Most of the Ormulum comprises homilies, that is sermons based on Bible passages. Each homily has a particular gospel passage, usually one verse, followed by an exposition which explains its spiritual meaning and what each parishioner should understand about it in order to live a Christian life. Before the main body of the work, however, there is a preface. The preface represents the only completely original piece of text in the document, as it is neither a translation nor an interpretation of already existing ideas. The Holt-White edition (1878), which is discussed elsewhere on this site, fails to identify a signe de renvoi (sign of reference) in the manuscript, and so has two sections in the preliminary part of the text, which they dub the Preface and the Dedication, the line numbers of which are marked with P and D respectively. This covers folios 3 to 9, with the Latin Table of Contents in between.

Matthes' book
Matthes' book

Heinrich Matthes (1933) noticed this signe de renvoi and demonstrated that the preface and the dedication are one and the same section of text, broken up across parts of folios 3 and 9. The preface, therefore, is much longer than is usually claimed.

Matthes' book, The Unity of the Ormulum, is mainly interested in the religious content, and is shown in the picture. When I collected this book with Nils-Lennart's library and started to use it for the Project, I realised that it was still uncut from the publisher, hence the knife beside it. It was difficult to work out how much German Nils-Lennart spoke, but I imagine it was much more than he let on. This book at least has the advantage of not being printed in the black letter, and is actually quite accesible even for those of us with ever-shrivelling schoolboy German.

As a result of these findings, we have removed the concept of the dedication from the edition. There is no point at which Orrm dedicates the book to anyone, nor does he mention any other patron than his brother Wallterr, who is only mentioned once, in the first line. To analyse the structure of the preface, Nils-Lennart wrote a paper on the structure of the preface for SELIM in 2007. In that paper, he observes that, like much of Orrm's work, the preface is very conventional. While it may seem rather artless, it fulfils all the expectations of a classical preface since the time of Cicero, the famous Roman orator. The same structure is found throughout both Old English and continental sources. It was thereby shown that Orrm was following a well-established tradition in his own original writing just as much as he was in adapting biblical texts for the ordinary parishoner. Nils-Lennart notes in particular that Orrm was worries about copyists taking liberties and making mistakes with his spelling system. If only he knew. Nine hundred years later, after the invention of printing, typesetting, computing and the Internet, and writers, publishers and even editors of Middle English still can't quite manage to get it exactly right. Hopefully, once some more resources are available from the Ormulum project, they might start catching on.