|Catalogue of Medieval Manuscripts|
The James catalogue: an introduction
The James catalogue and its use today
A hundred years ago M. R. James, the great cataloguer, medieval scholar, and author, published The Western Manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge: a Descriptive Catalogue. He had by this time already written catalogues of a number of smaller collections, and had developed a standard of manuscript description remarkable for its thoroughness both of conception and of detail.
James' work is the essential guide to the manuscript collection of Trinity College, and has been called his 'masterpiece among the early catalogues'. It is still a vital aid to scholars and is likely to remain so. James' breadth of learning was remarkable: the manuscripts described range from the eighth to the nineteenth centuries; contain works not only in Latin but in Greek, Old English, Middle English, French, Italian, and a number of other languages; and cover subjects as diverse as technical alchemy, biblical exegesis, medieval computus, early modern European politics, and heraldry, to name just a few. Although expressing doubt about his fitness to undertake such a huge task, and working without many of the aids modern scholars take for granted, James produced an admirable conspectus of the collection, useful to scholars in all fields covered, and excellent when referring to manuscripts in his particular areas of expertise. His pioneering work on medieval libraries can be seen developing in the Trinity catalogue, where his knowledge of unpublished surviving catalogues and of press-marks enabled him to assign provenance to a large number of books. His catalogues are also very readable, due to his habit of printing in full many small texts that took his eye: for example, the rhythmical crusaders' hymn in B.1.1; the gruesome Middle English poem on death in B.1.45; and the insulting ditty about Oliver Cromwell in B.2.27.
James' Catalogue follows the arrangement of the manuscripts in the Wren library, with a volume for each of the three bays in which manuscripts are kept. Departing from his practice at other Cambridge colleges, he described every volume he came across: a little over half of the 1500 entries in the Trinity catalogue refer to medieval books. The first volume describes the contents of bay B, essentially theological books, and was published in 1900. Volume two, describing the historical, literary, miscellaneous and outsize manuscripts found in bay R, came out in 1901. Volume three, published in 1902, describes the manuscripts of O bay. O bay was given over to the Gale collection, amassed by Thomas Gale and his son Roger, and donated to the college by the latter in 1738. In 1904 James produced the last volume, containing corrections, an Index (which he had, unusually, made himself), and seventeen plates with brief comments.
The aim of this project is to make James' Catalogue, long out of print, more widely accessible, in a convenient format. To that end the entries have been scanned in; these images have been turned into text using optical character recognition software; and the resulting files then tagged up in XML, using a subset of tags taken from the MASTER (Manuscript Access through Standards for Electronic Records) DTD. Folowing this, Greek characters were automatically converted to Unicode and an XSL style-sheet was then written to convert the XML files into the HTML that appears on the reader's screen.
On the whole, non-basic characters from the Latin character set, such as Old English characters have been entered into the XML files as native unicode. (Dotted y, however, has been reproduced as y, since the dot is very rarely significant.) It has been necessary to describe many of the press-marks which James had printed with specially-cut sorts; it is hoped that it will be possible to provide images of these later. James often set out his lists of manuscripts' contents in tabular form, with the folio-numbers down the right-hand side; these have been inverted so that the folio-numbers precede each item, simply for ease of display. Footnotes have been incorporated into the text, as have interlinear notes. Otherwise the contents of entries are much as James printed them.
Important annotations from the unbound copy kept in folders in the Wren library have been incorporated into the text. Most of the major corrections are refinements of James' judgments in the light of more recent scholarship, or additions made by those who are expert in the field. Significant errors in James' text are unusual: not so, however, typographical mistakes. These have been corrected where the correct reading is obvious (or where they have been altered in the Wren copy). The constraints of time have prevented a more thorough approach to correction: in particular, some of his collations do not, as printed, make sense, but the work of checking all these would have been considerable. James admitted in the preface to his fourth volume that he wrote "a bad hand and [was], to say the least, an indifferent corrector of printed proofs". His handwriting is in fact very hard to read, and this probably accounts for most of the small typographical errors in the volumes.
Very basic entries have been added for manuscripts which have been acquired or recovered since James' time, and for binding-fragments which have since been separated from their parent-manuscripts and given a separate classmark. These are often very brief, or have relied heavily on specified printed material.
Further to the correction of errors and the addition of some information, an attempt has been made to add bibliography (appended to each entry), as aid for those who want to do research on a particular manuscripts. Due to unexpected constraints on time, this has had to be somewhat haphazard in execution. Priority has been given to items which are important or are themselves likely to produce more bibliographical references, but it has not been possible to be entirely consistent because there has not been time to check out all the references. Consequently it is likely that some trivial mentions of manuscripts remain in the bibliography, and it is certain that important works have been omitted. Readers should bear this in mind; it is hoped that the bibliography will be useful, but it is far from exhaustive. The references given by James in his main text, for example to Migne's Patrologia Latina under the abbreviation P.L., have not been extracted into the bibliography.
A search engine has also been added, which should be of considerable use in finding particular texts, ownership inscriptions, and types of manuscript. As yet, complicated searches, specifying in which part of the record the search-string is to be found, or combining various criteria, cannot be carried out, but it is hoped that such a facility can be added in due course.
This project is entirely practical in its aims, and is intended to facilitate research on Trinity College manuscripts and their texts through making James' Catalogue more accessible, and in a versatile form. The 1500 or so entries made by James have been increased by additions to around 1700. The limits of time and the size of the project have necessarily acted as constraints on ambitions for the project; we have tried to give usefulness precedence over polish.
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Trinity College Library, Cambridge. 2005