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

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    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

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    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

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    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 each quire in order tounderstand how the manuscript was put together, can provide informationthat is useful for literary analysis. Alison Shell (274 n. 2) has noted thedifficulty of paginating and of finding items in the notebook of a femalemember of the Feilding family (probably Frances). Arguing that Feildingsmanuscript is actually a rare survival of genuinely autobiographical verse,written in the heat of the moment at times of grief and perceived slightsfrom her immediate circle, Shell suggests that the chaotic organization ofthe volume, and the number of excised pages, may be an attempt atself-censorship after the writer has cooled down. Material qualities mayaccount for its survival: its beautifully ornate embroidered binding mighthave been valued in itself (265, 269).13 This manuscript seems like a casewhere the physical details can teach us something about the genuinelyprivate nature of the verse (reinforced not just by the content, but by thehaphazard manner of writing, including sideways on the page, and thenumber of stubs, intended for no eyes but Feildings own and Gods)(270). Ernest Sullivan has used collation evidence to establish that theDalhousie II manuscript of Donnes poems was once forty-two leaves(now just thirty-four) and that two of Donnes elegies may have been lost(83). In other manuscripts it is much more obvious when leaves aremissing, even if a proper collation cannot be done: Anne Halkettsautobiography (British Library MS Add. 32376) contains evidence ofmissing leaves at several points in the volume, apparent not just from thecontent, but also from Halketts pagination, which indicates missing leavesat the beginning, middle, and end of the volume.14 What has tantalizedreaders of the autobiography are the internal missing pages, since theyappear to have described events relating to Halketts romance with ColonelJoseph Bampfield, the deceitful royalist spy to whom she was secretlyengaged for several years. These leaves were probably purposely cut out,but by whom?

    Paper analysis and collation can also help us to find missing pages.Elizabeth Hageman and Andrea Sununu discovered that two leavescontaining a poem by Katherine Philips (now owned by the Library of

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

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    the University of Kentucky) were torn out of her autograph manuscript(now at the National Library of Wales), something they established bymatching the hands, ink, layout, paper, stains, and the tear marks to thestubs (New Manuscript Texts 17580).

    A binding can be an important aspect of a manuscripts meaning. DavidPearsons magisterial English Bookbinding Styles 14501800 argues thatmost bindings can be dated to within twenty years on either side, onstylistic grounds (6). Pearson analyzes changing fashions in bindings,which is useful for establishing the relative status of a book or manuscriptin the eyes of its owner. It is instructive to know that even an inexpensivebook in the Tudor period would have contained more decoration thansimply blind fillets, but by the mid-seventeenth century simple lines werea feature of the fashionable plain style (525, 668). A books bindingcan raise important questions about the book, the binder, and the owner,reflecting something about how the text was viewed, how much it wasexpected to be used, or how the owner wished to advertise his or hertaste in choosing the simple or luxury end of the spectrum or somewherein between (12). Some bindings were stamped in gilt with the initials orcoat of arms of their compilers. Folger MS V.a.511, for example, thereligious meditations and prayers of Elizabeth (Ashburnham) Richardsonare stamped with the initials E and A on either side of a central fleuron(see Burke, Elizabeth 103). This sign of ownership suggests a certainstatus both for the scribe and for the contents of her manuscript,supported by headings which announce a significant plan for the volume:Instructions for my children, or any other Christian, Of the intent andeffect of this booke and An epistle or admonition to all my children(fols 1v, 2r, and 2v). Though the manuscript is unfinished, its contentsand its binding indicate that the author intended a readership for thisimportant subject. Pearson notes, however, that bindings do not necessarilyreflect the individuality of customers or binders. Citing the case of SamuelPepys, a book collector with a particular interest in bindings, Pearsonquestions the view that Pepys specified exactly how the covers, spines, andedges of his books were to be decorated. The change in the edging of hisbooks from red-sprinkling to marbling and then back to sprinkling overthe course of his collecting period can be attributed to changing fashions,rather than to customer individuality (Pearson 1011). And so, thebinding of a manuscript may not indicate an owners own personalizedstyle, but some knowledge of trends and the differences between fine andmore everyday bindings can indeed help us to understand somethingabout a printed book or manuscripts intended audience and function.



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