State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 81 Autumn 2008


From the Editorial Chair

I was deeply honoured to have been asked by my friend and colleague John Barnes, in the year of his retirement as editor of The La Trobe Journal, if I would be guest editor of an issue devoted to medieval subjects, planned to coincide with the State Library's The Medieval Imagination exhibition and its associated programme of events.
When the issue was at the planning stage, I was concerned that I might not be able to garner sufficient material for a substantial edition. That those concerns were absurdly ill-founded became apparent very quickly, as nearly all the potential contributors whom I approached responded with alacrity, and as offers of other essays came through suggestions made by colleagues and associates.
A late and very welcome inclusion in this issue is David McKitterick's Foxcroft Lecture for 2008. Professor McKitterick agreed readily to our request for the lecture, which readers will be able to see here in its extended form. Its themes are rich and varied, and some of them—such as the fascinating and problematic transmission of ancient texts across time, and what his title terms 'the politics of scholarship' – are explored in different contexts in some of the articles which follow.
The nine contributions which follow the Foxcroft lecture illustrate some fortuitous but felicitous groupings and overlappings. All of the texts and material objects discussed have Australian associations, and most of these relate to the idea of 'the medieval' in Melbourne. This is hardly surprising, given the richness of the State Library's manuscript and rare books collection, and of the particularly strong 'Gothic' influences upon the city's buildings, civic sculptures, and cultural formations.
Louise D'Arcens and Andrew Lynch offer different but complementary perspectives on assimilations of the Gothic into Australian culture: one offers an account of the Mediaeval Court at the 1866 Exhibition, the other an exploration of manifestations of the St George legend in colonial and postcolonial culture. Ted Gott's study of the history of Emmanuel Frémiet's Jeanne d'Arc enters into an unintentional dialogue with Lynch's observations on Edgar Boehm's St George and the Dragon, making a nice textual and critical gloss on the placement of the two massive equestrian statues which guard the State Library.
In the latest of several studies of the history of the Library, Shane Carmody explores its long relationship with the London bookselling firm of William H. Robinson, one which resulted in the acquisition of some of the treasures which appear in The Medieval Imagination exhibition. Stephanie Trigg, in her article 'The Injuries of Time', focuses on Thomas Speght's notorious annotation of 'Wades bote' to make some pertinent observations about medievalism and editorial politics.
The injuries of time are examined in quite literal ways in two pieces by conservators. Libby Melzer reviews the vicissitudes suffered by three illuminated manuscripts which
survive as fragments held by the Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne. The largest and most important late medieval manuscript in English held by the State Library is Guillaume Deguileville's the Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode, bound with its companion the Pilgrimage of the Sowle. Ian Cox tells the story of the research and painstaking work involved in rebinding it to ensure that it can continue to be shown and read. The works discussed by these two specialists appear in the exhibition.
The 'medieval imagination' – considered as a distinctively medieval way of thinking—was in some of its manifestations an historicising imagination, informed by a desire to preserve and to interpret the wisdom of antiquity. Two of the articles in this issue, by Charles Burnett and John Crossley, explore medieval translations of Ptolemy's Almagest, written in the second century AD. Both discuss an important early thirteenth-century manuscript held by the State Library of Victoria, and it is fortunate that both of these important contributions to Ptolemy scholarship can appear here as companions.
John Barnes has drawn deeply on his editorial experience to answer questions about the preparation of this issue. As always, the Library staff have been unfailingly helpful; I am particularly grateful to Des Cowley, and to the staff contributors, Shane Carmody and Ian Cox. John Arnold, the new editor of The La Trobe Journal, has made generous contributions of time and knowledge through all stages of preparation; it has been a pleasure to work with him, and to re-establish an old friendship. I am pleased to thank the Foundation of the State Library of Victoria for their support in the production of this large and copiously illustrated issue of the Journal.
Greg Kratzmann