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The Fire Of Love by Richard Rolle


The Fire of Love and The Mending of Life were first printed by the Early English Text Society, in 1896 from the Corpus Christi College MS.236, at Oxford. At that time it was the only MS. known of Misyn's translation, but four years ago, at Lord Amherst's sale, the British Museum bought an English MS. of the fifteenth century, known as Add. MS.37790, containing several very important mystical treatises, and among them these two translations by Misyn. This I have collated with the Corpus MS. (which I call C), and have noted any important differences in the text as they occur. They are very few and are mostly confined to spelling; the Amherst MS. showing the influence of a Southern scribe. From the doubling of vowels and consonants in such words as bee, wee, off, nott, ffor, etc., and the writing of th for p, one would infer that the Amherst is probably of rather later date than the Corpus MS. In this latter The Fire of Love precedes The Mending of Life, although the explicits give 1434 as the date of the translation of The Mending of Life, and 1435 for The Fire of Love; but in the Amherst MS. they are given in their correct chronological order. I have, however, kept to the order of the Corpus MS., since The Fire of Love is by far the longer and more important of the two works.

The editor of the Corpus MS. for the Early English Text Society draws attention to the fact that the explicit to the second book of The Fire of Love contains the statement that it was translated by Richard Misyn, with the addition of these words, |per dictum fratrem Richardum Misyn scriptum et correctum.| This was by some too easily considered a proof that we have here Misyn's autograph; but judging from the wrong chronological order Mr. Harvey concludes that this is not the case. It is therefore worth noting that the explicit in the Amherst MS. is word for word the same as in the Corpus MS., which fact, added to the probability of its later date, makes it unlikely that here either we have Misyn's autograph. It is more probable that both were copies of the autograph -- the Corpus being the work of a more Northern scribe than the Amherst -- and that neither copyist exercised sufficient discretion to omit Misyn's personal note.

At present the question of the Rolle canon is most confused and uncertain. Scholars are working at it, and it is to be hoped the autograph of both Rolle and Misyn will soon be discovered. In the meantime the only possible course open to me was to choose the best available Latin MS. with which to compare Misyn's translation whenever difficulties arose. For the Incendium I have taken a Cambridge MS. (Dd.5.64, referred to as L). For the De Emendatione it has been less simple, because several printed versions exist of this work, all differing considerably. Misyn sometimes seems to follow one and sometimes another, showing clearly that he is translating from neither of these versions; and in the MSS. to which I have had access the variants are as numerous. For this reason I have been very chary of suggesting any emendations in my version of this work. Obvious omissions I have supplied from another early translation in the Bodleian (Douce MS.322, which I call D). It seems to be of much the same date as Misyn's, if anything rather later. It is not Northern, and is on the whole a freer translation and has more attempt after style; whereas Misyn's rendering is rather bald, being often very little more than a gloss on the Latin. I have, however, followed Misyn, since we owe to him the longer and more important work of Rolle which this volume contains.

I owe some apology to the reader for the notes, which may seem too numerous for a popular edition; but the difficulties and obscurities in the text have called for emendations and explanations which have necessitated rather full notes. I have been careful to place these at the end, so that they who use this book as it was intended by the author to be used need not be distracted by them.

The portrait of Rolle in the frontispiece is taken from a Cotton MS. (Faust. B. VI.2.) in the British Museum of a Northern poem called the Desert of Religion. The authorship of this poem is unknown, although it has usually been ascribed to Walter Hilton. It describes the trees which grow in the wilderness, or desert, of religion. These symbolical trees are drawn on the first side of each page; the reverse side is divided into two columns, the one containing the poem itself, while on the other some saint of the desert is depicted.

On the first side of the page containing this picture of Richard the Hermit there is a rude drawing of a tree, with six leaves on either side, representing the twelve abuses that grow among religions. They are as follows:

A prelate negligent: A discipil inobediente.
A youngman idill: Ane alde mane obstinate. A mownke cowrtioure: A mounke pletoure.
Ane habite preciouse: Mete daintinouse.
New tithandes in clostere: Strivynge in the chapitour. Dissolucioun in the qwere: Irreverence aboute the auter.

In the picture the hermit is represented seated on the grass in a white habit, with the sacred monogram in gold on his breast, and holding a book in his left hand. On either side is a stiffly drawn tree. Above, resting on clouds, are three angels bearing a scroll with the words: Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus; Dominus Deus Sabaoth; pleni sunt celi et terra gloria tua. Round the picture the following verse is written:

A solitari here: hermite life i lede,
For ihesu loue so dere: all flescli lufe i flede; Pat gastli comforthe clere; that in my breast brede, Might me a thowsande yeere: in heuenly strengthe haue stedd

There is no evidence that this picture is a genuine portrait. It recalls some early portraits of Saint Francis. The hair is light in colour, and cut evenly round the head, and the beard divided into two small points. The saint's face is not emaciated, but of a clear complexion with a touch of red upon the cheeks. Both the other manuscripts of The Desert of Religion contain pictures of Richard Hermit, but since none are known to be authentic, I have chosen this which seems the most interesting.

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