GUILLAUME DE LORRIS (fl. c.1230) and JEAN DE MEUN (c.1240-1305), Roman de la rose, and JEAN DE MEUN, Le Testament, in French, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER
[north France or southern Netherlands, first half 15th century]285 x 203 mm. ii + 155 + ii leaves: 1-1310, 1412, 1513(of 12 + xiii), COMPLETE, written in a lettre bâtarde in brown ink in two columns of 40 lines, ff.1-130, and 41 lines, ff.131-143 between four verticals, double ruled for initial of each line, and 41 or 42 horizontals, ruled in grey, justification: 221 or 226 x 72 - 11 - 70 mm, ff.143-55 with 49 lines between vertical ruling only, headings in red, two-line initials alternately in red and blue, from f.131 in red only, from f.136 one-line initials in red, one large initial in red and blue, one large initial in red and blue with red and blue flourishing extending onto the margin (damp-staining to top of leaves and down gutter, including flourishing of first initial, on some leaves into up to the first six lines of text and, on the final leaves, into the left text column on rectos, from f.141 dampstaining in lower margin, repairs to ff.153-5 impairing 16 lines of text). French 18th-century calf gilt, boards with borders of triple gilt fillets, spine gilt in compartments, gilt morocco lettering pieces in two, others with central gilt fleurons enclosed with floral and other tools, red edges (lightly rubbed).
1. The script and decoration indicate an origin in France or the Netherlands, where there was particularly active production of paper manuscripts at Lille. The paper has a watermark of crossed keys of a type widely used in southern Germany and the Rhineland in the first half of the 15th century; it is close to Piccard, Schlüssel, III, 330. The manuscript was intended to provide affordable copies of two very popular vernacular works with a wide readership. The Roman de la rose and its morality were the subject of a vigorous scholarly debate in Paris around 1400; an early owner of this manuscript added a warning in Latin advising readers, also assumed to be literate in Latin, to abstain from studying it, f.1.
2. Abbé Jean Joseph Rive (1730-1791): a note on the first added leaf, wrongly identifying the second text as the Dit de Robin de Compiegne, the title which appears on the lettering piece, is identified below as the hand of the Abbé Rive. Librarian to the duc de la Vallière, Rive was a noted bibliographer and scholar. His combative La chasse aux bibliographes et antiquaires mal-avisés, 1788-90 earned him the title of 'the very Ajax flagellifer of the bibliographic tribe' from Dibdin, giving a certain piquancy to his textual misidentification here. He died in Marseilles, where his books were sold.
3. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872): his lion stamp and Sir T.P. Middle Hill on added paper leaf, pencilled note of number 2838 and correction of the misidentified text, 2838 label on spine; bought in Paris. British Library, Loan 36/10.
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la rose, opening 'Maintes gens dient que ensonges/Na se fables non et mansonges...' and closing 'Ainsi oi la rose vermeille/Atant fu jour et je mesveille, ff.1-135v; Jean de Meun, Le testament, opening 'Li peres et li filz et li saint esperit' and closing 'Ou saint livre de vie/Que il mesmes escript. Amen', ff.136-155v.
The Roman de la rose is the pre-eminent medieval love poem, which had a decisive impact on European literature through its influence on Dante, Petrarch and Chaucer. It was begun in the 1220s by Guillaume de Lorris but left incomplete, perhaps on his death; it was completed in the 1270s by Jean de Meun, the scholar and translator active in Paris (see also lot 23). Jean de Meun greatly extended the scope of the original allegorical quest of the Lover for the Rose into a semi-encyclopaedic compilation, where traditional assumptions are apparently parodied or even provocatively revised. Hence, the warning to the reader on f.1 of the present lot. The controversy over the morality of the Roman de la rose seems only to have fuelled its popularity, which is evidenced in the fact that over 300 manuscripts or manuscript fragments survive, catering to all classes of readership from luxuriously illustrated copies on parchment to straightforward presentations of the text, on paper, as here. This copy was not known to E. Langlois, Les manuscrits du Roman de la rose: description et classement, 1910, but was described by E. Billings Ham, 'Cheltenham manuscripts of the Roman de la rose', Modern Language Review, XXVI, 1931, pp.427-35, who found that both the de Lorris and de Meun sections belonged to Langlois's Group II, with certain features bringing them close to Group I.
Jean de Meun's Testament was frequently appended to the Roman de la rose. S. Buzzetti Gallarati lists 21 fifteenth-century instances, with this manuscript among them, 'Nota bibliografia sulla tradizione manoscritta del Testament di Jean de Meun', Revue Romane, XIII, 1978, pp.2-35. Dating from after 1291, it maintains the anti-feminine sentiments found in his continuation of the Roman de la Rose. There is a modern edition by S. Buzetti Gallarati, Le testament de Jean de Meung, 1989. As in some other manuscripts, such as British Library, Royal 20 B XII, also of the first half of the 15th century, the four lines of each stanza are divided into eight. This masks the technical achievement of the poem in using one end rhyme for each quatrain, although the verse division is clarified by their red opening initials.
In the Roman de la rose, the reader is helped round the text by red and blue initials marking each major division and by red headings which name the speakers and their auditors. This is a well executed and functional copy of one of the fundamental texts of western literature.