Date of this Version
Documentary Editing, Volume 22, Number 3, September 2000.
ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)
The Book of the Foundation of Walden Monastery contains at least two stories. The overt story is of marginalized medieval monks trying to secure their assets. This story--told in Latin with a translation on facing pages, normalized spelling, and twentieth-century punctuation-makes a lively read for anyone interested in human behavior. It concerns a twe1fthcentuty nobleman who founds an abbey using some of his least promising land, subsequently gets himself excommunicated and then killed in a pique over injustices done to him, and is succeeded by an array of kin, including a presumed bastard (Geoffrey fitz Peter), who allegedly subtract rather than add to the prestige of the abbey. A heroic though not flawless prior appeals surreptitiously to the king, securing Walden's status as a monastery rather than an abbey and also securing the wrath of the remaining kin of the founder. All this information comes to us in the voice of someone who seems as familiar with these events as the biblical author was with David's conduct toward Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite.
The covert story is of late-twentieth-century scholars striving to transmit Anglo-Latin texts in scholarly editions and translations. The Oxford Medieval Texts series, the continuation of Nelson's Medieval Texts, specializes in the publication of documents that both students and scholars need. As Barbara Harvey wrote for Oxford University Press's web site, "a stated aim of the series [is] to publish 'Latin texts pertinent to the cultural history of medieval Europe.'" In doing so, Oxford Medieval Texts recognizes that some members of its target audience lack facility with the languages of the Middle Ages. As a result of the hybrid audience, volumes such as The Book o/the Foundation of Walden Monastery simultaneously contain too much and too little for an individual reader. For example, readers of Medieval Latin may find Leslie Watkiss's description of the author's style obvious. At the same time, anyone reading only the facing-page translation will benefit from this same description. For me, expanded access to the physical evidence--two late-sixteenth-century transcriptions of a document apparently composed no earlier than the last decade of the twelfth century-would have been useful. The materials Greenway and Watkiss have furnished on pages lxvii--lxxiii are tantalizing.