This study brings emergent methodologies of literary geography to bear upon the unique contents—or more to the point, the moving, artful, frequently audacious contents—of a codex known as London, British Library MS Harley 2253. The Harley manuscript was produced in provincial Herefordshire, in England’s Welsh Marches, by a scribe whose literary generation was wiped out in the Black Death of 1348–1351. It contains a diverse set of writings: love-lyrics and devotional texts, political songs and fabliaux, saints’ lives, courtesy literature, bible narratives, travelogues, and more. These works alternate between languages (Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin), but have been placed in mutually illuminating conversation. Following an Introduction that explores how this fragmentary miscellany keeps being sutured into ‘whole’-ness by commentary upon it, individual chapters examine different genres, topics, and social groupings. Readers from literary history, medieval studies, cultural geography, gender studies, Jewish studies, book history, and more, will profit from the encounter. Harley 2253 is famous as medieval books go, thanks to its celebrated roster of lyrics, fabliaux, and political songs, and owing to the scarcity of material extant from this ‘in-between’ period in insular literary history. England’s post-Conquest/pre-plague era remains dimly known. Despite such potential, there has never been a monograph published on Harley 2253. Harley Manuscript Geographies orients readers to this compelling material by describing the phenomenon of the medieval miscellany in textual and codicological terms. But another task it performs is to lay out grounds for approaching this compilation via the interpretive lens that cultural geography provides.
understudied Harley Lyrics, a set of poems (as we have seen) that leading subfield venues now rarely feature. The body of poems regarded as ‘Harley Lyrics’ is conventionally numbered at thirty-two: fifteen secular, seventeen religious. Some scholars include nine political or satirical pieces, for which there are good semantic and codicological grounds. Yet as a literary-historical phenomenon the phrase remains synonymous with Brook, whose ‘slim, definitive edition’— TheHarleyLyrics (1948)—has become ‘something of a classic’. 5 Distributed across seven quires (#6–9, #12
London, British Library MS Harley 2253 and the traffic of texts
The multilingual English household
in a European perspective: London,
British Library MS Harley 2253
and the traffic of texts
Rory G. Critten
Compiled largely in the 1330s, London, British Library MS Harley
2253 transmits a collection of materials in verse and prose, ranging from saints’ lives, biblical paraphrase, and works of practical
religion, to conduct literature, political satire, pilgrimage guides, a
romance, lyric poetry in English (the ‘HarleyLyrics’) and French,
and a selection of fabliaux.1 It contains texts in each of England’s
materials that form this collection would probably have held little interest for the new elite whose political and cultural interests were French and not Anglo-Saxon or Germanic. There are no other surviving song anthologies from medieval England until theHarleyLyrics, 39 and there is nothing on the scale of CC, for either size or diversity.
1 Cambridge, University Library, MS Gg.5.35, fols 432 r a–443 v b, hereafter ‘CC’.
2 See P. Dronke, M. Lapidge and P. Stotz
have been very similar to that available today, and this continuity allows the connotations of soil, world, earth as opposed to
heaven, and grave to resonate through the poem and thus also
down the centuries. It is this that has led to this short poem
attracting the degree of critical attention that it has, most notably
from Hilda Murray, Rosemary Woolf, Edmund Reiss and, most
recently, Bennett Huffman,2 as well as figuring briefly in accounts
of theHarleylyrics generally. The overwhelming tendency has
been to puzzled over it, sometimes interpret it at length and
, seasonal, and generational time.11 Thematically, lyric emphasises the disjunction between the speaker’s experience and these
several kinds of time: the speaker – and, through him, humankind
more generally – is defined by the temporality of his own desire,
which is out of sync with the busy sexuality of the spring. So one of
CONTZEN 9780719089701 PRINT (MAD0059) (G).indd 231
Sanctity as literature
Lenten is come with love to toune, Lent is come with love
With blosmen and with briddes roune With blossoms and
paired works the first abiding publication landmark in Harley studies.
During the middle twentieth century, Carleton Brown and R.H. Robbins lobbied effectively on Harley 2253’s behalf, reserving special praise for selections from this ‘most famous’ of vernacular lyric manuscripts, in a series of genre-defining volumes. 33 For several decades leading journals in literary studies ( PMLA ) and medieval studies ( Speculum ) published regularly on medieval lyric. G.L. Brook’s TheHarleyLyrics , reprinted four times by Manchester University Press (1948, 1956, 1964, 1968
the gown giving it a contemporary touch. Her gown and other garments are of shining white material, decorated with pearls, and she wears a crown of pearls. Conventional comparisons reminiscent of, for example, theHarleyLyrics, once more emphasise the whiteness of her face and the gold of her hair:
Her ble more blaght then whalles bon.
As schorne golde schyr her fax thenne schon. (lines 212–13) 16
[Her complexion (was) whiter than whale’s bone. Her hair shone then like bright cut gold.]
White complexion and hair like gold are usual attributes
Ye goon to … Hereford? Regional devotion and England’s other St Thomas
(much anticipated) rightful glory: equal to and opposite St Thomas of Canterbury.
In discussing the eminent R.A. Dobson’s attempts to ascertain the provenance of the Ancrene Wisse [Guide for Anchoresses], an early Middle English text comparable to theHarleyLyrics in its semi-canonical standing and South-West Midlands orientation, Cannon observes that ‘the [specific] place Dobson proposed … matters much less than the degree to which he insisted on the importance of some place’. 89 Dobson’s ‘plumping for geographical precision at all costs’ turns out to have
133 Revard (‘Wife of Bath’, 122; ‘ Gilote et Johane ’, 130) and Fein ( CH , II.6, 409) alike suggest that Quire 7’s erotic desires are contained by the orthodox framing of #38–39.
134 Reed, Debate Poetry , 385, 179–180.
135 Ibid ., 199, with debts to Howell (‘Reading theHarleyLyrics’, 639–640), who finds in Quire 7–8 lyrics an ‘elaborate’ and ‘artful’ (625) pattern of ‘antithetical dialogue’, in ‘regular alternation of point of view’ (633).
136 ‘He has arranged these texts so that they illuminate each other … as do the Canterbury Tales ’ (‘Wife of Bath