J.T. Rhodes (ed.), Catalogue des livres provenant des religieuses angloises de Cambray: Book List of the English Benedictine Nuns of Cambrai c. 1739 [sic], Analecta Cartusiana 119:42, FB Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, Austria, 2013.

J.T. Rhodes (ed.), Catalogue des livres provenant des religieuses angloises de Cambray: Book List of the English Benedictine Nuns of Cambrai c. 1739 [sic], Analecta Cartusiana 119:42, FB Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, Austria, 2013. ISBN 978-3-902895-36:3, pp. iv + 240. Available via Stanbrook Abbey (http://stanbrookabbeybookshop.com/) with pricing as follows (packaging and postage inclusive): £25 in the UK, £30 in Europe, and £35 in the USA.


Reviewed by: Jaime Goodrich, Wayne State University, May 2014

J.T. Rhodes’s edition of the Cambrai Benedictines’ library catalog is a very welcome contribution to scholarship on English convents abroad as well as to Catholic bibliography. By the time that French soldiers confiscated their property in 1793, the English convent at Cambrai had accumulated an impressive library of over 4,000 manuscript and print books. While most of these volumes have disappeared, the soldiers’ painstaking manuscript inventory of the house’s printed books and some of its manuscripts still exists as MS 1004 in the Médiathèque de Cambrai. Rhodes’s critical edition of this book list offers a unique overview of the convent’s library at the dawn of the Eighteenth Century, and it will consequently be of great interest to bibliographers, historians, and literary scholars. Indeed, this edition should provide ample basis for rethinking the literary activities and spiritual life of this important convent.

As Rhodes explains in the brief introduction, MS 1004 falls into two parts. The first section (‘Catalogue des livres provenant des religieuses angloises de Cambray’) provides an alphabetical list of texts in miscellaneous genres. The manuscript then offers a chronological inventory of additional works sorted into six categories entitled ‘Theologie,’ ‘Jurisprudence,’ ‘Sciences et arts,’ ‘Histoire,’ ‘Belles lettres,’ and ‘Manuscripts anglois: Theologie.’ Rhodes has retained this organization, while introducing and regularizing alphabetization within each category as necessary in order to facilitate the edition’s usefulness. She has also omitted the original numbering system accompanying the entries (whose purpose and origin remains unclear), while adding cross-references within each category for works that can be found under two or more names (e.g., a translation could be listed by original author or translator).

Rhodes supplies a diplomatic edition of the entries by modernizing punctuation, adding capitalization, and maintaining original spelling. The compiler of the manuscript provided substantial information about each book as indicated by its title page, noting author, full title, place and date of publication, binding, completeness, and number of copies. Rhodes supplements this information with her own considerable skills as a bibliographer. First, she cross-references entries (as applicable) with modern union catalogs (WorldCat, Copac, and the Catalogue Collectif de France). Second, she adds bibliographic information for English works already present in standard Catholic bibliographies (A.F. Allison and D.M. Roger, The Contemporary Printed Literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558-1640, 1989, 1994; Thomas H. Clancy, English Catholic Books: A Bibliography, rev. ed., 1996; and Frans Blom, Jos Blom, Frans Korsten, and Geoffrey Scott, English Catholic Books 1701-1800: A Bibliography, 1996). These cross-references reflect a substantial amount of labor and constitute Rhodes’s greatest accomplishment with this volume. Not only do they make the book list immediately more useful for advanced readers, but they also firmly situate the Cambrai convent within broader English and Continental contexts.

The entries themselves offer a fascinating glimpse into reading in the Cambrai house, which scholars have already identified as a vital center of literary activity. As we might expect, the house owned multiple copies of publications that originated within its own walls or those of its filiation at Paris, including twenty-three copies of Augustine Baker’s Sancta Sophia (1657; 20), nine copies of Gertrude More’s 1658 Spiritual Exercises (98, 193), fifteen copies of Serenus Cressy’s 1670 edition of Julian of Norwich (81), and six copies of Potentiana Deacon’s 1632 translation of Francis de Sales (65). The house’s library reveals the effects of Baker’s interest in collecting books exemplifying pre-dissolution spirituality (Richard Whitford’s Boke Called the Pype, 1532; 214) as well as Continental mysticism (twenty editions of Louis de Blois OSB, printed between 1544 and 1756; 27-29). Generally speaking, Benedictine books are well-represented, including six printed editions in French and Latin of works by Gertrude of Helfta (68-69). The library also included many writings by and about women religious of other orders, such as seventeen copies of Augustinian prioress Lucy Herbert’s Several Excellent Methods of Hearing Mass (76) and twenty-nine copies in total of Teresa of Avila’s works in French and English (125-26, 230). It is unsurprising to see that the convent owned dozens of editions of texts essential to monastic life, such as the breviary (150-53), the catechism (154-56), the missal (191-92), and liturgies of the daily office (195-201). The nuns also had access to multiple editions of patristic, medieval, and contemporary spiritual authorities such as Augustine (11-14, 40), Thomas á Kempis (126-28, 212), Francis de Sales (64-67), and Richard Challoner (156-59, 222).

At the same time, the catalog holds a number of surprises, particularly given the scholarly tendency to view the house through the lens of Baker’s writings. Although Baker was strongly anti-Jesuit, the library suggests that the nuns themselves did not necessarily share his views. The entries include many Ignatian works from the 1590s through the early 1630s, perhaps reflecting the interests of the three founding nuns from Brussels. Indeed, Baker himself complained that some of the house’s members championed the works of Alfonso Rodriguez SJ, and the convent owned at least five editions of his writings published between 1624 and 1631 (114-15, 208). More interesting is the general proliferation of Ignatian works in the library after the 1680s, indicating that Baker’s anti-Jesuit views gradually lost influence over time. Thus the house bought or received an additional four works by Rodriguez between 1680 and 1730, including seven copies of the 1697 edition of The Practice of Christian Perfection. Clearly the house’s spirituality was not static over the course of its history, even if Baker’s manuscripts remained important. The nuns’ familiarity with contemporary French spirituality offers further evidence on this point. The library included at least forty different editions of French works by popular eighteenth-century French preacher Jean-Baptiste-Elie Avrillon OM (15-19, 140). In addition, the house showed special interest in the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus initiated by Margaret Mary Alacoque VHM (1647-1690), possessing eighteen copies of Thomas Lawson’s The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1765, 1767; 184). Perhaps most surprisingly, the library contained quite a few Protestant works, including Presbyterian minister James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women (1766; 64), Presbyterian minister John Leland’s refutation of deism (A View of the Principal Deistical Writters, 1766; 85), and Psalm paraphrases by James Merrick (1766; 96), George Sandys (1638; 119), and Samuel Woodford (1667; 137). As this brief summary suggests, Rhodes’s edition offers a much-needed incentive to broaden the critical conversation about Cambrai beyond Baker by drawing attention to the other books in the house’s library.

The catalog also reflects the needs and interests of various constituencies within the house, particularly the girls educated in its school. For example, the convent owned basic pedagogical works on arithmetic, art, astronomy, geology, literature, music, philosophy, and foreign languages. The range of classical authors listed is particularly remarkable, running the gamut from Cicero’s letters and philosophical treatises (seventeen editions in French and Latin; 44-45) to the poetry of Juvenal (81), Martial (93), and Ovid (103), naturally in expurgated versions. The girls’ schooling may even have included leisure pursuits such as card games, perhaps using Hoyle’s eighteenth-century books on whist, quadrille, and piquet (77-78). At the same time, girls educated at Cambrai were probably exposed to more pious instructional texts, such as the moralistic Select Songs for Children by Protestant hymnist Isaac Watts and others (1768; 135). The library contained a number of controversial and polemical works spanning three centuries, from John Rastell’s Confutation of M[aster] Juell[’s] Sermons at Paules Cross (1564; 112) to Robert Persons’s Treatise of Three Conversion[s] of England (1603; 202) to Richard Manning’s A Plain and Rational Account of the Catholick Faith (1721; 187). Works of this sort may have been of use in the schoolroom, but they were more likely of interest to the nuns and their confessors. Finally, the inventory contains dictionaries and books in an astonishing range of languages: English, French, Greek, Latin, Italian, and Spanish. Who, we might wonder, was reading the eighteenth-century editions of Tasso’s poetry in Italian (125)—the nuns, their confessor, and/or their students?

Like all Analecta Cartusiana editions, this volume is best suited for advanced scholars because of the series’ focus on presenting a lightly annotated text rather than a detailed critical framework. The introduction’s brevity is no doubt due to these space constraints, and in keeping with Analecta Cartusiana’s usual economy regarding annotations, Rhodes provides no translations for titles of works in foreign languages. More importantly, Analecta Cartusiana volumes do not include an index, and this volume would have benefited from one for several reasons. First, there is no cross-referencing between sections. As a result, readers interested in Jeanne de Cambry might overlook the fact that her works can be found in three separate sections under two different names: ‘CAMBRY, J. de’ appears in ‘Theologie’ (154), while ‘JEANNE de Cambray’ occurs in ‘Catalogue des livres provenant’ (79) and ‘Manuscripts anglois: Theologie’ (238). Second, an index would have illuminated the rich thematic and historical connections within the inventory, revealing—for instance—that the house also had access to a biography of Jeanne de Cambry listed under ‘CAMBRY, P. de’ in the ‘Catalogue des livres provenant’ (40). Finally, like other Analecta Cartusiana volumes this edition has not been rigorously copyedited, and readers should be aware that it contains some typos, most notably in the title itself (‘1739’ rather than ‘1793’).

Despite the constraints of the series, Rhodes’s edition of the catalogue will be indispensable for any scholar working on the convents, Catholic exiles, and early modern bibliography more generally. Indeed, this invaluable volume offers much more than simply a list of books, as the title modestly promises—it supplies a series of exciting new vistas into what the Cambrai nuns read, what they taught, and how they lived.