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MS. Laud Misc. 740 is an illuminated manuscript, made in England in the second quarter of the 15th century, containing the Middle English prose translation of Guillaume de Deguilleville, 'Pélerinage de la vie humaine' ('The Pilgrimage of Human Life'), with fine miniatures. It also includes (fol. 103v) a copy of Geoffrey Chaucer's short acrostic poem, 'An ABC'. The manuscript was donated to the library in 1633 by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of Oxford University. Though an earlier sewing is evident, the manuscript was given to the library in a 17th-century paste-board binding with a sewn, suede chemise covering.
The manuscript had been placed in a restricted category as the binding was breaking down; the loose sewing allowed movement of the leaves which risked abrasion of the many miniatures. The covering was entirely torn into two exposing the spine, though the condition of the text leaves and spine was extremely good, with no heavy gluing as can often be found with rebound manuscripts.
The conservation and digitization of the manuscript were funded by donations in memory of Peter John Freeman CMG from his friends, colleagues and family.
The manuscript was digitized by the Bodleian Library's imaging studio. High-resolution digital scans were made of all the leaves, as well as of the boards before any conservation treatment was carried out. It is hoped that eventually the complete digitized manuscript will be mounted by the Oxford Digital Library.
The conservation work was carried out by Nicole Gilroy of the Bodleian Library's conservation department. The sound condition of the parchment meant that only minor repair was necessary, mainly to the spine folds.
After repair, new parchment end-leaves with alum-tawed joints were constructed to protect the text-block and provide board leverage. The manuscript was resewn with linen thread on four double cords and two braid-supported kettle stitches using the positions of the earlier (medieval) sewing holes. Quarter-sawn oak boards were laced on and structural end-bands sewn at head and tail. The covering was full alum-tawed calfskin, and separate parchment board-sheets were pasted to the boards over the alum-tawed joints.
The manuscript will now be kept in a custom-made cloth and board box which also contains the seventeenth-century paste-boards and chemise for reference by readers. The box is marked with a plate acknowledging the generous donations which funded this work.
NEWS: The only other illustrated copy of the Pilgrimage of Man text in English is housed at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, and was re-bound at the same time as the Bodleian copy. An article about
the rebinding of the Victoria copy can be read here: The rebinding of de Guileville's Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode and Pilgrimage of the Sowle
La Trobe Journal, The, Autumn, 2008, by Ian Cox