Current Issue Article Abstracts
Summer 2017, Vol. 80.2
This essay examines the phenomenon of rare or unique poems found in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century manuscript collections, positioning them within the familial, collegial, or coterie environments within and for which they were written. These include verses composed by compilers, politically dangerous or obscene texts, and texts related to scandals or topical events of local interest. These poems rarely feature in literary surveys, but they open a unique window onto early modern society and its mores, and indicate the social breadth, depth, and extent of literary composition.
Documents associated with the fall of James Hepburn, Earl of Both-well, in 1567 offer a rare insight into how texts were adapted for different purposes and readerships. Initially recorded in the manuscript "Register of the Acts of the Privy Council of Scotland," these texts subsequently appeared as printed broadsheets for public display in prominent places. They are the first Scottish documents of their kind known to have undergone this process of transition. As the texts passed from one medium to another, their form and punctuation were changed, mirroring their altered function. In this essay, Jeremy J. Smith shows that their differences in such formal features align quite precisely with the changing uses of literacy in early modern Scotland.
Scholarship on manuscript culture often privileges textual fluidity and scribal agency. However, a casual attitude toward texts and authorship was not universal in manuscript transmission. This essay focuses on BL, Harley MS 7392(2), which is representative of the type of miscellany compiled and circulated in learned institutions where poetry was highly valued and exchanging it helped to cultivate communal identities. The copying habits and attribution practices of its compiler reveal a concern for the integrity of the text and an interest in the question of authorship. This essay argues that, at times, copyists attempted to preserve more "fixed" forms that accorded with the wishes of authors, a feature that has been associated with print culture.
This essay examines John Osborne's manuscript translations of Demosthenes's oration Against Leptines and Aeschines's speech On the Embassy, both dedicated to Sir Christopher Hatton. Presented by one mp to another, these translations demonstrate the interest in Greek oratory and its political uses in early modern England. Osborne's manuscripts are also highly unusual in showing a Tudor translator of the classics at work. The main focus of this essay is on the corrections and changes in the two surviving manuscripts of the translation of Against Leptines (Add. MS 10059, British Library, and MS Anglais 60, Bibliothèque nationale de France). The essay argues that Osborne's departures from his source texts evidence a deeper concern to reproduce the political efficacy of Demosthenes's and Aeschines's speeches in Elizabethan England. The essay thus throws new light on both early modern translation practice and the use of manuscript texts to bind together communities through the exchange of material that is designed to appeal to a communal identity.
This essay takes MS Dyce 44, National Art Library (V&A) as a case study to reconstruct the personal tastes and scribal habits of a manuscript miscellany's main copyist and compiler. Claire Bryony Williams uses evidence from the literary contents, copying stints, textual collations, and physical format of the manuscript to reveal its maker's intellectual preoccupations and investment of time and money in the project, as well as to explore the print and manuscript sources, and dramatic and musical interactions, that informed the collection. The essay concludes with an examination of the compiler's attempts to control other readers' access to and interpretations of erotic material through cipher and backward writing and the use of Latin tags to mediate morally dubious texts, as well as the way in which two subsequent readers responded to the miscellany through adding poems.
Any reader of manuscript catalogues knows how common the unhelpfully vague entry "sermon-notes, seventeenth-century" can be. In this essay, Mary Morrissey explores whether sermon-notes provide evidence for the kinds of textual communities that have been found through the reconstruction of other routes of manuscript circulation. She explains what those laconic catalogue entries hide, and she distinguishes the different kinds of sermon-notes found in archival collections (some derived from the original preacher, some from hearers, some from readers of manuscript and printed copies). The physical forms of sermon-notes alert us to the different types of authors who created these manuscripts and the different purposes involved in preserving an oration in textual form.
In this essay, Michelle O'Callaghan investigates practices of manuscript compilation, taking Don.c.54 and Rawl.poet.31, Bodleian Library, as her main case studies. Both manuscripts evidence a degree of organization and planning, and thus possess a "significant shape," even though one (Rawl.poet.31) was produced by a professional scribe in a short span of time as a commercial enterprise, and the other (Don.c.54) was compiled by its owner (an amateur scribe) over the course of three decades. The essay uncovers the high level of skill and awareness of manuscript design that amateur as well as professional copyists could display. It explores the kinds of interpretive work required to analyze the complex interrelationship between material form and textual content.
One of the challenges faced by compilers of early modern miscellanies was how to find material after it had been copied. In this essay, Angus Vine explores schemes for search and retrieval, from incipient indices to tipped-in texts, using as a case study the meticulously planned miscellany later owned by Joseph Hall. The original compiler of this manuscript collected a wide range of material, including theological texts, scientific and medical items, political reports and other news, and large amounts of verse. He devised a system of seven categories, dividing his manuscript into sections. The essay examines the compiler's classificatory system, what actually happened when he and another scribe started to copy material, and what this says about how early modern miscellanies were used.
Recent scholarly emphasis on the public nature of manuscript circulation has highlighted the important contributions women made to a wide range of literary, intellectual, and social discourses. Against this backdrop, BC MS Lt q 32, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds (compiled ca. 1660) poses something of a problem. During Hester Pulter's lifetime, it did not circulate beyond her immediate family. After her death, it remained within the household; it was annotated by an eighteenth-century reader but never printed. The anomalous history of BC MS Lt q 32 makes it a useful test case of our ideas of women's authorship and manuscript authorship in general. It reveals how histories of publication affect our understanding of women writers and how patterns of preservation shape our approach to literary studies.