Literary manuscripts 2010: early modern women as poets and letter-writers

The fourth and final Literary Manuscripts Masterclass of the 2010 series was given on 22 November by Gillian Wright, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Birmingham. Dr. Wright, who has been previously associated with the Perdita Project to recover and digitise manuscript material associated with women writers in the Early Modern period, spoke on Bodleian MS. Add. A 119, a letter-book compiled by Mary Arthington, and Bodleian MS. Eng. poet. e. 31, a poetic miscellany compiled by Octavia Walsh.

Mary (Fairfax) Arthington (1616-1678) was a child of Ferdinando, 2nd Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and sister to the Parliamentarian general. Her letter-book consists chiefly of letters from siblings, including two from General Fairfax, two from Eleanor (Fairfax) Selby, fourteen from Dorothy (Fairfax) Hutton, and twenty-five from Frances (Fairfax) Widdrington. Also included are several letters between her parents.

Dr. Wright observed that the bulk of the letters preserved were of spiritual advice given within a domestic context and highlighted Frances Widdrington’s key role in giving her younger sister, Arthington, counsel on religious matters, even advising her and their other sisters on what Bible verses to read, while she was still a young woman. The nature of the letters was such, Dr. Wright suggested, as to make it likely that they were a selection from a larger corpus, preserved because of their perceived value as a source of advice and comfort. The letters from Frances Widdrington alone cover a period of over fifteen years but do not seem to represent a complete series of correspondence. The manuscript itself is written in a single hand and in slightly archaic spelling, though it is unclear whether the latter may not have been carried over from the letters themselves. Some of the individual letters are marked with an ‘S’ surmounted by three points or stars which Professor Kathryn Sutherland suggested might indicate Frances’s position as the third eldest sister in her family.

Turning to the second manuscript on display, Dr. Wright began by discussing Octavia Walsh (1677-1706), an aristocratic Worcestershire poet, and the printed extract from a 1928 bookseller’s catalogue present on the front paste-down of the manuscript. The catalogue comments somewhat censoriously on the presence of “ribald” poems in the manuscript and suggests that they were unlikely to be by Walsh herself. Dr. Wright used this as a springboard to discuss perceptions of women’s poetry in the period and afterwards and to probe deeper into the difficulties of attribution.

It is unclear if all the poems in the manuscript are, indeed, by Walsh and two of those present in the manuscript were published in The Grove, a 1721 poetic compilation, under the name of her brother, William Walsh, the mentor of Alexander Pope. Dr. Wright paid particular attention to the “ribald” poems of the catalogue entry. These included two poems on “Sacharissa”, the premise of both being that their eponymous heroine has left London to the sorrow of the young men, retiring to the country, allegedly to read Epictetus, but in truth to be adored by the rural swains.

Also discussed was “To Urania,” a scatological, Rabelaisian mock-epic.Dr. Wright noted that it was the only poem in the manuscript not included in another, posthumous, manuscript of Walsh’s poems (not in the Bodleian Library) which contains a notation on the flyleaf that the poems included there had been found amongst her papers at her death. The reason for its exclusion is uncertain, but was, perhaps, due to its bawdy content.

– from Kelsey Jackson Williams

Literary manuscripts 2010: ‘Poem, Amorous’: Two Bodleian Marvell Manuscripts

Bodleian Library MS. Eng. poet. d. 49, a hybrid consisting of a printed copy of Miscellaneous poems (London, 1681) with manuscript additions.

The third Literary Manuscript Masterclass of the year was given on 8 November by Diane Purkiss of Keble College and Johanna Harris of Lincoln College.  The subject: two Bodleian manuscripts containing poems by Andrew Marvell.

Dr. Purkiss introduced the first, Bodleian MS. Eng. poet. d. 49, a hybrid volume of 296 pages consisting of an exemplum of Marvell’s Miscellaneous Poems (London, 1681) with numerous manuscript emendations and notes in several hands.  It is a vital source for the recovery of Marvell’s political works, containing a unique variant of his “Horatian Ode”, one of only three copies of “The first Anniversary of the Government Under his Highness the Lord Protector”, and the sole complete text of “A Poem upon the Death of his late Highness the Lord Protector”.  Marvell was already deceased in 1681, so the emendations and manuscript poems contained in this text cannot be in his own handwriting,  but Dr. Purkiss noted that MS. Eng. poet. d. 49 was the source text for Edward Thompson’s 1776 edition of the poems, and had clearly been owned by Thompson. A note signed and dated (1775) by Thompson appears in the manuscript. Furthermore Thompson had advertised the acquisition of “a volume of Mr. Marvell’s poems” from the Popple family, descendants of Marvell’s nephew, William Popple, suggesting that both the emendations and the new or variant poems may have been added by William Popple himself. No surviving manuscript copies are known of poems in Marvell’s own hand.  This hybrid book is all the more important for containing in the manuscript section a number of satires,  political poems variously attributed to Marvell and his contemporaries.

Diane Purkiss writes:
Attributions of the political satires or “Painter poems” to Marvell have developed him as a satirist who reworked the work of others.  Annabel Patterson and Nigel Smith both suggest that the Second and the Third are in part by Marvell, a reworking of part of his earlier satiric and lyric canon, though Smith comments that ‘it is hard to believe that the inept ll. 175-6 or the unmetrical l.286 of the Second Advice could be Marvell’s’. Earlier manuscripts attribute these poems to Sir John Denham, an attribution noted, and dismissed, in Edward Thompson’s annotation in Eng. poet. d. 49.  At the masterclass, John Mc Tague from the Digital Miscellanies project noted that printed 18th-century poetical miscellanies continued the Denham attribution.

It may be that a further search of the elaborate layers of Painter-poem manuscripts might unearth some helpful clues.  Consider Samuel Pepys’ account of how he encountered them first as singles and then together.  Might it be helpful too to think about whether they were mostly transcribed in a group?  And whether either a scribal or printing error had been reproduced uncomprehendingly across the whole series of manuscripts, as Nigel Smith suggests may have happened with ‘To His Coy Mistress’?

It has been suggested that the smaller emendations of the printed text in MS.  Eng. poet. d. 49 are “common-sense” changes, but some present a more complex picture, for instance a change of “desarts” to “deserts” — implying a reference to the verb “desert” as well as the noun for a dry place.  The 1681 Poems reads a well-known crux in “To His Coy Mistress” as “Now therefore, while the youthful hue | Sits on thy skin like morning glew”, which the emendator of MS. Eng. poet. d. 49 has corrected to “. . . glew | . . . dew”.  Dr. Purkiss suggested that this may indicate a common origin with the other manuscript under discussion, Bodleian MS. Don b. 8.

Dr. Harris discussed MS. Don b. 8, a folio manuscript miscellany of 738 pages that includes thirteen poems in the Marvell canon.  It was compiled by Sir William Haward, a friend and fellow M.P. with Marvell.  Most notable amongst its contents is a unique variant of “To His Coy Mistress”, untitled, though Haward in his index to the miscellany has described it as a “Poeme, Amorous”.  It is 36 lines long rather than the canonical 46 and couched in the first person singular.

Significant variants also include “glew” | “dew” as in Eng. poet. d. 49 — though the two versions of the poem are otherwise radically different — and the more thought-provoking “‘Two hundred to adore your eyes | but thirty thousand for your thighs”.  The variants in this poem have been suggested as evidence of memorial reconstruction, but Dr. Harris also noted the insistence of some modern editors that a change of reference from  “breast” to “thighs” was indicative of an emergent homosexual culture in Restoration London — a suggestion not wholly adopted by the speakers.

Neither it nor the version given in Eng. poet. d. 49 have a clear relationship with the printed 1681 Poems and Dr. Harris questioned whether a lyrical poem can be singularly dated in this instance or whether the attributable canon must be elasticised to allow for a larger manuscript corpus of verse.  These questions were only some raised by the two manuscripts, which have yet to be fully understood.  As such, the class reinforced the point never too often made that even the texts of authors central to the canon are not always as stable and clear-cut as they may seem.

The instability of Eng. poet. d. 49 – Dr. Purkiss asked whether we should consider it an authorial text that became a miscellany — its deletions from the printed 1681 edition; its emendations and notes and manuscript additions, up to and including Edward Thompsons 1770s notes while preparing his edition — make it a fascinating crossroads for considering how the Marvell canon was developing in the century after his death.

Kelsey Jackson Williams, Balliol College


Literary manuscripts 2010: Donne’s sermons and politics

At the second Literary Manuscripts Masterclass of 2010 on 25 October, Emma Rhatigan (University of Sheffield), Sebastiaan Verweij (Hardie Postdoctoral Fellow, Lincoln College), and Peter McCullough (University of Oxford, General Editor of the Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne ) presented manuscripts of John Donne’s sermons from Bodleian collections. Dr. McCullough, in his capacity as general editor of the sermons, introduced the class with an overview of the issues surrounding these manuscripts, discussing ways in which sermons were transmitted and identifying the principal manuscript sources for Donne’s, three of which, the Merton, Dowden, and Ashmole manuscripts, are held in the Bodleian. The editing and collation of sermons is still in its infancy, he observed, and much remains to be done. He pointed to the work of Jeanne Shami, who had discovered three new manuscripts in the British Library (Royal MS 17 B.xx, Harley 6946, and Harley 6356) containing a total of seven Donne sermons. He also speculated on the survival in manuscript of sermons dating from 1620 to 1622 but no later and suggested that Donne’s promotion to St. Paul’s and the promulgation of James I’s ‘directions for preachers’, both in 1622, may have played a role in reducing manuscript circulation.

Following Dr. McCullough’s introduction, Drs. Verweij and Rhatigan talked the audience through the items at hand. Those examined were the ‘Dowden’ manuscript (Bodleian Library MS. Eng. Th. e. 102, Summary Catalogue 46602), which includes 8 sermons by Donne, as well as other material, the ‘Merton’ manuscript (Bodleian Library MS. Eng. Th. c. 71, Summary Catalogue 46601), including 16 sermons by Donne, as well as other material, and MS. Ashmole 781, a commonplace book of over 100 items, with one Donne sermon. This last is in an advanced state of decay, due to acidic ink, and is now disbound for preservation purposes. The first item in the Ashmole manuscript, discussed by Dr. Verweij, is Donne’s sermon on the text, ‘Remember now thy Creator in the dayes of thy youth’ (Ecclesiastes 12.1; pp. 1-19). None of the three manuscripts are in Donne’s own hand but are copies made for other interested parties.

In the first lecture in this series Professor Henry Woudhuysen cited the field-defining work of Peter Beal, author of the Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts. Dr. Beal’s contribution to Early Modern manuscript studies was confirmed in Dr. Rhatigan’s discussion of the ‘Merton’ manuscript. The distinctive gold-tooled lozenge on its front board, incorporating the initials ‘H.F.’, has been identified by Beal as the mark of one Henry Field, a still mysterious individual, perhaps a relative of Theophilus Field, Bishop of Hereford. Dr. Rhatigan’s own work emphasized the importance of such identifications in studying the creation and use of the ‘Merton’ manuscript and discussed the interrelationships of its contents within the context of Jacobean theological politics.

Donne’s work circulated extensively in manuscripts copied by friends and readers, even after print publication. These manuscripts of sermons represent only a portion of the Bodleian’s Donne collections. Also of note is Bodleian Library MS. Eng. poet. d. 197 (Summary Catalogue 46444), ‘A letter to the Lady Carey and Mrs. Essex Riche’. This verse epistle (the creases in the paper suggest that it was indeed folded and delivered as a private letter) is the only known manuscript of an English poem by Donne written in his own hand.

– Kelsey Jackson Williams
Balliol College


Contents of the ‘Merton’ Manuscript, Bodleian Library MS. Eng. th. c. 71

Literary manuscripts 2010: finding Arcadia in the gutter

Manuscripts of Sir Philip Sidney’s works provided the opportunity for Professor Henry Woudhuysen (University College London) to deliver a master class in techniques for the study of early modern manuscripts. These include the recognition (if not identification) of different hands in a manuscript; consideration of the binding date and style; archaeology of the manuscript taking note of the gatherings or quires; and identification of the paper stock from watermark evidence.

For MS. Bod. e. mus. [museao] 37, Professor Woudhuysen asked students to look into the gutter, where pages meet at the spine of the book, to find stitching in the centre of gatherings. He demonstrated the importance of understanding the quire structure (as shown in the attached document detailing the structure of signature ‘O’) for detecting missing pages.

This manuscript of Sidney’s Arcadia, with ‘Certain loose sonnets & songs’, was written in at least three different hands, but a tantalizing clue is left by the scribe who signed the last written page with a flourish and his initials.

Half of a watermark (the royal coat of arms) seen in MS. Jesus College 150, with the aid of a fibre-optic light sheet.

Seeking the origin of MS. Jesus College 150, also a manuscript of Arcadia, Professor Woudhuysen looked for evidence at the watermark of the paper. This displayed a royal coat of arms, suggesting that this paper was made by the firm of John Spilman of Dartford in Kent. Spilman gained a patent from Elizabeth I in 1589, enabling him to monopolize the manufacture of high-quality white paper in the 1590s and first decade of the 17th century, and make this for the first time a profitable industry in England. On the study and use of watermark evidence, Woudhuysen cited the authority of Allan H. Stevenson, whose article ‘Watermarks are twins’ is linked here.

While these methodologies of manuscript studies are necessary tools for the scholar, Woudhuysen argued that they should not replace, but supplement, textual analysis. Following a period of intense academic interest in the material forms of both manuscript and printed texts, in pursuit of a history of scribal and print culture (defining the field of History of the Book), Professor Woudhuysen predicted that we will see a return to textual criticism, with the aim of establishing the best text. Techniques helping to date the manuscript witnesses, or place them within a stemma of the text, will continue to be valuable in this scholarly work.

Thomas Churchyard, A sparke of frendship and warme goodwill, that shewest the effect of true affection and vnfoldes the finenesse of this world VVhereunto is ioined, the commoditie of sundrie sciences, the benefit that paper bringeth, with many rare matters rehearsed in the same ... (London, 1588)

Script and print
Many of the techniques demonstrated in the examination of these manuscripts could be applied to printed books of the same period. Just as scribes had their personal styles (and foibles), so did type compositors; watermark evidence can be found by the same means; the format, gatherings, and binding repay examination in determining the intentions behind the manufacture of any book, whether in manuscript or print.

A future for handwriting analysis?
The regularity of the taught ‘secretary’ handwriting was its virtue for the 16th-century reader, but operates against modern scholars who try to find distinctive personal handwriting styles. Digital photography has the potential to enable scholars to build up a visual databank of handwriting samples.

Reading list for this session: page 1page 2

The Literary Manuscripts masterclasses take place on Monday afternoons in Michaelmas term. See the Centre for the Study of the Book calendar for details.

Library machines: the McLeod collator

The Bodleian Library saw a reunion of inventor and invention on September 2 when Professor Randall McLeod from the University of Toronto conducted a masterclass in the use of the visual collator he invented and built. The device is used to compare copies of printed books. Even copies of the same edition of a book printed in the hand-press period might differ from one another, as corrections were made during a press run.

The Bodleian has owned a McLeod collator since the 1980s. It was kept first in the Modern Papers Reading Room (Room 132 in the New Library) and later in Duke Humfrey’s Library. The library’s copy of the guide to its use, (PDF linked below) has been headed in pencil: “Please do not remove from Room 132”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The collator itself was returned briefly to Room 132 for a special visit by Professor McLeod, who talked about his invention and demonstrated its use to a class of 25 visitors.

Bibliographers and book historians collate printed texts, comparing copies of the same edition, in order to detect any of the differences that may arise due to stop-press corrections, accidents in the press, or later annotations. A famous example of this process was the work done in the 1950s by Charlton Hinman on the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, resulting in Hinman’s study, The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1963), that highlighted the many differences in the finished products that might leave an early-modern printer’s shop under the same title. By the same token, as masterclass participant Ian Gadd of Bath Spa University commented, collation can reveal sections of text that match so exactly — including errors — that the publisher’s claim of an updated edition might conceal the fact that only some of the type had actually been re-set.

Collation may be done by hand, but this is a laborious process of checking every character. As with proofreading a word-processed document, the brain may falsely supply what the eye does not see. Scholars have sought ways to make the process of comparison entirely visual, so that the differences on a page leap out to the eye, and they have looked for ways of superimposing images of two supposedly identical pages.

Hinman’s own answer to the question, for the daunting task of collating the massive First Folio, was the Hinman Collator. This machine adopted the principle of the blink comparator, a device used by astronomers, to make tiny differences in the images jump out as first one, then the other, page image flashed in front of the operator’s eyes.

The Bodleian Library bought a Hinman Collator in 1970. At first this was kept in Room 132 of the New Library, which was then the Bibliography Room (housing the library’s handpresses) until that room became the Modern Papers Reading Room. Then the collator’s blinking lights were seen to disturb readers, and it was retired to the library stack. It is now unfortunately not functional.

Professor Randall McLeod used his own invention to collate copies of John Harington’s translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. This device works on a different principle from the Hinman, as it uses the operator’s two eyes viewing texts simultaneously.The two images are then superimposed by the human brain, trained for binocular vision. In McLeod’s words, the images ‘suddenly fuse [and] [t]he brain … sees only one page’. Where the two settings of type are identical, the image appears solid, but any differences appear to ‘shimmer,’ and gain depth, like the pictures seen through a stereoscope.

During the class Professor McLeod compared copies of the 1621 edition of Samuel Rowley’s play, When you see me you know me, revealing several variants.

Other McLeod collators are owned by Cambridge and the University of London; the National Library of Wales; Università di Udine; New York Public Library, and the Pierpont Morgan Library.

A guide to the use of the McLeod Collator can be found here:
McLeod_Collator_Guide
Also see an article from Lingua Franca, 1997, by Daniel Zalewski.