, you voted for me,” she wrote to Bradley, “Thank you; thank you!” 

Detail from the beginning of a letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950, in which she thanks Bradley for recommending her for the Pulitzer but notes that "this has been a Robert Frost year."
The beginning of a letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

While 1949 had been a banner year for Frost—it saw the publication of his Complete Poems and his 75th birthday—the 1950 Pulitzer Advisory Committee was interested in celebrating fresh work rather than past glory. It marveled at the achievement of Frost’s career-spanning collection, but noted he had been awarded the Pulitzer four times previously for essentially the same poems. “A further ‘honor’ to Frost would be not only superfluous but so repetitious as to seem silly,” commented poet and committee member Louis Untermeyer.[i] In Annie Allen, however, the committee saw “a volume of great originality, real distinction and high value as a book, as well as poetry.”[ii] Committee member Alfred Kreymborg commended Brooks’s volume as introducing “further characters out of her South Side background, with Annie herself as the central figure with her peregrinations from childhood through girlhood to womanhood.” He singled out for particular praise The Anniad, “whose title” he wrote, “deftly parodies The Aeneid and whose intellectual sweep over common experience is not only brilliant but profound in its tragic and tragicomic implications.”[iii]

In spite of her assertion that it would be Frost’s year, Brooks nevertheless sent along a biography to Van Allen Bradley with her letter of April 21st. Ten days later, on May 1, 1950, she made history. Annie Allen took that year’s prize for poetry and Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American writer to win a Pulitzer. “I am a very fortunate person, and can’t help but wonder what tragedy is about to befall me, as a sort of ‘compensation,'” she wrote to Bradley on May 6th.

Closing of letter dated May 6, 1950 from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley following her Pulitzer win, discussing her sense of disbelief.
“I am just beginning to believe it really happened”: Closing of letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley following her Pulitzer win, May 6, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

The brief two-page (auto)biography that Brooks sent to Bradley on the eve of her win is worth reading in its entirety. We encourage you to come in and examine it (alongside other Brooks materials) once the danger of coronavirus subsides and our reading room re-opens or to submit a remote reference request. Typed on South Side Community Art Center letterhead, Brooks begins her biography with a recognition of her familial ties to Kansas.

Detail from the beginning of a biography of Gwendolyn Brooks that Brooks enclosed with a letter to Van Allen Bradley dated, April 21, 1950, providing information about her birth and Kansas Roots
Kansas roots: The beginning of a biography Gwendolyn Brooks sent to Van Allen Bradley with her letter dated, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call#: RH MS 152 B3. Click image to enlarge.

After providing further biographical details and information on her family, schooling, career, past honors, and projected future publications, the thirty-three-year-old Brooks, with a mix of good humor and commitment, offers up a a brief account of her literary start. She also provides, in response to Bradley’s request, her likes (“Country peace, fresh air, elbow room, affectionate friends, book-stores, music, modern art, looking at other people’s beautiful houses, strawberries in rich, cold cream, orange pie, apricot pie”) and dislikes (“cruelty and confusion”). She then concludes her biography with one final self-effacing but playful detail: “Date of death from shock: The day I win a Pulitzer prize.”

Detail from the end of a biography of Gwendolyn Brooks that Brooks enclosed with a letter dated, April 21, 1950, detailing her early literary life, likes and dislikes.
Likes and dislikes on the eve of the Pulitzer Prize: Detail from the end of the biography Brooks enclosed with her letter to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call#: RH MS 152 B3. Click image to enlarge.

As we mark National Poetry Month during a time of social distancing, we encourage you to explore Brooks and her Pulitzer-winning volume Annie Allen through some of the numerous resources available online:

  • Several poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, including “The Rites for Cousin Vit” from Annie Allen, are available online at Poetry Foundation.  There you’ll also find back issues of Poetry Magazine, including the March 1949 issue containing the four poems from Annie Allen that earned Brooks the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize.
  • Listen to Gwendolyn Brooks read her own poetry in a recording made on January 19, 1961 for the Library of Congress’ Archive of Recorded Poetry And Literature at https://www.loc.gov/item/94838388/.  Brooks’s reading includes poems from Annie Allen starting the 11:55 minute mark, including “The Rites for Cousin Vit” (at 19:24), as well as several of her other best-known poems, such as “Kitchenette Building” (at 0:34) from A Street in Bronzeville (1945) and “We Real Cool” (at 22:50) from The Bean Eaters (1960).
  • Finally, commemorate Brooks’s Pulitzer Prize win and her Kansas roots with this trading card produced in 2016 by the Kansas State Historical Society.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian


[i] Remarks by Louis Untermeyer, quoted in a letter from Henry Seidel Canby to Dean Carl W. Ackerman, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, on behalf of the Pulitzer committee—Henry Seidel Canby, Alfred Kreymborg, and Louis Untermeyer, [1950]. Reproduced in “Frost? Williams? No, Gwendolyn Brooks.” The Pulitzer Prizes. Accessed 6 April 2020. https://www.pulitzer.org/article/frost-williams-no-gwendolyn-brooks

[ii] Letter from Henry Seidel Canby to Dean Carl W. Ackerman, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, on behalf of the Pulitzer committee—Henry Seidel Canby, Alfred Kreymborg, and Louis Untermeyer, [1950]. Reproduced in “Frost? Williams? No, Gwendolyn Brooks.” The Pulitzer Prizes. Accessed 6 April 2020. https://www.pulitzer.org/article/frost-williams-no-gwendolyn-brooks

[iii] Remarks by Alfred Kreymborg quoted in ibid.

Manuscript of the Month: A Manuscript, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma

April 1st, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

A small quarto manuscript, MS C189, previously belonged to Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965), a graduate of the University of Kansas. Born in Rockwell City, IA, her family moved to Lawrence, KS, after she finished high school. She completed her first degree over a century ago, in 1901, at the University of Kansas and went on to receive an MA in 1903, also from KU. She then attended the University of Chicago, where she later worked at the John Crerar Library until 1918. Following a brief post teaching French at the University of Kansas ROTC, between 1919 and 1926 she taught French at Baker University in Baldwin City, KS, where she became Head of the French Department. In 1929, she completed her PhD at Johns Hopkins University and became Professor of Modern Languages in West Virginia at Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston). She taught French, Spanish and German there until her retirement in 1947. Subsequently, she returned to Lawrence, where she resided until her death. Owens also was the previous owner of another manuscript currently in the holdings of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, MS J1:2, a fragmentary Torah scroll. Paul Mirecki from KU Religious Studies has been working on the history of this manuscript, the details of which were outlined in an article last year in the KU Alumni Magazine.

Portrait of Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965) when she was part of the faculty at Morris Harvey College in 1933. Source: The Harveyan, 1933.
Portrait of Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965) when she was part of the faculty at Morris Harvey College in 1933. Source: The Harveyan, 1933, courtesy of the Internet Archive. Click image to enlarge.

MS C189 is one of three manuscripts that were listed under “The Library of Miss Alpha Loretta Owens, Barboursville, West Virginia” in the famous Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada prepared by Seymour de Ricci with the assistance of W. J. Wilson and published between 1935 and 1940. According to the Census, all three manuscripts were examined by Wilson in 1935, when Owens was working at Morris Harvey College and living in Barboursville, WV, where the University of Charleston was originally founded and based. This is all we know about the history of MS C189; that the manuscript was purchased by Owens sometime before 1935. It is not known when, where and from whom she acquired the manuscript. Nor do we know any other previous owners or the origin of the manuscript.

A sample opening from MS C189, displaying the end of Porphyry’s Isagoge on folio 18v and the beginning of Aristotle’s Perihermenias on folio 19r.
A sample opening from MS C189, displaying the end of Porphyry’s Isagoge on folio 18v and the beginning of Aristotle’s Perihermenias on folio 19r. For more detailed information on the texts and for additional images of the manuscript, please see the record for MS C189 in the Digital Scriptorium. Click image to enlarge.

MS C189 is a remarkable object beyond the texts it contain. The textblock of the manuscript is homogeneous; that is, MS C189 is composed of a single codicological unit which was produced in one process and most openings look pretty much like the example provided above. It does not look like there are any missing leaves or like there were more gatherings either in the beginning or at the end. Parts of other manuscripts, however, were used as practical means to preserve this small book of 34 leaves as well as to support it. The binding of MS C189, which is presumably original, comes from another manuscript, as do the flyleaves in the front and the back from two others. Thus, we have one medieval manuscript that is placed inside fragments of two different medieval manuscripts and then wrapped with another one.

Front cover of MS C189 showing re-use of a manuscript bifolium Back cover of MS C189 showing re-use of a manuscript bifolium

Left: Front cover of MS C189. Right: Back cover MS C189.

MS C189 has a limp binding, in which a bifolium (that is, two conjoint leaves) from another manuscript is used as a cover in the form of a case. The repurposed parchment cover is attached to the bookblock by means of split lacing double sewing supports made out of leather. The sewing-support slips are laced out of each side of the cover through three single exit slits and then each double support returns through two separate slits, one at approximately 45 degrees above and the other at 45 degrees below the exit slits, creating a V shape. What used to be the upper margin of the bifolium (now the fore-edge turn-in of the front cover) is trimmed, with all edges of the cover left large enough to allow for turn-ins. The cover has lapped mitres; the fore-edge turn-ins lie on top of the head and tail turn-ins at the corners. There is no lining or any kind of other reinforcement and the sewing-support slips, which are mostly intact, are fully visible.

Opening with interior of the front cover of MS C189 on the left, displaying the lapped mitres and the exposed sewing-support slips, and on the right the first front flyleaf, a repurposed fragment from another manuscript.
Left: Interior of the front cover of MS C189, displaying the lapped mitres and the exposed sewing-support slips. Right: The first front flyleaf, a repurposed fragment from another manuscript. Click image to enlarge.

Considered original, in the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, the binding of the MS C189 is described as made from two leaves of a twelfth century theological manuscript. There is no other information provided regarding the fragment. Furthermore, since then, neither MS C189 as an artefact nor this fragment now fashioning the cover of the manuscript seem to have attracted any attention from scholars.

The parchment leaf that now forms the outer cover (the recto side of the first of the two folios) of MS C189 is almost fully visible without any intervention. Except for the trimmed upper margin, it looks like the entire leaf is preserved. Moreover, there seems to be no loss of text due to trimming. Most of the text also is still readable on the cover and the turn-ins. I was able to identify the existing text as a part of Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae (Sentences). Composed in the early seventh century, the Sententiae employs the ancient and medieval literary form of collecting brief passages on a given topic. The work as a whole consists of three books (in thirty-one, forty-four and sixty-six chapters respectively) in which Isidore creates a compendium of essentials of theology in an organized manner.

Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae was fairly popular and there are many copies of manuscripts that survive from the Middle Ages. Indeed, we have another manuscript, MS C54, that contains the Sententiae. Therefore, when I identified the text, I was expecting the conjoint leaf whose verso is partly visible on the interiors of the cover to contain a different part of the same text. The text on the outer cover is from Book 10.11 of the Sententiae, a chapter entitled “De angelis” (On the Angels). The text on the inner cover, however, is not from the Sententiae but instead is part of a sermon attributed to John Chrysostom, who was the Archbishop of Constantinople at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries. The sermon is simply known by the title “De misericordia” (On Mercy) or by its opening words, “Tria sunt quae in misericordiae opera,” which are not visible in MS C189.

Further research revealed that this chapter of Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae was sometimes used as part of medieval homiliaries. A homiliary, or a book of homilies, is a collection of short texts consisting of lectures or discourses on a moral theme, which are also known as sermons. More research (and perseverance) revealed that there is at least one other manuscript in which both of these texts are found. In Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 3783(2), known as the Moissac Homiliary, not only do they both exist in the same manuscript but they are also in the same order that we have them.

Image of folio 279v from Latin 3783 (2) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Image of folio 286r from Latin 3783 (2) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Left: The portion of “De angelis” in Latin 3783(2), folio 279v that corresponds to MS C189. Right: The portion of “De misericordia” in Latin 3783(2), folio 286r that corresponds to MS C189. Source: Gallica, Latin 3783(2), Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits.

According to the description of the Moissac Homiliary, Isidore of Seville’s “De angelis” opens a gathering of eight folios and the pseudo-John Chrysostom’s “De misericordia” closes it, with a series of shorter texts with similar topics in between the two (folios 279 to 286). The Moissac Homiliary is dated to the mid-eleventh century and is thought to have been compiled in Moissac Abbey in south-western France. What is now the binding of MS C189 probably looked like this manuscript in its original form. Both the cover of MS C189 and the Moissac Homiliary are written in late Caroline minuscule and both are laid out in two columns on folios of approximately the same size. The cover of MS C189 has 38 lines to a page whereas the Moissac Homiliary has 37 but seems to be a little bit more compact and has large initials in the beginning of each section. (We do not know whether the cover of MS C189 originally had any illuminated initials in the same places.) If the biofolium we have as the cover of MS C189 was indeed part of a larger book with a similar arrangement with six bifolia in between the two leaves we have, the two texts would fall more or less to the same places. It seems more than likely, therefore, that MS C189 and the Moissac Homiliary are related, possibly one copied from the other.

Additional research on MS C189, with all of its features and fragments, would certainly yield further answers as to how the manuscript came to be and perhaps even how it ended up in Alpha Loretta Owens’s collection in the early twentieth century.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Book Nook in May 1966, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher