A Stray Letter and a Unique Book

At a recent workshop in Edinburgh I was comparing notes with two colleagues about which bibliographies of Scottish printing we owned (such are the exciting lives of academics).  In the course of the conversation both related their pleasure at having obtained copies of that magnum opus of Scottish book history, the Bibliographia Aberdonensis, a systematic account of every writer from Aberdeenshire and the surrounding area during the early modern period.  This, in turn, led me to think of my own well-thumbed copies of the two volumes of the Bibliographia, the result of a fortunate eBay purchase some years before.

I’d been using my copy for some weeks before a small sheet of paper fell out from between its pages onto my office floor:

Baxter letter

An unexpected discovery.

The letter, for so it proved to be, read:

THE DEANERY, YORK.

Nov. 11 35

 

My dear Professor Baxter

            I have looked with very great interest at the volume containing “Hayi Oratio”, & greatly hope that when the occasion arises the relevant part of it will be photographically reproduced.  I am sure that the Dean & Chapter will readily give the needful consent.

            I am handing over the copy of the St. Andrews music MS. To our Librarian, & a proper acknowledgment of the kind gift will be duly sent.

Ever yours sincerely

H. N. Bate

 

The sender of this letter was Herbert Newell Bate (1871-1941), then Dean of York, and its recipient, James Houston Baxter (1894-1973), Professor of Ecclesiastical History in my own sometime academic home, the University of St Andrews.   The copy of the “St. Andrews music MS.” which Bate was handing over to the chapter librarian was evidently Baxter’s facsimile edition of Cod. Helmst. 628, published as An Old St Andrews Music Book (London, 1931).

What really piqued my interest, though, was the reference to “Hayi Oratio”, for this was surely none other than  M. G. Hayi oratio habita in gymnasio Aberdonensi 2 Iulij. 1569 (Edinburgh: Robert Lekprevik, 1571), Aldis 101.6, ESTC S92888, USTC 507327.  George Hay’s Ciceronian browbeating of the still-all-too-Catholic scholars of Aberdeen has been long since been discussed and analysed by John Durkan, but both Durkan and the bibliographies cited above were aware only of the (supposedly) unique copy in the National Library of Scotland.

What then of the York sammelband which Bate reported in 1935?  I have yet to find it in any catalogue, but I remain hopeful that somewhere in the north of England this copy survives.  If it could be located, the eighty-two year-old letter which I came across so fortuitously could result in the discovery of a genuinely important, at-present lost, fragment of Scottish Reformation history.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

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