In the third part of his 'Tresco MS' series the author examines the manuscript's history and development in the Common Era. The bulk of the article comprises the first published translation of the manuscript's Preface by its compiler, Hundred of Warwick. The historical veracity and relevance of Hundred's detailed narrative are exhaustively discussed.
Preface : Discussion : References : Appendix
We here consider in some detail the history of the Book of Visions from the appearance upon Lindisfarne in the seventh century of 'a book in a strange tongue' to the first translations of the Tresco MS into modern English in 1885. The manuscript's later and earlier provenances have previously been described (The Tresco MS: Part 1, The Manuscript Unveiled and Part 2, Aerlinn's Notes.
Our primary source is the Tresco MS itself, in particular the Preface by the work's compiler, Hundred of Warwick. Also of relevance are the Reverend Bennett's notes concerning the manuscript's discovery upon the island of Tresco in the nineteenth century. The text of Hundred's Preface will first be presented in full.
Preface : Discussion : References : Appendix
Preface to Boc þaera Hehsighðana (1)
Here begins The Book of Visions by Hundred Elf-friend, being a true copy of the works translated by Witmaer and Herefrid of Lindisfarne out of the great book of Finan, once bishop of that isle. Contained herein are the Parma Taratirion & Commentaries of Romendil the Wise, Aerlinn's Notes on the History of the Parma Taratirion & the Commentaries of Romendil and divers matters concerning the lore of the elves and the Fate of Men.
Now I, that am here called Ælfwine, shall tell how the ancient works that I have written anew came into my hands. In the kingdom of Mercia I was born, in that place men call Warwíc but by the elves was named Kortirion and Mindon Gwar. Déor my father came out of Dumnonia in the South, and he wedded Éadgifu of the Islands of the Sun. But Súli the elves name that land, for the great winds that strike there out of the North. And I was named Hundred, after the number of those islands. Tales my father told me of the lands of his birth, and of his faring upon the seas. And beneath the elms my mother sang me soft sad songs filled with longing for a blessed place beyond the West. Those songs her people learned from the elves.
In those years the invaders first descended from across the sea, and in time they assailed even the country around Mindon Gwar. There Déor my father perished, and my mother also, with those that could not escape the terror that fell upon us. Yet many fled, and in later days some of these I met again. But by the Northmen I was taken, a boy nine summers old, and with some women and others of my age I was held in thrall for many years. Never could I forget the burning of Mindon Gwar and the killing of our people, and long I lived only to avenge their slaughter in death and in blood.
But as the years passed I learned much from those men of the North of their tongue, their lands and their ways. About the fire my young heart thrilled to tales of their gods and heroes, and of fierce men in proud ships borne upon the wind. Then first awoke within me the song of the sea that I had never seen, and the tales of my father came back to me. That song never has left me, and has driven me far. In those days I was no more than a boy amongst men, but as I grew towards manhood the more I longed to escape and travel south to the lands of my father, and to visit my mother's kindred in the Islands of the Sun.
Yet north I was taken, across the great river and beyond. That country lay much under Northron law, and those who held me took lands to till. Yet bold they remained and for rumour of gold would many miles fare to war. In my fifteenth year word came to them of the great monastery of Lindisfarne. In haste they rode north to plunder as they could, and I perforce with them. From the shore I watched, and my young heart leapt to see them, helmed, terrible and wild, riding the narrow causeway to the isle. And in the night I watched the buildings burn, and the Northmen returned, galloping to race the tide. Much coin and food was looted from that isle, but all the men of Críst had fled, save one only, Witmaer by name. And his life was spared and he was brought in bondage with them across a horse. This monk and I became friends despite the difference in our years. And as we journeyed south on a night of little moon we slipped our bonds and escaped together.
We travelled first westwards and then south. At each place Witmaer enquired of his brethren, where they might be found. For those men of Críst, forewarned of the attack, had their most precious treasures taken up and with them fled away. And these treasures chiefly were the body of their sainted Cuthbert, and relics also of their bishops, and of King Oswald. But also were taken books and fine things of great worth, as many as might they escaping carry off. Witmaer alone had remained behind, that the monastery should not utterly be abandoned to the Northron horde.
As we journeyed, Witmaer spoke to me of his life upon the island of Lindisfarne, of his work as a translator and of the great library that now was lost or scattered abroad. One day he told me of a book in a strange tongue that had come to the island in the years Finan was bishop of that place, though from where my friend knew not. That work had lain unknown until the time that Herefrid translated the greater part of it into the tongue of the Englisc. And in his turn Witmaer had taken upon him to complete the task, though the language was difficult to him, and unknown also were the places and peoples of which it told. His words stirred me strangely, and greatly I desired to read these things for myself. Witmaer was glad indeed to instruct me in the skill of letters, but the books went with his brethren upon the road. My friend feared greatly that they might be lost or discarded along the way, for some had spoken against the taking of works that told nothing of their Críst. But in memory of Herefrid and for love of Witmaer Eardulph the bishop had undertaken to save their translations. But the ancient book from which they were made my friend had hidden upon the island. And maybe it lies there yet, for not all was destroyed. But if Witmaer has recovered that work, no word has come to me here.
Thus we travelled on together, and I came to love this man as the father I had lost. After months of wandering we came at last upon the brothers of Lindisfarne, close to the ford of Eden above Salkeld. A weary and a ragged band they seemed, and great at first was my friend's dismay, for many had fared forth. But some had gone elsewhere so that all might not be taken, should ill befall. The brothers in their turn were greatly joyed to see us, for Witmaer they had deemed lost. For word had come to them of the sacking of their house, and of this we could the more fully instruct them.
In that place I was shown many of the wonders they had borne so far and amid such peril. But to me the greatest treasures were those books whereof Witmaer had instructed me. Two volumes the books of Lindisfarne comprise, and these I, Ælfwine, have written anew. The larger is bound plain in grey and is penned mostly in the abbot's small hand. It is little decorated save for some pages that are chased with leaves and strange devices, these copied truly from the older work, so Witmaer told me. This book contains in full the Book of Visions by the elf Romendil, and commentaries upon those texts. Some parts did Witmaer write in a bolder hand and more prettily adorn. But the many pictures that illustrated the commentaries were beyond my friend's poor skill, as he told, and thus they are now lost. In a smaller book bound in green did Witmaer alone write the words of the man Aerlinn. These tell first the history of the works of Romendil, then how they may be used to divine the futures of the world and of men. Witmaer dared not to show this work to his bishop, knowing surely he would not suffer it amongst them, but instead bound it together with the other book, that both might be saved.
For two years I lived and worked amongst the brothers of Lindisfarne. From them I learned many things, but chiefly from Witmaer who taught me now in full his art of letters. And together we studied these strange texts. Never did our band rest long in one place, yet moved as it seemed to me towards no certain goal. And this suited my purpose so long as mostly we passed southwards. But the farther we travelled the greater our dangers grew, and in one place we fell almost into Northron hands. Then Eardulph declared boldly to lead us over the waves to Hibernia, whence first came Columba to this isle. At this I was greatly torn, for he proposed to turn first to the North and my heart lay still far away in the southern lands. But my love for Witmaer and my longing for the sea were the stronger. Happy the brothers were that I should accompany them. I deem the good bishop had hope yet to draw me to their faith, and Witmaer unceasing prayed that this might be so. But not even for my friend could I foreswear so much that I had loved.
And so we passed into the mountains where the way soon became bleak and cold. By Derwentmere two of our number perished upon the road. But at length we came to the coast and a boat was found that might carry us over the sea. Little had we passed along the firth when a violent storm arose, and great waves fell upon us. By ill chance certain of the treasures were swept away, and chief amongst these was the gospel book of Eadfrid in its case of gold. Then greatly we feared for our lives, and some declared that the storm was sent of God to prevent us. However that might be, we could hardly advance, and the bishop readily agreed to turn about if this might be achieved amid so wild a storm. But even as the boat was brought around the winds ceased, and we came easily to the shore. For three days we remained close to that place, and all mourned for the works that had perished in the sea. But on the third night I dreamed where Eadfrid's book might be found. In the morning I told Witmaer of my dream, and with the bishop and one Eadred we went a little way along the shore. There the book lay upon the sand, unharmed in its wrappings of oiled cloth. Very great was the brothers' joy and much did they praise me, saying that surely my dream was from God. But of this I know not. The elf-sight is common enough amongst my mother's people, who here live still close to those fay folk. Such visions have come to me since, but chiefly at times of greatest need.
Now Eardulph determined to return east, and I knew that I must at last bid farewell to these good men. For despite the storm the lust of the sea was upon me, and I might now in no way set my back to the waves. Great was my sorrow at the parting. Witmaer bade me take the books that he and Herefrid had made, charging me that I should find their true origins and worth, if this might be done. And I was nothing loathe to swear this to my friend. But my first desire was the sea, and straightly I joined some good folk who worked about those waters. For three years I laboured to master all that I might of the tides and the winds. Yet ever within me burned the desire to sail the waters that Déor my father knew, and to find if I might the Hundred Isles for which I was named. Of these the folk that I met could tell me little, except that they lay far beyond Hibernia in the South. And so of them also I took my leave.
Of my journeys there is little to write, save that my way was long and often hard, travelling both by land and sea. After much adventure I came at last to Countesbury in the ancient realm of Dumnonia, that men now call Wessex. At first I was treated strangely, but they received me more kindly after hearing my tale, and how my father was of their people. Widely throughout that country I travelled, but mostly by the coast and ever westward, answering still as it seemed the call of my heart. Many elven folk I met upon the road or beside the sea, for nowhere else in all of Britain that was at war could they dwell at peace in those days. Here men knew the elves and feared them not, though only beyond the great river dwelt the two kindreds together. Elsewhere men watched them pass westward through their lands, knowing not surely whence they came or whither they would go.
From the elves I learned much concerning the waning of their people, and of the passage across the Sea that they still may make, forsaking these lands of men for the Lonely Isle, and for the Blessed Realm beyond. From them first I heard true tale of Súli, land of my mother's birth, whence at times those fay ships depart still into the West. Little would men speak of Súli, save strange tales of the folk that dwelt there, that they were the last of the race of Lionesse, that vanished once beneath the waves. But out of that country my mother Éadgifu came, and of their blood I was born. So I travelled on, and came at last to Belerium against the sea. There I sought for one who might carry me across the waves to Súli, and one Brytta ordained to take me there. Short enough was the crossing, but for all my seacraft I might not surely have ventured there alone, for wild currents strove ever to break our small boat across the rocks. But since boyhood had Brytta worked those waters, and in little time we came to land.
Happy I was to have reached my journey's end. And now for four years I have lived upon Súli amongst her people, men and elves. And I have known such peace as was not mine since boyhood beneath the elms of Mindon Gwar before the Northmen came. Through all my wanderings I had kept safe the books entrusted to me by Witmaer at our parting, and now at last I determined to learn their true worth and meaning. The elves have taught me much concerning the history and lore of the elder days, and of the Ages of Men. With their aid I have long laboured to restore these works, correcting the innocent errors of Herefrid and Witmaer, and also the ruder mischiefs of lesser men. For surely the great book that came to Lindisfarne was corrupt, though now the true wisdom is restored. Rightly I have set against each of the Visions of Romendil its commentary, and a new image after the likeness of the old, which Witmaer described to me, who translated those ancient works. And these pictures that surpass the craft of men the elves of Súli have made.
Thus wrote Hundred called Elf-friend of his early life & how he was taken by the Danes & lived amongst the holy brothers of Lindisfarne & how by dint of long labour he brought to this place the great books out of the North. These by his skill he wrote anew into this book that is the treasure of this isle, kept against his return out of the west. But the Grey & the Green Books of Lindisfarne went with Hundred across the sea. This I write in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord cmxv.
Preface : Discussion : References : Appendix
Hundred reports that the source of the texts he compiled was 'a book in a strange tongue' which came to the island monastery of Lindisfarne 'in the years Finan was bishop of that place,' that is between 651 and 661 CE. Whence the book came we are not told. Indeed, Hundred states that Witmaer, the monk of Lindisfarne who translated part of the work into Old English, himself knew nothing of its origins.
Finan succeeded Aidan to the episcopal see of Lindisfarne in the year 651 CE, and was instrumental in the dissemination of the church throughout Anglo-Saxon England. He baptized Peada prince of Mercia and the East Saxon king Sigebert, whose realm extended over what is now Essex. During the years of Finan's office the influence of Lindisfarne extended as far south as London, eclipsing even that of Canterbury.(2) The 'ancient book' might thus have come to Lindisfarne from almost anywhere. Manuscripts would certainly have arrived from Ireland and Scotland, via the community at Iona. Other works would have been bought on visits abroad, gifted to the monastery, exchanged for other works or loaned for copying. We should ask, however, where such a book might logically have originated.
As described by Hundred, the book was already 'ancient' in the seventh century; written by and for men, and yet based ultimately upon the writings of the elf Rómendil. The text was written in a language 'strange' to the scholars of seventh century Lindisfarne, and yet it was translated there into the lingua franca of the time, Anglo-Saxon. Given these sparse clues, we should first look for a region in which dwelt the descendants of the book's originators, both men and ylfe.
In the ninth century Hundred's birthplace of Warwick, which 'by the elves was named Kortirion and Mindon Gwar,' seems to have been especially favoured by the ylfe. According to the apparently autobiographical Ælfwine of England, the elves 'lingered yet most of all the isle [ie Britain] in those regions about Kortirion.' (3) [That Hundred Elf-friend and the subject of Ælfwine of England are one and the same person is all but certain but a detailed treatment of the evidence is beyond the scope of the present discussion]. Given the known connections between Lindisfarne and Mercia following the baptism of prince Peada, it is not implausible that the book of elves and men originated in the environs of Warwick. Alternatively, the book may have reached Northumbria out of Wessex, perhaps via Ireland and Iona.
As Hundred describes, during the ninth century the ylfe fled most of Britain before the advancing Norsemen and Danes, passing south and west into Wessex and the Isles of Scilly beyond. There for a while the two races of men and elves continued to dwell together in harmony. It is possible that Scilly had always been the elves' principal domain within Britain, as it was from this outpost in Hundred's time that their ships still departed into the West. Whatever its origins, the 'strange tongue' in which Finan's book was written was almost certainly Westron. This is known to have been the common tongue of Middle-earth from the third millennium of the Second Age,(4) and was the language of the Red Book translated by Professor Tolkien.(5) We are told that the text was 'difficult' for Witmaer, and it is possible that the translations, begun by abbot Herefrid of Lindisfarne and completed by Witmaer, were accomplished with help from the ylfe.
Herefrid was abbot of Lindisfarne when St. Cuthbert died on the island of Farne in 678 CE: his account of Cuthbert's passing was included by Bede (673 - 735 CE) in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.(6) No secondary references to Witmaer have been identified. Bede describes a monk of Wearmouth of that name as 'learned in every kind of knowledge, both secular and divine.'(7) Patently this is not 'our' Witmaer, who lived more than a hundred years later, yet it is intriguing how aptly these words describe the ninth century monk whose scholarship and daring preserved The Book of Visions for future ages.
Books and fine things of great worth ...
In Spring of the year 875 CE, under threat of impending invasion by the Danes and after consulting Eadred Lulisc, abbot of Carlisle, bishop Eardulph of Lindisfarne decided that the island must be abandoned to its fate. The twelfth century historian Simeon of Durham gives the following account:
Raising, then, the holy and uncorrupt body of the father [St. Cuthbert], they placed beside it in the same shrine ... the head of Oswald the king and martyr ... and a part of the bones of St. Aidan ... together with the venerable bones of those revered bishops, the successors of the same father Cuthbert, (that is to say, of Eadbert, Eadfrid, and Aethelwold.)(8)
This is almost identical to Hundred's:
For those men of Críst, forewarned of the attack, had their most precious treasures taken up and with them fled away. And these treasures chiefly were the body of their sainted Cuthbert, and relics also of their bishops, and of King Oswald. But also were taken books and fine things of great worth, as many as might they escaping carry off.
Amongst these 'treasures' went also the Grey and the Green Books of Lindisfarne. The inclusion of the former appears to have been more in deference to its translators than to preserve the translation itself, 'for some had spoken against the taking of works that told nothing of their Críst.' The Green Book Witmaer bound up with the Grey, 'that both might be saved,' knowing that Herefrid would never have allowed a book that spoke openly of divining 'the futures of the world and of men.'
Theological considerations aside, the monks' reluctance to carry with them anything not of the greatest importance is understandable. They were setting forth into a country both figuratively and literally aflame, already sorely laden with the sainted relics they were bound to protect. This is probably sufficient to explain why Finan's original book was left behind: the bishop, whilst allowing the Lindisfarne translations 'in memory of Herefrid and for love of Witmaer,' was not prepared to make similar concession for 'the ancient book from which they were made.' Or Witmaer, fearing as he did that the translations 'might be lost or discarded along the way,' may have reasoned that the safest course of action lay in separating the translations from their source.
In any event, the latter was hidden somewhere on the island of Lindisfarne before the Viking attack. Hundred states that Witmaer remained behind, 'that the monastery should not utterly be abandoned to the Northron horde,' but his motive almost certainly included watching over the hidden manuscript. As Simeon records, the attack was not long in coming:
No sooner had the bishop abandoned the island and its church ... than a fearful storm swept over that place, and indeed over the whole province of the Northumbrians, for it was cruelly ravaged far and wide by the army of the Danes, under the guidance of king Halfdene. Everywhere did he burn down the monasteries and the churches ... in one word, fire and sword were carried from the eastern sea to the western. Whence it was that the bishop and they who with him accompanied the holy body, nowhere found any place of repose, but going forwards and backwards, hither and thither, they fled from before the face of these cruel barbarians.(9)
This was the world into which the brothers of Lindisfarne had escaped. For a total of eight years they were forced to wander the north of England, before at last they and their treasures found a secure resting place at Chester-le-Street in 883 CE. From the names of churches dedicated to St. Cuthbert, the principal points along their route have been identified.(10) Hundred and Witmaer caught up with the itinerate monks 'close to the ford of Eden above Salkeld,' some six miles north-east of Penrith in Cumbria.
And great waves fell upon us ...
After a further two to three years of wandering Eardulph 'began to discuss the expediency of terminating their exertions, and providing a safe refuge for the holy body [of Cuthbert], by transporting it to Ireland.'(11) The party thus passed north into the mountains of Cumbria, arriving at length 'at the mouth of the river which is called Derwent.'(12) Here lay, and lies, the harbour of Workington, named in the Angle tongue as the town, or ton, of the Weorcingas.(13) Hundred's eyewitness account of the abortive crossing to Ireland at first accords closely with that of Simeon:
Little had we passed along the [Solway] firth when a violent storm arose, and great waves fell upon us. By ill chance certain of the treasures were swept away, and chief amongst these was the gospel book of Eadfrid in its case of gold.
[Then] the winds changed, and the angry waves rose up; the sea, which till then had been calm, became tempestuous; and the vessel, now unmanageable, was tossed hither and thither by the stormy billows ... and the copy of the gospels, adorned with gold figures, fell overboard, and sank to the bottom of the sea.(14)
The book lost overboard is generally held to have been that later known as the Lindisfarne Gospels. Now preserved in the British Library, this work (15) has been described as 'one of the most precious monuments of Saxon penmanship which have been preserved to our times.'(16)
Unable to proceed, the ship was turned about and returned to land. According to Simeon, the pilot appears to have regained the harbour at Workington, for the monks, 'stricken with mingled shame and grief,' (17) rejoined those of their number who had been left ashore. Simeon further tells that after some time, 'exhausted by the long continuance of their labour, and constrained by hunger and the want of every necessity ... all went away, with the exception of the bishop, and a very few others.'(18) Those remaining included four 'of greater repute' (19) than the rest: Stitheard, Edmund, Franco and Hunred. The last-named is given as Hundred in some translations (20) and must be identified as 'our' man of that name. The identification is made explicit in the curious incident, deemed by Tegner 'a pretty legend,' (21) in which the location of the lost gospel book is revealed to Hundred in a dream.
But on the third night I dreamed where Eadfrid's book might be found. In the morning I told Witmaer of my dream, and with the bishop and one Eadred we went a little way along the shore. There the book lay upon the sand, unharmed in its wrappings of oiled cloth. Very great was the brothers' joy and much did they praise me, saying that surely my dream was from God. But of this I know not. The elf-sight is common enough amongst my mother's people, who here live still close to those fay folk. Such visions have come to me since, but chiefly at times of greatest need.
This matter-of-fact, firsthand report of the events can be compared with the monks' response to them, as later told by Simeon. In his account the location of the gospel book is revealed by none other than St. Cuthbert himself:
He appeared in a vision to one of them named Hunred, and commanded them to make search for the book ... and from this time they all the more joyfully laboured for the body of the father Cuthbert, then present with them, since they had this undoubted evidence that his assistance would never be withdrawn from them in their hour of need.(22)
Here we must note a discrepancy between the accounts of Hundred and Simeon. In the former, the book is found four days after the attempted crossing, and only 'a little way along the shore' from where the party had returned to land. As we have seen, this was in all likelihood the harbour at Workington. However, according to Simeon, the few remaining monks 'continued with this great treasure [the body of St. Cuthbert and the other relics]; and as all things seemed against them, they underwent many hardships.'(23) At the time of Hundred's vision, having then 'for seven years wandered up and down the whole province ... they were in the neighbourhood of Candida Casa, more commonly known by the name of Hwitern.'(24)
From Workington, Hwitern, modern Whithorn in Galloway, represents an overland journey of at least one hundred miles. Following Simeon here, the accompanying chronology of the Book of Visions in the Common Era (reprinted from Reunion 1) incorporates the Whithorn episode, representing a period of some three years. The discrepancy is most readily explained by assuming Hundred omitted the Workington - Whithorn episode as being of little relevance to his tale. Once the gospel book had been recovered, Hundred took his leave of the monks, 'for despite the storm the lust of the sea was upon [him].' As a parting gift, Witmaer gave into his keeping the Grey and the Green Books of Lindisfarne, 'charging [him to] find their true origins and worth, if this might be done.' For three years, however, Hundred worked amongst the fishermen and traders of the Solway area, learning from them the craft of the sea. Then, driven by a yearning 'to sail the waters that Déor [his] father knew, and to find ... the Hundred Isles for which [he] was named,' Hundred began his journey south.
We are told almost nothing of his travels until he arrived at Countesbury, 'in the ancient realm of Dumnonia, that men now call Wessex': that is, near Lynmouth Bay on the north Devon coast. Eventually, passing 'mostly by the coast and ever westward,' he reached Belerium. This has been cited as an ancient name for the whole of modern Cornwall,(25) but is here to be identified either with the peninsular defined approximately by a line joining Penzance and St. Ives (26) or with its westernmost point, modern Lands End.(27) Mumford's Portrait of the Isles of Scilly contains the following passage translated from the first century writer Diodorus Siculus: 'The inhabitants of that part of Britain which is called Belerium (Lands End) are very fond of strangers.'28 Quoting the same passage, Bowley has 'Balerium.'(29)
The Islands of the Sun
From there, Hundred secured passage to 'Súli.' Called also the Islands of the Sun, Súli must be identified with modern Scilly. Amongst other evidence is Hundred's report that 'short enough was the crossing ... [though] wild currents strove ever to break our small boat across the rocks.' The Isles of Scilly lie a bare twenty eight miles west-south-west of Lands End, and have throughout their history been known for the treacherous nature of the surrounding seas.
We are told that Hundred received his own name 'after the number of those islands [of Súli].' Mumford records '"Scilly of the hundred islands, Scilly of the hundred reefs" it has been called,'(30) although the source of this citation is not given. The actual number of the islands of Scilly Mumford gives as 'approximately 145.'(31) Writing in 1542, Leland estimated one hundred and forty islands capable of growing grass.(32) The number depends upon the definition of 'island': many are little more than granite stumps, often submerged at high tide. Bowley lists only fifty four islands, defined as 'land surrounded by water at high tide, supporting land vegetation at all times and locally accepted as an island.'(33)
It is known, however, that the sea level around Scilly has risen significantly in recorded times. Bowley writes that 'the present islands ... are the surviving hill-tops of a much larger land area ... at a sea depth of fifteen metres, most of the present islands form part of one large one.'(34) He conjectures that 'in about the time of King Arthur' - that is, around 450-500 CE - Scilly comprised 'one major island with a few small outlying islands and rocks.'(35)
Gunnar Schweer, editor of Scilly Up To Date has written that 'when the islands (with the exception of Agnes) were one, a bay at Nor Nour probably was the natural harbour.'(36) Although speculative, Bowley's idea of a single landmass may approximate the disposition of the islands in Hundred's time. If so, his supposed naming after the 'hundred isles of Súli' may have been more figurative than literal. A more likely, if less poetic, etymology for the name Hundred has been proposed.(37)
The origins of the name 'Scilly' itself are uncertain: for an account of various theories the reader is referred elsewhere.(38,39) The earliest reliable evidence is afforded by Sulpicius Severus, who wrote in his Latin Chronicle (400 CE) of the island of Sylicancis. The Vikings called the islands Syllingar, whilst 'in old records Scilly is variously referred to as Sulla (a pre-Roman water goddess), Sullye, Sulli, Sulley and Sully (sun islands).'(40)
Writing a century before the Viking Olaf Tryggvason allegedly came to Scilly in 989 CE, Hundred offers an explanation of the name's true origins. The islands were named Súli by the ylfe who favoured that land, 'for the great winds that strike there out of the North.'(41) Violent winds, fog and storms remain a feature of Scilly life to this day, although due to its southerly latitude the climate is generally milder than that of mainland Britain.
Whence at times those fay ships depart ...
The presence of ylfe upon Súli is also explained by Hundred, and has already been mentioned. Due to the continual warring of men throughout Britain, only in Wessex could the ylfe 'dwell in peace in those days':
... though only beyond the great river [the Tamar] dwelt the two kindreds together. Elsewhere men watched them pass westward through their lands, knowing not surely whence they came or whither they would go.
Their destination is revealed as Súli, 'whence at times those fay ships depart still into the West,' escaping forever the world of men. The following passage, written in 1750, is here of interest: 'Fairies are said to have frequented Buzza Hill on St. Mary's Island, but ... are now quite unknown.'(42) Buzza Hill overlooks modern Hugh Town, the islands' 'capital', and is the site of one of the many ancient burial mounds to be found upon Scilly. Also of possible relevance is the account of Solinus, that the inhabitants of Scilly, 'both men and women ... pretended to have great skill in the Art of Divination, or in foretelling of what was to come.'(43) We have already heard of the 'elf-sight' reportedly common amongst the (mannish) inhabitants of Súli.
Ensconced upon Súli, Hundred began at last to address the task laid upon him by the monk Witmaer: to find the 'true worth and meaning' of the Grey and the Green Books of Lindisfarne. This he accomplished over a period of some four years, with the assistance of the ylfe:
With their aid I have long laboured to restore these works, correcting the innocent errors of Herefrid and Witmaer, and also the ruder mischiefs of lesser men. For surely the great book that came to Lindisfarne was corrupt, though now the true wisdom is restored.
The extent and validity of Hundred's 'corrections' cannot be ascertained with any accuracy, as the texts from which he worked - the Grey and Green Books of Lindisfarne - are now lost. Neverthless, it seems clear that Hundred for the first time structured the material so that each of the Visions (taratiri) of Rómendil was accompanied by its corresponding illustration and Commentary. Regrettably, none of the original illustrations had been copied by the monks Herefrid and Witmaer, but Hundred commissioned for each Vision:
... a new image after the likeness of the old which Witmaer described to me ... And these pictures that surpass the craft of men the elves of Súli have made.
Here the certain history of Hundred's Boc þaera Hehsighðana falters, until the discovery of the present manuscript upon the island of Tresco around 1835 CE. Although the lines appended to the Preface might have been added to a copy of Boc þaera Hehsighðana made in or before 915 CE, they seem rather to indicate that the Tresco MS is Hundred's original work:
... by dint of long labour [Hundred] brought to this place the great books out of the North ... [which] he wrote anew into this book that is the treasure of this isle.
In any event, after some time Hundred left Scilly to sail into 'the West.' His purpose and intended destination are not disclosed, but it seems that he took the Grey and Green Books of Lindisfarne with him. With the fate of Finan's book uncertain, his Boc þaera Hehsighðana was the only other certain copy of that lore still in existence. It appears that his manuscript was entrusted for safety to one or more of the Christian hermits who are known to have resided on Scilly from the fifth century CE.(44) Mumford records that 'at the time of King Olaf's wanderings [in the late tenth century] there were hermits cloistered at Tresco and St. Helens.'(45)
Whether or not Hundred ever returned from his wanderings, the manuscript seems to have passed into the keeping of the Benedictine priory of St. Nicholas, which was established on Tresco in 1114 CE. Little is known of the priory's history, although it is thought to have fallen into disrepair by the mid 1400s,(46) and certainly before the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Bowley considers that the buildings were probably destroyed by fire in the Civil War.(47) Writing in the sixteenth century, John Leland reported:
Iniscaw longid to Tavestock, and ther was a poore celle of monks of Tavestock. Sum caulle this Trescaw; it is the biggest of the islettes.(48)
Scaw signifies 'elderbushes' in the Celtic dialect of Cornwall, which was the language of Scilly up to the sixteenth century.(49) The modern name of Tresco contains tre ('farm') in place of the older innis ('island').
The history of Scilly is beyond the scope of this chapter. The numbers and fortunes of its population waxed and waned down the centuries, but their situation did not become secure until 1834, when the islands were placed under the governorship of Augustus Smith (right). Not least amongst the lasting testimonials to his endeavours is Tresco Abbey, the residence built in the early years of his occupancy close to the site of the Benedictine priory. The extensive and renowned Abbey Gardens contain ruins of the priory to this day, most notably a fine arched gateway.
According to the Rev. Bennett, who acquired it in 1883, the work now known as the Tresco MS was discovered during either the building of the Abbey or the excavation of its gardens. Bennett makes no reference to Smith's interest in the book or its contents. However, Augustus Smith was at the time of his death in 1872 Grandmaster of Cornish Freemasons, and the esoteric nature of the text may not have been lost upon him. It is tempting to speculate that excavations at the priory were undertaken or extended with prior knowledge, and in the hope of unearthing such a find.
At Smith's death the manuscript passed with the rest of his estate to his nephew and successor Lieutenant Thomas Algernon Dorrien Smith. The circumstances surrounding the manuscript's gift to Bennett are unrecorded, although it is possible that the Reverend had enjoyed the confidence of its previous owner and was already aware of its contents and significance. Amongst the surviving papers are complete translations by Bennett of both Hundred's Preface and Aerlinn's Notes. Dated 1885 and 1886 respectively, these represent only approximately sixth of the complete manuscript: if more was translated it has not survived. The subsequent history of the Tresco MS has previously been described.
Briefly, the manuscript and the Rev. Bennett's papers passed intact and unrecognised down five generation, until Alice Reynolds noted correspondences with the tarot and The Lord of the Rings. Whilst remaining the property of Ms Reynolds, the manuscript and its associated documents are presently in the collection of the author.
Preface : Discussion : References : Appendix
- OE (ninth century Northumbrian) 'The Book of Visions.' This appears to be a more or less literal translation of Q Parma Taratirion: OE Heh, 'high', corresponding with Q tara. Boc þaera Sighðana was used as OE for the biblical Book of Revelations (S Bailey, ex University of Cambridge, personal communication 1993). Sighð (West Saxon gesighð) was 'used for "vision" both in the ordinary, everyday sense of "being able to see" and for the more exalted, religious type' (A Davidson, University of Cambridge, personal communication 1993).
- The Saints of Lindisfarne, K Parbury 1970.
- The Book of Lost Tales volume 2, JRR Tolkien.
- Complete Guide to Middle-earth, R Foster 1978.
- 'What I have, in fact done, is to equate the Westron or wide-spread Common Speech of the Third Age with English; and translate everything ... that was in the Westron into English terms.' Letters, JRR Tolkien, letter 144.
- Chapters XXXVII to XL.
- The World of Bede, PH Blair 1990.
- A History of the Church of Durham, Simeon of Durham, translated J Stephenson 1988, chapter XXI.
- A History of Cumberland, RS Ferguson 1970.
- Stephenson 1988, chapter XXVI.
- Ferguson 1970.
- Stephenson 1988, chapter XXVI.
- Cotton MS Nero D.iv.
- Stephenson 1988, note 1 to chapter XXVI.
- op cit, chapter XXVI.
- op cit, chapter XXVII.
- The Magic of Holy Island, H Tegner 1969.
- Stephenson 1988, chapter XXVII.
- Websters New Geographical Dictionary 1977, entry for Belerium.
- 'Belerium Pr[omontory]' Muir's Atlas of Ancient, Medieval and Modern History, R Muir 1982, map 3B Roman Britain. Spelt 'Bolerium' on map 3A Ptolemaic Britain.
- Websters New Geographical Dictionary 1977. Entry for Lands End gives 'ancient Bolerium'.
- Portrait of the Isles of Scilly, C Mumford 1967.
- The Fortunate Islands: A History of the Isles of Scilly, 8th edition, RL Bowley 1990.
- Mumford 1967.
- In: Bowley 1990.
- ibid. Today only six of these islands are inhabited, with a total resident population of 1875 (electoral register, 1990).
- Scilly Up To Date magazine volume 65 (June 1992).
- OE 'dog-counsel.' Andrew Davidson, personal communication 1993.
- Mumford 1967.
- Bowley 1990, Appendix 1.
- Q sûl, 'wind.' The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien.
- Robert Heath's A Natural and Historical Account of the Isles of Scilly (1750). In: Bowley 1964.
- Bowley 1990, Appendix 5.
- Mumford 1967.
- Bowley 1990.
- The Notes of John Leland, who 'claims to have visited Scilly in about 1540, but who was prevented, owing to loss of his reason, from arranging the notes.' Bowley 1990.
- op cit, Appendix 1.
Preface : Discussion : References : Appendix
The Book of Visions in the Common Era
The following timeline is excerpted from the author's New Middle-earth: Exploring Beyond the Mountains (Reunion 1, June 1996)
|circa 660||Around this time the 'ancient book' arrives on Lindisfarne.|
|circa 680||Herefrid, abbot of Lindisfarne, translates much of the Parma Taratirion and Commentaries into Old English (Anglo Saxon) in the Grey Book of Lindisfarne.|
|circa 870||Witmaer, monk of Lindisfarne, completes Herefrid's translations in the Grey Book. He also translates Aerlinn's Notes in the Green Book of Lindisfarne.|
|circa 860||Birth of Hundred ('Ælfwine') of Warwick.|
|circa 882||Hundred obtains the Grey and the Green Books of Lindisfarne, from the monk Witmaer.|
|circa 892||With the aid of the ylfe, Hundred completes his Boc þaera He hsighðana. Some time after this (but before 915), Hundred sails 'into the west', taking with him the Grey and Green Books. The Boc þaera Hehsighðana is left on Scilly, probably with Christian hermits.|
|circa 1835||The 'Tresco MS' is discovered during the building of Tresco Abbey or the excavation of its gardens on the site of the old priory.|
|1883||The Tresco MS is acquired by Rev G Bennett from T A Dorrien Smith, Governor of Scilly.|
|circa 1885||Bennett translates Hundred's Preface and the first part of Aerlinn's Notes, and also writes brief notes on the manuscript's discovery.|
|1937||Publication of The Hobbit.|
|1954||Publication of The Lord of the Rings.|
|1968||The Tresco MS and associated material is obtained by Alice Bailey.|
|circa 1970||First realisation by Alice Bailey that the Tresco MS provides historical verification of the tales translated and published by JRRT.|
|1973||Death of JRR Tolkien.|
|1977||Publication of The Silmarillion.|
|1990||First full translation of the Tresco MS into modern English (completed 1995, present author, currently unpublished).|
Preface : Discussion : References : Appendix