Love me do

Posted on 25th February 2021 by simonbeattie

Years ago, in my final year as a undergraduate, I took a course on the medieval German epic. I was attracted by the idea of reading old German texts–Tristan and Isolde, Wolfram von Eschenbach‘s Parzival, the Nibelungenlied–although I soon wondered whether the choice was such a good idea when I realised quite how long they were. We also looked at the medieval love lyric, the Minnesang, and some of this beautiful poetry was opened up to me. So I was pleased to come across the following book:

It’s a copy of the first edition of Lays of the Minnesingers or German Troubadours of the twelfth and thirteenth Centuries: illustrated by Specimens of the cotemporary lyric Poetry of Provence and other Parts of Europe: with historical and critical Notices, and Engravings from the Ms. of the Minnesingers in the King’s Library at Paris, and from other Sources (London, 1825).

‘As the lengthy title indicates, this volume consists of historical and critical accounts, illustrated by selected specimens in English translation, of the love lyric of the middle ages in continental Europe …  The opening paragraph of the Advertisement to the volume conceals rather than reveals its authorship: “Though this little work is sent into the world anonymously, it may be proper to state that it is the joint production of two authors: one of whom (the writer of this notice) is answerable for the arrangement, and for what may be called the critical department of the book; while he resigns the poetic department, with few and trifling exceptions, to his associate, to whom the reader will correctly attribute whatever is most worthy of his perusal.”  While the Library of Congress entry for the work takes note of this acknowledgment of dual authorship, quoting portions of it, the volume is assigned to Edgar Taylor as “ed.” with no identification of his “associate.”  It may be presumed that the latter was the person responsible for “the poetic department.”  Edgar Taylor (1793–1839), who is not known to have translated German poetry, is known and remembered as the earliest translator of Grimms’ Fairy Tales’ (Philip Allison Shelley, A Select Assembly of Notable Books and Manuscripts from the Allison-Shelley Collection of Anglica Americana Germanica, Penn State exhibition catalogue, 1972, p. 5).

The illustrations come from the famous Codex Manesse, the most important single manuscript source for Minnesang poetry, and indeed portraits of the Minnesänger themselves, then in Paris but now preserved at Heidelberg University.

More details on the book may be found in my catalogue on Anglo-German Cultural Relations.

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