If the Beowulf manuscript is not the author's autograph (the author's own handwriting), as claimed by Kevin Kiernan, then the first critical appreciation we have of the poem is the manuscript itself. Someone thought enough to copy it down or to have it copied on good vellum by two fairly good scribes—incuring a sizable expense for the year 1000. Another indication of early popularity may be in its apparent influence on another Old English poem, Andreas, which survives in a manuscript kept at Exeter Cathedral in Devon since the mid-eleventh century. After that there is no sign of the poem for well over five hundred years.
Laurence Nowell acquired the eleventh-century manuscript in the 1560s and wrote his name and date on the top of the first page. The manuscript eventually appeared in the library of a family named Cotton, but it does not appear in either of the library's two catalogues (1628-29 and 1696). In 1704, Humfrey Wanley, however, recorded it in his published catalogue of manuscripts containing Old English. A century later Sharon Turner published illustrative citations and very inaccurate translations. The effective rediscovery of the poem was the work of an Icelander, G. S. Thorkelin, and a Dane, N. S. F. Grundtvig. Thorkelin had a transcription of the poem made and made a second himself. He published his edition in 1815. Grudtvig worked on and published an edition of the poem between 1815 and 1861. Perhaps the greatest single...
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