AELFRIC, Abbot of Eynsham

AELFRIC, Abbot of Eynsham A Saxon treatise concerning the Old and New Testament

London, Iohn Hauiland for Henrie Seile, the signe of the Tygers head, 1623


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. [lxi], 43, 43, [xx], 14, 14, [xxv] : pi², [par.] , a-f , A-V . “A testimony of antiquitie” and “A sermon of the Paschall Lambe, and of the sacramental body and bloud of Christ our Sauiour” have separately dated title pages; “Here follovveth the words of Elfrike Abbot of S. Albons” and “The Lords Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten commandements in the Saxon and English tongue” have divisional titles; register is continuous.” ESTC. Roman, Saxon and Italic letter. Woodcut device of Prince Charles at head of dedication, woodcut initials, typographical ornaments, bookplate of Eric Stanley on pastedown. Light age yellowing a few leaves a little browned, minor dust soiling in places the rare mark or spot. A very good, crisp copy, in C17th speckled calf, covers box ruled with a double blind rule, two blind floriated rolls, rebacked, raised bands, gilt ruled in compartments with gilt fleurons, red morocco label, a.e.r.

Rare first edition of William L’isle’s translation of these important Saxon texts. Lisle was a pioneer in the study of Anglo-Saxon. He is one of the known owners of the E manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the so-called Peterborough Chronicle, in which he made notes on interleaved pages. Interest in the doctrinal position of the early English church on various points in controversy in his day first led him in that direction. In this work he printed for the first time, with an English translation, the ‘Treatise on the Old and New Testament,’ by Ælfric Grammaticus, whom Lisle wrongly identified with Ælfric of Abingdon the archbishop of Canterbury. Lisle found the manuscript in Sir Robert Cotton’s library. An appendix contains ‘the Homilies and Epistles of the fore-said Ælfricus,’ and a second edition of ‘A Testimonie of Antiquitie, etc., touching the Sacrament of the Bodie and Bloud of the Lord,’ first issued by Archbishop Matthew Parker and Parker’s secretary, John Joscelyn in 1566. There follow two extracts from (a) Ælfric’s ‘Epistle to Walfine, Bishop of Scyrburne,’ and (b) his ‘Epistle to Wulfstan, Archbishop of York,’ expressing disapproval of a long preservation of the consecrated elements after Easter day. The book concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and Ten Commandments in Anglo-Saxon, with a verbal interlinear translation intended to serve as exercises for beginners. L’Isle, with the publication of this book, really set in motion the seventeenth-century project of publishing Old English texts (only a few texts had been had been printed in the C16th), and before the century was out, a good many of the familiar Old English prose and verse works would have been set into type at least once. “A Saxon Treatise is by Abbot Aelfric of Eynsham (c.955-c.1010), author of the Catholic Homilies and Lives of the Saints and the most prominent known figure of Old English literature. Its editor and translator, William Lisle (c.1569-1637), was significant as an Anglo-Saxon scholar who pioneered the recovery of Old English. But equally important here is Lisle’s religious and political purpose in translating the work, which he explains in a forty-page preface, extremely long in proportion to Aelfric’s text, with its own table of contents. Just as in the previous generation Archbishop Matthew Parker had collected works, including Aelfrician manuscripts, to find evidence for the existence of Protestantism in Britain’s past to rebut the Catholic taunt of where the Protestant church was before Luther, Lisle explains his desire to preserve ‘an auncient monument of the Church of England’ (b1r), and therefore to validate the Church of England as an ancient body. He further emphasises the value possessing the Scriptures in a known tongue to promote clear understanding, and stresses the long tradition of the English Scriptures, as shown by the existence of much of the Bible in Anglo-Saxon.” Senate house library. A good copy of this rare work.

ESTC. S100438. STC 160. Lowndes 13.
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