The slim manuscript volume at Mun.A.3.74 looks unprepossessing in its dull 19th-century cloth binding. Inside a late 17th-century hand promises more interest, although the title ‘A similitude to contemplate ye generation of eternal nature’ seems a bit daunting to the modern reader. Yet in the margins of this tract we have discovered our favourite bit of marginalia to date.
The first part of this essay describes in some detail how to make cheese using ‘runet’ and milk. The rennet is added to the cheese, the maid mixes the milk and cheese by hand, the resultant mixture is let set until it congeals, pressed, and then aged… This creative process, our anonymous author hopes, will prove a helpful metaphor for understanding the ‘generation of eternal nature’, or the inevitable process by which the divinity re-creates itself as the never-ending Trinity, and in particular the Son who is God made man and yet remains God. This may be an attempt to explain the theological principal expounded by theologians such as Jakob Boehme, who writes, ‘This Abyssal Nothing will introduce itself into Something, viz., into Nature, that is, into Properties: and through Nature into Glory & Majesty’.
John Byrom, who owned this little manuscript before it came to the Library, was an enthusiast of all things mystical. An earlier reader seems less than convinced by the arguments our scribe expresses. As the argument builds to the climax of cheesy transformation, a manicule, or pointed finger in the margin, engages with the text, asking, ‘Is cheese rational?’. On the next page another manicule continues the silent argument: ‘Is cheese animal & do we eat it alive?’
Sometimes marginal annotations, even those decorated by engaging pointed hands, simply draw attention to interesting bits of the text, or act as a running index, highlighting important words. It is a bonus when one is as amusing as this.