One of the most exciting things about working in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section here in the British Library is the possibility of making – or witnessing – a new discovery about one of our manuscripts. We’ve written before about a number of these discoveries, including those about pigments and underdrawings, a newly-found seal matrix, hidden inscriptions, a letter of Robert the Bruce, and even the magnificent Unicorn Cookbook.
Recently we undertook some conservation work on two autograph volumes from the Evelyn papers (Add MS 78328 and Add MS 78329). These volumes are commonplace books (essentially scrapbooks), maintained by Sir John Evelyn (1602–1706) between the 1650s and 1680s to keep track of ideas that he encountered during his travels and studies. Evelyn was a noted author on a variety of subjects, including history, sculpture, navigation, and gardening, and was also a diarist largely contemporary with Pepys. The British Library holds a number of items from Evelyn’s library, including the commonplace books.
The bindings of these volumes, which had been in place since Evelyn’s day, were in need of some restoration. During the course of the repairs, we uncovered a number of fragments of earlier manuscripts hidden away beneath the leather covers, fragments which had been used as lining, binding stiffeners, and sewing guides.
The use of such materials is not unusual in medieval manuscripts, and we have a number of other instances from our collections which can be viewed online (see, for example, the Rochester Bible). But this case is unusual in that these particular fragments have gone back into their bindings, and will no longer be visible to readers. We have, however, taken photographs of all of them, and these photographs are available for consultation in our Manuscripts Reading Room – and, of course, a number of them are reproduced here.
As far as we can tell, these fragments consist of pages from a printed Latin text and a number of scraps from French charters; charmingly, some of them still contain signatures. But we don’t know much more about them, and would like to solicit your ideas. Please do let us know what you think; you can always leave a comment below, or reach us on Twitter @BLMedieval.
- Sarah J Biggs
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