I am a lifelong learner and therefore a beginner in many respects.
An interest in medieval manuscripts and the tales of King Arthur have taken this novitiate over the oceans from Sydney to the British Library in London.
I had the privilege of viewing the drawings in a number of illuminated manuscripts there earlier this year. Here are some of the notes I jotted down to remember the beauty and physicality of manuscripts (mss). I am slowly improving my language skills and hope to one day read these texts in a way that more closely approaches how a contemporary medieval reader might have read them.
An amateur’s of the moment thoughts on some of the British Library’s priceless mss (transcribed from my notebook):
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
Arrived at the British Library shortly after it opened this morning. Having obtained my reader registration card and ordering three of the four mss I wish to look at on this trip I now sit here in the mss reading room awaiting delivery at 12.25pm.
My seat here is reader number 1071 with a head of George Bernard Shaw smiling down on me.
Harley 4389 (Le Roman du Roi Marc fils du Roi Felis) …
Notes on Add MS 59678 …
Thursday 5th February
Royal MS 20 D II (Helie de Borron’s Roman de Tristan)
24: Initial 1st column bottom half
knight is enormous compared to horse + has elongated torso
Stylised helmet like a window
The feel of this ms is very grainy and much more pliable than …
Friday 6th February
Sitting down with Add MS 59678 (Thomas Malory’s Morte)
Very thick and well bound cover of ivory tinged with yellows and browns from handling.
The smell of the manuscript is distinct – woody and maybe a little smoky.
The text is much smaller than I expected for some reason (despite seeing a very good facsimile).
There is a spicy forest smell.
180 – Isode echoes down RHS of [can’t read my own handwriting] … leads on.
[referring to folio design composition] Draws eye >>>>>into text …
The manuscript smelled the way a man should: mossy, well-travelled, [and] of the forest.
The staff of the British Library were exceptionally helpful. I cannot thank them enough for this experience as it underpins my current project.