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.
Luis d'Antin Van RootenGrossman Publishers
New York 1967
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:
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.