Monday 1 December 2014

'Cake Class' Goes to the UL: medieval Welsh manuscripts in Cambridge

The Medieval Welsh Reading Group, affectionately known as Cake Class, took a trip this week across West Road and over to the University Library, where among the treasures of that institution reside a number of medieval manuscripts of interest to Welsh scholars.

Cambridge University Library

In two groups, organized by ASNC PhD student Silva Nurmio, we were guided by Prof Paul Russell through a selection of six manuscripts and a collection of papers, as kindly arranged for us by Prof Russell and University Librarian Suzanne Paul.  Though the papers (Add. MS 6425), the work of 19th century scholar Henry Bradshaw, were significantly later in date than the rest of the works arranged discreetly around the Manuscripts Reading Room table, they were perhaps one of the most fitting items on view for a group of budding Celticists.  As Prof Russell explained, Henry Bradshaw was responsible for laying much of the foundation for the editing of glossed texts in the field of Celtic Studies, and for transcribing texts such as the Juvencus englynion and all the glosses in the manuscript to be worked on later by Whitley Stokes and others.  The Juvencus englynion, the earliest examples of verse in Old Welsh, were themselves on display just across from Bradshaw’s papers. Found in the margins of a 9th century copy of the Juvencus Codex (MS Ff. 4. 42), we are extraordinarily lucky to have these just next door to us in the UL – not the least because some of them were once cut from the manuscript and removed from the Library before being returned!

A further example of Old Welsh was seen in the Computus Fragment (Add. MS 4543), two small fly-leafs purchased by the UL in the early 20th century.  Dating to the 10th century, these pages probably preserve the longest prose passage of Old Welsh extant, as well as two examples of early Insular art in the zoomorphic heads found on two capital letters.  An assortment of three other manuscripts (MS Ii. 1. 14, MS Ii. 4. 4 and MS Kk. 3. 21) not composed in Welsh nevertheless bear the marks of Welsh scholarship, as attested by what have been categorized as ‘Welsh scribbles’ inside their respective bindings; in fact these are probably notes by Edward Lhuyd telling his amanuenses where to re-shelve the manuscripts.  Finally, the latest manuscript on the table was a personal volume of some Welsh genealogies (MS Mm. 1. 3), copied by William Llyn in the 16th century.  In fact, Llyn helpfully provides the detail that he began his copying on the morning of Friday the 1st of October, 1566; attestations of any kind are rare in Welsh manuscripts, yet here we find a level of detail bordering on the extreme.   ASNC PhD student Ben Guy, who is currently working on the Welsh genealogies, illustrated just how valuable a resource like the UL can be, and how important it is to take advantage of it, as he incorporates his findings from this book into his dissertation.

When you live and work in a place like Cambridge, it can be easy to forget just how lucky you are to be surrounded by such amazing resources.  For a small group of Welsh students and scholars, this Cake Class excursion was a reminder of all the great things that the UL has to offer – a taster if you will.  Though the treat was not as buttery as our usual weekly fare, it was in fact very much sweeter.  Many thanks to the organizers and to the UL.

Myriah Williams