Translation Issues: Distancing the Reader

Ƥǿşŧḗḓ ƀẏ: hwebster 6 years, 8 months ȧɠǿ

Well, despite the hopes voiced in my previous blog about the manuscript’s punctuation assisting my translation it is proving tricky to translate into flowing, readable English!

It turns out there is a reason why no one has attempted a scholarly edition of the text, despite it being relatively well known – even Bartlett shied away from anything more than the odd sentence or phrase in his study, preferring to paraphrase. It is a very difficult text to work with!

Phrases such as ‘he said’, ‘the said’, and ‘the aforesaid’, litter every sentence, often back to back, making the translation into English somewhat stilted, though with a certain rhythm of its own bizarre nature! Given enough time and tweaking I hope to make it sound like passable English.

More importantly these interruptions affect the immediacy of the witness testimony in a way which was not quite so clear to me when working through the Latin transcription. Thus, despite the punctuation which demarcates the words of the questionners from the responses of the witnesses, the extra ‘he said’s remove of the reader a level away from the words being recorded. As a result, the sense that these are genuine memories from the mouths of the witnesses is disrupted, constituting an additional layer of separation on top of the distance already caused by the translation from vernacular to Latin. This further interference could be seen as a secondary translation of the testimonies from common parlance into ‘legalese’. The reader is further removed still by the lack of first person used by even the court officials – the questions are introduced by the phrase ‘they asked’ as opposed to the second person plural we might expect.

That said, there are still some passages where if the ‘saids’ are ignored, something of the voices of the witnesses do come through. The most interesting example of this perhaps is the passage of William Breuse Junior’s account where he quotes his step mother. After recounting how he reported the terrible appearance of the dead William Cragh lying in Matthew the Burgess’ house to his step-mother, the Lady Mary apparently replied:

‘Prium deu et seint Thomas de Cantelup qe luy donne vie, et si il luy donne vie nous le amenerouns a lauant dit seint Thomas.’
[I pray God and Saint Thomas of Cantilupe give life to him, and if they give him life we will bring him to praise the said Saint Thomas]

The phrase is given in vernacular French rather than being translated, but the reason for this is unclear. It could be that as the legal team interviewing the witnesses were above all interested in how the miracle related to Thomas Cantilupe, the very words which may have invoked the saint’s intervention were so important that they did not need to be translated into Latin, and indeed that very act may dilute their power in some way.

A further clue lies in the words preceding the French phrase: ‘cum deuotione sicut eidem testi videtur’ [‘with such devotion as the witness himself saw’]. One of the main preoccupations of the interviewers was the faith held by all those involved in the miracle, and how that lent power to their prayers. Again, the lady’s devotion to Thomas and her faith transcends the language barrier and is conveyed more purely if it is recorded as direct speech without being tampered with. It is perhaps ironic then that she did not te.jpgy this herself, and that the words are instead reported by her step-son.

One final thing of note I have found so far with the translation is that the miracle stories are not self-contained entities, but rather they refer to the wider context of the rest of the codex. For example the qualifier ‘aforesaid’ is used in relation to London and St Paul's (the venue for the first group of witnesses providing testimonies), in conjunction with the very first time the places are referred to in relation to this particular miracle. This also occurs in relation to Hereford (the second venue), and St Thomas (the subject of the collection). The ‘aforesaid’ therefore refers back to earlier testimonies given by witness to other miracles associated with Thomas Cantilupe.

This interrelation of the stories suggests something further about the composition of the manuscript more generally. They were evidently written up by scribes who were responsible for more than just a single miracle, the work either of a single sitting, or at least the same individual. In turn this adds weight to the argument that this is a transition text, written up from court room notes into a single volume from which the strongest miracles could then be chosen for the final case to be made for St Thomas’ canonisation.