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Venerable Bede The Ecclesiastical History Of The English Nation

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Venerable Bede
The Ecclesiastical History Of The English Nation
page 4

" (3.) The Historia Ecclesiastica contains various transcripts of important official documents. These are of two classes : either such as were sent from the Papal Court to the princes and ecclesiastics of England, or were the production of native writers. The first were transcribed from the Papal Regesta by Nothhelm of London, during a residence at Rome, and were sent to Beda by the advice of his friend Albinus of Canterbury. They relate to the history of the kingdoms of Kent and Northumbria. The letters of archbishops Laurentius and Honorius, concerning the proper time for celebrating Easter, were probably furnished by the same individual. The proceedings of the Councils of Herutford and Haethfeld, may have been derived from the archives of Beda's own monastery ; since it was customary in the early ages of the Church for each ecclesiastical establishment to have a ' tabularium ' in which were deposited the synodal decrees by which its members were governed. " (n.) A considerable portion of the Historia Ecclesiastica, especially that part of it which relates to the kingdom of Northumberland, is founded upon local information which its author derived from various individuals. On almost every occasion, Beda gives the name and designation of his informant; being anxious, apparently, to 6how that nothing is inserted for which he had not the testimony of some respectable witness. Some of these persons are credible from having been present at the event which they related ; others, from the high rank which they held in the Church, such as Aecci, bishop of Hexham, Guthfrith, abbot of Lindisfarn, Bercthun, abbot of Beverley, and Pecthelm, bishop of Whithern. The author received secondary evidence with caution, for he distinguishes between the statements which he received from eyewitnesses, and those which reached him through a succession of informants. In the last of these in-stances, the channel of information is always pointed out with scrupulous exactness, whatever opinion we may entertain, as in the case of some visions and miracles, of the credibility of the facts themselves." After so many previous editions, the editor acknowledges that under ordinary circumstances he would not have hesitated to reprint the Ecclesiastical History from the latest and most valuable existing edition, trusting that a work so often revised would have been already in a fit state to lay before the reader; and thus he would hope to be enabled to devote more time (and with greater benefit to the reader) to the other works of Bede which have been less fortunate than the Ecclesiastical History. But on coming to examine the text of the edition recently published by the English Historical Society, he discovered a considerable augmentation of his labours. It has been previously observed, and seems hitherto not to have been generally known, that Smith's text is accurately copied from the MS. of More, and that every thing, but the most manifest blunders of the copyist, is therein preserved. Indeed, Smith the younger, who edited the volume which his father had prepared, acknowledges that he has not suffered himself to depart from the readings of a volume so ancient, even in the minutest particular. His words are these : " Patri religio fuit de codicis tam admirandæ vetustatis fide, nisi ubi librarium falso scripsisse aperte deprehenditur, vel aliquantulum decedere." This is the reason why More's Manuscript, in general so superior to every other, has been followed by its editor, even where the reading is, owing to want of care or fatigue on the part of the copyist, manifestly corrupt. To guard, however, against mistake, Smith has in every case subjoined as foot-notes the corrections with which other MSS. or existing editions supplied him. And for following this plan there is good reason : it was an object of interest to every scholar to see a fac-simile of a MS. written so near the time of the author, and some editors have not scrupled to represent even the forms of the letters in which such a volume was written. But after Smith's edition had been so long familiar to the world, it would be highly inexpedient for a future editor to follow the same plan. It would appear rather incumbent on him to collect the best text from every MS. or printed edition that had preceded, and in every instance to substitute such good readings in the place of those which might appear inferior in the text of Smith ; nor can it be alleged that there would be no room for the adoption of such plan, on the ground of More's MS. being perfect, or at least free from gross errors. For, however valuable it may be for antiquity and general excellence, it nevertheless abounds with most glaring errors of all descriptions. It, in several instances, omits altogether words necessary to the sense ; it not un frequently adopts the worst of two readings ; it occasionally presents gross errors in grammar ; and, indeed, is not free from any of those defects, to which every volume, written by the hand, and admitting no revision or correction, as in the case of printed books, is liable. It is hardly necessary to say that Mr. Stevenson's volume, being almost a verbatim reprint of Smith's, is exposed to this objection, and to a somewhat greater degree still, from the omission of the footnotes containing the corrections of the corrupt passages. The two following instances will more fully explain this. In

CHAP XIX., towards the beginning, More's MS. reads ad eum habitaculum, and Smith, following the MS., subjoins as a correction, illud habitaculum. In the reprint, however, we find eum habitaculum retained without the note. Again, in

CHAP III., where Claudius is mentioned, More's MS. reads cupiens monstrare. Smith so reprints it, but adds in a note, cupiens se monstrare, which no doubt is the true reading. Here, also, in the recent edition, we read cupiens monstrare, and with no note subjoined. Finding that this system had been acted upon throughout, the present editor saw the necessity of a new and entire revision of the text, and accordingly he turned his attention to the Heidelberg edition, found in Scriptores Britannicarum Rerum, published by Commelin, and apparently, as far as Bede is concerned, unknown to previous editors. Of this volume he had before formed a very high opinion, and was glad to find its character fully sustained in the present instance. The learning and taste displayed by Commelin, the editor, are beyond commendation : as regards the text of Bede, it is superior in every respect to any other edition, and appears to have been very little, if at all, examined by preceding editors. The present edition will be found to contain all that could be gathered by a diligent and complete collation of the editions of Heidelberg, Smith and Stevenson. The best reading has in every instance been adopted, and the result of the collation will be given in a chapter of various readings, at the end of the next volume. In addition to this, different Manuscripts have been referred to whenever the text appeared corrupt or

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