The Medieval Book

As I mentioned, last week we went to Sotheby’s for the launch of The Medieval Book, a festschrift presented to Dr de Hamel on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

I’ve now had a chance to take a proper look at the book which is a substantial work – 468 pages, over 150 colour illustrations and some 40 contributions, a fitting testament to Dr de Hamel’s distinguished career and the esteem in which he is held by colleagues and friends.

The book opens with an appreciation and personal reminiscence by Nicolas Barker and a bibliography of Dr de Hamel’s publications, comprising some 125 items. The essays that follow are divided into 3 sections: Books, The Book Trade and Collectors and Collecting. The contributors include scholars, librarians, curators, booksellers and collectors.

It’s difficult to single out individual pieces. I particularly enjoyed reading the reminiscences of Dr de Hamel’s colleagues at Sotheby’s concerning his time there. It’s good to know that the verse pantomime he wrote for the Parker Library staff and friends to perform last year is only the latest in a long line of distinguished theatrical and poetical compositions! And it was fascinating to read insights into the world of bookselling and collecting from such figures as Sam Fogg and Martin Schøyen. Only in a book dedicated to Dr de Hamel would such tales of the saleroom sit so comfortably alongside the more standard academic contributions.

The piece that entertained me the most is by the venerable bookseller Barney Rosenthal who edits and translates a short Latin poem from a single 15th century German manuscript leaf in his possession. The 46 lines of rhyming verse, entitled Speculum Mensae, comprise a comprehensive guide to table manners, including such vital pieces of advice as Sputum quanto minus potestis eiciatis (‘Spit out as little as possible’), Neque quidquam in mensa lingatis (‘Never lick anything that’s on the table’) and Et caseum nisi semel capiatis (‘And help yourself to cheese only once’). He suggests that such verses were probably written by teachers or tutors for their students. Maybe we should have a copy written up for Corpus students??

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