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IN the year 1865 I was requested by Mr F. J. Furnivall to go over the Catalogue of the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, to ascertain if there were any works there, in manuscript, which might be suitable for reproduction by the Early English Text Society. Among other entries, I sent him the following:
"A Stately Poem called the Destruction of Troy, wrote by Joseph of Exceter, who lived in the reign of King Henry the Second, from 1154 In Old English verse. Folio (on paper), written in a small
to 1189. cramp hand."
Several extracts from the manuscript itself were subsequently forwarded, and determined the Committee of the Society to print it. My professional engagements, occupying me weekly during nearly the whole of the hours at which the Museum was open, did not admit of my copying the poem, even if its size and formidable appearance had not deterred me from attempting it. The work of transcription was undertaken by Mr David Donaldson, who had more time at his disposal and much greater experience in such work than I had, and it was completed after no small amount of difficulty and labour, which the mistake as to the author very materially increased. While the greater portion of the manuscript is certainly written in a provokingly "cramp" hand, yet at various parts the writing is very beautiful and easily read, having been executed apparently with great care. The reason of this remarkable difference did not at first occur to the transcriber. The evident mistakes, or say the curious combinations of letters employed in the spelling of the proper names especially, and the peculiarity of these on being pronounced, at last suggested to him, when he was far advanced,
1 "You could help us, too, by looking into the MSS. at the Library at the Hunterian Museum. There must be some worth printing there. They have a unique copy of Chaucer's Romaunt of the Rose; and, I am told," [by the Rev. Joseph Stevenson] "a unique Poem on the Destruction of Troy in 12 or more thousand lines. But it may turn out to be Lydgate's Troy Book." 8 Dec., 1865.
that the carefully executed portions were copied at leisure from perhaps the original, while the rest was less carefully taken down from dictation by the copyist, who seemingly did not know the words he wrote down, and spelt from the sound. Further examination, ånd the marked difference in the character and formation of the letters in the "cramp" and the more carefully written portions, served to prove that this conjecture was the right one, and fully accounted for. the differences in the spelling, otherwise inexplicable.
Much time would have been saved not only in the work of transcription, but in the preparation for the press, had means been taken at an early period to test the correctness of the entry in the catalogue. No suspicion of this, however, having been entertained, it was only when the first sheet was in type, that a careful comparison of it was made with the Bellum Trojanum of Joseph of Exeter to ascertain with what fidelity the translation had been executed, and it was found that the MS. poem was not a translation from that work at all. A similar examination of the Histories, said to be by Dares and Dictys, showed that, although they had much in common, the poem was not translated from them either. Thus baffled, it occurred to me that a comparison might be tried with our MS. and a very fine one of Guido de Colonna's Historia Trojana, in the Hunterian Museum. This comparison, at first, was not much more promising than the others had been. The great difference in the writing and in the arrangement of the two MSS., the fuller text of Guido at the commencement, and the very considerable gap between the first and second Books of our MS., the extent of which was then unsuspected, prevented us from noticing the connection between Guido de Colonna and the Stately Poem. Though the result was unsatisfactory, I was unwilling to give up the matter altogether without one more trial, and requested Mr Donaldson to suggest some testing passage at the end of our Troy Book, with numerous proper names in it, or several well-marked paragraphs, in order to institute a further and closer examination. First one and then another such passage was turned up and tried, and it soon became quite manifest that the MS. poem was a translation, though not a close and continuous one, of Guido's Historia Trojana.