Wednesday, 7 August 2019

A Sighting of The Myrour of Recluses

[Source]
Five years ago I had the pleasure of researching, for an auction, a newly-discovered Middle English manuscript, of which no other complete copy was known: the so-called Myrour of Recluses. Most of the text had recently been edited from the only known (incomplete) copy at the British Library, but crucially this new manuscript has a prologue in which the author dates his work: "This Wednysday bi the morow the even of the blissed virgyne seynt Alburgh the secunde yeere of the worthy cristen prince kyng Henry the fift" (i.e. 1414).

The provenance, as far as I was able to reconstruct it, had a gap between the 18th century, when it was "No. 133" in the collection of "John Wylde":
and 1820, when it was owned by Joseph Brooks Yates, of Manchester [Wikipedia], who wrote in it "From Mr Ford’s collection, 26 Sep. 1820", and later gave it to  Henry Yates Thompson, his grandson (discussed in several previous blogposts). I did not hazard a guess as to the identity of "Mr Ford".

The manuscript exceeded expectations and sold for more than £180,000 in 2014, but the buyer seems to have had a change of heart or of fortune, and sent it for re-sale at another auction house a few weeks ago.

The new description provides more speculation than I had been able to offer in 2014:
"Most probably William Ford (1771-1832), Manchester bookseller: inscription in hand of Joseph Brooks Yates on first endleaf recording 2.12.6 from Mr Fords collection, 26 Sep. 1820, presumably recording its price in £, shillings and pence. Fords initial catalogues were formed from his own vast private library, allowing the identification given here. Ford noted, perhaps prophetically, in a letter to Dibdin that It was my love of books, not of lucre, which first induced me to become a bookseller. He went bankrupt in 1810, but continued to operate as a bookseller and issued catalogues as late as 1832."
On this occasion, the speculation turns out to be correct.

Looking through A Catalogue (Part the Second for 1810-11) of a Curious and Valuable Collection of Books, in Various Languages and Classes of Literature, and including also, a small, but Curious Collection of Manuscripts, Which are Now Selling, for Ready Money, at the Prices Affixed to Each Article by W. Ford, Bookseller (Manchester, 1811), my eye was caught by no. 15,136, which is certainly the same manuscript, because part of the unique prologue is quoted:
" ... ¶ This Wednysday
bi the morow the even of the blissed virgyne
seynt Alburgh the secunde yeere of the worthy 
cristen prince oure souerayn liege lord ye kyng
Henry the fift  ¶ ... "

In this particular case, finding the bookseller's catalogue tells us very little that we did not already know. But if someone interested in Middle English had found this description prior to the discovery in 2014 of the manuscript itself, it could potentially have provided valuable new evidence concerning the date of composition of the text.

1 comment:

  1. Except the compiler of the description seemed to think Henry V reigned in 1485!

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