De proprietatibus rerum [in the English translation of John Trevisa]
Manuscript book on parchment England, mid 15th century
Plimpton MS 263
Bartholomaeus lectured in divinity at the University of Paris and became a Franciscan about 1225. His De proprietatibus rerum (“On the Properties of Things”) covered all of the knowledge of the day. It was extremely popular, to judge by the number of extant manuscripts of the work.
The Plimpton manuscript is distinguished in a number of ways. First by its size: this is the heaviest codex that we own, weighing well over 40 pounds. Its 776 pages or 388 leaves probably represent the skins of 194 animals. Second, by its decoration and provenance: the ample gold and colors in the border decorations and the vast empty margins demonstrate Sir Thomas Chaworth’s liberality in commissioning his book. (His arms are incorporated into the lower border of the first page of text.)
Third and most importantly, its status as copy text: within some 50 years of the book’s production, it served as printer’s copy for the first printed edition of the text, produced by Wynkyn de Worde, Westminster, ca. 1495. Probably because it was clearly so valuable a book, the printer made only the tiniest of marks as he cast off breaks in pages and quires for the printing, and probably the manuscript’s extreme value allowed it to survive once the printed book came into existence. For the approximately 29,000 known pre-1501 printed works, we only know of 37 parent-manuscripts, and this is one of them.
Gift of George Arthur Plimpton