Books are an awful lot like the Irish. You just never know where they're going to turn up. I was down in Ennis visiting the in-laws at the weekend and I popped in to a small second-hand bookshop in The Market called Scéal Eile Books. The stock is pretty good quality actually, clearly someone who has a broad range of interests and can spot good books. As I was browsing through the books what did I find only Aubrey Attwater, Pembroke College Cambridge: A Short History, ed. with an intro. and a postscript by S. C. Roberts (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1936). I think that is mad, to find such a thing is a very small rural town in the west of Ireland. I had to buy it. It was meant to be bought by me. The other thing was T. P. Dunning, Piers Plowman: An Interpretation of The A Text, second edition, revised and edited by T. P. Dolan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), with a nice dedicated on the inside flyleaf by the editor and a little memorial card inside for Fr Dunning. This was originally published in 1937 and for an analysis of the A-Text, it remains an important publication. I am very glad to have it. For lots of reasons.
At the moment I am reading Francis Stonor Saunders, Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman (Faber, 2004). I am enjoying it, I suppose, but I do find it a little sensational. I know that there was lots of guts and gore and all the rest but, well, it sometimes feels in this book like there wasn't much else. And that is despite the fact that Saunders reflects on this and recognizes it. I am a little uncomfortable with the breezy way in which she talks about what Chaucer must have made of the Visconti wedding in 1368, and how he must have been closely watching the great Petrarch, who was also a guest at the wedding. There is a record of Chaucer 'passing at Dover' in 1368, and yes, he was granted enough expenses to get him to Italy. But we have no evidence of where he went. And I mean none. Modern scholars are generally rather cautious about saying Chaucer was in Italy at this time, and Saunders cited a single article, by Hutton in the Anglo-Italian Review in 1918 which probably led her to this. But there are many interesting things in the book and Hawkwood is a remarkable figure. I might read her book on the CIA, which got a few mentions in the Clash of the Titans session at the New Chaucer Society in Swansea.