Let's Get Physical: Bibliography, Codicology, and Seventeenth-Century Women's Manuscripts

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  • 2007 The AuthorJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

    Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 16671682, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00492.x

    Lets Get Physical: Bibliography, Codicology, and Seventeenth-Century Womens Manuscripts

    Victoria E. Burke*University of Ottawa

    AbstractThe last twenty years have seen a growing interest in manuscript studies of theearly modern period. The recovery of a large amount of womens writing fromlibraries and archives has expanded our picture of how seventeenth-centurywomen participated in manuscript culture. This paper argues that attention to thematerial characteristics of that writing is essential in order to fully understand thevaried ways in which manuscripts functioned: how they were produced, circu-lated, and read. The study of aspects of codicology (watermarks, collation, bind-ing), paleography, transcription practices (such as layout), attribution, provenance,transmission, and the mutual interplay of manuscript and print, among othertopics in bibliography, needs to be foregrounded. With reference to a number ofworks of womens writing this paper argues that the content of a text must notbe severed from its physical presentation.

    Few scholars would deny that the material features of a text influence itsmeaning. In recent years, bibliography has come to occupy a more prom-inent place in scholarly study than it has in the past, contributing to theburgeoning field of the history of the book. D. F. McKenzies desire thatbibliographers should be concerned to show that forms effect meaninghas been particularly borne out in the study of manuscripts, which are bytheir very nature usually more ephemeral and individual than printedbooks, though we now appreciate that each book from the hand-pressperiod is a unique document (13). Codicology, or the physical examina-tion of manuscripts, can contribute much to the study of seventeenth-century writing. Far from being a fringe interest, codicology and thestudy of paleography (or handwriting), provenance, various processes oftranscription, and other topics related to manuscript production, transmis-sion, and reception are integral to understanding a writers words whenthey appear in handwritten form.

    These topics have particular relevance for appreciating the full spectrumof womens writing in the period. Many male writers of course chose to

  • 1668 Lets Get Physical

    2007 The Author Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 16671682, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00492.xJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

    circulate their works primarily or exclusively in manuscript, largelyeschewing print; examples include John Donne, Andrew Marvell, andJohn Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.1 But women writers arguably have aslightly different relationship to scribal practice, since cultural prohibitionsabout printing ones work (relevant for aristocrats of both genders)2 wereimposed particularly on women, who were urged to follow dictates ofmodesty and silence. In the conduct literature in particular, female speech(and by extension female writing and publishing) was associated withsexual trangression (Krontiris 57, 17). Surviving manuscripts, however,show us that some women were not at all reticent about writing.3 In animportant early article, Margaret Ezell demonstrated the necessity oftaking account of physical matters when approaching a womans manu-script; by carefully examining the presentation qualities of ElizabethDelavals manuscript, in tandem with its prose, Ezell argued that it hadbeen miscatalogued in a way that distorted her work. Rather than aprivate collection of memoirs and religious meditations, the volume isa lavish fair copy, indicating an implied audience, and it is more indebtedto conventions of romance and pastoral than the traditions of spiritualautobiography (Elizabeth Delavals Spiritual Heroine). Here we see awriter recording and shaping biographical details in a literarily self-conscious way. In recent years scholars have analyzed early modernmanuscripts compiled by women from a variety of angles,4 but among themost productive work has been that which attends to the particularmaterial characteristics of individual documents, in conjunction withanalyzing content.

    Since the publication of the first volume of Peter Beals Index of EnglishLiterary Manuscripts in 1980, the field of manuscript studies has flourished.5

    Analytical and descriptive bibliography has tended to focus on printedbooks, and renewed interest in these fields has helped scholars gain adeeper appreciation of exactly how the physical features of printed booksindicate details of their production; manuscripts can provide similarfascinating clues. In what follows I shall consider various bibliographicaltopics6 in conjunction with the work of some important women writersof the period, including Mary Sidney, Mary Wroth, and KatherinePhilips.

    Paper and the watermark impressions embedded in that paper can oftenhold important clues about a works date and its production. Watermarksenable us to date paper because when in continuous use a pair of mouldsused to manufacture paper tended to last only a year or two, and the wireswhich attached the watermarks to the moulds would deteriorate morequickly than that (Stevenson, Paper as Bibliographical Evidence 203). Adramatic example from print bibliography of the use of paper analysis isW. W. Gregs discovery, using typographical and watermark analysis, thatthree Shakespearean quartos with the dates 1600, 1608, and 1619, wereall actually printed by the same unscrupulous printer in 1619.7 Allan

  • 2007 The Author Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 16671682, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00492.xJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

    Lets Get Physical 1669

    Stevenson has demonstrated that paper runs for manuscripts and printedvolumes could be quite different: paper used for handwritten documentscould remain unused for years, but printers tended to procure paper forthe purpose of printing specific books and used it up within a few yearsof its manufacture (Problem of Missale Speciale 901; Observations on Paper1920). This more lengthy time lag for manuscripts may help explain theapparently very early date of the paper in Folger Shakespeare Library MSV.a.89 (a collection of late sixteenth-century courtly verse sometimescalled Anne Cornwalliss miscellany and linked with the circle of the Earlof Oxford); a watermark (two tiny upper case Ds divided by a flower) isdated 1569 in Briquet (no. 9374), one of the main sources of watermarktracings (Burke, Reading Friends 83). Late watermarks can also be usefulfor dating: Margaret Pelhams prayers have been dated 1640, but hersecond volume must have been compiled at least thirty years after thatdate since the horn-in-shield watermark in that paper is similar towatermarks in Heawood that are all post-1670.8

    William Proctor Williams has made a strong case for the importance ofpaper analysis (and other bibliographical tools) to be merged with literaryanalysis (1948), citing the case of a cache of nine manuscripts from CastleAshby, Northamptonshire (now British Library Add. MSS 6027360281).The only ascriptions are to Cosmo Manuche, a mid-seventeenth-centurydramatist, on three of the manuscripts. Watermark analysis proved that theliterary manuscripts were written on the same paper as that used in thehousehold of James Compton, third earl of Northampton, indicating thatthis estate was a site for dramatic composition, translation, and possiblyperformance during the Commonwealth period. Without that paperevidence, erroneous suppositions might have been made about themanuscripts being gifts, rather than productions, some in the earls ownhand, associated with a particular place and community.

    Sometimes watermarks can help indicate the quality of a paper stock,which might have implications for the intended function and audience ofthe volume: manuscripts by Esther Inglis, writing in 1608 (Folger MSV.a.94) and Jane Cavendish, writing in the 1640s (Beinecke LibraryOsborn MS b.233) contain flag watermarks, indicating that the papercame from Italy.9 Until 1670, almost all of the white paper used inEngland was imported from France, and particularly Normandy (Gaskell60).10 The greater distance the goods would have to be transported fromItaly to England suggests a luxury product, something borne out by thetwo manuscripts in question. The Esther Inglis volume is a summary ofthe Psalms in Latin verse dedicated to Prince Henry in a tiny oblongformat in twenty-fours, exquisitely bound in red velvet, and embroideredwith silver and white thread and seed pearls.11 It is also fitting that JaneCavendishs presentation volume of poetry and a pastoral play shoulddemonstrate an attention to quality down to the paper: the volume isbeautifully produced, written in the polished hand of her fathers

  • 1670 Lets Get Physical

    2007 The Author Literature Compass 4/6 (2007): 16671682, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00492.xJournal Compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

    secretary.12 The manuscript is dedicated to her exiled father, William, thenMarquis of Newcastle, and the poet presents herself at various points inthe volume as a devoted daughter, awaiting the return of her earthly lord.Lines such as I am indeede a congeald peece of greife / And withoutsight of you haue noe releife (5) present her father as the main audiencefor the manuscript, but presentation qualities (such as the high quality ofthe paper, the careful penmanship and layout, and the gilt stampedgoatskin binding) suggest that it should not be seen as merely a privatefamily document. Perhaps by depicting herself humbly as a sufferingdaughter, Cavendish was able to address the political issue of her fathersexile obliquely, hinting that another, royal, audience might have beenintended as well.

    Collation, or the analysis of the leaves in eac