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The Findern manuscript (Cambridge University…

The Findern manuscript (Cambridge University Library ms. Ff.1.6) (1977)

by Richard Beadle (Introduction)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This book should come with a big notification, along the lines of, WARNING: This book is exactly what it says it is.

What it is is a good-quality photographic facsimile of the Cambridge Library manuscript Ff.1.6, known as the Findern Manuscript after the early owners who probably arranged for its compilation. It is a miscellany that contains, among other things, one of the most important copies of Chaucer's Parliament of Fowles. Having a facsimile edition of the volume in print is a wonderful thing.

But potential purchasers need to know that there is almost nothing here except the photographic facsimile. It's almost like being in the presence of the manuscript itself, except that there is no old-book smell and you don't have people hovering over you to make sure you don't damage it. Apart from the photos, there is only a brief introduction discussing what is known of the history of the manuscript, the layout of the quires (which is controversial because these seem to be slightly disarranged), and a few bibliographic references. There is also a detailed list of the items in the manuscript, with folio numbers.

You wonder why they even bothered with the latter, because, stunningly, the pages with the facsimiles of the manuscript are not numbered. Fortunately, the folios themselves have been numbered (in a modern hand). But they have been numbered twice. So which set of foliations is used in the contents? The newer one, it appears -- but sometimes these are hard to read in the facsimile. It would have been so easy to just number the pages in the print!

Furthermore, there is no transcription of the text, and no commentary beyond the brief description in the contents. Of course, the point of a facsimile is to let you read the manuscript, and one can only hope that, if you've gotten the book, you've studied enough old handwriting to be able to read Middle English alphabets. (If you haven't done that, forget it; you won't be able to read the facsimile. Period.) But very many hands contributed to the manuscript, using (it appears) several different ink formulations; although many pages are clear and easily read, others are very faded and hard to read. Often the original is easier to read that the photograph in such cases -- at the very least, it can be examined under ultraviolet or infrared light or with light of a particular frequency. So a few hints would have been nice.

Of course, no one promised you page numbers or transcriptions or a worthwhile introduction. They promised you the Findern Manuscript. It's there, it's important, and it's a good set of photographs. If that's what you came for, it's great. Just be sure to heed the warning they didn't give you. ( )
2 vote waltzmn | Sep 18, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Beadle, RichardIntroductionprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Owen, A. E. B.Introductionmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Cambridge University Library Manuscript Ff.1.6 (reproduced in this facsimile by kind permission of the Syndics) is now widely known as the Findern Manuscript after the family of that name and their country house (about five miles to the south-west of Derby) where it is thought to have been compiled in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
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