The unique Beowulf manuscript preserves special problems in
addition to the ones caused by the monsters in the poem. In
particular, the manuscript was severely damaged along its
outer edges in a fire in 1731, and about 2,000 letters
subsequently crumbled away along these edges. Toward the
end of the eighteenth century, after the fire but before the
brittle edges of the manuscript had fallen away, two complete
transcripts of Beowulf were made, one by G.J. Thorkelin,
the first modern editor and translator of the poem, and
one by his hired scribe.
The Scribe's Transcript
Today the transcripts, now in the Royal Library of Denmark, are
essential for restoring the lost letters and for helping to confirm
the identity of many of the covered ones, which are still visible to
varying degrees in the manuscript when illuminated from behind
the paper mounts.
In the summer of 1994 the Royal Library of Denmark allowed
and David French, a conservator in the Department of Manuscripts
of the British Library, to digitize the two eighteenth-century
Thorkelin transcripts in Copenhagen.