On Wednesday June 4, students, scholars, and visitors gathered around a table in Queen’s College to examine the parchment binding of an early book from the college’s collection. Dr. Henrike Lähnemann remarked on the reuse of the parchment, and invited her audience to feel the parchment — to recognize its texture and thickness. As Dr. Lähnemann’s research has shown, these qualities make parchment not only a suitable book binding, but an ideal dress lining. Dr. Lähnemann, chair of German Studies at Newcastle University, presented the fifth lecture in a series organized by the Workshop for Manuscript and Text Culture. Her talk, titled ‘’Text and Textiles: Manuscript Fragments in Medieval Dresses,’’ introduced the audience to research that began in 2011, after textile conservators discovered fragments of medieval manuscripts lining the hems of dresses at the Cistercian convent of Wienhausen in Northern Germany. The dresses in question, made by nuns in the late fifteenth century, clothed the convent’s statues.
In her presentation, Dr. Lähnemann used four case studies to address the ‘’where, when, and how’’ of the topic at hand. The medieval dresses were made of patches of different cloth such as linen, velvet and silk, some in the form of lampas, a luxurious material, and sported rabbit fur trim. To achieve drapery-like folds in the fur, the nuns stiffened the hems by lining them with strips of parchment gathered in folds by means of a thread. The parchment, said Dr. Lähnemann, was not brought into the Convent for the purpose of lining. In fact, the manuscript fragments that have been discovered are recycled materials that include liturgical manuscripts and legal texts. Book recycling was common in the late fifteenth century, as evidenced by a manuscript from the Bodleian’s own collection (below). Because this was a period of religious reform, liturgical texts became outdated particularly quickly, accounting for their use as dress lining.
The manuscript above is described in a modern edition by Henrike Lähnemann and Ulrike Hascher-Burger, Liturgie und Reform im Kloster Medingen. Edition und Untersuchung des Propst-Handbuchs Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Lat. liturg. e. 18 (Spätmittelalter, Humanismus,Reformation 76), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2013. ISBN 978-3-16-152804-0
Gabriele Balbi (USI) delivered the 2013 Byrne-Bussey Marconi Lecture on Marconi Day, 20 April, on the subject of why the Marconi Company was apparently slow to appreciate the broadcasting option of wireless. From the first development of wireless communication, the technology had advantages over the wired telegraph. Yet wireless point-to-point communications were subject to some seeming deficiencies: a lack of privacy and the potential for disruption, as anyone with a wireless set might pick up and listen to messages, or even disrupt them, as occurred at a 1903 demonstration of wireless at the Royal Institution in London.
Some individuals in the Marconi Company recognized that this apparent failure in fact heralded a new era of mass communication: the birth of broadcasting. But the company’s business model, and political relationships with the Post Office which regulated wireless and new technologies like the point-to-point wireless telephone that the Company wanted to exploit, meant that it was the 1920s before the Marconi Company fully engaged with the broadcasting option.
Ernesto Gomez (Bodleian Library) writes:
Marconi Day 2013 was celebrated by the Oxford and District Amateur Radio Society with a special Radio Club Station set up in the Museum of History of Science to communicate with radio amateurs around the world. The Oxford radio amateurs used the call sign GB4HMS. Amazingly one of the earliest contacts of the day was with Newfoundland, the historical place well remembered for being the first to receive a transatlantic message in 1901.”
This year around 63 clubs from different latitudes managed to commemorate the Marconi achievements in the field of radio transmissions.
The Bodleian Libraries are currently celebrating their long history of collecting with an exhibition of ‘Treasures’. Venerable as it is, the Bodleian was not the first library in Oxford: at least a quarter of the 44 colleges and halls had established libraries by the time the Bodleian opened in November 1602.
The college libraries have a continuous tradition of serving their members. They provide textbooks for today’s undergraduates at the same time as preserving and interpreting the historic books and manuscripts which have now become ‘special’ collections. The Committee of College Librarians has now published a new guide to the special collections in the care of Oxford’s colleges. [8 pages, PDF format].
Previously, the only guide to such material in college libraries was the late Paul Morgan’s compilation Oxford libraries outside the Bodleian. This has long been out of print, but it remains a valuable reference for its detailed survey of early printed books, manuscripts, and archives. The new document is intended as an accessible and up-to-date complement.
Among many diverse holdings, the guide reveals collections of Civil War tracts across Oxford, in Christ Church, Lady Margaret Hall, Lincoln, and Worcester. Somerville has the library of John Stuart Mill – and St John’s has the papers of Spike Milligan. Many Old Members have presented their literary papers, and other donations have created collections of books and manuscripts predating colleges’ foundations.
The Conservation Section is currently devising a new mount for a parchment frisket cover from the Broxbourne collection. A frisket is the part of a printing press that holds the paper in place during printing. Often covered with parchment, a frisket also acted as a mask to keep inky parts of the press bed from marking the printed paper.
The frisket cover (Broxb. 97.40), which is made from a recycled manuscript leaf, was framed behind glass when it came to the library and only one side could be seen. The library’s Rare Books curators asked whether it could be unframed and mounted so that both sides could be seen, and to make it more readily available for study. Once the Broxbourne frisket was released from its frame far more information about its early use and subsequent history could be seen.
A page of a manuscript
Manuscript writing can be seen on this piece of parchment, which has been identified as a page of an Italian fourteenth-century Canon Law text.
A “mask” for printing in colour
Two centuries later, this discarded piece of parchment from a law manuscript was used to make the frisket. The frisket was used to print the red portion of an octavo-format book in the early sixteenth century, and offers early evidence of two-colour printing processes. Here, areas of parchment were cut away to allow the red-inked type to print initials and so on, while the remaining parchment masked off the text which was to be printed in black. The attached photograph shows the upper side of the frisket cover and a detail of one page in raking light, which clearly shows impressions of type.
A lining for a bookbinding
Now that the frisket cover is out of its frame it can be seen that it was subsequently used as a board lining for a large folio bookbinding.
The final question remains – what was it used to print?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Bodleian Library’s collection of papers from the Harcourt family (Earls of Harcourt) have been the subject of research by Carly Watson, this year’s Balliol-Bodley Scholar. On 18 June at the Bodleian Library Watson described her work listing hundreds of poems in manuscript that were collected by George Simon, 2nd earl Harcourt (1736-1809), and his wife Elizabeth Vernon.
Watson has been noting the poems found in the letters from friends of the earl and countess, along with several hundred in manuscript by the Countess herself. Other poems were copied down from newspapers of the day, indicating that the Harcourts kept an eye on how current events were memorialized in verse, and circulated choice examples with their friends. The Harcourt papers supply the library with many new poems not already found in Margaret Crum’s First-line Index of English Poetry 1500-1800 in Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library Oxford. Watson’s additions will be recorded in the card-index supplement, kept in Duke Humfrey’s Library.
For the Harcourts, their house and garden both inspired and reflected their literary lives. During the landscaping by William Mason and Capability Brown, in the 1770s, the gardens were given urns, seats and statues inscribed with commemorative verses and inviting poetic reflections. The result was a rich correspondence including manuscript copies of poems, some of them written in the garden, circulating between the Harcourts and their friends. As Curator of Manuscripts Chris Fletcher remarked, this represents a long British tradition of literary gardens.
An online catalogue of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century correspondence in the Harcourt family papers will be available from the library website later this year.
On Friday, 19 February, Dr. James Willoughby (Oxford) spoke to the Seminar on the History of the Book on the library of the English hospice in Rome from 1496 until 1527. St. Thomas’ Hospice, and its library, served the needs of English pilgrims, royal envoys, commercial travellers, suitors and litigants at the curial courts, humanist scholars such as Thomas Linacre and William Lilye and English students studying in Italian universities. A remarkable surviving series of book-lists records the library’s ownership of, chiefly, scholastic, medical, legal and devotional works, in both manuscript and print. Dr. Willoughby argued that the book-lists were evidence not just for the intellectual life of the English community in Rome, but for the diffusion of print and the workings of the English book trade in the period: he demonstrated how the provenance of both manuscript and early printed books might be tracked by means of ‘secundo folio’ citations given in booklists.The library was ransacked in 1527, but exists today as part of the English seminary in Rome, retaining its manuscript records alongside a single, printed book dating from its earlier life.
The Seminar is convened at All Souls College by Prof. Ian Maclean.
— from Giles Bergel