2.5.6. Dictionarius of Firmin Le Ver

Firmin Le Ver was born c.1370-1375 into an aristocratic family of Abbeville in northern France. In 1386 he entered the Carthusian foundation of St-Honoré in Thuison, near Abbeville in the diocese of Amiens. Except for a short absence, Le Ver passed his life there, including two periods as prior, and died there on April 13, 1444 (Merrilees 1994a: vii).

Marks (1974: iv), describing the Carthusian rule, tells us, "The monks must be truly devout, because there is no opportunity in the Carthusian way of life for worldly notoriety -- the monk is alone with himself and with God in the cell of his hermitage. Although the hermitages are attached in rows within the monastery walls, the monks see one another only during the offices in the church and converse only during their brief weekly walk." He continues (1974: v), "Mysticism as a practical way of life [...] came to replace the speculative mysticism of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. [The Carthusian] rule expressed the ideals of practical mysticism [44], and their writings and the books that they collected were a mirror of these ideals. [...] It was through their books that the silent Carthusians carried their message to the world, or as Guigo I, the fifth prior of the Grande Chartreuse put it:

It was in this environment and within the framework of this ideal, [45] that Firmin Le Ver spent some twenty years compiling and writing his dictionary, finishing it on April 30, 1440. [46]

The Dictionarius of Firmin Le Ver (DLV) is the largest and the most important bilingual dictionary of the pre-print era written in France. It is a worthy successor, visually and intellectually, to the long line of medieval Latin lexica which preceded it. Several circumstances contribute to the importance of the DLV:

  1. the fact that it is dated and localized, and the name of the author is known;
  2. its size: 478 folios, of which 467 contain the dictionary; a total of 540,609 words, of which 88,000 (16.3%) are French (Merrilees 1991: 36f.);
  3. its unique lexicographical methodology;
  4. its French element, which provides some unparalleled examples of one individual's language in northern France at the beginning of the fifteenth century.
The DLV exists in a single manuscript, conserved as Paris, BN nouv.acq.fr. 1120. The dictionary occupies ff.1r-467r, set out two columns per page, forty-three lines per column; f.467v is blank; and ff.468r-478v contain a copy of Donatus's Ars minor in Latin and in French, the conjugation of some main verb types, noun and pronoun declensions, a fragment of a syntactic treatise, and a list of morphological exceptions (Merrilees 1988: 181). The combination of these texts in one manuscript illustrates once again the close relationship of lexicon and grammar, evident from antiquity through the medieval period.

In his Incipit and Explicit Le Ver acknowledges his debt to Balbi, Hugutio, Papias and Brito, and "other grammatical books". [47] The last-named include, among others, the Graecismus of Eberhard of Bethune, the Doctrinale of Alexander of Villedieu, and the Opus synonymorum (Synonyma) of John of Garland (Merrilees 1994a: xi).

Whether directly or indirectly, the greater part of the lemmata and Latin definitions in DLV are drawn from the Catholicon. Many proper nouns and archaic terms are omitted, and material from other sources, both Latin and French is added. Le Ver adopted the alphabetical-derivational organization used by Balbi, but separated the two principles and recombined them to create a unique and easily consultable macro-structure. Le Ver's main sources are shown in Exhibit 25, which also illustrates his method of organizing macro-articles.

Exhibit 25: Sources of the Dictionarius of Firmin Le Ver (DLV)
A 1
AB 1
a aa
abacus vel abax
a ab abs
ABAX .. vide in Abacus
de Angelis 1977, I: 1-6 Mainz 1460; reprint
Gregg: Westmead 1971
Merrilees 1994a: 1

It is likely that a manuscript belonging to the series of bilingual dictionaries which Roques (1938: xiv) named Aalma (see 2.5.3.) is one of the sources of the French material in the DLV. Merrilees (1994a: xvi) estimates that more than fifty percent of the French forms occurring in the letter 'A' probably derive from an Aalma manuscript; however, the percentage varies as Le Ver's work advances.

Additional evidence that Le Ver used an Aalma manuscript when compiling his dictionary comes from the sign system which he adopted to indicate grammatical information such as gender and voice (see More particularly, it is the location assigned to these abbreviations which is revealing. By the fifteenth century, the use of abbreviations to convey grammatical details was not new; however, these indicators were usually included in the text of an article. In the Aalma manuscripts, abbreviations for gender and voice are invariably placed at the right-hand margin of a column, and it is in this location that they are also found in DLV.

Although it is not possible to identify the Aalma manuscript from which Le Ver drew his French material, we have used A1 for various comparisons of French glosses with those in DLV, attached as Appendix 2.

As far as is known, Le Ver's manuscript remained in the library at St-Honoré for centuries. In 1790 the manuscript, together with all the possessions of the Carthusians of St-Honoré, became the property of the municipality, and in 1804 it was acquired from them by Louis-Augustin, Marquis Le Ver, a descendant of the same family as Firmin Le Ver. The printer and bibliophile Ambroise Firmin-Didot purchased the DLV from the Marquis' estate in 1860 and it remained in his possession until his death in 1878. The Bibliothèque nationale, at the instigation of its chief Librarian, Léopold Deslisle, purchased the manuscript in 1880 (Merrilees 1994a: vii f.)

As we have remarked earlier, DLV is related to two other bilingual lexica: the manuscript French-Latin glossary found in ms. Paris, BN lat. 7684 (see 2.5.5.), and an incunable, Vocabularius familiaris et compendiosus, printed in Rouen c.1490 by Guillaume Le Talleur (see 5.0.).

It was apparently the intention of Mario Roques to include an edition of DLV in his Recueil général des lexiques français du moyen âge, [48] but his project did not go that far. An edition was published by Brian Merrilees (with William Edwards) in 1994 as the first volume in the Nouveau Recueil des Lexiques latin-français du Moyen Age.

2.5.7. Catholicon breton (Catholicon en trois langues)

Ms. lat. 7656 of the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, contains a unique glossary: Breton lemmata followed by French and Latin equivalents. According to internal evidence, the manuscript was written by J. Lagadec in 1464. It is incomplete, however, and ends with the entry: Pres, gall. presse, lat. frequentatio (SBB 93).

The glossary was printed at Tréguier in 1499; this edition contains 106 folios, two columns per page, forty-five lines per column. The prologue on f.1r of the 1499 edition reads:

The Incipit on f.1v, bottom of the second column, indicates the purpose of the dictionary: The didactic objective of the text is reiterated in the epilogue on f.105v, col.2: Three lines in the Breton language follow the epilogue; they are translated in SBB: 92 as, "Yvez Roperz de Kerdu, croyez-le bien, le composa et le continua jusqu'à la fin, sans qu'il y manquât rien d'aucun côté."

The inclusion of the names of three individuals has led to confusion about the name of the author. Beaulieux (1904: 374) lists the work under the rubric 'Auffret de Quoatqueveran', and describes it as "Le Catholicon breton, par Jehan Lagadec, Auffret de Quoatqueveran et Yves Roperz". SBB: 93 proposes a simple solution: Auffret de Quoatqueveran is the principal author of the dictionary; he had the idea, outlined the plan for it, and drew up the list of Breton words, while Jehan Lagadec supplied the French and Latin equivalents for each word. However, Auffret and Lagadec did not finish the work (Auffret was dead in 1499 when this edition was printed); their joint work, drafted in 1464, stopped at the word 'Pres'. In the opinion of R.F. Le Men, archivist of Finistère (cited in SBB: 92), when Calvez wanted to print the text, Roperz, a typographer in the maison Calvez, took charge of it and finished it according to the original plan.

As to its use of the name 'Catholicon', Wallis (1981: 74) remarks that its "connection with the Catholicon appears limited to adopting its title as a generic term for 'dictionary' - testimony in itself to the popularity of Balbi's book".

The 1499 edition is one of the earliest printed trilingual dictionaries, although the genre would become popular in the sixteenth century. According to Brunet (1865: 16f.), two abbreviated versions were printed c.1500-1501. Beaulieux (1904: 374) identifies an edition 's.l.n.d.', corrected and revised by 'Magistro Johanne Corre, Trecorensi', and another edition printed in Paris in 1521. The 1499 edition was abridged and reprinted in 1867 by R.F. Le Men, Lorient, Ed. Corfmat, libraire (SBB: 92; Beaulieux 1904: 374).

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