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The Burney collection of manuscripts in the British Library

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‘Membra disiecta’

One further aspect of Burney’s collection that is worthy of note is the presence in it of numerous ‘membra disiecta’. It is already well known that at least four Burney manuscripts once formed parts of larger volumes with manuscripts now elsewhere. Among these is the eleventh-century copy of the Fables of Romulus from Saint-Bénigne in Dijon (Burney 59) which was formerly bound with the Hamilton copy of the elder Pliny’s Natural History now in Berlin (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Ms. Hamilton 517). Yet, as Neil Ker noted many years ago, Burney’s own collection contains volumes that are now divided, but once formed part of the same volume. Now scattered across the collection with widely differing manuscript numbers and often described in the 1840 catalogue as of different dates and sizes, these ‘membra disiecta’ perpetuate physical divisions imposed by Burney on multi-author volumes to fit the arrangement of his manuscripts alphabetically by author. Thus, for example, a fifteenth-century manuscript of German origin that Burney had bought as one volume in 1804 was split into four volumes (Burney 137, 265, 272 and 352), this to allow Cicero, Terence, Valla and Vergil to sit in neat alphabetical order on Burney’s shelves. For the same reason a fine Neapolitan manuscript of the verses of Catullus and the humanist Pontano became two widely separated volumes (Burney 133 and 343). So far I have identified twelve manuscripts that were broken by Burney. These now form thirty-one volumes, all widely scattered through the collection, as arranged and numbered at the British Museum.

Worse still, from the unwary researcher’s point of view, is the case of the two volumes of fragments in the Burney collection (Burney 276 and 277). Several of these had formed part of a large collection of fragments of Greek and Latin texts that passed successively through the hands of the eighteenth-century collectors Michael Maittaire, César de Missy and John Monro. By chance, however, a few of these fragments, four leaves from an early manuscript of Virgil’s Aeneid (Burney 276, ff. 43-46) once formed the flyleaves of a humanistic copy of Quintilian (Burney 244) that was also owned by Monro and subsequently came to Burney. On the basis of the erased ex-libris of Mario Maffei on one of the Virgil leaves it is possible to identify the Quintilian as a Maffei manuscript once owned by Askew. In that case it was Monro who broke the volume. Yet most of the other fragments in the two Burney volumes were clearly removed by Burney from his own books and manuscripts. Piecing these back together is not an easy task, but might well be rewarding given the early date of many of the fragments and the extra information that they could yield about the parent volume. While I have been able to make some progress on this complex problem, a lot of work remains to be done.

Over and above the ‘membra disiecta’ that remain in the Burney collection, a few manuscript fragments once owned by Burney are now identifiable in other collections. For example, five leaves that form part of a fragmentary copy of the Iliad in the Harleian collection (Harley 5672, ff. 19-23) were presented to the British Museum by Burney in 1807. Two further leaves from a glossed copy of the Book of Wisdom that bear an inscription by Burney dated 1791 (Holmes MS. 158) have been part of the collection of Robert Holmes in the Bodleian Library at Oxford since 1805. Both groups of leaves were once part of the collection of fragments that had passed successively through the hands of Maittaire, de Missy, and Monro.


Burney 59, f. 2v
Romulus, Fabulae, France, 1st quarter of the 11th century, 390 x 305 mm, Coloured initials
Burney 59, f. 2v


Burney 265, f. 1
Terence, Andria, Eunuchus, Heautontimorumenos, Adelphi, Hecyra (fragment), Germany or Austria (close to Melk?), c. 1473, 295 x 215 mm, Decorated initial
Burney 265, f. 1


Burney 272, f. 4
Virgil, Pseudo-Ovid, Basilius, and others, Ecologues, Georgics, Aeneid, with Argumentum and verses, etc., Germany or Austria (Melk?), c. 1473, 295 x 215 mm, Historiated intial with a portrait of Virgil holding a scroll with his initials ‘P. V. M. (Publius Vergilius Maro) and a miniature in the border with a shepherd piping and sheep 
Burney 272, f. 4


Burney 352, f. 2
Lorenzo Valla, De elegantia linguae latinae, Germany or Austria (close to Melk?), c. 1473, 300 x 215 mm, Flourished initial including two human heads
Burney 352, f. 2


Burney 133, f. 1
Catullus, Poems, Italy, S. (Naples), 3rd quarter of the 15th century, 235 x 140 mm, Historiated initial with Catullus? giving the book to Alfonso? and white vine border, incorporating the emblems of Alfonso II, Duke of Calabria
Burney 133, f. 1


Burney 343, f. 1
Johannes Jovianus Pontanus, Partenopeius, Italy, S. (Naples), 3rd quarter of the 15th century (after 1455), 235 x 140 mm, Layman holding a closed book, with a decorated border, including devices and heraldic arms of Alfonso II, Duke of Calabria
Burney 343, f. 1


Burney 244, f. 2
Quintilian, Institutiones, Italy, Central (Florence), c. 1440 - c. 1450, 325 x 235 mm, Historiated initial with Quintilian?, and a white vine border, including heraldic arms 
Burney 244, f. 2


Introduction Life and
character
Collection &
catalogue
Burney's purchases Illuminated
manuscripts
Further reading
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