NICHOLAS LOVE (active 1410): Myrrour of the Blessed Lyf of Jesus Christ, in Middle English, MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[England, first quarter 15th century]
243 x 170mm. 177 leaves: 14(i and ii a bifolium, iii and iv probably once a bifolium now separated and on guards), 2-238, 2413(i a singleton probably once conjoint with rear pastedown), COMPLETE except for an endleaf at front with the opening of the added text, catchwords towards inner edge of lower margins of final versos, foliation i-lxx (ff.5-121) and i-xvi (ff.126-153) once in lower outer corner of the rectos of the first half of every gathering, often cropped or cut, 31 or 32 lines written in brown ink in at least two anglicana hands between two verticals and thirty-three horizontals ruled in brown, prickings survive, justification: 170-178 x 115-120mm, rubrics of red, paragraph marks, one- and two-line initials alternately of red or blue (some darkening, spotting or staining to first four and final two folios not affecting legiblity, small loss to lower corner of final leaf, narrow strip of dampstaining to upper edges). Contemporary white doeskin over wooden boards (rebacked and restored, some worming, lacking clasp, strap and pin). Burgundy morocco-backed box.
AN EXCEPTIONALLY EARLY COPY OF ONE OF THE FOREMOST DEVOTIONAL TEXTS IN MIDDLE ENGLISH
1. Sybille de Felton, Abbess of the Benedictine convent of St Mary and St Ethelburga at Barking from her election in 1393 to her death in 1419: ownership inscription on f.4v. Several books owned by Sybille de Felton at Barking Abbey are known: an Ordinal (Oxford, University College Ms 169), The Clensing of Mannes Sowle (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Bodley 923) and a Vies des Saints Peres (Paris, BN, Ms bond fr.1038). On Sybille de Felton see N. R. Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain, 2nd ed. (1964), pp.6, 228 and A.I. Doyle, 'Books Connected With the Vere Family and Barking Abbey', Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, n.s. 25 (1958), pp.222-43. On the wider popularity of Love's work with female readers see Carol Meale, '"Oft sith is with grete deuocion I thought what I might do pleysyng to god": The early ownership and Readership of Love's Mirror with Special Reference to Female Audiences', in Nicholas Love at Waseda, ed. S. Ogusa, R. Beadle and M. G. Sargent (1999), pp.19-46.
2. Margaret Scroope, nun at the Abbey of Barking, described as first chantress in 1527: inscription recording her gift of the manuscript to Agnes Gowldewell on f.177. At the dissolution of the Abbey on 26 November 1539 pensions were awarded to a number of nuns including Margaret Scrowpe.
3.Agnes Gowldewell: ownership inscriptions in a 16th-century hand on ff.170v & 177
4. Additional inscriptions in 16th- and 17th-century hands include ownership inscriptions of John Campe and Reinate Clarke (front pastedown), name Thomas Robertus and Thomas Adam (verso of rear endleaf) and record the purchase of the book from Roger Pott of Colchester, Bookseller on 29th April 1628 for 6s 6d (rear pastedown).
5. Sotheby's 19 July 1949, lot 27
Nicholas Love: Myrrour of the Blessed Lyf of Jesu Christ, ff.3-167v: chapter list ff.3-4v, first Latin prefatory passage f.4v and repeated at head of f.5, Prologue ff.5-7v, Myrrour... ff.8-167v; William Flete: Remedia Contra Spirituales Temptaciones, in a Middle English translation ff.168-175v
Nicholas Love, prior of the Carthusian House of Mount Grace near Middlesborough, wrote the Myrrour by 1410 when it was licensed for reading by Archbishop Arundell. A translation of Pseudo-Bonaventura's Meditationes Vitae Christi, it became one of the most popular and influential Middle English prose devotional works. Summarised as 'a Life of Christ, containing quite as much homily and meditation as narrative. It covers events from the early life of Mary to the sending of the Holy Ghost to the disciples, prefacing its account by a description of the council held in Heaven to discuss the redemption of mankind. After the prologues some 161 chapters, divided into larger groups of "ferias"; the Passion section is arranged for meditation according to the canonical hours. Thus the whole work is suitable for private meditation': E. Salter, Nicholas Love's 'Myrrour of the Blessed Lyf of Jesu Christ', Analecta Cartusiana (1974), p.42. The importance and influence of the Meditationes, and its translations, went far beyond the personal and devotional: it was a fundamental source both for contemporary religious drama and the visual arts.
Michael Sargent's recent edition (Garland Medieval Texts 18, New York, 1992) lists 49 complete manuscripts (including this one pp.lxxviii-ix), seven fragments and five manuscripts containing extracts, as well as nine early printed editions. To these can be added a fragment in Oxford (Bodleian Lib. Eng.th.e. 1) and knowledge of a manuscript owned by George Offor destroyed in a fire (Sotheby's 27 June 1865, lot 1383).
The translation of William Flete's De Remediis is one of several in Middle English; for details see P.S. Jolliffe, A Check-List of Middle English Prose Writings of Spiritual Guidance (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1974), K 8(a) and R.E. Lewis, N.F. Blake & A.S.G. Edwards, Index of Printed Middle English Prose (1985), nos 230, 528. This version remains unpublished.
Love's work is preceded by two leaves, ff.1-2, in a different, smaller contemporary hand, containing two prose texts, the end of one in Middle English and the beginning of one in Latin. The Middle English is apparently the conclusion of a devotional work; it begins (f.4) '...and whan I se this I haue a gret ioye to se thus mine euer cristen encrese...' and ends (f. 4v) '...that he deye nat out of this world and chese to dye fynaly withouten repentaunce &c'. The Latin work begins (f.4v): 'De peccata in spiritum sanctum nota quod peccatum in spiritum sanctum dicitur illud peccatum quod commititur ex deliberata malicia...'. These texts must have been added after the manuscript was in the possession of Sybille de Felton for the Latin couplets continue in the space immediately below her ownership inscription on f.4v. The same scribe made a similar use of the leaves originally left blank at the end of Love's text to add other exegetical passages in Latin, opening 'Scribitur mathi quinto capitulo...' (ff.176-177).
Apart from a manuscript at Longleat and four in a collection in Tokyo, this is the only manuscript of Love's work in private ownership.