Break-up of the Mendham Collection – Law Society flogging their books to Sothebys

The Law Society has decided to sell a collection of early printed books, bequeathed to it long ago in the expectation that they should be preserved forever.  Rebukes from academics have been met by stonewalling, and a refusal to discuss it.  The collection is now visible on the Sothebys website. A sad email appeared on the ABTAPL email list a couple of days ago.  I give it in full below. 

It’s a wretched, shabby business, to all appearances.   The refusal to discuss something like this always suggests to me that it is a case of officials, well aware that they are doing wrong, but intending to do that wrong anyway. 

We may recall how 18th century officials neglected their responsibilities for short-term gain, thereby earning the well-deserved contempt of the Victorians. 

My own memory of this collection is tinged with annoyance.  Long ago I sought to access the incunable of Tertullian’s Apologeticum, then held at Canterbury Cathedral.  The woman responsible — I forget her name, and doubtless she was a nobody anyway — was a horrible person who fought tooth and nail to ensure that I should not be able to see it or make a copy.  For “safety” reasons, of course.

It is ironic, therefore, that the book will now be flogged on the open market. 

But who knows?  The new owner may be a better custodian.  When public institutions fail, private men may do better.  Let us hope that it is possible to find out who buys it, and talk to him, and get a copy of the thing on the web at last.  Let us hope so.

From: Religious Archives Group On Behalf Of Clive Field
Sent: 29 May 2013 10:12
Subject: Break-up of Mendham Collection

The Law Society of England and Wales (the representative body for solicitors) is pressing ahead with plans to break up the Mendham Collection, commencing with a sale by Sotheby’s in London of 142 lots on the morning of Wednesday, 5 June 2013. Many items will doubtless be lost to the nation as a result of this auction. The e-catalogue can be viewed at:

The collection, formed by Joseph Mendham (1769-1856), Church of England clergyman at Sutton Coldfield, comprises 12 medieval and post-medieval manuscripts and 5,000 books published between 1450 and 1850, many not held in the British Library or other national collections. It constitutes a rich and coherent resource for both Protestant and Catholic history. Indeed, the Society itself previously described it on its website as ‘a unique collection of Catholic and anti-Catholic literature’.

The collection was gifted by Sophia Mendham to the Society in 1869 on the understanding that it would be kept together indefinitely, and accepted by the Society on that basis. Had the Society not accepted this provision, the collection would have been gifted to King’s College London instead. More than a century later, in recognition of the collection’s national importance, the British Library awarded a grant to catalogue it with the expectation that it would not subsequently be dispersed.

Since 1984 the Society has deposited the collection at Canterbury Cathedral Library, under a loan agreement between the Cathedral, the University of Kent, and the Society. At Canterbury it has been fully accessible for research. The agreement does not expire until 31 December 2013. Notwithstanding, on 18 July 2012 the Society withdrew around 300 items with a view to sale by Sotheby’s.

The withdrawal of these items and the prospect of the break-up of the collection resulted in a public online petition being launched by the University of Kent to save the collection, and in many interested and expert parties contacting the Society to ask it to think again. This campaign to save the collection was especially active last July and August and received extensive media coverage at that time.

The recent confirmation of the Sotheby’s sale on 5 June led to renewed expressions of concern to the Society, including an open letter to THE TIMES, published on 11 May 2013, and written by Dr Clive Field OBE (President of the Religious Archives Group), Diarmaid MacCulloch Kt (Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford), and Roly Keating (Chief Executive of The British Library). THE TIMES published further letters on 14 and 15 May from solicitors dismayed at the Society’s proposed dismemberment of the collection. It is understood that other solicitors have written directly to the Society in opposition to the sale.

The Society appears to have issued no public statements about its plans for the collection nor defence of its actions. It is now reported not to be responding to press queries on the matter, and all references to the collection seem to have been removed from the Society’s website. Expressions of concern sent to the Society’s President (Lucy Scott-Moncrieff) or Chief Executive (Des Hudson) have mostly been delegated for reply by the Society’s administrative staff, who have not fully addressed the points made by correspondents.

The University of Kent, acting on the advice of leading counsel, has latterly raised with the Attorney General a query whether the collection may actually be held by the Society subject to a charitable trust, which would inhibit its sale. Having examined the various current legal opinions, as well as contemporaneous documentation surrounding the original gift, and having taken his own counsel’s advice, the Attorney General has reportedly concluded that the collection is not held on a charitable trust.

Therefore, there exist no legal obstacles to the Society dispersing the collection through sale, although, given the circumstances and stated intent of the original gift, many will still debate the ethics of treating a collection of such historic importance as a disposable financial asset merely to address the Society’s short-term funding needs.

Unfortunately, too, it is understood that the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund have felt unable to offer funding to assist the University of Kent in buying the collection.

Dr Clive D Field, OBE
President, Religious Archives Group


From my diary

There’s quite a lot going on in my world at the moment.  Too much, indeed, for me to keep on top of it all.

Firstly, I’ve been asked to write a paper for an academic volume.  As I am not an academic, this is quite unusual; the explanation, perhaps, is that the subject is an intractable one which most academics wisely stay away from.  This will involve me in some real expenditure of time, admittedly on a subject in which I am interested.  Fortunately I do have some free time upcoming.

In consequence, on Friday, I drove to Cambridge University Library and renewed my library card.  Plebs like myself are only allowed to take out a card for six months, which means you have to renew them timesomely often.  Mine had expired over a year earlier, which meant that I had to turn up with all sorts of terribly evidential documents.  While sitting there, I realised that I had sat in that office some thirty times over the last fifteen years, and been photographed by them more often than by my mother!  It’s a surreal indication of how bureaucracy loses touch with reality.

One thing I also noted was that my “letter of introduction” that I use to obtain access to manuscript collections is now really rather elderly.  I will need to get some kind scholar to write me a fresh one!

I’ve yet to process all my photographs and documents from my Rome trip into the Mithras pages.  They sit here, looking at me solemnly!

The translation of Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke has been held up by university stuff, but is still in progress.

I haven’t heard anything about the translation of a sermon by Severian of Gabala for a while… must enquire!

The translation of Leontius of Byzantium, Against the forgeries of the Apollinarists, is going well, although we’re finding that we trip up over bits of abtruse theology.  Sooner or later I shall have to get some kind of ideas together on Apollinarian theology.  Not now, tho.

I’ve also picked up various papers on ancient chapter titles, divisions and tables of contents.  A kind correspondent has been sending me details on this, from the Latin perspective, which is consequently getting much clearer in my mind.  What I don’t have, tho, is enough information on the Greek side of things.

Finally I’ve got sick again, so can’t progress a thing!  How much we depend on our health.  How easily we neglect it.


John the Lydian – On April

Mischa Hooker has sent over another chunk of John the Lydian, De Mensibus book 4.  This time it is the section on the events in the Roman month of April.  It’s very interesting, as ever!

JohnLydus-4-04-April – final (PDF)

We’ll need to decide whether to carry on with this project.  A printed translation of De Mensibus has just appeared from the Edward Mellen Press; and another is in progress elsewhere.  I hope that our activities have perhaps stirred up some interest in this neglected text; but it does leave us in a quandary!


A drawing of Old St. Peter’s and the Vatican palace from 1535

I stumbled across the following sketch here.  It shows Old St Peters (left).  On the right is the wall that leads even today to the Castell Sant’Angelo, so the viewpoint is more or less that of every modern photograph of St Peters.

From this, it is easy to see why the old basilica was not impressive enough for the renaissance popes.  It reminds one rather of the church of the holy tomb in Jerusalem.


Review: Tony Burke, “Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate”

I have now completed my review of this book.  My thanks to Wipf and Stock for sending me a review copy.  Of course I write as an interested amateur, not a professional scholar, so my opinions are those of an educated layman.

The review may be found here (PDF):



From my diary

Spent the evening labouring over a book review.  This item must have cost me several evenings work.  At least I have now got through to the end of it.  But I shall reread it in a couple of days time.  Always good to judge the tone first!

It will be a good while before I agree to review anything again.


Scribonius Largus – an authorial table of contents

Scribonius Largus was a physician in the time of Claudius.[1]  He was the author of a collection of medical recipes, written in 47-48 A.D.

The work begins with a preface; then there is an index; and then the recipes.[2]

At the end of the preface, Largus writes[3]:

Primum ergo ad quae vitia compositiones exquisitae et aptae sint, subiecimus et numeris notavimus, quo facilius quod quaeretur inveniatur.  Deinde medicamentorum, quibus compositiones constant, nomina et pondera vitiis subiunximus.


So firstly, the illnesses for which medicines are sought-for and found, we have subjoined and numbered, so that the seeker may find more easily.  Then we have subjoined the names and amounts of the medicaments which the medicines for illnesses consist of.

The second list has not been preserved, but these words are followed in the edition by a list of illnesses, and for each a numeral.

What this demonstrates is that the concept of producing a numbered table of contents did exist in the time of Claudius, and, therefore, probably earlier.

  1. [1]A note on his career will be found at Lacus Curtius.
  2. [2]I owe my knowledge of this instance of ancient book summaries to the Google Books preview of Bianca-Jeanette Schroder, Titel und Text, De Gruyter 1999, p.107.
  3. [3]I grabbed a random 1786 edition here, page 7.

More on chapter titles

I need to do some further research on chapter titles in ancient texts, and whether they are authorial.  A correspondent has drawn my attention to Bianca-Jeanette Schroder’s Titel und Text: Zur Entwicklung lateinischer Gedichtüberschriften. Mit Untersuchungen zu lateinischen Buchtiteln, Inhaltsverzeichnissen und anderen Gliederungsmitteln (De Gruyter, 1999, 349 pages).  It retails for the eye-watering sum of 160 euros; around $240, which is ridiculous.  An abstract is here, and in English here at the Google Books preview:

How old are the manuscript titles of Latin poems from Antiquity and Late Antiquity? Why were they written, and who created them? With these questions, the author enters virgin philological territory. Her interest is directed at the organisation of ancient texts.She shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the headings which subdivide poetry collections and provide preliminary information for the reader were not invented by medieval scribes or early modern editors; their development can in fact be traced back to Classical and Late Antiquity. The headings in collections of Latin poetry handed down through medieval mss. (incl. Horace, Ovid, Martial, Commodian, Ausonius, Luxurius) are partly authentic, and were partly added in late Classical Antiquity. In their function and linguistic form, they can be compared with book titles and other structural textual devices such as tables of contents and chapter headings. The present study also deals with the development of these devices, which are important for the history of books and of reading habits.

I have ordered a copy of this via interlibrary loan, not very hopefully.  It will probably take weeks for the sleepy civil servants to bestir themselves.  But at the price given, who can afford to buy a copy?


Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea 2011 now out

Through the kindness of Pierre Petitmengin, a copy of the Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea 2011 has reached me.  This bibliography of Latin patristic materials before Nicaea, with short reviews, is published in the Revue d’etudes augustiniennes, which, I learn, has now become the Revue d’etudes augustiniennes et patristiques.[1]

So, what was published in the last year, and what do we make of it?  I shall concentrate on Tertullian material.

The review opens with 4 Italian and 1 Spanish editions of works of Tertullian.  These are all based on existing texts with minor modifications and translations.  In truth something of the kind is published every year, and it seems unlikely that any of these editions require any special attention from us.

The new Reallexikon project, Bd. 24, p/189-191 includes an article on Minucius Felix by Christoph Schubert.  The reviewer comments slightly wearily that every article on this author tends to be similar to every other article, since the subject has been thrashed to death from every possible angle.  This one is particularly clear and up-to-date on every point, however.

A volume has appeared, collecting the fragments of the medical writer Soranus, much of it from Tertullian.

There is a proposal by Carmelo Conticello to make an inventory of all the Latin Christian texts that were translated into Greek, from the 2nd to the 15th century; a subject never systematically explored.  A set of examples has appeared.

Most of the remainder of the 81 articles reviewed seemed dispensable.  Looking at them, I found very little that I thought worth my time to read, and much that seemed not worth the trouble of writing.  The latter was the case particularly for material written in English.  I read, from time to time, of the litter of substandard journal publications.  Here we see clear signs of it, exhausting the patience of reader and reviewer alike.

  1. [1]Vol. 58 (2012), p.323-372.  An offprint has been sent to me.