John Mitchell Kemble's Scholarly Notebooks

        James Wilson Bright (1852-1926) studied Anglo-Saxon language and literature, and this led him to study earlier Anglo-Saxonists, as well.  He collected volumes from the libraries of Arthur Napier (1853-1916), his contemporary, and books and notebooks of John Mitchell Kemble (1807-1857), the early Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Saxonist and art historian.  Kemble, a student of Jacob Grimm ("Grimm's Law" of phonological language change), worked in Germany and in England over three decades to produce important early studies of Anglo-Saxon literature and legal charters, as well as Celtic artifacts surviving from the pre-Anglo-Saxon English culture.  Kemble's three autograph notebooks, in particular, contain important clues to how Kemble thought, preserving the early organization of his ideas about topics which eventually led to publication of the history of Anglo-Saxon and its grammar, and his posthumously published studies of Celtic artifacts.   Even as J.W. Bright's collection offers modern scholars important clues about how Bright worked, Kemble's notebooks show us Bright's study of Kemble's lines of analysis.  Tantalizing clues to projects never published may be discovered in those documents, including a projected history of Anglo-Saxon that may have influenced Bright's own masterful An Anglo-Saxon Reader, ed., with notes, a complete glossary, a chapter on versification and an outline of Anglo-Saxon grammar (N.Y.: Holt, 1894), which still is in use as a basic student text in an edition revised by William Ringler.

        As an example, in the following passage (f. 6r, Vol. 3), Kebmle begins to outline his plan for the history of Anglo-Saxon much as the modern student might begin a research project by generating research questions, each of which defines one type of evidence he needs to assemble and some kinds of reasoning which must be applied to it.  At first, the questions seem obvious, but increasingly he begins to explore the distinction between the language of "high art literature," which is governed by specialized conventions, and the language of the common people, which may follow different conventions of usage altogether.  Each dialect of the language is equally important to an overall description of the langue from its earliest inception to the Norman Conquest, but each will be found in differing types of sources which survive for different reasons in different kinds of collections.

        "The History of our language involves the investigation of its changes since its original appearance in the Old Saxon.  Its development in England as Anglo-Saxon, its passage into the English of Shakespeare and Spenser.

        To settle the following questions:  When did O[ld]. S[axon]. make its first appearance & what remains have we?

        How near the settlement of the Saxons in England did their language take its form as A[nglo]. S[axon].?

    What alterations in the language did the Normans make?  Also what Northish forms have we?

    Was the language of Chaucer [?] that of the people?

    How many years are there between Layamon & Chaucer?  & have we any means of guessing at the people's language?  Remains.

    Is not Spenser's [language] that of the people of his time?

    2.  Gower & Skelton

    2. [sic] What popular A.S. remains have we?  What church-psalms?  What traditionary books?

    Note.  The distinction between the A. Saxon of Wessex [?] and of other counties: and compare carefully this with the sups. sting differences in the English."

        Kemble also used the notebooks to record drawings of Celtic artifacts of the sort he later described in the posthumously published Horae Ferales (1863).  Click here for a web page with some sample images from this notebook (Vol. 2).

Some Publications of John Mitchell Kemble

The Anglo-Saxon poems of Beowulf, The travellers song and The battle of Finnesburh, ed. by John M. Kemble.  London: W. Pickering, 1835.

"Anglo-Saxon Runes," Archaeologica, 1840

Certain Considerations Upon the Government of England By Sir Roger Twysden.  Ed. John Mitchell Kemble.  London: Camden Society, 1849.

Codex Diplomaticus Aevi Saxonici (in Six Volumes).  London: Sumptibus Societatis [English Historical Society], 1839-48.  Transcriptions of Anglo-Saxon charters from the British Museum and libraries of Cambridge, Oxford, and various cathedrals.

The dialogue of Salomon and Saturnus, with an historical introd. by John M. Kemble.  London: Aelfric Society, 1848.

[Posthumous]  Horae Ferales; or, Studies in the Archaeology of the Northern Nations.  By the Late John M. Kemble.  Edited by R.G. Latham and A.W. Franks.  London, 1863.  Reproductions of and commentaries on Kemble's drawings of Celtic artifacts housed in German, Dutch, and other European museums, as well as others found during his residence in England.  "Horae Ferales" or "The Hours of the Dead" was the Roman festival of the dead that was celebrated in February.  Here it refers to the publication of Kemble's last works after his demise.

The Knights hospitallers in England: being the report of prior Philip de Thame to the grand master Elyan de Villanova for A. D. 1338. Ed. by the Rev. Lambert B. Larking, M. A., with an historical introduction by John Mitchell Kemble, M. A. London: Camden Society, 1857.

The poetry of the Codex Vercellensis, with an English translation. By J.M. Kemble.  London: Aelfric Society, 1843-56.

The Saxons in England, a History of the English Commonwealth Till the Period of the Norman Conquest.  London: Longmans, 1849.

State papers and correspondence illustrative of the social and political state of Europe from the revolution to the accession of the house of Hanover. Ed., with historical introduction, biographical memoirs, and notes, by John M. Kemble, M. A.  London: J.W. Parker, 1857

A translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf, with a copious glossary, preface and philological notes by J.M. Kemble.  London: W. Pickering, 1837.