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HE attempt to write anything in the way of an Introduction to the "Coucher Book" of Furness Abbey is one beset with difficulties, and, besides, one which can hardly fail to be unsatisfactory in its results. For, in the first place, such a very considerable portion of the whole volume is found to consist of the most uninterest
ing matter, being the dry, formal, technical records of pleadings in law-suits; while, besides this, a very large proportion of the full number of pages are occupied with copies of Papal Bulls of Indulgence, the larger division of which possesses not the slightest amount of intrinsic interest, very few of them, moreover, being of any historical value, or private and peculiar attraction. And, in the second place, the Coucher Book itself has been exposed to such ruthless treatment, whether at the hands of unscrupulous collectors, or through mere wantonness of depredation, that large portions of it have been entirely removed, and other large portions so damaged as to afford no connected details, such as can be made available in any attempt either to give a coherent view, whether of the History of the House and its possessions, or of the
peculiarities of title, or character, or of the special attributes of value or interest attaching to the latter. affording material of illustration in this connection, it may not be out of place to cite the interesting details which are practically given us as to the medieval practice of ironworking in the Furness district, preserved for us in the Orgrave charters, and also in those connected with Elliscales and Merton; or those other details again, all hinging on to the historical question of the early settlement of the district, and whether by this race or that, stored up in the Charters dealing with the names of the lands given, as well as with the donors and the lands themselves so given; and yet again the further details afforded as to the mediaval country gentleman's surroundings and manner of life, met with in more than one of the Pennington documents :all this, it should be observed, affords us a means of some sort for an estimate of what is lost through the mutilation to which the Coucher Volume has been exposed; and not only that, but also of the enhanced difficulty of giving a satisfactory descriptive and illustrative notice of the general contents and character of the Volume itself.
There is also another topic, some notice of which must be taken in any contemplated or attempted sketch of what is actually found within the pages of the Coucher Book :I mean, not simply the incorrectness with which the book is written throughout, and which is forcibly adverted to in the "Prefatory Notice," but the strange inconsistencies and even contradictions, in historical or genealogical statements, which are met with only too often in the MSS. in
question. In reference to the discordant and contradictory genealogical accounts touching the Family of Couci, to which attention is drawn in more than one note, and especially in the long note on pp 399, 400, it may be possible to allege that some of the opposing statements are met with in law-pleadings, and that the scribe, copying merely what was before him, can in no way be held responsible for the mis-statements made, whether intentionally or mistakenly, by other parties in the prosecution of their own ends. And, besides, it might be further advanced that it is possible some correction of the non-historic statements may have found a place in that part, unhappily the greater part, of the document referred to which has disappeared. But no palliation or excuse of this nature can be thought of or advanced in such a case as that of the conflicting statements affecting the family of Le Fleming. The discrepancy between them, as they stand in the pages of the Coucher, is perfectly hopeless, and as startling as hopeless. Thus at p. 89, only three generations are alleged, Alina, the wife of John de Cancefield, sister of the last male heir, whom she succeeds in the possession of the Le Fleming lands and hereditaments, being described as the grand-daughter of the original Michael le Fleming, and sister of the second of that name. On p. 463, however, five generations are specified, the said Alina being identified as the sister of Michael le Fleming, otherwise de Furness, the third of the name, and of the fifth generation. It is not the difficulty of correcting the mis-statement that is the matter to be noted