Monday, January 20, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

 A recent post on FaceBook by my friend Simonetta and a BBC iPlayer programme on medieval manuscripts reminded me of a small book that has been in my library for over 40 years now.  I seem to recall coming across it in Britnell's which was a wonderful old style bookstore on Yonge and Bloor before it became a trendoid neighbourhood of highrise condos, food porn bistros and bling shops. 

I will quote from the forward to this slim volume by eminent scholar, writer and thespian Luis D'Antin Van Rooten:
To detail the exact manner by which "The d'Antin Mss. Mots d'Heures:1 Gousses, Rames"2 came to my hand would be too tedious and of but little moment here.  Suffice it to say these curious verses were part of the meagre possessions of one François Charles Fernand d'Antin, retired school teacher, who died at the age of ninety-three in January of the Year of our Lord 1950, while marking papers.3  Some three years later, as the only surviving relative of the deceased, I received his personal effects through the kind offices of Maître Théophile Gustave Pol Plôn, Notaire of Aix-en-Province, Bouches-du-Rhônes, France.

1 "Words of the Hours." A more poetic title than the more familiar "Book of Hours." A religious or philosophic background is tacityly indicated by this title.
2 "Gousses, Rames."   A "gousse" is a clove or section, as in the bulb of the garlic plant.  We cant therefore assume that this implies "Root and Branch," or a complete unity.  Alas, would only that the poems had come down to us so.
3 The vestigial remnant of an occupation, become the escape mechanism of an academician's senility.
Mots d'Heures:
Gousses, Rames
Luis d'Antin Van Rooten
Grossman Publishers
New York 1967

M. d'Antin Van Rooten goes on to explain the difficulty he had in piecing together the fragments of verse and the arduous task of correctly annotating them for the modern reader.  He also suggests that they are best read aloud in "the sonorous, measured classic style made famous by the Comédie Française at the turn of the century.... "  And indeed once they are treated to that delivery they make perfect sense to all and sundry.

Rather than try and copy the rich and melodic verse and M. d'Antin Van Rooten's scholarly notations I have scanned two pages of this small but fascinating book for your delectation. 

Many of the verses in the manuscript are of an uplifting and highly moral tone such as this small fragment:

And the book ends with a rather sad little piece that could also serve as a cautionary tale:

I thank Simonetta for reminding me of this truly remarkable tome and Laurent for not forcing me to discard it from my library in one of our many moves.  (We will not even go into that touchy subject unless a few glasses of wine have been consumed!)

Sadly both this lovely book and M d'Antin Van Rooten's Book of Improbable Saints as well as several others of his learned works have long been out of print - though copies have been seen at interesting prices on Amazon and eBay.

And why the various little snippets from the illuminated manuscripts?  I  thought they fit perfectly with M d'Antin Van Rooten's sense of scholarship!  And frankly this last one of Renard the Fox being hung is just plain lunacy - Medieval lunacy but lunacy none the less.

 January 20 - 1885: L.A. Thompson patents the roller coaster.

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Debra She Who Seeks said...

Love the processional bunnies!

David said...

Ah, the famous Mots d'Heures. I perused them again only this weekend, in the bathroom of a close friend's Scottish Borders home. They have been a constant ever since I first came to know him as a student back in the 1980s.

Ur-spo said...

what a treasure; I love book finds like this.