More Patience….

Agbabi.Vassar

Patience Agbabi’s East Coast speaking tour has an additional date and locale: Monday, 13 November 2017, at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. If you’re in the vicinity, we highly recommend you make the effort to attend–and bring your students.

Patience never disappoints.

 

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A Postcard from the Beneicke’s Takamiya Collection

For a long while I’ve been intrigued by the large concentration of important Chaucerians in Japan.  Japanese scholars present at Anglophone medievalist conferences around the world, and their work appears regularly in monographs, collections, and journals.  No other non-Anglophone country produces more first-rate TakamiyaChaucerians. Where did their passionate interest in medieval European literature (in general) and Chaucer (in particular), originate? A forthcoming article by Koichi Kano traces the somewhat dispiriting publication history of the first Japanese translation of The Canterbury Tales in 1917; bringing Chaucer to a Japanese audience through prose translation was certainly an important step. I have my own ideas about the role played by Lafcadio Hearn, a Greco-American scholar, author, and translator at the end of the nineteenth-century. Perhaps, though, the best explanation for what I’ve observed during my own twenty-five-year career can be explained by the extraordinary influence of Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya.

Over a period of fifty years, Professor Takamiya became one of the preeminent private collectors of Middle English manuscripts. His passion for collecting Western books was sparked when he handled one with its thick pages and sturdy binding, creating a heft noticeably different from the Japanese books he knew growing up in post-war Japan.  This son and grandson of prosperous traders had recently received two degrees (in Economics and in English) from Keio University, and he soon became a knowledgeable scholar of medieval literature. With familial resources and deep knowledge, he transmuted his bibliophilic passion into shrewd manuscript purchases.

Two historical and academic circumstances allowed him to amass his distinctive collection. First, when he began purchasing manuscripts in the 1970s, many landed British families were divesting their book and art holdings in order to pay property taxes.  In this sense, the Takamiya collection’s shape (like that of any other collection) was determined by availability.  Moreover, the restrictions were looser for exporting these items, items that would eventually be covered by the Garvey Clause and prohibited from leaving the U.K. Thus, not only were the manuscripts on the market, but they could be removed from the U.K., a pair of historical circumstances not likely to be repeated.  This means that Takamiya’s 1970s purchases were the necessary route for a non-U.K. institution (such as Yale’s Beinecke Library) to acquire significant manuscripts in the 2010s.

Anyone with the necessary financial ability and bibiographic acumen could have taken advantage of these circumstances and purchased the manuscripts now comprising the Takamiya Collection. One reason Takamiya was able to acquire these manuscripts with little competition can be understood as the consequence of mid-twentieth-century academic fashions. At that time, institutional collections (the competitors who could match his resources) such as the Folger Library, the Huntington Library, and research university libraries were primarily attracted to illuminated deluxe manuscripts, most often Italian humanist and other Latin texts. These collectors passed on the more modest Middle English codices, rolls, and fragments with minimal ornamentation that Takamiya quietly slipped into his library and generously shared with colleagues and students around the world.

His three Canterbury Tales manuscripts, however, take advantage of an academic fashion peculiar to Chaucer Studies. When Takamiya purchased the Devonshire and Delamere manuscripts, codicological studies focused on a handful of essential texts. Chaucerians sought to recreate a text that matched medieval author’s intention by identifying the earliest examples. Two manuscripts, the Ellesmere and the Hengwrt, were identified as the earliest sources and thus the texts that should form the basis of Chaucer scholarship. Once scholars had noted the gaps, textual variants, and idiosyncratic ordering of the tales found in the other manuscripts, Chaucerians generally overlooked these “lesser” manuscripts.  With libraries and museums not interested in them for their aesthetic beauty, and university research libraries not interested in them for their contents, these seemingly prosaic, even debased, manuscripts were available to the young Japanese bibliophile with the foresight to see what others overlooked.

For decades, Takamiya’s medieval library was a resource to scholars, whether they studied in his class at Keio University, made a pilgrimage to Tokyo, or participated in conferences from around the world. His carefully curated collection—filled with texts chosen to satisfy both the collector’s enthusiasms and the pedagogue’s and scholar’s needs—provides an epitome of the period’s extant text. The quality of the Takamiya collection resides in the collector’s drive towards completion, his financial resources, his knowledge of medieval texts, and his intuition about which manuscripts were currently undervalued.

In 2013, the collection’s residency in Tokyo came to an end but not its availability to scholars, for its transfer to Yale’s Beinecke Library ensured a safe and accessible repository.

When the crates of medieval manuscripts began arriving in New Haven from Tokyo, they held of one the most significant acquisitions by a North American library in half a century. As the 143 codices, roles, and fragments were unpacked, cataloged and made ready for their new home in New Haven, Connecticut, the staff noticed that, here and there, Professor Takamiya had inserted used envelopes and business cards, marking both his place and (it turns out) his temporary custodianship of the books.  Beyond the assigned accession numbers prefixed with “Takamiya ms,” nothing else about the books seems to betray the five decades they spent in his care, both in the temperature-controlled library of his Tokyo home and his international travels when he gleefully pulled from his bag a valuable manuscript that formed the cornerstone of his talk’s analysis.

Among the 143 manuscripts in the Takamiya Collection are Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe as well as three containing The Canterbury Tales, including the Delamere Chaucer and the Devonshire Chaucer.  Before acquiring these manuscripts, the Beinecke had no manuscript copy of the Tales; now it has three as well as the Treatise ms, Takamiya ms 9, 22, 24, and 32.  With their travels from England to Japan and now to the U.S., these four manuscripts add a new dimension to the term “Global Chaucers.”

The Beinecke celebrated its acquisition of this transformative collection with Making the English Book, an intimate conference featuring eminent scholars of medieval manuscripts, book collectors associated with Toshi Takamiya, and Professor Takamiya himself. In all ways, the conference reflected Takamiya’s generous spirit, his warm sense of friendship, and his passion for collecting Middle English manuscripts.  I attended the conference not only as a medievalist fascinated by the manuscripts themselves but also as a Chaucerian curious about what it means that such a significant mss collection (with 4 Chaucerian mss) was amassed in Japan: what it tells us about Chaucer Studies in Japan, what it tells us about ourselves, and what it tells us about Chaucer and his works that we might otherwise overlook.

I came closer to some answers. Some Japanese medievalists at the conference see a commonality between European feudalism and Japanese feudalism, and hence Japanese scholars have a natural interest in that European period.  They also credited Japanese interest in Chaucer to the three good translations now available.  They explained the nature of Japanese scholarship, with its intense emphasis on phonology and textual variants, as a function of the way English is taught in Japanese schools; Middle English is part of the teaching of English, since their approach includes the language’s history. They tend toward that approach because, as one scholar wryly admitted, that approach was most likely to receive (grant) funding. Takamiya’s collection, with its wide range of Middle English texts helped to feed those interests.

Repeatedly, the conference presentations reminded us that the provenance of a manuscript is important, reminding how ownership shapes the reception and how reception shapes ownership.  Ownership marks are carefully preserved and noted in all discussions of the manuscripts.  That fact that Prof. Takamiya seems to have left no similar marks recording his possession of this significant collection seems out of step with the delight he and other bibliophiles take in tracing provenance.  His apparent failure to leave his mark in his books reminded me of certain attitudes towards conservation I observed in Japan. At many shrines and pilgrimage routes, “conservation” did not mean “restoration.” Instead, “conservation” meant careful, respectful, and continued use of an object or place, leaving as little trace of one’s presence as possible, neither mourning when use wore away a stone step nor replacing a wooden beam deteriorated by weather.  I see something akin to this in Takamiya’s habits as an academic collector who did not see himself as an owner but as a guardian: he cared for the manuscripts without turning them into museum objects. He used them as a scholar and teacher who left the faintest trace, just a stray envelope or extra business card left behind, waiting for his return. Nevertheless, his name is permanently associated with these manuscripts, if not with owner’s marks on the flyleaf or doodles in the end pages or annotations in the margins, then with their accession number.

Perhaps, though, he had a bit more in common with many of the books’ previous owners because, after confessing that he never inserted the bookplates he had had specially designed for his collection, he whispered that there might be some very small TTs penciled in the gutters.  With this tantalizing clue, we should all keep a watchful eye open for these hidden monograms whenever we open a Takamiya manuscript.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patience Agbabi in Boston, 25 November!

Flyer-Lowell-Agbabi

Patience Agbabi will be making one of her few U.S. appearances on 25 November 2017, 7pm, at Boston College.  Her readings and performances are unparalleled, as those of us  at NCS 2016 in London witnessed. If you’re in the area, don’t miss this opportunity.

For more details, see the Lowell Humanities Lecture Series website.

Borderlands Chaucer

In the small Sonoran city of Magdalena de Kino, 126 miles due south of Tucson, Arizona, the Church of Santa María Magdalena houses an recumbent image of St. Francis Xavier (co-founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits). Pilgrims who seek help from the saint can ascertain whether their prayers have been deemed worthy of intercession by trying  to lift the statue’s head.  If it moves, their prayers have been acknowledged; if it doesn’t, the saint himself has remained unmoved, their devotion insufficient to merit his help.

Iglesia en Magdalena
Braulio Rivera Enriquez https://ssl.panoramio.com/photo/118060568

In a convenient cross-over between saints’ days, 4 October (feast day for St. Francis of Assisi) seems to be a favorite time for making this pilgrimage into the Sonoran desert. Former head of the University of Arizona’s Southwest Folklore Center, Jim Griffith, has compared these autumnal pilgrimages to the springtime pilgrimage in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. He provides this instructive paraphrase: 

When October with its relatively cool winds has taken the real edge off the fierce desert heat. When it’s cool enough that you can stand to walk around outdoors. When the summer rains have stopped and the roads aren’t a sea of mud and it’s pretty easy to move. Then folks want to move.

And, as he adds, “they want to move on a spiritually sanctioned trip.”  To hear Griffith recite these lines from his General Prologue-redux, listen to Pulse of the Planet’s recent rebroadcast of a 1997 show about autumn’s migrations and pilgrimages.

Thanks to our intrepid contact for all things regarding Chaucer in Mexico, Raúl Ariza-Barile (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), for this Borderlands Chaucer.

 

New resource: Open Access Companion to The Canterbury Tales

oacctlogoNow available!

For those who teach The Canterbury Tales or want to know more about the Tales, check out the new Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, a free and downloadable resource.

Chapters can be downloaded individually, making it perfect for classroom use or personal edification.

Please let the editors know what you think about it (opencanterburytales AT gmail dot com).  They are especially eager to learn how it is used in classrooms outside the UK-US-Canada-Australasia matrix.

To learn about updates to the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, follow it on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OACCT/ .

A conversation with José Francisco Botelho

gaucho-culture-and-chaucer

 

Last February 2016, José Francisco Botelho, Chaucer’s award-winning Brazilian translator, traveled to Connecticut. He was scheduled to speak twice, at Central Connecticut State University on translating The Canterbury Tales and at Southern Connecticut State University on translating Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Though a snow storm that shut down the entire eastern seaboard caused us to cancel the SCSU presentation (and added an extra day to Chico’s Connecticut stay), we were able to squeeze in the conversation at CCSU. There, he and I held a conversation about his translation strategies and how looking at the Tales through the lens of Brazilian-Portuguese provided him insights that English readers might miss.  We arranged to have the conversation videotaped using a stationary camera, and after a delay, I’m pleased to provide a link to the video: Gaucho Culture and Chaucer: Translating The Canterbury Tales for Brazil. 

Chico’s appearance at CCSU was supported in part by the CCSU English Department.

The Canterbury Pilgrims and the US entry into the Great War

A century ago, the United States declared war against Germany and its allies.  The same week, Chaucer was making his first (and perhaps) only appearance on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera in Reginald deKoven and Percy MacKaye’s English-language opera,  The Canterbury Pilgrims. To mark this double centennial, we’re reproducing Candace’s account in her  American Chaucers (2007) of the fifth performance when the evening was interrupted by news that the United States would be entering the Great War in Europe.

costume design canterbury pilgrims


During the spring of 1917, New York’s Metropolitan Opera lavishly mounted the premiere performances of Reginald deKoven and Percy MacKaye’s The Canterbury Pilgrims.[1] One of the first full-length American grand operas to appear on the Metropolitan’s stage, the opera received primarily lukewarm reviews: it seemed neither very grand nor very American. Sung in English by a largely German cast, the opera was frequently critiqued for being no more intelligible to the audience than an opera in German or Italian.[2] The only English words universally recognized by the audience were in Act Two, when the German-accented “Vife of Bat” cried “Shud upp-phh!”[3] On the evening of the fifth performance, however, the audience was probably less concerned than before about discerning the fine points of the pilgrims’ journey to Canterbury, preoccupied instead with the news due from the White House at any minute.

CanterburyPilgrimsOperaProgram

For months, the captains of American commerce and industry, many of whom were at the Metropolitan on that evening of April 2, were eager for President Wilson to declare the nation at war against Germany and its allies.[4] At the end of the third act, word arrived that President Wilson had advised Congress to accept “the status of belligerent” that the behavior of the Imperial German Government had thrust upon the American people.[5] As the New York Herald reported, the news spread as “the blackface typed extras” were passed from the lobby “to the orchestra seats and then to the boxes.”[6] Within five minutes, patrons had abandoned all decorum and newspapers were spread out over the box railings. The American audience was jubilant at the news. Whereas the librettist had once hoped the Chaucerian opera would “[restore] old merry England to the imaginations of men” and turn their minds to the woos of England under assault, this night the war in Europe captured American imaginations and turned their minds away from The Canterbury Pilgrims.[7] When it came time to begin the fourth and final act, Maestro Bodanzky soberly entered the orchestra pit and conducted the musicians in the national anthem, while the audience stood up and sang. James W. Gerard, the United States ambassador recalled from Germany, marshaled three cheers for President Wilson, and the house of 3,500 roared with approval for the President’s war message.[8] After the cheering died down, Bodanzky led the orchestra in “The Star-Spangled Banner” for a second time before finally starting Act Four.

The final act began in front of Canterbury Cathedral’s impressive west entrance, with the Canterbury Girls chorus hawking their wares. Then entered the Wife of Bath (German alto Margrete Ober), dressed “gorgeously as a bride,” ready to claim husband number six, and gloating about her newly-won “pot of honey.”[9] In the middle of a phrase, unable any longer to control her anxiety about the United State’s impending entry into hostilities against her native land, Mme. Ober fell back in a dead faint. “In that condition, she was lifted and dragged off with some difficulty, not to reappear, while the other stars made the best they could of the closing act without her.”[10] Offstage, Robert Leonhardt, the German baritone singing the role of the Knight, also fainted but was revived in time to join the final chorus.[11]

Despite the episode of the fainting Wife of Bath, ticket receipts for the Metropolitan’s seven productions of The Canterbury Pilgrims merited extending the opera company’s contract with deKoven for another season. But before the next season began, not only the fainting Germans but all German nationals were sent home, forcing the cancellation of The Canterbury Pilgrims’ second season and allowing its chances to join the Metropolitan’s repertory to slip away. The opera, however, had faced a Sisyphean task: it sought to bring a vernacular libretto and music to an audience that distinguished itself from the rabble precisely by dismissing the American vernacular in favor of European standards of verse and music. As much as the opera was undermined by the repatriated Germans, ultimately the opera was undermined by the production conditions, in particular the decision to use German soloists to sing the principle parts in English, a decision neither the composer nor the librettist could control.

[1]. The opera had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on March 8, 1917.

[2]. Irving Kolodin, The Metropolitan Opera, 1883–1966: A Candid History (New York: Knopf, 1966), 309–13.

[3]. Scrapbook Clipping, New York Evening Journal, March 9, 1917, MacKaye Family Archives, “Percy MacKaye Papers,” Collection housed at Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, New Hampshire, ML 5.

[4]. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 352–54. Though the war was a boon to commercial interests, the majority of Americans did not support entering the war (T. J. Jackson Lears, “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities,” The American Historical Review 90, no. 3 [June 1985]: 586, fn 46).

[5]. Woodrow Wilson, “War Message,” in War Messages, Senate Doc. No. 5 (Washington, D.C.: 65th Congress, 1st Session, 1917), http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1917/wilswarm.html.

[6]. Scrapbook clipping, New York Herald, April 8, 1917, “Percy MacKaye Papers.”

[7]. Correspondence, PM to RdK, July 19, 1915, “Percy MacKaye Papers”.

[8]. Quaintance Eaton, The Miracle of the Met: An Informal History of the Metropolitan Opera, 1883–1967 (New York: Meredith Press, 1968), 194–95.

[9]. Percy MacKaye, lyricist, and Reginald deKoven, composer, The Canterbury Pilgrims, An Opera in Four Acts (Cincinnati and New York: John Church Company, 1916), 54.

[10]. Percy MacKaye, The Canterbury Pilgrims: An Opera (Libretto) (New York: Macmillan, 1916), 54; and, Scrapbook clipping, unknown source, April 3, 1917, “Percy MacKaye Papers”. Compare this with Metropolitan manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza’s version: “There was an immense stir in the house. Backstage, in the wings, Mme. Margarete Ober, who was a patriotic German, was so affected by the news that she fainted away, and we had to go through the last act without her” (Memories of the Opera [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941], 179–80). According to all sources, Mme. Ober did sing the season’s remaining two performances.

Already, the opera was associated with entering the war: the second performance had been attended by Ambassador James Gerard (had he nothing better to do?), and the New York City Times duly noted that he “listened with evident interest to a language which he and his official staff had been hissed for using when attending theatres in Berlin” (Scrapbook clipping, March 17, 1917, “Percy MacKaye Papers”).

[11]. Eaton, The Miracle of the Met, 193–95.