Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie's Copy of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records

Thomas A. Bredehoft

West Virginia


The six volumes of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records collectively stand as one of those monuments of scholarship that is so impressive in its achievement that one almost doubts whether it can ever be replaced, though the need for such a replacement grows more pressing each year. Eighty years' worth of scholarship on Old English poems has transformed our understanding of the corpus since the first volume of the edition appeared in 1931, and a number of poems have been identified in the meantime that now deserve inclusion in the standard edition of the corpus.1 Even so, the ASPR has become so venerable and so heavily relied upon that its origins are now worthy of scholarly inquiry in their own right. This paper will discuss and describe a recent discovery that bears upon this historical question: five volumes of the ASPR formerly owned and annotated by one of the editors, Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie.2

One must immediately begin by noting that this discovery is not, unfortunately, a great and untapped treasure trove of information about the middle-twentieth-century reception of Old English verse, filled with notes and insights that might help us do the necessary work of preparing a new edition. Instead, the copies are almost disappointingly clean, with relatively few marks and notes of any sort. But the few marks that are present might therefore urge us to consider them in greater detail, and this paper will simply take as its task the work of surveying Dobbie's notes, including some brief discussion of their significance.

Three of the five volumes bear Dobbie's bold signature upon the front free endpapers: these are volumes I, II, and V, the three volumes edited by Krapp and published in 1931 and 1932 (see Figure 1). According to an obituary published in 1971 in American Speech, Dobbie, while still a graduate student, had worked alongside Krapp on all three volumes; in the Preface to volume II, The Vercelli Book, Krapp gratefully acknowledges Dobbie's aid in preparing volumes I and II (vii). After Krapp's death in 1934, Dobbie took over the project, and he and Krapp are listed as co-editors of volume III, the Exeter Book, published in 1936, where Dobbie specifies which parts of the book were written by each (v). One might note that only afterwards, in 1937, did Dobbie finally take his Ph.D.

The three volumes bearing Dobbie's signature, interestingly, are the only ones to include textual notes and additions. Volume IV, Beowulf and Judith, is a second printing from 1965, and it contains no internal markings of any sort, although the seller from whom I purchased the set confirmed that it had the same provenance as the other volumes. Volume III, The Exeter Book, is almost equally free of markings, lacking even Dobbie's signature. It does, however, have a personal inscription in Dobbie's hand on the front free end-paper: "To Mary—with Love/ October, 1936" (see Figure 2): the book was presumably a gift to his future wife, whom he married in 1937. The sixth volume of the set, The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, is unfortunately missing from this set entirely.

Besides the volumes themselves there is one other item of note: a small slip laid into Volume II, The Vercelli Book. This item is an entrance-ticket for the reading room in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, dated 15 July 1935 (see Figure 3). Presumably, Dobbie was there to see Cod. Lat. 14603, a sixteenth-century manuscript including Bede's Death Song, though while he was there, he may have looked at other books as well.3

All that remain to be considered are the first three volumes, then. Besides his signatures, Dobbie makes occasional notes and alterations in all three volumes, and it appears possible that he may have intended at least some of the notes as preparation for a corrected reprint of these volumes. Some corrections or changes are merely typographical, and these are listed in Table I. Notably, none of the corrections listed in Table I has been made in later printings of these volumes.

    Table I: Proofreading corrections to Volumes I, II, and V.
    Vol I: The Junius Manuscript
      p. ix, l. 11. "1654" (date of Junius's publication) altered to "1655"
      p. xxi, l. 17. "latter" corrected to "letter"
      p. xxiv, l. 19. "Ital." in margin beside "beamas" which ought to be italicized.
      p. 177, l. 22. Mark of deletion in margin: asterisk to be deleted before "fær".
    Vol II: The Vercelli Book
      p. 20. Mark of deletion in margin; remove quotation mark at poetic line 628a.
      p. 108, l. 12. Mark of deletion; correct "þusendra" to "þusenda"
    Vol. V: The Paris Psalter and The Meters of Boethius
      p. xix. Correction of two typos, inserting "ed" to give "founded" (l. 18) and inserting "m" to give "Malmesbury" (l. 23)
      p. 206, l. 11. Mark of deletion, altering "Bostworth" to "Bosworth"
Some half-dozen of Dobbie's notes focus entirely upon adding bibliographic material; notably, the items added in this way generally range in date from 1931 to 1934, before Dobbie was to take on primary responsibility for finishing both Volume III and the remainder of the series. These, too, can be briefly listed, and I present them in Table II.
    Table II: Bibliographic Additions
    Volume I: The Junius Manuscript
      p. xlvii. Added reference to a review of Clubb, Christ and Satan [1925]: "Rev.: Holthausen, Anglia Beibl. xxxix, 9ff."
      p. lviii. Added bibliographic entry: "Klaeber, Fr. Zur altsächsischen und altenglischen (jüngeren) Genesis. Anglia LV, 393-396."
      p. 3. Added bibliographic note: "Braasch, Th. Vollständiges Wörterbuch zur Cædmonschen Genesis (Anglist. Forsch. 76.) Heidelberg, 1933."
    Volume II: The Vercelli Book
      p. xxxvi. Added bibliographic reference: "1930. Blatt, Franz. Die lateinischen Bearbeitungen der Acta Andreae et Matthiae apud Anthropopagos. Giessen, 1930"
      p. xciv. Added bibliographic entry: "1934. Holthausen, F. Zur Quelle von Cynewulfs Elene. Anglia, Beiblatt XLV, 93-94. Bulgarian version of the Invention of the Cross."
    Volume V: The Paris Psalter and The Meters of Boethius
      p. xxxv. Added bibliographic entry: "1932 Holthausen, F. Zur ae. Metrischen Psalmen übersetzung. II. Anglia Beibl. XLIII, 154-157."
From the dates of the bibliographic entries seen in Table II, it seems likely that we can conclude that all of Dobbie's additions to these three volumes were probably made in the middle 1930s, perhaps while he was working on the Exeter Book edition: for whatever reasons, he seems to have made no attempt to update or reconsider the editorial decisions in these volumes after this time.

This conclusion is supported by a small set of notes where Dobbie calls attention to poetic parallels of phrasing or content, as demonstrated in Table III. Notably, the range from which Dobbie draws comparands here includes only the Exeter Book (Guthlac and Precepts) and Beowulf.4 Given the familiarity with Beowulf expected of virtually all students of Old English, it seems likely that these comments too must derive from the period in which the edition of the Exeter Book was being prepared—that is, before 1936.

    Table III: Notes of Comparison and Identification of Textual Parallels. Volume I: The Junius Manuscript
      p. 3. Note to Genesis A 17a: "cf. Beow. 3174."
      p. 60. Note to Genesis A 1986b: "No need to emend MS þrydge. cf Beow. 2869"
      p. 113. Note to Daniel 73b, 'lufen': "cf. Beow. 2886?"
      p. 136. Note by Christ and Satan 29: "Cf. Guth 555f." [cf. Christ and Satan 31 and Guthlac A 563]
    Volume II: The Vercelli Book
      p. 45. Note to Andreas 1532b "sorgbyrþen": "Klaeber, E St. 67: 340 (1933) wd read sorgbryþen 'care-potion' cf. Guth. 980"
      p. 59. Note on Homiletic Fragment I, 7a, "Cf. Precepts 19"
      p. 84. Note in bottom margin: "Keep MS reading in [Elene] l. 646b? cf. Beowulf 69f."
    Volume V: The Paris Psalter and The Meters of Boethius
      p. 227. Note in margin referring to Meter I, l. 69 "Amuling," reads "But Beow. 53b" supporting Sievers' comment about "Amulinga"
Most of the remaining additional notes concern editorial decisions on the placement of the caesura, separating the Old English halflines; or spaces between words; or the proper placement of an inserted word; or occasional hypothesized readings. These notes are catalogued in Table IV. These changes, too, were never incorporated into later printings. Note, however, Dobbie's use of exclamation points in three of these notes, indicating the intensity of his feelings about some of these matters.
    Table IV: Editorial Matters Regarding the Old English Texts Vol I: The Junius Manuscript
      p. 5. Note to Genesis A 78a. "Read sið?"
      p. 12. Note to Genesis B 305a: "Siev. §237. n.5."
      p. 44. X in margin by Genesis A 1400; vertical line indicates moved caesura5
      p. 93. Note to Exodus 91b. "Read dihtan?" [for printed "drihten"]
      p. 97. X in margin by Exodus 226a, vertical line to insert space to give "mode rofra"
      p. 102. Note at Exodus 415b. "æt niman?" to query if space should be inserted
      p. 103. Note at lacuna: "Section [XLVIII] lost here? Gollancz, p. lxx"
      p. 107. Note: "No comma after 563!"
      p. 112. Note at Daniel 55: "Better to put hæfdon at beginning of l. 55." (Krapp supplies it at beginning of 56)
      p. 153. "#" in margin and vertical line to indicate "ymb flogan" for printed "ymbflogan"
    Vol II: The Vercelli Book
      p. 5. Note on Andreas 88: "Caesura after com!"
      p. 12. Note on Andreas 346: "Caesura before þæt!"6
    Vol. V: The Paris Psalter and The Meters of Boethius
      p. 150. Note at bottom "150,1,1 Caesura after his; cf. Lat. Laudate dominum in sanctis eius."7
In four places in the three volumes, Dobbie tipped in longer notes, and each of these deserves some more detailed commentary. In the discussion of the Old Saxon origins of Genesis B, for instance, Dobbie adds a two-paragraph note, considering issues of dating and other matters (see Figure 4). At the end, Dobbie's description of English Caroline minuscule as "the Frankish minuscule hand" is notable, as such phrasing was probably already somewhat old-fashioned by the 1930s. In The Vercelli Book, Dobbie tips in a short note attempting a reconstruction of Soul and Body I, lines 83-85 (see Figure 5). His solution to the difficulties of the passage is, it seems to me, very effective, but it probably exceeds the level of editorial intervention usually seen in the ASPR: here, more than anywhere else, one wonders whether Dobbie might have really wished to see such a change in a hypothetical second printing, as it involves the rearrangement of some material and the removal of a full half-line.

Twice in the discussion and edition of The Metrical Psalms, Dobbie intervenes with a tipped in sheet. The first, in the introductory material, offers a major addition to Krapp's discussion of the canticles that are found in the Paris Psalter manuscript (see Figure 6). This note, the only one to be typed, was surely intended as a much needed revision, as it provides a necessary clarification and contextualization of the presence of these Latin canticles in the Old English manuscript. Into the edition of the Old English Psalm 55, Dobbie tips in a two-sided note summarizing a debate between Ferdinand Holthausen and Kemp Malone on hypothesized readings for the first line of 55.6 (see Figures 7 and 8). Dobbie ultimately declares for Holthausen, but then suggests that, despite their respective arguments, "The line as it stands has a strong appearance of genuineness."

The flavor of some of these longer notes suggests that at least some of them may have simply been Dobbie's notes to himself, even if they were ultimately intended as intial steps towards later revisions. But, as noted above, although the various volumes of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records have been in print more or less constantly since the 1930s, their texts remain unaltered and unimproved in later printings. The discovery of these volumes, owned and annoted by Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie in the 1930s, cannot answer all our questions about his possible plans for revision of these important editions, but they do make clear that, at least for a time, a revised edition was somewhat seriously contemplated.


Works Cited


Bredehoft, Thomas A. Early English Metre. Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 2005.

_____. "OE yðhengest and an Unrecognized Passage of Old English Verse." Notes and Queries. N. S. 54 (June, 2007): 120-22.

_____. Authors, Audiences, and Old English Verse. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

_____. "Malcolm and Margaret: The Poem in Annal 1067D." Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Language, Literature, History. Alice Jorgensen, ed. Turnhout: Brepols, 2010. 31-48.

Cassidy, F. G. "Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie: 9 May 1907—32 March 1970." American Speech 46, no. 1/2 (1971): 5-8.

Dobbie, Elliott Van Kirk, The Manuscripts of Cædmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song. New York: Columbia UP, 1937.

Donoghue, Daniel. Style in Old English Poetry: The Test of the Auxiliary. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Kitson, Peter. "Some Unrecognized Old English and Anglo-Latin Verse." Notes and Queries ns 34 (1987): 147-51.

Krapp, George Philip, and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds. The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. 6 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1931-53.

Robinson, Fred C., and E. G. Stanley, eds. Old English Verse Texts from Many Sources. Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 23. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1991.

Rosier, James L. "Instructions for Christians." Anglia 82 (1964): 4-22.

1. Besides the alliterative works of Ælfric, where the long-standing recognition of their line structure should have always meant that they must be understood as verse, a variety of poems in both manuscript and inscriptional contexts have been identified or published since the appearance of the ASPR. See Rosier, "Instructions for Christians"; Robinson and Stanley, Old English Verse Texts; Kitson, "Unrecognized." See also my books Early English Metre and Authors, Audiences, and Old English Verse, and my essays "OE yðhengest" and "Malcolm and Margaret."

2. The volumes in question are presently in my own possession; my purpose in this brief essay is to make their contents available to others.

3. See Dobbie, Elliott Van Kirk, The Manuscripts of Cædmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song. New York: Columbia UP, 1937.

4. Note, however, that both Guthlac and Precepts are poems that Dobbie identifies Krapp as being primarily responsible for. Here, as in Dobbie's note, I will use Guthlac to reference the two Guthlac poems together.

5. Donoghue, Style, also moves the caesura in this line (179).

6. Donoghue does not shift the caesura in either of these lines from Andreas (187).

7. Donoghue does not shift this caesura (195).

Figure 1: Dobbie's Signature in Volume I: The Junius Manuscript. Enlarge.

Figure 2: Dobbie's Inscription in Vollume III: The Exeter Book. Enlarge.

Figure 3: Entry Ticket to Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Enlarge.

Figure 4: Dobbie's Notes on the Old Saxon Genesis and Genesis B. Enlarge.

Figure 5: Dobbie's Reconstruction of Soul and Body I, ll. 83-5. Enlarge.

Figure 6: Dobbie's Typewritten Note on Canticles. Enlarge.

Figure 7: Dobbie's Note on Metrical Psalm 55.6.1, recto. Enlarge.

Figure 8: Dobbie's Note on Metrical Psalm 55.6.1, verso. Enlarge.