Bertykin’s Books

Libraries care about library catalogues, or, more broadly, lists of books, compiled for all sorts of reasons.  On the back flyleaf of a manuscript of a well-known grammatical text is a list of medical books:  it’s in the same hand as that of the grammar, and it ends with a curious statement:
The sum of Bertykin, containing the summary of all that which is in the library of his own house, which was acquired in Nuremberg for six florins.

There are uncertainties in this reading:  is this indeed the sum of little Berty’s books?  Or is "summa Berthikini" itself the title of another text?  If so, I certainly haven’t found it and I certainly have looked.   And why is "comperatur" in the singular?  Are all the listed texts in fact bound as one volume?  Not impossible, since none of them is very long; they add up to some 120 leaves in early printed copies of the works.

Speaking of print, were Bertykin’s texts in manuscript or in print?  The fourth and fifth item occur in this order and, more compellingly, with the same unusual title for the fifth text in an incunable printed in Rome by Bartholomaeus Guldinbeck ca. 1475-76 (?;Goff A-1070).  Even the main text, the grammar, Lilium grammaticae, could easily have been copied from a printed text; there were nineteen editions of it between ca. 1490 and 1501,  and the edition printed ca. 1495 in Cologne (Goff V-264) provides a good match with the present manuscript.  Or perhaps Bertykin owned a mixture of manuscript and printed texts:  the 6th item wasn’t printed until 1919-1920, as far as we know.

What do we know?  That the watermark of the paper suggests a date of the main manuscript at the end of the 1400s (but the final leaf, the one with the book list, is on a different paper stock).  That the same person copied the grammar and wrote the list of books, and that person was German (paleography, quotes in the grammatical text, reference in the list to Nuremberg all agree).

Plimpton MS 137, f. 17v:   Bertykin’s Books:

  • Liber arnoldi prepositi S. iacobi de regimine sanitatis ad agustinum  episcopum sagabriensem [The Book of Arnold, provost of St. James, On the regime of Health, dedicated to Augustine, bishop of Zagreb]
  • Liber qui dicitur Thesarus  pauperum in medicinis et incipit Practica dividitur [The Book which is called the Treasure of the Poor in Medicine, and it opens with the words, "Practica dividitur"]
  • Tractatus de venenis Petri de Albano [The Treatise on Poisons by Peter of Abano]
  • Tractatus Magistri arnoldi de villa nova de arte cognoscendi venena [The Treatise of master Arnold of Villanova On the Art of Knowledge of Poisons]
  • Tractatus de Epidimia et peste domini Valasci de tharenta regis francie prothomedici excellentissimi <a price?> [The Treatise on Epidemics and on the Plague by Valascus de Taranta, the most excellent main doctor of the king of France]
  • Et Flores dietarum Magistri iohannis de sancto paulo [The Flowers of Diet by master Johannes de S. Paulo]
  • Summa Berthikini continens summatim omnia que habentur in libraria domui proprie comperatur Nuremburge pro 6 florenis.  [The sum of Bertykin, containing the summary of all that which is in the library of his own house, which was acquired in Nuremberg for six florins]

For more images of the manuscript, and for a brief description, please see the Digital Scriptorium website at:


Alfred J. Kahn Papers Donated to Columbia

Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired the papers of social policy author, advocate, and Columbia University Professor of Social Work Dr. Alfred J. Kahn. The papers were donated by Kahn’s daughter, Nancy V. Kahn, and include many of Kahn’s policy proposals, research material, and business papers. The collection offers invaluable insight into both an important career and the development of state and federal child welfare policy in the 1960s and 1970s.

Born in Brooklyn, Kahn graduated from City College before serving in the military’s first mental hygiene unit during World War II, where he studied the relationship between childhood truancy and soldiers’ capacity to endure the stress and trauma of war. Returning to New York City after the war, Kahn received a Masters Degree from Columbia University’s School of Social Work, where he served as an instructor before receiving the first doctorate in social welfare ever given by the University.

Alfred J. Kahn c. 1952

During his more than 35 years of teaching and scholarship at Columbia, Dr. Kahn served as a consultant to local, state, federal, and foreign governments on issues ranging from family policy to cash and service programs. While teaching, Dr. Kahn authored over fifty books and over three hundred articles, many of which had a deep impact in shaping social welfare policy during the formative years of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ Program.

Dr. Kahn also worked extensively as consultant to New York’s Citizens Committee for Children (CCC), an influential non-profit children’s advocacy organization. With the CCC, Dr. Kahn authored over 15 studies of city and state programs related to truancy, youth, policing, and child guidance programs for troubled children and his widely publicized findings offered blueprints for reforms across the country.

Jack Beeson’s Birthday

Today, July 15, 2010, would have been Jack Beeson’s 89th birthday. We celebrate his prolific output and prodigious memory by heartily recommending his autobiography, what he called "The Book," How Operas are Created by Composers and Librettists: The Life of Jack Beeson, American Opera Composer, published by The Edwin Mellen Press in 2008. Jack died suddenly on Sunday, June 6, having recently completed a new piece entitled "Kilroy Was Here," a setting of selections from two Peter Viereck poems for baritone and piano, and having chaired a meeting of the Alice M. Ditson Fund two days before.

"The Book" is full of personal observations and stories of the people that he knew, being, in short, everybody. He was one of perhaps two people to have taken composition lessons from Bela Bartók, accompanied Claudio Arrau on out-of-the-way antiqueing excursions in Rome, and was directly responsible for Columbia’s launching of a doctor of musical arts degree in composition.

On teaching music appreciation, the now required Music Humanities course, part of Columbia’s celebrated Core Curriculum, he writes in How Operas are Created: "More than once during the [years teaching these courses] … I had occasion to remember and re-read the ten pages Virgil Thomson devoted to the subject of the "appreciation racket" in his 1940 book, The State of Music. … Virgil, in a fine fury, argued that those teaching (or as he also said, "preaching") the subject using as examples the fifty masterpieces … were but cogs in the publicity machines of record and radio corporations and symphony orchestras … That we succeeded in introducing at least some students to what they had so far missed, had come to enjoy, and thereafter taken much pleasure in, is certainly the case: time after time, in New York and more often elsewhere a seeming stranger approaches, introduces himself as one of my former Humanities students, and says so fervently."

Jennifer B. Lee

The Journalism of Opinion Conference Video

Video of Columbia University’s recent conference on opinion journalism in American intellectual history, which was cosponsored by the  Rare Book & Manuscript Library, is available at the Columbia Journalism Review site. Conference speakers included Victor Navasky (former editor and publisher of The Nation, who delivered the keynote), jazz and social critic Stanley Crouch, Dissent editor Michael Kazin, and Bitch Media co-founder Andi Zeisler, among others.

The event also celebrated the presence of the archives of The New Leader magazine at Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. From 1924 to today, The New Leader, a social-democratic journal of "news and opinion," has printed significant work by prominent intellectuals on an array of subjects, but it devoted its best energies and much of its editorial space to criticizing the Soviet Union. Originating as the official newspaper of the American Socialist Party, it evolved into a liberal anti-communist magazine that truly found its voice as an untiring adversary of Stalinism.

Journalism of Opinion_names_and_sponsors

The Journalism of Opinion Conference Participants

  • Introduction: Dean Nicholas Lemann (Henry R. Luce Professor, Columbia Journalism School)
  • Keynote: Victor Navasky (Delacorte Professor of Journalism, Columbia Journalism School; Chairman of the Columbia Journalism Review; former editor and publisher of The Nation)

Panel 1: Journalism of Opinion in the Twentieth Century

Moderator: Casey Blake (Columbia University)

  • Eric Alterman (CUNY; columnist at The Nation)
  • Howard Brick (University of Michigan)
  • Rochelle Gurstein (independent scholar)
  • Michael Kazin (Georgetown University, co-editor of Dissent)

Panel 2: Journalism of Opinion in the Twenty-First Century

Moderator: Katrina vanden Heuvel (editor and publisher of The Nation)

  • Stanley Crouch (columnist at the Daily News)
  • Mark Lotto (editorial page, New York Times)
  • Bob Neer (co-founder of Blue Mass Group)
  • Andi Zeisler (co-founder of Bitch Media)

A Friends of the Libraries event cosponsored by

Technical vocabularies–serving wine in the Middle Ages

Plimpton MS 160 is a late 14th century manuscript held by this library; its texts are serious and scientific:  Euclid’s Elements, followed by theoretical treatises on astronomy and mensuration.  A while ago, I had noticed a casual drawing on f. 41v, an otherwise blank leaf at the end, but only recently made an effort to read the words on the drawing.


As it turns out, the image, casual and fun-loving as it seems, remains coherent to the book owner’s take on life, serious and scientific in its vocabulary.  The cask of wine is duly labeled "Vas vini" (and that’s pretty basic Latin); the small lidded jug into which the wine is being decanted bears the label, "Cantrum parvum."  Go to Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis (1883-1887) online (for which grace, we truly thank the Sorbonne in Paris),, and search for "cantrum"; up comes a cross reference to "cantharum" and, inter alia, it states "vas quoddam est, ad aquam vel ad vinum portandum."  Aha!

But the final word demands a high resolution image, or a powerful magnifying glass, because the word’s letters and the wine-enthusiast’s fingers intersect.  With that bit of aid, up pops a word that looks like "ducillus."  Du Cange cross-references it to a couple of options, one being "duciculus."  Well, I can live with that.  Both forms are clearly diminutives, so let’s see what "duciculus" has to offer.  One synonym offered is "Paxillus," meaning "peg."  That works.


And then there are many examples from medieval sources, from which I’ll report one here:  "Forte ille tunc promptuarium ingressus, ante vas steterat, et sudem, quæ vulgo Duciculum, a potu scilicet educendo, dicitur, in manu tenens, cerealem amphoræ potum infundebat."  But what’s it talking about?

Source of the citation is Nicholas Camuzat, Promptuarium sacrarum antiquitatum Tricassinae diocesis (Troyes, 1610); according to the online WorldCat, that book seems unfindable in the US, with the exception of a microfilm held by the Lea Library at Penn.   But push a bit on the web, and it turns out that Camuzat was simply printing an already-extant life of St. Bercharius, the 7th century founder of Moutier-en-Der.  The actual author we need to locate is Adso Dervensis, a 10th century monk who composed the life of his monastery’s founder.  Well, push only a tiny bit more, and, voilà, there’s Adso’s Vita S. Bercharii abbatis online, courtesy this time of Chadwyck-Healey’s publication of Migne’s Patrologia latina (and of this university that foots the subscription bill); the quote is at PL 137:674D.

Here’s the story.  By chance, Bercharius’s abbot called for him right as Bercharius, cellerar of the monastery, had pulled the stopper out of the barrel of beer.  With monklike obedience, Bercharius hurried off to obey his abbot’s summons, forgetting to plug the barrel.  The beer gushed forth, and when it had filled the pitcher that Bercharius had left behind, it grew itself into a column, ever taller, but never spilling.  A miracle.

That works; our image is about a man pulling out the peg, or opening the spigot of the cask.

We can do more.  Look up "dossil" in the online Websters; it has the basic meaning we’ve seen, i.e. "a plug, wad, or fold of cotton or cloth, as for a wound" , and that it derives from Middle English, "dosel."  Look up "dosel" in the online Middle English Dictionary,; the definition is "A spigot or plug of a barrel," with many citations including one from the 15th century Latin-English dictionary, the Promptuarium parvulorum, which duly offers the Latin form, "ducillus" with the definition "stoppynge of a vesselle."  A perfect circle.

And then play with the web just one more time.  Google the word "duciculus."  Someone else has had fun with this word just like I have:

I love the web.

The thirsty little spotted dog is great.

For more images of this manuscript, type its call number into the Search box for Shelfmark on this website:

International Geophysical Year, a Giant Globe, and Historical Maps

In 1958 students entering Columbia University’s Geology Library were confronted with a six-foot-tall inflatable rubber globe, on display as part of an exhibit on maps. Although they may have been unaware, the 18-month year from July 1957 to December 1958 had been designated International Geophysical Year by the International Council of Scientific Unions. The result was a global series of research projects on the solar system and Earth and a parallel outpouring of exhibits on geophysics. The globe only reached Columbia after first stopping in 1957 at New York department store Abraham & Straus, which had hosted an exhibit on "12 Centuries of Maps."

In the photo Columbia Professor of Geology Rhodes W. Fairbridge (left)  and then Columbia President Dr. Grayson Kirk (right), inspect the globe.

The globe was loaned to Columbia by the White Plains, New York, company Geo-Physical Maps, Inc. An article in The Professional Geographer 9:1 (1957) noted it was

6 ft. 3 in. in diameter, giving a surface scale of 1:6,720,000 and a vertical exaggeration of relief features on a sliding scale which averages about 40:1. It is cast in a rubber shell about 1/8 in. thick, held in shape by an air inflated plastic bladder. It weighs about 100 lbs., and moves freely in any direction on a base ringed with ball bearing steel casters. The cost, with base, is about $7,500, depending on the painting desired. A similar globe can be made of rigid plastic and mounted with an axis and motor for approximately $10,000.

According to Measuring Worth, today the globe would cost $76,000 (using the Consumer Price Index) or $172,000 (using nominal GDP per capita).

Many of the maps that were part of the Geology Library collection are now part of the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Historical Map Collection (here is an example of the Mason Dixon Line from 1768 from the holdings).  Alas, the giant inflatable globe was not able to join the permanent collection.


Le Festin Nu [that's French for Naked Lunch]

In 1964 the French publisher Gallimard brought out the first French translation of William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch under the title Le Festin Nu. Ironically, the book first appeared in Paris in its original English form in 1959, in the Olympia Press Traveller’s Companion series (see RBML‘s copy here). France traditionally had been a friendly place for many controversial English language writers of the twentieth century: James Joyce (Ulysses, 1922), Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer, 1934), and Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita, 1959) all published books that were either banned or considered unprintable in Great Britain or the United States.

In recognition of the French contribution to English language letters, and in the interest of fully documenting Naked Lunch‘s reception and the history of its publication, RBML recently acquired this copy of Le Festin Nu, copy number 1196 of 3,750 copies printed on vélin bouffant des papeteries de Téka. The text was translated by Eric Kahane, the brother of Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias (Kahane also translated Nabokov’s Loilta into French in 1959).

What’s curious is the letter to booksellers that Gallimard issued with the book, an example of which is included in the RBML copy, seen to the right.

For those who do not follow the French, the publisher warns booksellers that unsuspecting readers might be disoriented by the book’s particular characters and risk shocking misunderstandings over the sometimes brutal descriptions made by the author on certain aspects of modern society. Booksellers are further advised not to expose the book to public view and under no circumstances to sell the book to minors. One might ask, is this conservationism necessary in a country with a such a strong track record for literary tolerance? About a year before Le Festin Nu appeared in France, a Boston bookseller was arrested in January 1963, and charged with obscenity for selling the first American edition of Naked Lunch (Grove Press, 1962)–the book would not be cleared of that charge until July 1966, so perhaps Gallimard’s caution over this particular text was warranted. Also, the fact that the controversial text was printed in French made the brutalité of the text more accessible to Gallimard’s French readers. The author of this blog entry was able to find no recorded cases of casualties among French readers after indulging in Le Festin Nu. Gallimard continues to publish the book today .

A New Medieval Manuscript, or rather, an old one in a new home

Good news here: we have just bought a new manuscript–new
for us, of course. And it has just been delivered today, our new baby.

It’s a copy of Hugh of St. Cher’s Postils on the Apocalypse, dated 24 November 1468, and produced in the lower Rhineland, probably Cologne. It’s a beautiful book of 151 parchment leaves, over a foot tall, in a lovely strong hybrida script with an opening initial in gold. It’s in original binding–somewhat damaged, but even so, quite untouched. Look at its picture; you’ll be impressed.

And you’ll be intrigued by its provenance: we know where this book has been virtually all of its life, from a 15th century donation note by a known person to the Carthusians of St. Barbara’s in Cologne (remember, their library went up in flames in 1451, so they were still actively rebuilding), through 17th and 18th century catalogues of that library, to Leander van Ess at the suppression of monasteries, to Sir Thomas Phillipps, through sale rooms, to a collector in Virginia (it’s listed in Bond and Faye, publ. 1962), to Barney Rosenthal (bookseller par excellence), and now it’s ours.

Our students will read it as an example of the 13th century mendicants’ new style of biblical commentary; they’ll see the Parisian Dominicans at work building tools to study the bible (even though the work circulates under the name of Hugh of St. Cher, it seems that he was the leader of the team, rather than the sole author); they’ll see the Parisian tools still in use 200 years later. And they can compare this manuscript to the most recent printed version of the text: in Venice in 1754–that publication occupies eight folio volumes for the entire series of Hugh’s postils. And Columbia is fortunate to also own that edition.

The purchase was made by combining funds from Columbia University’s P. O. Kristeller Endowment together with a generous grant from the B. H. Breslauser Foundation. We are very grateful to these two manuscript scholars, who left behind them the means for others to build collections of manuscripts–the first impetus to study.

The new baby’s name is Western MS 92; come visit it sometime!

Medieval MSS in Action

Columbia students have the fortune this term to work actively with RBML’s medieval and renaissance manuscripts in two very different classes. Professor Christopher Baswell’s class, although termed "English vernacular paleography" in fact introduces his students to a vast array of issues pertinent to the study of manuscripts; he interprets the word "paleography" as we generally do in the English-speaking world, to include an examination of the manuscript world broadly speaking. In his introductory lecture, he quoted the famous phrase of Jean Mabillon, from the De re diplomatica (Paris 1681) pp. 241-242:

Non ex sola scriptura, neque ex uno solo characterismo sed ex omnibus simul de vetustis chartis pronuntiandum. Neque enim unum est in uno saeculo, unave provincia scripturae genus, sed varia, ut de nostro experiri licet: nec possunt omnes unius saeculi scripturae ad amussim repraesentari.


So although Mabillon wasn’t quite thinking of pricking, ruling, format, hierarchies of decoration and so on when he warned us against judgements based on script alone, his lapidary phrase remains actively in our minds. And Professor Baswell’s students have seen the real McCoy, issue by issue, and script by script, in many RBML manuscripts as the term moves forward.



 Plimpton MS 261, f. 1.
Brut Chronicle, copied by Ricardus Rede
England, third quarter of the fifteenth century






Professor Susan Boynton’s class in medieval musicology has taken a very different approach: one huge choir book is the center of class attention as each student takes responsibility for identifying the texts and the music of each piece: antiphons, responsories, versicles, canticles, hymns are sorted by function, by liturgical hour and by feast. The modes and the tones are identified, and the differentiae recorded. Did I mention that the book is huge? It is. It’s almost two feet tall and 16 inches wide; I weighed it in the mailroom once, and it racks up nearly forty pounds. Imagine a book that opens up to about the size of the New York Times, and that weighs as much as a four-year old child.

So here’s the good news. Columbia’s digital imaging people worked on the book most of last year, and produced a complete digital copy; they put it on a website with a bit of navigation, and the students do the bulk of their work on the manuscript at home. We have the book out during class sessions, but the long slow work of transcription and inventory takes place at the students’ convenience and in the quiet of their own study spaces.

Why on earth did they make such a big book? The standard answer is so that a number of choristers could sing from it at the same time, and indeed miniatures of the day usually depict five or six monks standing about the tall book stand, looking up to the book as they sing.




Plimpton MS 041, f. 16.
Perugia, Italy, third quarter of the fifteenth century





More images of both mss are visible on the Digital Scriptorium website:

Target Margin Theater

On Tuesday, February 16, Target Margin Theater presented readings and discussion of their new work-in-progress The Really Big Once here in Butler Library. This play explores the complex relationship between Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan in the period between 1948 and the early 1950s as they worked on the first production of Camino Real, Williams’s “experimental” play that opened on Broadway in 1953 and quickly closed after receiving mostly scathing reviews.

The Really Big Once explores their shared sense of outsider status, for Williams a life-long journey, for Kazan the fallout from his 1952 testimony before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. It has been developed by Target Margin’s founder and Artistic Director David Herskovits and his creative team using letters, drafts of Camino Real, and other materials found in Williams and Kazan archives in various libraries around the country, including Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Shown here is one of the letters used in the play, found in the RBML Tennessee Williams Papers. Written by Elia Kazan (Gadg) to Tennessee Williams (Tenn), it is here shown for the first time with permission of the Kazan Estate.

The Really Big Once will run from April 13 to May 8, 2010 at The Ontological Theater, St. Mark’s Church, New York City.
Please see Target Margin Theater’s web site for more details: