Thursday, December 07, 2006

Henry Machyn, A London Provisioner's Chronicle, 1550-1563
A pathbreaking new electronic edition by Richard W. Bailey, Marilyn Miller, and Colette Moore (link)

The Chronicle was one of the treasures of the library of the antiquarian Robert Cotton, and it was stored in the same bookcase with the Beowulf manuscript. Its location was in the book press surmounted by a bust of the Roman emperor Vitellius, and it takes its shelf mark in the British Library from that location: Cotton Vitellius F.v. In the terrible fire that did so much damage to this library in the early eighteenth century, the 162 leaves of the diary were badly damaged and portions of the outside margins and the top of the text were charred or burned away. Fortunately extensive selections had been published by the historian John Strype who used the manuscript before the fire, and it is possible to supply many missing portions by consulting his historical works. The burned pages of the Chronicle were jumbled in a box until the early nineteenth century when one of the librarians at the British Museum had them mounted on framing pieces of paper and sorted into order. In 1848, an antiquarian produced an edition, but even a century ago scholars pointed to its errors and questioned its value for scholarship. The present edition gives a complete inventory of material required by scholars and readers: images of the manuscript, a faithful transcript of those images, and a rendering in modern English of this fascinating document.