AN English book of hours at the Huntington Library (HM 64538, c. 1425–50)1 contains several added lines that bear a close resemblance to a passage from Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee. Much remains unknown about the book’s owners and provenance, but the saints listed in the calendar link it to Worcester, and male forms in some of the Latin rubrics indicate that it was originally designed for a male reader. The lines in question appear at the very end of the book (f. 103v) and comprise the first half of a two-part dialogue on the nature of women: Salomon. What is better than golde? Jasper. What is better than Jasper? wysdome. What is better than wysdome? Women. What is better than Women? no thyng. What is better than no thyng? nichil. Oure lorde god when he had create Adam oure forne fader he seyde in thys wyse hyt is not good to be alone make we to hym an helpe lyke to hym selfe. Here may ye se that yif women were not good and her counsell not good ne profytable oure lorde god of hevyn wolde nethyr haue wrowght hem ne called hem the helpe of men but rather the confusyon of men. (HM 64538, f. 103v)2 Compare the following from Chaucer’s Melibee: And mooreover, whan oure Lord hadde creat Adam oure forme-fader, he seide in this wise: ‘It is nat good to be a man allone; make we to him an help semblable to himself’. Heere may ye se, that if that wommen were nat goode, and hir conseil good and profitable, oure Lord God of hevene wolde neither han wroght hem ne called hem help of man, but rather confusioun of man. And ther seide oones a clerk in two vers: ‘What is bettre than gold? Jaspre. What is bettre than jaspre? Wisdom. And what is bettre than wisdom? Womman. And what is bettre than a good womman? Nothing’. And, sire, by manye othere resons may ye seen that manye wommen ben goode, and hir conseil good and profitable. (Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, VII, lines 1103–1109)3 Even with several modifications and variations, the similarity is striking, and it raises some interesting questions about the fifteenth-century reception of Chaucer’s Melibee. Chaucer’s Melibee is based on the Livre de Mellibee, a French translation of Albertano of Brescia’s Liber Consolationis et Consilii (c. 1246) prepared by the Domincan friar Renaud de Louens in 1337.4 The inclusion of this brief excerpt on the status of women points to the ongoing popularity of Chaucer’s Melibee, which circulated independently of the Canterbury Tales, appearing in Middle English anthologies from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, sometimes without any reference to Chaucer.5 Indeed, in HM 64538, the lines are attributed solely to Solomon, with no reference given to the original dialogue between Prudence and Melibee. Although Melibee has often been classified as advice literature, a work of political counsel in the ‘mirror for princes’ tradition, a number of recent scholars have observed that it also reads like a collection of proverbs,6 and the HM 64538 quotations would seem to confirm that some of its fifteenth-century readers received it in just this way. Chaucer’s Melibee was often copied in its entirety, but it may also have circulated in short, quotable bits, repeated and repurposed in new and different textual situations.7 In HM 64538, lines from Melibee assume an independent life of their own, apart from Chaucer and from the dialogue in which they were originally uttered. Books of hours often had things added to them. In addition to explicitly devotional items (prayers and supplications, for instance), one also finds additions such as maxims, charms, bits of verse, or notes on family history or current events.8 In HM 64538, the fact that someone added lines in English about the status of women is not in itself unusual.9 But the potential link with Chaucer’s Melibee suggests that scholars ought to continue thinking about the relationship between books of hours and literary culture. Footnotes 1 For a full description of the manuscript, see Peter Kidd, ‘Supplement to the Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library’, Huntington Library Quarterly, lxxii (2009), 68–73. 2 Another reader offers the following ‘Answere’ in a later, probably sixteenth-century hand: ‘When god created woman he caled her helpmeet for man, neither commending her goodness ne her counsell but her help (i.e. in domestick affairs) meet for man’. 3 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, ed. Jill Mann (London, 2005), 1103–9. The ‘two vers[es]’ originate in the Liber Kalila et Dimna, a story collection of ancient Indian origin that was available in two thirteenth-century Latin translations (one by Raymond de Béziers, the other by John of Capua); for further discussion of this complex textual history, see Barry Taylor, ‘Raimundus de Biterris’s Liber Kalile et Dimne: Notes on the Western Reception of an Eastern Exemplum’, in David Hook, Barry Taylor, and L. P. Harvey (eds), Cultures in Contact in Medieval Spain: Historical and Literary Essays Presented to L.P. Harvey (London, 1990), 183–203. In the Hengwrt manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, a scribe has added the original Latin verses in a marginal gloss: ‘Auro quid melius? Jaspis. Quid jaspide? Sensus. / Sensu quid? Mulier. Quid muliere? Nichil’ (Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 392D, f. 219v; as noted by Jill Mann in Canterbury Tales, 1004 [1107n]). 4 William Askins, ‘The Tale of Melibee’, in Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel (eds), Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales (Woodbridge, 2002), I, 321–2. 5 Seth Lerer, ‘ “Now holde youre mouth”: The Romance of Orality in the Thopas-Melibee Section of the Canterbury Tales’, in M. C. Amodio (ed.), Oral Poetics in Middle English Poetry (New York, 1994), 194–5. 6 Betsy Bowden, ‘Ubiquitous Forma? What Ubiquitous Format? Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee as a Proverb Collection’, Oral Tradition, xvii (2002), 169–207; Christopher Cannon, ‘Proverbs and the Wisdom of Literature: The Proverbs of Alfred and Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee’, Textual Practice, xxiv (2010), 407–34; Nancy Bradbury Warren, ‘The Proverb as Embedded Microgenre in Chaucer and The Dialogue of Solomon and Marcolf’, Exemplaria, xxvi (2015), 55–72. 7 Warren, ‘Proverb as Embedded Microgenre’, 64. 8 The standard work on books of hours and their contents remains Victor Leroquais, Livres d’Heures, Manuscrits de la Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris, 1927). See also L. M. J. Delaissé, ‘The Importance of Books of Hours for the History of the Medieval Book’, in Ursula E. McCracken, Lilian M. C. Randall, and Richard H. Randall, Jr. (eds), Gatherings in Honor of Dorothy E. Miner (Baltimore, 1974), 203–25; Roger Wieck, Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life (Baltimore, 1988); Virginia Reinburg, French Books of Hours: Making an Archive of Prayer, c. 1400–1600 (Cambridge, 2012). On English books of hours in particular, see Eamon Duffy, Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers (New Haven, 2006), esp. 23–52; Nigel Morgan, ‘English Books of Hours, c. 1240–c.1480’, in Sandra Hindman and James H. Marrow (eds), Books of Hours Reconsidered (London, 2013); Kathleen E. Kennedy, ‘Reintroducing the English Books of Hours, or “English Primers” ’, Speculum, lxxxix (2014), 693–723. 9 Indeed, these lines are not the only instance of English in the book; HM 64538 also contains an added exemplum in versified Middle English on the importance of praying for the dead (f.36r–v). For further discussion, see my forthcoming article, ‘“Holsum to haue in memory”: An Added Tale in an English Book of Hours’. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 26, 2018
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