This year’s Lyell Lectures, given by David Pearson, explore the individual ownership of books at a time when libraries like the Bodleian were less established, and access to the written word depended more significantly on private libraries. Ownership of books grew steadily through the seventeenth century, in the country as well as the city, across all sectors of society. How big were people’s libraries then, what did they contain, and why did they own them? In his lectures, David Pearson explores these themes not only for academics and professional people, but also for women as well as men, for farmers as well as doctors.
Here is a selection of books now in Bodleian collections, but formerly owned by individuals in the 17th century, chosen by Pearson to illustrate points in his lectures.
We have a very different set of values today around which texts are interesting, or important, and we have a respect for the preservation of original evidence which was not shared by earlier generations. Nowadays, we would treat a 1477 imprint presented to Archbishop Thomas Rotherham (1423-1500) with considerable respect; when it arrived in the Bodleian in the 17th century as part of Selden’s library, it was bundled up with a group of later pamphlets, put into a workaday binding, and cropped by the binder so that Rotherham’s arms are partly cut away.
BB 19(3) Art. Seld
George Carew’s handsome books
The second lecture explores the theme of Books for use and books for show, asking how far people valued their books as objects for display at least as much as things to read. George Carew, Earl of Totnes (1555-1629) was a soldier and statesman; he had his books strikingly bound in hand-painted and gilded vellum, with his coat of arms, and they are usually clean and crisp internally, with little evidence of having been read. Were they books for use, or for show?
Anne Clifford’s Arcadia
Although book ownership among women was widespread in the 17th century, property owning laws of the time mean that it is much less well-documented than is the case for men. Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676) is one exception to that rule, as we have paintings, diaries and surviving books which reflect her private library and active reading. This copy of The Countesse of Pembroke’s Arcadia was Lady Anne’s and has her marginalia, and a note in her hand that she read it in 1651.
J-J Sidney 13
The humbler sort
Not all books, in the 17th century, sat on the shelves of scholars, aristocrats, or professional men; contemporary markings show that books of all kinds, but particularly Bibles, devotional books, histories and practical manuals lived in less educated households. This late 15th-century Latin Bible began its life in clergy use but during the 17th century it passed through several Welsh families (Evans, Jones, Williams) who left all kinds of notes, drawings and scribbles in its margins.
In the first of a series of blogposts about women in the book trades, we are looking at images showing women employed in the printing and paper industries in 18th-century France, as depicted in engravings from the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, published between 1751 and 1772. The engravings show workers in the industrial spaces, as well as the tools of these trades.
Our first picture is a modern take on these images, as seen in a small risograph booklet which uses details from a modern facsimile edition of the Encyclopédie plates, (Recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts libéraux et les arts mécaniques, avec leur explication, published in Paris by Inter-Livres in 2001). The booklet was produced by graphic designer Dario Utreras at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press in 2017.
Utreras isolated individual figures from the plates. In the upper corner of one page we notice a female figure, copied from the plates showing ‘Papeterie’, the paper-making industry, (in the online version of the Encyclopédie produced by the ARTFL project)*. Utreras comments on the reason for extracting these figures, ‘One has to go and find the women (and their work) across most strands of history. Women in Typography. Avant-garde composers. Radical poets. Indigenous musicians. This booklet is a small exercise in observation.’
Geraldine Sheridan has examined the historical accuracy of the Encyclopédie engravings. [“An Other Text: Rationalist Iconography and the Representation of Women’s Work in the Encyclopédie,” Diderot Studies (2003): 101-135] ‘We see the « delisseuses » cutting up rags for maceration… [and] women work in the drying room, separating and hanging up sheets of paper…’. [Sheridan, p. 128] Sheridan finds that in the case of papermaking, the portrayal of women workers in the industry reflected historical reality in the 18th-century French paper industry.
In other Encyclopedie plates, women are depicted in the type-foundry, (‘Fonderie des caracteres d’imprimerie’). This also fits the historical record. [Sheridan, p. 125] Sheridan explains the type of work that is depicted in the Encyclopédie: “one woman breaks off the jets of metal from the newly-cast type letters, while the woman beside her at the bench then rubs the shanks of each letter smooth on a grindstone. … The second image … shows a woman composing the newly cast letters into sets, and suggests that she had a level of literacy.”
*Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, etc., eds. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Autumn 2017 Edition), Robert Morrissey and Glenn Roe (eds), http://encyclopedie.uchicago.edu/.
A Commonplace Reformation: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Add. A. 92 – Martin Luther’s Autograph Collection of Proverbs
This manuscript is one of two in the Bodleian’s possession which are written in Martin Luther’s own hand, and, running to 40 pages, is by far the more substantial – though, about the size of a postcard, it remains small. It is a collection of proverbs (Sprichwörter), mostly in German, and dating from some point in the later 1530s or early 1540s. It was acquired by the Bodleian for £45 in 1865 –the ‘carelessness and poverty’ of German libraries and museums for allowing this to happen was later lamented. (‘Sprichwörtersammlung’, ed. K. Drescher, in Luthers Werke: Schriften, 69 vols. (Weimar: 1883-), li, p. 634). This manuscript is the only version of this collection, which was never published or prepared for publication in Luther’s lifetime; indeed, its contents were not published until its preparation in 1900 by Ernst Thiele, which was then included in the Weimar edition of Luther’s collected works. It is not known why, other than an interest in proverbs, Luther began to write this work, nor why he stopped (the last six pages of the manuscript are blank) and did not publish it.
The format of the manuscript reflects Luther’s practice to cut up sheets of paper into smaller pieces to serve as notepaper, which would be small enough to carry around, or just to have ready on his desk to make notes on. The paper for the whole manuscript has the same watermark, an eagle (see image, from p. 22), and so was presumably all prepared at approximately the same time.
Thiele notes that this watermark is also found on the manuscript (also in this note-paper format) of Luther’s tract Wider Hans Worst, which was written and published in 1541, which gives some idea of when the manuscript might have been written. Being a notebook, many of the phrases win it are just brief notes – reminders from Luther to jog his memory. This means that many of the phrases are heavily abbreviated and make little sense to a modern reader, especially when many of the proverbs describe situations unfamiliar in the present day. The manuscript shows signs of composition and revision, too – Luther seems, perhaps with existing proverbs in mind, to be writing new proverbs, or at least variations of old ones. This manuscript can give a number of interesting insights, both into Luther, and his thought processes, and into the state of German literary culture of the period.
The sixteenth century was a time of considerable change for the German language. Once, Luther himself was regarded as the driving force of this change, but, while his importance in the development of the German language and German print culture should not be underestimated, he was part of a wider moment in which German changed. This included writers like Luther, but also merchants and printers, who all participated in changes in German literary culture. Proverb collections have been a focus for historians of popular culture trying to find a way in to oral culture which cannot be easily found through books. While this is attractive, there are significant problems with the use of proverb collections as examples of popular oral culture, since many collections of proverbs were used to give moral instruction. This is clear in the proverb collections of Luther’s contemporary, and sometime friend, Agricola, in which most of the proverbs are accompanied by brief moral instructions explaining how the proverbs can be used for personal improvement. Published proverb collections like Agricola’s provide an example more of what their authors think, or want, popular behaviour to be, than a reflection its reality. Moreover, the first, and most famous, of the sixteenth-century proverb collections, Erasmus’ Adages was emphatically not a collection of examples from popular speech: they were phrases to be learned and used for instruction, rather than as representative of folk wisdom and oral culture. These books of proverbs, then, reflect not popular opinions and beliefs, but the opinions and beliefs of the educated and of literary wits. To be included in such a collection was an indication, perhaps, not of the peasant-authenticity of a phrase, but on its aptness or elegance.
Luther’s collection, however, is somewhat different. It is not a neat and learned collection like that of Agricola or Erasmus. It contains no moral essays, nor citations of classical or contemporary authors. Few of Luther’s proverbs seem to be taken from noted literary sources at all. It was, of course, never published, and never arranged into a didactic text. It may, as Thiele argues, have originally been conceived as his own proverb collection in competition – or in dialogue – with other proverb collections of the time, but at some point Luther seems to have decided against this, and converted the aim into a work for purely personal use. Understanding these proverbs can be difficult, given that many of them are no longer part of contemporary culture, or refer to contemporary experiences or beliefs, or even to words which have since fallen out of use. For instance, a year regulated by religious festivals can be seen with the expression ‘zu pfingsten auff dem eys’ – something will happen ‘on the ice at Whitsun’, i.e. never (see image, from p. 10, at bottom).
Another proverb is just the short note ‘Blewel schleiffen’, where ‘Blewel’, in modern German ‘Bleuel’, is a piece of wood used to beat washing in running water to help clean it. Further, many proverbs rely on their context to be understood, and being in a list removes this almost entirely. This is made yet more difficult by the abbreviated form in which many of them are recorded. As Luther’s notes, they did not need to be complete, and may only stand for a prompt, intelligible to him, but not to anyone else. For example, ‘Hasen panier’ (flying ‘a hare’s banner’) probably is ironic for running away instead of advancing under a proper banner, as are the two words ‘ohren melcker’ (‘ear-milker’), which might be interpreted as way of saying ‘flatterer’. Many, though, are perfectly intelligible to the modern reader, and have close analogues with proverbs in English, as well as in modern German. For instance, ‘Er geht auff eyern’ (‘He goes on eggs’) can be read as ‘walking on eggshells’, while ‘Horet das gras wachsen’ (‘Listen to the grass grow’) and ‘Viel hende machen leicht erbeit’ (‘Many hands make light work’) are clear.
There are a number of features of this manuscript, many of which are typified on this detail from p. 23. The manuscript is written in an unusual red-brown ink; two versions of this ink can be seen, clearly demonstrating how the manuscript was written over time, and with no interest in internal consistency. The changes of ink suggest that the manuscript was composed over a period of time, with different inks showing as many as eleven periods of composition. The picture of a hand (a manicule) is used to indicate something of special interest. Here, it marks the phrase ‘Gott ist der narren furmunde’, meaning ‘God is the fool’s guardian’. ‘Fool’ here is not a term of abuse, but refers instead the Pauline idea of a ‘fool for God’ who is under special divine protection. This is, perhaps, a crucial theological proverb for Luther, expressing the ubiquity of faith, for even ‘fools’ can have it.
These pages also contain a number of proverbs which are abusive or scatological in nature, something quite typical of Luther’s polemical writings. For instance, amongst a series of proverbs on p. 9 relating to fish is ‘Bleib daheymen mit deinen faulen fisschen’ (‘Stay at home with your rotten fish’), while on another page there is the bald remark that ‘An armen hoffart wisscht der teufel den ars’ (‘the Devil wipes his arse on the pride of the poor’). This manuscript shows that such uses in Luther’s public writings were neither an aberration, nor actually spontaneous, since a number appear in this manuscript simply listed without anything to prompt them. Luther, it seems, worked out his insults in advance, ready to insert them into his other writings. Not all are abusive, though, and some quite homely, such as ‘Kuche uber den zaün, kuche herwidder’ (‘[offering] a cake over the fence receives a cake in return’).
Though this manuscript should not necessarily be considered as a direct record of popular culture of Luther’s time, for Luther, like his contemporary proverb collection, likely compiled his proverbs with some moral or didactic intent, it is useful in the understanding of Luther himself. This manuscript by no means revolutionises interpretations of Luther, his personality, or his preoccupations, which are already well-documented in the many sources which surround Luther’s life, but it does, perhaps, offer an unusually unmediated access to Luther, unaffected by the admiration or denigration of his followers and his opponents. It also lacks the public aspect of his polemics and letters, especially in the annotations which Luther apparently makes for himself alone. The private nature of this work, whatever its original purpose, gives insight into Luther’s working methods and what he wrote when he did not have an audience or a particular aim.
The manuscript will be displayed in the Weston Library from the 30th October to the 3rd of November.
Photographs taken by Alexander Peplow, and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, whose photos of the entire manuscript can be found here. Photos used with the permission of the Bodleian Libraries.
A description of its palaeographic features can be found on the Teaching the Codex website.
Alexander Peplow is a DPhil student in History at Merton College. The description of the Luther autograph was part of his course work for the Method Option ‘Palaeography and History of the Book’ with Henrike Lähnemann in the MSt. in Medieval Studies 2016/2017.
Russell Maret, 2017 printer-in-residence at the Bodleian, led a seminar looking at old and new printings of Shakespeare. Participating were some of the printers who had contributed to the Bodleian’s new collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets printed in 2016. The group discussed questions of fidelity to the early printed texts, artistic interpretation, and personal responses to the poems.
The seminar examined new and old: the earliest edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609) and the First Folio edition of his plays (1623), and a selection of the 2016-printed sonnets, each presenting one 14-line poem in a different format including:
Number 81: with a delicate decoration of gothic arches
Number 74: resembling an obituary broadside, aptly commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death
Number 62: alternating lines of black and red giving original and modernized spelling
Number 50: in a wooden Old West wrapper
Number 25: on coloured paper with a calligraphic Spanish translation curving around the printed English
Number 15: on red paper, text set in Perpetua, with lines 6 and 7 picked out in Mila Script, and a flower-seed illustration
Number 3: fully linocut, with the last two lines depicted as a reflection in water
Number 27: in old style; type-written; and in binary code
Numbers 5&6: using a facsimile of the Doves Press type, referencing the Doves Press 1909 edition of the Sonnets
Number 28: several copies on beer-mats in two colours
This last sparked thoughts of adjourning the seminar, but there was some work to do first. The printers’ expertise was put to work at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press to make a keepsake of the occasion; lines from King Lear in three colours, with unlocked type interpreting loosening coherence.
from Isobel Goodman, intern (2017) Rare Books, Bodleian Libraries Special Collections
The Cheney archive documents the history of Cheney & Sons, an independent family printing firm based in Banbury. The firm was in operation from 1767 to 2001, working primarily as jobbing printers but also printing some books. The archive, acquired by the Bodleian Library in 2010, includes 17 volumes of printed ephemera, books, and manuscript material, and demonstrates both the longevity of the company and their adaptability through over two centuries of politics, wars and changing technology.
The company was begun in 1767 by John Cheney, the innkeeper of the Unicorn Inn in Banbury. From there it passed through various generations of Cheney until it finally closed down some 234 years later. A particularly interesting aspect of the firm’s history is during the period 1821 to 1854, when Esther Cheney, the wife of the founder’s son, Thomas, was the head of the company. A letter sent out by her to clients informing them of this change of leadership is within the archive, as well as another one from when Esther handed control to her son in 1854.
Several items within the archive thus bear the imprint E. Cheney, and according to the Cheney’s own history, Esther was a formidable woman of renown in Banbury. Apparently the people of Banbury used to frighten naughty children by threatening to call in Mrs. Cheney! Her position is interesting as she was clearly acting as head of the company in her own right, an action that was not necessarily the norm at the time. For more detail on the history of the firm, Cheney and Sons printed their own history, which is also part of the archive.
The archive sheds light on the print trade across over two centuries. The Cheneys produced several specimen books containing numerous examples of their work, showcasing the variety of commissions that the Cheney family could undertake, as well as demonstrating the types, colours, materials, and finishes that they could offer. Specimen books like these were, and remain today, a very practical way of showing potential clients the services offered by a company.
But Cheney & Sons took every opportunity to demonstrate their printing skill, for instance the archive contains several promotional calendars which were given as gifts to clients at the end of the year. These calendars not only showcase the artistic skill of the printing firm, but also allow us to see changing tastes in artwork through the years. They also show that maintaining client loyalty and goodwill was an important part of running the business, and the further examples within the archive of these kinds of tokens of thanks (SDC11230) printed by Cheney & Sons for other businesses, suggest that business-client relationships were much more personal in the 19th and 20th centuries.
It is interesting to discover, through the archive material, the different ways in which print was utilised through the late 18th to 21st centuries, and the insight these materials can give us into social history of the time.
The Cheney archive affords a wealth of examples of printed documents relating to entertainment. There are numerous notices for concerts and plays , as well as a dance card to the Banbury ball of December 1897 , listing the dances and with room for a lady to write in a partner for each. Also, there is a poster printed by Potts and a newspaper article by Cheney detailing the celebrations planned for the day of Queen Victoria’s coronation, showing how, in a time before television allowed live viewing of the actual event in London, the people of Banbury (and presumably other towns too) enjoyed coronation day: with dancing, sports, and an ‘immense fire balloon’!
Another lovely example of Cheney & Co’s involvement in local entertainment is a book printed in 1907 to commemorate the Oxford Pageant. The pageant was organised to raise funds for the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Oxford Eye Hospital, and involved the people of Oxford dressing up in historical dress and re-enacting the history of Oxford. My personal highlights are the Vikings landing, Queen Elizabeth and her court being photographed school-photograph style, and a recreation of the St. Scholastica’s Day ‘Town and Gown’ riots!
Several volumes of the archive are full of printed ephemera related to politics, further demonstrating the Cheney’s connection with the general public. Some are open letters from MPs at election time. Others record contemporary reaction to political changes, for example some notices refer to the change to a secret ballot in 1872, instructing voters how to cast their vote properly. However, some are perhaps even more relevant to the present day: vicious tirades against fellow MPs , and satires describing the election as a horse-race, with a notice of betting on the contestants, and a summary after the ‘race’. . These satires were published by various different printers in Banbury and the surrounding area, and so the archive demonstrates a wide range of political affiliations, showing elections from several different perspectives. It is interesting to see how, in a world without social media, politics could be equally as cut-throat, and printed ephemera clearly played a very important role in this.
Fashion is another particular strength of the Cheney archive. Several catalogues and pamphlets for different shops can be found, including one for Elliston and Cavell Ltd., the shop that used to be situated at 7-12 Magdalen Street, Oxford, where Debenhams is now. The catalogues offer insight not only into trends for men, women and children, but also into how the fashion trade operated in the 20th century.
Outside of examples of work printed by Cheney and Sons, one manuscript letter
written to ‘Mr Cheney Guild-der’ describes quite a curious commission received by the Cheney firm. Richard Barton asks Cheney to ‘put’ images of angels, Jesus and a small child on two clarinets. The letter is not very professionally written, as the writer starts over three times and runs out of space at the bottom of the page. He also states that he doesn’t want to ask the usual man, because he’s always drunk! This seems quite a strange request to make of a printer – but serves to show another side of the Cheney firm, which was gilding.
The archive does not just include work by the Cheney firm, though. It also includes the work of other local printers, including J.G. Rusher, who printed a large number of chapbooks in the early nineteenth century. These are small, paper-covered booklets relating children’s stories, folk tales, ballads, poems and riddles, often accompanied by illustrations. Chapbooks were a medium of popular literature in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and the large number of them printed in Banbury by Rusher, Cheney, and other local printers sheds light on the history of production and distribution of such popular literature. Many of the chapbooks relate well-known stories such as Jack the giant killer , Dick Whittington , Cinderella, and Jack and Jill , to name but a few.
The range within the Cheney archive material is very broad, as such a lengthy timeframe is likely to afford. Some of the archive material relates to World War II, including notices relating to the blackout and air raids. One notice includes a watermark for ‘Cheney and Sons, Banbury’ . It is clear that the longevity of the Cheney firm stems not only from printing commercially viable popular material, but also from their ability to adapt and change their work to suit current events and extraordinary circumstances.
The archive thus demonstrates the breadth of the uses of print through the late 18th to 21st centuries, and the real integration of a printing firm into every aspect of a community’s life. As we move increasingly further away from a world of print and into a digital age, it is fascinating to see how crucial print has been right up to recent history, and to track some of these changes through one family and printing firm.
Coline Blaizeau, M.St. in Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford
MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16 is a fourteenth-century English manuscript which has been held at the Bodleian Library since 1892, when it was deposited from Lincoln College, Oxford. It is composed of a commented Apocalypse of St John in Latin (ff. 1-138), and a commented Apocalypse of St John in French which also features numerous illustrations (ff. 139-181).
This Apocalypse in French, generally known as the French Prose Apocalypse so as to distinguish it from the French Verse Apocalypse, survives in around forty manuscripts. Despite its popularity and dissemination in the Middle Ages, this text has been largely overlooked by modern criticism, and fundamental questions remain unanswered concerning its date, author, origin and transmission.
This has caught the attention of Dr Daron Burrows, associate professor in medieval French at the University of Oxford, who argues that a critical edition of the French Prose Apocalypse – other than Paul Meyer’s, based mainly on the manuscript BnF 403[i] – is essential to our understanding of this text.[ii]
Through the ‘Apocalypse in Oxford’ project in particular, Burrows proposes to take a close look at MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16 as well as four other manuscripts containing the French Prose Apocalypse: MS. Bodley 401, MS. Douce 180, MS. Selden supra 38, and MS. University College 100.
More information can be found on the website http://apocalypse.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/.
My own work is a contribution to this project. In proposing the diplomatic transcription, edition, and palaeographical commentary of an excerpt from MS. Lincoln College Lat. 16, I hope to advance at my humble level our comprehension of the French Prose Apocalypse.
The chosen excerpt consists of ff. 170r-171r and offers a translation from Latin to French of the passage of the Whore of Babylon as well as its accompanying exegesis.
The writing is clear, as can be seen on the pictures above, yet greater care seems to have been given to the illustrations – a rather typical feature of French Prose Apocalypse manuscripts, which meant that I had to pay particular attention to scribal errors and imperfect correction. Segments of the text are often missing, and the other manuscripts of our corpus had to be used to fill in the gaps.
[i] Paul Meyer, L’Apocalypse en français au XIIIe siècle (Bibl. nat. fr. 403): introduction et texte (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1901).
[ii] Daron Burrows, ‘Vers une nouvelle édition de l’Apocalypse en Prose’, in Anglo-français: philologie et linguistique, ed. by Oreste Floquet and Gabriele Giannini (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015), p. 31.
A guest post from Stefan Matter (Freiburg/Schweiz)
Abstract: Early printed books of hours are distinguished by their extensive border schemes, executed in text and images, which have hitherto scarcely been studied. They are, however, integral components of these prayerbooks, and offer insights to their readers into complex interconnections of salvation history. In the following reflections it is argued that the prints can only be understood when all of their component parts are considered together in their interplay. If this is undertaken systematically, they can provide insights into the practice of prayer in their age.
When the Parisian printers of the 1470s started to take Books of Hours to press, these had already been standardised in terms of their prayers and corresponding illustrations. To upgrade the most popular book of lay devotion, printers added cycles of lavish border illustrations – to a degree that previously had only been seen in the most exclusive of manuscripts for princes. The thematic range of these marginal compositions is considerable: from catalogues (e.g. virtues, Sibyls, sacraments) via narrative sequences (e.g. passion, Job, prodigal son) to the adaptation of independent text-image-groups which brought with them their own traditions (e.g. Danse Macabre, 15 signs of the Last Judgement, Biblia Pauperum).
Even though the illustrations have always been regarded as essential for understanding Books of Hours, this specific phenomenon has rarely been described and barely understood, despite the fact that such decorated Books of Hours can provide significant insight into contemporary reading habits and devotional practices. This makes it necessary to take into account all parts of the books equally.
The Book of Hours combines prayer texts which allowed the owners, who in late fifteenth-century were mainly laypeople, to keep regular Hours following the monastic model. The main text is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary which usually is supplemented by the two Hours of the Cross and the Holy Spirit. These three offices were often noted down exactly as they were said, weaving the offices together by having the single hours follow each other directly. The prayer sections formed thus – i.e. the start of each Hour of the officium parvum as well as one at the start of each of the two small offices – are usually marked by large-scale images which provide a more abstract link to the topic of the texts; thus the images for the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary show usually either a Life of the Virgin or the Passion.
The printed Books of Hours add to these already complex text-image-relations the border decoration with their own text-image-combination. These usually connect in some way to the main body of the text – the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary preferably is framed by the Biblia pauperum; the Office of the Dead by scenes from Job or a Danse Macabre –, but rarely do the border cycle match exactly the units of the central text unit. If the primary text ends earlier, the cycle in the border is either repeated or different marginal illustrations are used. In addition, the border cycles are used by printers over the years in different editions which results in a constant shift in the alignment of border cycles and the central text on the page. The intentional or serendipitous juxtapositions on the opened double-spreads encourage contemplation and meditation on the combined elements.
I would like to demonstrate the reading experience by looking at a Book of Hours printed by Philippe Pigouchet in the early 1490s and now held by the Bodleian Library. Its content in a simplified form can be summarised as follows:
Main Body of the Text
Border Decoration (Main Topic)
Printer’s device, Almanac, Anatomical man, Calendarium
Works of the Month and Zodiac
St John’s Passion
Officium parvum BMV (incl. Offices for the Holy Cross and Holy Ghost)
Christ adored with antiphons and responses
Seven Penitential Psalms
Animals in foliage (also at other places between cycles)
Christ adored with antiphons and responses
Vigil for the Dead
Prayers (o2v–p4r, partly French)
I would like to discuss briefly under these aspects three consecutive double-spreads and will open the Bodleian Book of Hours at the end of the first and longest Hour, the Matins for the Hours of BMV (e3v/e4r, figure 1). Here, the Office of BMV is framed by a Biblia pauperum-cycle, which in its main scenes taken from the New Testament. These have a clear Mariological focus, from the birth of Mary to her assumption – the last Hour of the Officium parvum is in the main text also illustrated by the coronation of Mary. The Matins ends on a verso-page whose lower third is empty except for the caption announcing the following Office of the Cross. On the facing page, the depiction of the crucifixion takes up the whole page; the beginning of the invitatorium of the Office of the Cross is placed in a small cartouche within the image. Christ on the cross is thus doubly present on the open spread since the Biblia pauperum-cycle on the margins just reached the point of the nailing to the cross. Main text and borders converge in such a way that the two events of the passion follow each other in correct chronological order and can be viewed simultaneously in one opening. The nailing to the cross is further contextualised within the history of salvation by two typologically related scenes from the Old Testament.
Turning over one page (figure 2), this narrative thread continues since now the border of the verso page (e4v) shows the crucifixion in slightly modified form from the previous large scale depiction since the mourning women under the cross are replaced by Longinus with the lance. This is supported by the creation of Eve (Immisit dominus soporem in adam) and by Moses beating water out of the rock. The main text for this page consists of the full Matins for the Office of the Cross, i.e. the first verse of the hymn for the Hour Patris sapientia veritas divina which talks about arresting Christ. This in turn had been a topic in the margin, including its typological antecedents, a few pages previously: e1v. The Collect for the Officium which is repeated at every hour starts with the words: Iesu christe fili dei vivi pone passionem crucem et mortem tuam inter iudicium tuum et animam meam. It seems remarkable that the complete text of the first Hour of the Office of the Cross coincides precisely with the crucifixion in the Biblia pauperum-inspired marginal decorations. As mentioned above, the shifting process of aligning margins and body of the book would make this quite hard to plan, and due to the scarcity of research on this, I am not yet able to determine whether this coincidence is a common one. In any case, the Bodleian copy achieves a rare harmony of the two text-image-cycles in the body and the margin of the Book of Hours. The following recto-page (e5r) shows a full-page rendering of Pentecost as opening illustration for the Office of the Holy Spirit which then takes up all of the following verso-page (e5v).
Finally, the last of the three double-spreads (figure 3) surrounds the text of the Officium on the one hand by the Descent from the Cross and its typological figures (e5v), on the other hand with the Nativity for the Prime of the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (e6r). The Matins of the Office of the Holy Spirit can be vaguely related via the text of the hymn with the Nativity, but another link is much more obvious: Mary and Joseph are clearly looking not towards the Christ child lying on the floor or towards the angel flying between them but more or less out of the picture across the page to the Descent from the Cross. Metal cuts allow a careful positioning of sight lines, and even if this detail should have been taken over from the exemplar, these cross-glances constitute a striking connection between the two image cycles. The Christ child with his halo featuring a cross is framed by Mary and Joseph in the same way as the crucified is flanked by Mary and John. Again, the vertical axis of typological references on the page of the book complements the horizontal line created in the act of reading across the double-spread and its text-image-ensemble.
In this way, nearly every opening of the prayer book offers a complex interplay of texts and images, inside and outside the main body of the pages. This comes on top of the composite nature of the Offices which incorporate psalms, antiphons, and lessons and are anchored through further short texts within the liturgy. A new framework is created which is not simple ‘decoration’ but has to be regarded as crucial part of the print products. To show this in more detail must be the focus of a more in-depth study.
Stefan Matter did his doctorate on the Nazarenes, and was granted his Venia legendi for a study on texts and images about the medieval concept of love (Reden von der Minne, Tübingen 2013). After research fellowships held in Oxford, Tübingen, Bremen, Bern and Wien, he is currently based at the Universität Freiburg/Switzerland and is pursuing a research project on German prayer books.
 The two typological scenes (Thubalkain prepares iron tools; Isaias is sawn apart) are only extant in the 50-folio xylographic edition which provided the source for the marginal illustration. On the exemplar cf. Berthold Kress, ‘The Block-book Biblia pauperum as a Source for Printed Borders in France, Germany and England’, in Tributes to Jean Michel Massing: Towards a Global Art History, ed. by Mark Stocker and Philip Lindley (Turnhout, London: Brepols, 2016), 119–31.
 Roger S. Wieck, Prayer for the People. The Book of Hours, in A History of Prayer: The First to the Fifteenth Century, hg. von Roy Hammerling, Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition, 13 (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008), pp. 389–440, provides a survey of content and form.
 GW 13073; the Oxford copy (Bod-Inc. H-165) however is not fully identical with the copy of ULB Bonn (Inc. 568, g) listed under the same number; this applies to the page breaks (e.g. f2v ff.) but especially to a number of the border illustrations (e.g. h3v). Cf. also Horae B.M.V., I, No. 8.
 Mary Beth Winn has been the main scholar to discuss the border illustrations in various essays, but without discussing how the different elements of printed Books of Hours relate to each other; for a summary cf. her article: ‘Printing and Reading the Book of Hours: Lessons from the Borders’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 81 (1999), 177–204. – and now also the excellent survey by Caroline Zöhl, ‘Die zentrale Rolle der Marginalien und der Reichtum des Bordürendekors im Stundenbuchdruck’, in Horae B.M.V. 365 gedruckte Stundenbücher der Sammlung Bibermühle 1487–1586, ed. by Heribert Tenschert and Ina Nettekoven, 9 vols., Katalog Antiquariat Heribert Tenschert, 50; 75 (Ramsen: H. Tenschert, 2003–2015), IX, 4145–218, and the magisterial discussion of Books of Hours in Cristina Dondi, Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy. The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre, Biblioteca di Bibliografia Italiana, 204 (Florence: Olschki, 2016).
Das besondere Kennzeichen früher gedruckter Stundenbücher sind
umfangreiche Bordürenprogramme in Text und Bild, die bislang noch kaum
untersucht wurden. Sie sind allerdings integraler Bestandteil der Gebetbücher
und bieten den Lesern Einblicke in komplexe heilsgeschichtliche
Zusammenhänge. Die nachfolgenden Überlegungen argumentieren, dass ein
Verständnis der Drucke nur möglich ist, wenn man alle in ihnen enthaltenen
Bestandteile in ihrem Zusammenwirken betrachtet. Tut man dies konsequent,
so vermögen sie Einblicke in die Gebetspraxis ihrer Zeit zu geben.
Als die Pariser Drucker ab den späten 1470er-Jahren daran gingen, mit dem
Stundenbuch das populärste Buch in Laienhand des Mittelalters in gedruckter
Form herauszugeben, reicherten sie die zu dieser Zeit schon stark
konventionalisierte Sammlung von Gebeten und sie begleitenden Bildern mit
Randleisten-Zyklen von einem Umfang an, wie sie in Manuskripten bis dahin
nur die wertvollsten Fürstengebetbücher enthalten hatten. Deren thematisches
Spektrum ist beträchtlich. Es reicht von Katalogen (z.B. Tugenden, Sibyllen,
Sakramente) über erzählende Folgen (z.B. Passion, Hiob, Geschichte vom
verlorenen Sohn) bis hin zur Adaption von eigenständigen, bereits über eine
längere Tradition verfügenden Text-Bild-Ensembles (z.B. Totentanz, 15
Vorzeichen des Jüngsten Gerichts, Biblia pauperum).
Obwohl in der Stundenbuchforschung gerade der Bildschmuck immer schon
im Vordergrund gestanden hat, ist dieses Phänomen bislang noch kaum
beschrieben und erst ansatzweise verstanden.1 Dabei vermögen die solcherart
ausgestatteten Stundenbücher aufschlussreiche Einblicke in die Lese- und
Gebetspraxis ihrer Zeit zu geben, nimmt man sie in all ihren Bestandteilen
genau in den Blick.
Das Stundenbuch vereinigt Gebetstexte, die den Besitzern – im späten 15.
Jahrhundert sind das überwiegend Laien – ein regelmässiges Stundengebet
nach dem Vorbild der Geistlichen erlauben.2 Haupttext ist dabei das kleine
Marienoffizium, welches in aller Regel ergänzt wird von den beiden Tagzeiten
vom Heiligen Kreuz und vom Heiligen Geist. Diese drei Offizien werden häufig
so aufgezeichnet, wie sie auch gebetet wurden, nämlich so, dass die einzelnen
Gebetsstunden direkt aufeinander folgen, die Offizien also ineinander
verwoben werden. Diese dabei entstehenden Texteinschnitte – also der
Beginn einer jeder Hore des Marienoffiziums wie auch je einmalig der Beginn
der beiden kleinen Offizien – werden üblicherweise mit grossformatigen
Bildern markiert, die mit den Themen der Texte in einer eher abstrakten
Beziehung stehen (so zeigen die Bilder zum Marienoffizium üblicherweise
entweder ein Marienleben oder die Passion).
Zu dieser an sich schon komplexen Text-Bild-Relation treten in den gedruckten
Stundenbüchern nun auch noch die Randleisten mit ihren Texten und Bildern.
Diese weisen zwar meist einen Bezug zum Haupttext auf – das Marienoffizium
wird beispielsweise gerne von der Biblia pauperum gerahmt; das Totenamt
von Hiob-Szenen oder einem Totentanz –, kaum einmal allerdings passt der
Umfang eines Randleisten-Zyklus exakt zu dem der dazu passenden Haupttext-
Einheit. Endet der Haupttext früher, wird entweder der Zyklus in den
Randleisten wiederholt oder es werden andere Bordüren verwendet. Die
Randleisten-Zyklen werden überdies von den Druckern über Jahre in
verschiedenen Auflagen verwendet, was dazu führt, dass die Korrelation der
einzelnen Bordüren mit bestimmten Passagen (oder Bildern) des immer wieder
neu umgebrochenen Haupttextes nicht konstant bleibt, ja im Grunde von
Ausgabe zu Ausgabe variiert. Trotzdem ergeben sich immer wieder – gewollt
oder zufällig – Kombinationen von Texten und Bildern auf den
aufgeschlagenen Doppelseiten, die zur Betrachtung Anlass geben, zum
Ich möchte diese Leseerfahrung anhand eines heute in der Bodleian Library
aufbewahrten Stundenbuches andeuten, welches von Philippe Pigouchet in
den frühen 1490er-Jahren gedruckt worden ist.3 In stark vereinfachter Form
kann dessen Inhalt so zusammengefasst werden.
Ich möchte unter diesem Gesichtspunkt in aller Kürze drei aufeinanderfolgende
Doppelseiten vorstellen und schlage dazu das Oxforder Stundenbuch am Ende
der ersten und längsten Gebetshore auf, der Matutin der Marienzeiten
(e3v/e4r). Das Marienoffizium wird hier von einem Biblia pauperum-Zyklus
gerahmt, der in seinen neutestamentlichen Hauptszenen von der Mariengeburt
bis zur Marienkrönung ebenfalls einen mariologischen Akzent besitzt – auch die
letzte Gebetsstunde des Officium parvum wird mit einer Marienkrönung
bebildert. Die Matutin endet auf einer verso-Seite, deren unteres Drittel bis auf
die Ankündigung des Kreuzoffiziums leer bleibt. Auf der gegenüberliegenden
recto-Seite ist eine ganzseitige Kreuzigungs-Darstellung zu sehen, in einer
kleinen Kartusche im Bildfeld ist der Beginn des Invitatoriums des
Kreuzoffiziums eingetragen. Christus am Kreuz ist auf der aufgeschlagenen
Doppelseite jedoch gleich doppelt dargestellt, denn der Biblia pauperum-
Zyklus in den Randleisten ist hier nämlich auf der verso-Seite gerade bei der
Kreuzannagelung angelangt. Haupttext und Bordüren treffen sich damit
dergestalt, dass diese beiden Passionsereignisse in chronologisch richtiger
Reihenfolge aufeinander folgen und zusammen auf einer Doppelseite zu sehen
sind. Die Kreuzannagelung wird überdies durch zwei alttestamentliche Typen
Schlägt man eine Seite um, so werden diese Fäden weitergesponnen, denn
jetzt ist in der Bordüre der verso-Seite (e4v) die Kreuzigung zu sehen (in einer
leicht von der grossformatigen Darstellung abweichenden Form, indem die
Stelle der trauernden Frauen unter dem Kreuz durch Longinus’ Stich mit der
Lanze eingenommen wird), sekundiert von der Erschaffung Evas (Immisit
dominus soporem in adam) und Mose, der Wasser aus dem Felsen schlägt. Im
Haupttext dieser Seite ist die vollständige Matutin des Kreuzoffiziums zu lesen,
also die erste Strophe des Stundenliedes Patris sapientia veritas divina, in
welcher von der Gefangennahme die Rede ist (in den Randleisten dargestellt
und typologisch kontextualisiert einige Seiten weiter vorne: e1v), dazu die in
jeder Gebetsstunde dieses Offiziums wiederholte Kollekte mit den
Anfangsworten: Iesu christe fili dei vivi pone passionem crucem et mortem
tuam inter iudicium tuum et animam meam. Dass der vollständige Text der
ersten Hore des Kreuzoffiziums ausgerechnet mit der Kreuzigungsdarstellung
der Biblia pauperum-Randleisten zusammenfällt, ist unter den angedeuteten
Umständen der Buchherstellung nicht selbstverständlich und durch die
schlechte Erschliessung des Materials vermag ich vorderhand nicht zu sagen,
ob dies häufiger vorkommt – in der vorliegenden Ausgabe jedenfalls greifen an
dieser Stelle die beiden Text-Bild-Zyklen perfekt ineinander. Die recto-Seite
(e5r) zeigt mit der ganzseitigen Darstellung der Pfingstszene das
Eröffnungsbild des Heilig-Geist-Offiziums, welches seinerseits auf der
darauffolgenden verso-Seite (e5v) ebenfalls vollständig Platz findet.
Diese letzte der drei Doppelseiten (Abb. 1) umgibt diesen Offiziums-Text
einerseits mit der Kreuzabnahme und den entsprechenden typologischen
Verweisen (e5v), andererseits mit dem Weihnachtsbild zur Prim des
Marienoffiziums (e6r). Die Matutin des Hl.-Geist-Offiziums lässt sich zwar über
den Hymnentext vage mit der Geburtsszene in Verbindung bringen, viel
deutlicher aber ist eine andere Verbindung: Maria und Joseph schauen in
auffälliger Weise nicht etwa zum vor ihnen auf dem Boden liegenden Kind
oder zum zwischen ihnen schwebenden Engel, sondern gewissermassen nach
links aus dem Bild heraus und damit zur Kreuzabnahme am
gegenüberliegenden Ende der aufgeschlagenen Doppelseite. Die
Blickrichtungen sind in den Metallschnitten dieses Druckes stets sehr sorgfältig
behandelt, und selbst wenn dieses Detail aus einer Vorlage übernommen sein
sollten, stellen die Blicke auf dieser Doppelseite eine sinnfällige Verbindung
zwischen den beiden Bildzyklen her. Das Christuskind mit dem auf den Tod am
Kreuz verweisenden Kreuznimbus wird von Maria und Joseph überdies in
derselben Weise betend gerahmt, wie der Gekreuzigte von Maria und
Johannes. Auch hier wieder ergänzt dazu die (auf der Buchseite) vertikale
Achse der typologischen Bezüge die in lesender Weise horizontal und über die
Schrift vermittelte Verbindung von Text und Bild der Doppelseite.
Es ergibt sich auf diese Weise auf beinahe jeder Doppelseite ein komplexes
Zusammenwirken von Texten und von Bildern sowohl innerhalb wie ausserhalb
des Schriftspiegels. Die in sich schon kompositen Offizien – im Kern bestehend
aus Psalmen und Lektionen, welche mit Antiphonen, Responsorien und
weiteren Kurztexten liturgisch kontextualisiert werden – erhalten auf diese
Weise eine zusätzliche Rahmung, die nicht als ‘Buchschmuck’ marginalisiert,
sondern als zentraler Bestandteil der Drucke angesehen werden sollten. Dies
im Detail darzustellen muss einer ausführlicheren Untersuchung vorbehalten
Stefan Matter wurde mit einer Arbeit über die Nazarener promoviert und hat sich mit einer Untersuchung über Minnereden und Minnebilder des Mittelalters habilitiert (Reden von der Minne, Tübingen 2013). Er ist nach Forschungsaufenthalten in Oxford, Tübingen, Bremen, Bern und Wien derzeit Assistent am Lehrstuhl für Germanistische Mediävistik der Universität Freiburg/Schweiz und forscht zur deutschsprachigen Gebetbuchliteratur.
1 Bislang hat sich vor allem Mary Beth Winn in verschiedenen Aufsätzen mit
den Randleisten beschäftigt, ohne sich allerdings die Frage zu stellen, wie
diese verschiedenen Inhalte der gedruckten Stundenbücher auf einander
Bezug nehmen; vgl. den zusammenfassenden Artikel: ‘Printing and
Reading the Book of Hours: Lessons from the Borders’, Bulletin of the John
Rylands University Library of Manchester, 81 (1999), 177–204. – Vgl. jetzt
den vorzüglichen Überblick von Caroline Zöhl, ‘Die zentrale Rolle der
Marginalien und der Reichtum des Bordürendekors im Stundenbuchdruck’,
in Horae B.M.V. 365 gedruckte Stundenbücher der Sammlung Bibermühle
1487–1586, hg. von Heribert Tenschert und Ina Nettekoven, 9 Bde.,
Katalog Antiquariat Heribert Tenschert, 50; 75 (Ramsen: H. Tenschert,
2003–2015), IX, 4145–218.
2 Einen Überblick über Inhalt und Form vermittelt etwa Roger S. Wieck,
Prayer for the People. The Book of Hours, in A History of Prayer: The First
to the Fifteenth Century, hg. von Roy Hammerling, Brill’s Companions to
the Christian Tradition, 13 (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008), S. 389–440.
3 GW 13073; allerdings ist das Oxforder Exemplar (Bod-Inc H-165) nicht
gänzlich identisch mit dem unter der selben Nummer geführten in der ULB
Bonn (Inc. 568, g), und zwar sowohl was den Umbruch betrifft (z.B. auf f2v
ff.) als auch insbesondere, was die Randleisten betrifft (an zahlreichen
Stellen, z.B. h3v). Vgl. auch Horae B.M.V., I, Nr. 8.
4 Die beiden Typen (Thubalkain fertigt Eisenzeug an; Jesaias wird lebendig
zersägt) sind der 50-bll. xylographischen Ausgabe eigen, nach der also die
Randleisten gearbeitet sind. Zur Vorlagenwahl vgl. Berthold Kress, ‘The
Block-book Biblia pauperum as a Source für Printed Borders in France,
Germany and England’, in Tributes to Jean Michel Massing: Towards a
Global Art History, ed. by Mark Stocker and Philip Lindley (Turnhout,
London: Brepols, 2016), 119–31.
Charles Burney – composer, music historian, and musician.
Aside from any argument about nature vs. nurture, it’s no accident that 18th Century polymath Charles Burney was the father of two well-known novelists, an accomplished classicist, and a Royal Navy admiral who became an explorer travelling with Captain James Cook. There was a culture of intellectual venture and ambition in the Burney family, deliberately stoked by their zealous father.
Amongst the Bodleian’s collection are 31 letters from the Burney family archives, as well as the Memoranda of the Burney Family. This remarkable document records the family’s history across 250 years, charting their successes in literature, music, art and beyond, and gives a penetrating vision of the Burney lifestyle that supported these endeavours.
Dr Lorna J Clark, Royal Bank of Canada Foundation Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries, is editing The Letters of Dr Charles Burney. She is the editor of a volume in the series of The Memoirs of the Court of George III (Pickering, 2015), two volumes of The Court Journals of Frances Burney (Oxford, 2014), and a novel, The Romance of Private Life (1839) in the Chawton House Library Series.
Fanny Burney – daughter of Charles, diarist, satirist, and playwright.
On Tuesday 6 June, Dr Clark will present the Royal Bank of Canada Foundation lecture, ‘A Family Culture of Creativity: Memoranda of the Burney Family.’
There are countless stories to be told about the Burneys, and much interest in the kindred essence that lead to such a richly yielding family tree. Dr Clark will bring her insight and deep knowledge of the Burney family to bear in illustrating the story of this remarkable dynasty.
In 1978, the Bodleian Library was given a curious piece of parchment (Broxb. 97.40). It is dotted with rectangular cut-outs, and eight thick, red rectangles and an astonishing amount of dirt and fibres cover one side. As Andrew Honey noted in his blog post about its conservation in 2011, its holes and ‘muck’ obscure the words, but they reveal that this object is actually three texts in one:
First, the parchment sheet was taken from a manuscript of Gregory IX’s Decretals written in Bologna around 1300, which was separated by c.1530.
Then, the skin was used by a printer, probably in France (François Regnault (d.1540–41) or Jean Mallard (fl. 1534–53)?). The red rectangles indicate that it was used as a frisket sheet, a mask inserted into the printing press to keep the paper in place and protect unprinted areas, for printing text and initials in red. There are eight rectangles, so the printed book was in octavo. The arrangement of the cut-outs (i.e., the red texts and initials) suggests that the book was liturgical. The thick layer of red printing ink shows how the frisket sheet blocked the rest of the type from printing on the paper in the many copies of the edition. (The red elements were removed, and the rest was printed separately in black.) The thickness of the ink film, from the ‘black’ text, hints at the number of copies printed. The text is illegible, but the indents of some letters can be seen.
Once cut up for a certain arrangement of red initials and passages, a frisket sheet could be used for only one project. Finally, this one was used by a bookbinder, who put in the pasteboard of a binding around a book. The ‘muck’ is from the binding paste.
It’s an extremely rare and important artefact of the history of the book. But it isn’t complete. Frisket sheets were often made of parchment pasted to paper, the better to resist the wetness of a print run (paper is dampened before printing). In an article in Printing History tracing the movements of the Bodleian skin layer and five others from the same manuscript/print job/binding, I tried to trace this paper layer. But I lost sight of it for the last 500 years, after c.1540.
That paper layer and an undescribed parchment layer from the same group has been discovered at Columbia University in the library of the American Type Founders Company, which Columbia purchased in 1942. Very few frisket sheet fragments are known, and each has much to reveal.
If the paper layer remained paired the Bodleian layer, it would have been in a group of sheets from this manuscript/print job/binding that was owned by the bibliographer E. Gordon Duff (1862–1924) and acquired after his death by the master printer George W. Jones (1860–1942). One of his skin layers was sold by Sotheby’s to Albert Ehrman (1890–1969) and donated to the Bodleian in 1978 as the Broxbourne Collection.
The paper layers described in Jones’ collection and sale catalogues can all be accounted for, so the Columbia paper layer was presumably separated sometime in the 500 years between c.1540 and Duff’s acquisition of his group before 1924. But Jones’ tallies of his frisket sheets’ skin and paper layers varied. Could the layers at Columbia and the Bodleian have remained together for centuries, before the paper layer was sold privately by Jones before his death in 1942? And could the newly discovered skin layer at Columbia have accompanied it? Research continues.
This blog post may be the first time the two halves of this frisket sheet have been reunited in over 500 years. Together, they illustrate the history of the book, from medieval manuscript to renaissance printshop to modern collecting. Much remains unknown, but digital research tools of the future may reveal where and how they were used over the centuries.
With thanks to Jane Rodgers Siegel (Rare Book Librarian, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University).
Early in 1917, Virginia and Leonard Woolf walked into the Excelsior Printing Supply Co on Farringdon Road and bought themselves a printing press. The press, a small handpress which they installed on a table in their dining room in Richmond, came with instructions and some cases of type. The whole lot came to £19.5s.5d. That May they began work on their first publication, Two Stories (one by Leonard, one by Virginia), with Virginia setting the type and Leonard operating the press. Twenty-one years later, when Virginia finally withdrew from the company, the Hogarth Press had published 440 titles, including work by T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Vita Sackville-West, Freud, and H. G. Wells, not to mention much of Virginia’s own most significant writing.
“Books are not turned out of moulds like bricks. Books are made of tiny little words, which a writer shapes, often with great difficulty, into sentences of different lengths, placing one on top of another, never taking his eye off them, sometimes building them quite quickly, at other times knocking them down in despair, and beginning all over again.”
-Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?” (1925)
To celebrate the centenary of the Hogarth Press, then, it seemed like a good idea to think about the role that printing played in shaping Woolf’s writing. And since the Bodleian Bibliographical Press is equipped not only with the kind of handpress the Woolfs used for their first publications, but also with the same typeface, we had an ideal opportunity to put ourselves into Virginia’s shoes for a day.
One of the earliest Hogarth publications was Hope Mirrlees’s Paris: A Poem, dated 1919 (or rather 1916: Virginia placed the final ‘9’ upside-down and didn’t catch the error until after printing, correcting it in pen in all copies). It is a wonderful and unjustly overlooked piece of modernism, and with its wild typography – different alignments, passages in caps and italics, a block of music inserted into the text – posed a considerable challenge to Virginia’s recently-acquired skills as a typesetter. Just the thing then for a public print-a-thon.Working in half-hour shifts, our team of printers – from absolute beginners to advanced setters – set out to print as much of Mirrlees’s poem as we could in a single day. Breaking for lectures by Dr Nicola Wilson (Reading) and Dame Hermione Lee (Oxford) about the Woolfs and the Hogarth Press, we ended up with a respectable eight pages, about a third of the poem.
“I’m the only woman in England free to write what I like. The others must be thinking of series’ & editors”
(Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 3, September 1925)
“So,” I asked one of our volunteers, “now that you’ve set a page of type, how do you think the experience of being a printer might have influenced Virginia as a writer?”
“Write fewer words!”
A useful and hard-won insight.