“Rare” Books in the Bookstacks?

This post is a follow-up to a photograph I tweeted a couple days ago, and will give me space to respond to a few comments. While browsing the stacks at Northwestern this weekend to get a sense of the editorial history of plays by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, I came across this item:

100_2301

This book is more than 250 years old. It contains the first and second of ten volumes in The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, edited by Lewis Theobald, Thomas Seward, and Thomas Sympson. Both were released in 1750 in London for Jacob and Richard Tonson as well as for S. Draper. The Tonson family was renowned for its London bookselling business during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and is especially famous for its relationships with Milton and Dryden. The first volume contains A King and No King, which some critics have pegged as a royalist play (along with the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher folio more generally), so one might wonder about this editorial project’s appearance sixteen years before the American Revolution. That’s meant to be suggestive; with a few very noteworthy exceptions (Margreta De Grazia’s Shakespeare Verbatim perhaps foremost among these), the study of eighteenth-century editions of Renaissance dramatic texts has received relatively little study. As Jeffrey Masten stated recently in a seminar, it’s usually all about the first editions, and this attitude overlooks chances to study the various contexts in which texts are re-printed and re-read.

John Vincler wondered about the binding on this Beaumont and Fletcher. “It’s that they are often in 50 yo library bindings that is most unfortunate. I always wonder about prev. binding,” he tweeted. So do I. This volume fortunately does not have a library binding (by Heckman or any other similar company), and it’s worthwhile to note that the first two volumes of the series are bound together. The spine is fairly ornate and features some gold-tooled lettering.

100_2296 100_2293

The binding seems roughly contemporary with the leaves, and a clue on a flyleaf indicates who the binder is:

100_2299

I’m occupied by another project right now, so I’m probably not going to follow through on this lead, although some hasty googling showed me that James MacKenzie was a London bookbinder working roughly in our period here.

Some take-aways. I’ve seen handpress-era books in the stacks before, so discovering this book this volume wasn’t a total surprise to me. I do think this is an unusual find, however, and it’s proof that you don’t always need to go to a Special Collections reading room to conduct research on specimens of early printing (it’s often essential, though, and I’m a dedicated advocate). I’m keeping the book at my open carrel for now. It’s not an emergency that a book this old is exposed to students’  sometimes-unruly reading habits (I’m reminded of an anecdote of William Empson, who had to purchase a new copy of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus for the London Library after smearing it with toast and jam while reading*). John Overholt, curator of early modern books and manuscripts at Harvard’s Houghton Library, tweeted that if he found a book like this in the stacks he would probably send it to remote storage, “but it’s probably fine in the stacks too.” Ben Pauley likewise recognized the space-“rarity” ratio in many Special Collections to be problematic. In his words, “Can’t save ’em all.” No, we can’t – but we should be keenly aware of the significant number of old books (in period bindings) in the stacks that are becoming older – and possibly “rarer” (?) – with each passing year. Of course, this means there’s a lot of work to do from literary scholars, historians, bibliographers, and librarians.

ASK

* In William Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: U of Penn. Press, 2008), 155.

Advertisements

Printers’ Ornaments in Renaissance Books

I can admit already that this piece will be a little on the pedantic side and that it lacks a definitive conclusion; it’s meant to be provocative in that sense. But along the way I’ll make reference to a few unusual instances in the history of Renaissance books, and speculate about the commercial properties of title-pages and the ornaments, or woodcut illustrations, that often decorated them. I do this mainly to play out a passing curiosity.

Form affects meaning. This simple, yet powerful phrase echoes through the work of bibliographer and book historian D. F. McKenzie. In his essay “Typography and Meaning: The Case of William Congreve,” McKenzie investigates this principle as it pertains to early printed books, and emphasizes the vast range of choices open to printers, textual content notwithstanding:

The printer-designer’s own vocabulary developed into an extraordinarily flexible one of types in their different designs as well as different sizes of the same face, paper in diverse weights, colour, quality and size, ink weak and strong, red and black, format, title page, frontispiece, illustrations diagrammatic, hieroglyphic and figurative, bulk, the structural divisions of volumes, ‘books,’ sections, section titles, chapters, paragraphs, verses, verse numbering, line measure, columns, interlinear, marginal and footnotes, running titles, pagination roman and arabic, headings, initial letters, head- and tailpieces, braces, rules, indentations, fleurons, epitomes, indexes, and, most important of all, blank white space. (217)

Here, McKenzie outlines many (although certainly not all!) possibilities available to early printers as they crafted a text into a consumable package for reading audiences. Often, the author played no part at all in this process. To put it very simply, copyright functioned differently during the early modern era, and intellectual property remained commonly with the printer rather than the author. This is not to say at all, however, that authors were never a part of the decision making process, and in some cases, we have records of the planning that went on between printers and authors.

One such case is the collaboration between Sir John Harington and his printer Richard Field during the production of Harington’s translation of Ludovico Ariosto’s immensely popular Italian epic, Orlando Furioso (1591). In a document that is now known as British Museum Additional 18920, Harington relays instructions to Field regarding the material delivery of his text (and this kind of thing is unusual):

Mr. Feeld I dowt this will not come in in the last page, and thearfore I wowld have immedyatly in the next page after the fynyshinge of this last booke, with some pretty knotte to set down the tytle, and a peece of the Allegory as followeth in this next page — I wowld hav the allegory (as allso in the appollogy and all the prose that ys to come except the table in the same printe that Putnams book ys. (quoted. in Galbraith, 29)

Harington clearly understands the importance of typeface for his translation, and moreover, he urges Field to use a certain type from another book familiar to him. Also, as Stephen Galbraith has recently commented, the “pretty knotte” refers to the a large printer’s ornament that separates the end of canto 46 and the title of the following section. You can see the final result in the image to the right, which is not an artifact I’ve examined but rather a scanned image of the Huntington copy available in Early English Books Online (EEBO).

So what does this mean? Well, first of all, we can deduce from Harington’s meticulous directions to Field that the design and arrangement of textual features, including but not limited to typefaces and printers’ ornaments, could constitute a critical part of the book-production process for Renaissance printers and authors alike. Whether it fell to the printer or was carefully decided by the author, the typographic arrangement of elements in printed books, and not just the text, resulted in something meaningful to readers.  The “pretty knotte” to the right is grotesque in its weave of vines, and it features a horned satyr-like figure in the center. At the end of Ariosto’s famous Italian epic, readers could quite possibly associate this ornament with something grotesque, continental, and Italianate. (Since this could stand for depravity to certain Englishmen, Harington defends his translation as morally acceptable.)

An experiment about printers’ ornamentsEdwardII(1594)After recently reading Jeffrey Masten’s article that recounts his discovery of an unknown copy of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II in the Universitätsbibliotek Erlangen-Nürnburg (this kind of thing is also unusual), I’ve been thinking about the title page of this book. It was published in 1594 by Richard Robinson (who left his name off the title page), and it features a kind of printer’s “pretty knotte” on the title page.

The photo to the left is not a reproduction of the copy Masten found, but rather the already-known copy (thought to be unique) in the Zentralbibliothek of Zurich, Switzerland (microfilmed, and available in EEBO). I want to call attention to the ornament featured on the title page. It looked strangely familiar to me and led me to conduct a hasty search for the book where I thought I’d seen it before. Sure enough, after a little while, I found what seemed to be the same ornament in two books published in 1588. Both were issued from the English press of John Wolfe, a printer notorious for his rebellious habits and surreptitious printing of controversial Italian texts (often, for continental readers at the Frankfurt Book Fair). Wolfe had studied presswork on the continent, and was often accused of disorderly printing once he returned to England. A very annoyed Christopher Barker urged Wolfe in 1582 to “[l]eave your Machevillian devices, & conceit of your forreine wit, which you have gained by gadding from country to country, and tell me plainly, if you meane to deale like an honest man” (quoted in Hoppe, 246). Always the rebel, Wolfe didn’t care and kept on illegally printing books that Barker held under privilege.

Barker might mean something else by “devices,” but a number of researchers have identified and compiled the many woodcuts that adorn Wolfe’s title-pages. I list two instances of a particular example below, not from title-pages, but within two separate publications of 1588. On the left is the final recto of the dedication “al suo Monicchio” (to his monkey) in the first book of Pietro Aretino’s scandalous Ragionamenti, published in Italian by Wolfe. The book basically consists of sexualized dialogues between female speakers, and was considered extremely controversial among early English readers. Some have argued that it intensified English assumptions about Italy’s supposedly lascivious and luxurious culture. On the right is the end of A Caueat for France, vpon the present euils that it now suffereth, translated from the French by Edward Aggas. I know much less about this text but the title is indeed suggestive. Wolfe’s ornament is not identical to Robinson’s, and this is important to acknowledge. But it is certainly similar.

Wolfe Books

The reason why I thought at first that this similarity of printers’ ornaments might be significant is that Edward II raises the issue of Italian and French culture and their ambiguous – even dangerous – place in English society. Put very simply: on the one hand, the Continent stood for refined culture and aesthetic excellence, but on the other it suggested all kinds of devious sexual and political connotations. Gaveston, King Edward’s “favourite,” arrives from France in Act I and has a keen preference for Italian masques and courtly entertainment. (Curious readers at a London bookstall in 1594 would learn this only two pages into the play-text.) He later reveals his Italianate inclinations further in his clothing and in his speech. The envious English barons, wary of the intimacy between Gaveston and the King, call Gaveston “wicked” and a “peevish Frenchman.” By killing him, they silence the unruly sexual threat of the Continent in their effort to purify England and return it to order for the good of all English people. According to this interpretation, Marlowe thus affords a great deal of attention to French and Italian culture as a threat to the Barons’ Englishness in this play, and I wanted to find out if Robinson’s ornament, which somewhat resembles the one that appears in John Wolfe’s Aretino and the Caueat for France, could suggest the use of this “pretty knotte” as a kind of commercial adjunct to the play’s textual content. Even if it isn’t identical, I wondered if the similarity could suggest something important about the play’s initial reception on the book market.

A dead end? Not much is known about Robinson. Few records bearing his name survive, and he sometimes got in trouble for disorderly printing. After an admittedly hasty search through EEBO for this ornament accompanying Robinson’s publications, I found 13 that appear between 1587 and 1597. (It merits saying that this is among those texts that have survived.) This ornament was not one of Robinson’s usual printing-house ornaments. It seems he favored placing it at the end of a dedicatory epistle or preliminary address; only in four cases does it show up on a title page. Two in 1590, one in 1591, and one in 1594, the last of these being Marlowe’s play. Yet, the conclusions here are disappointing. There is arguably nothing special about Robinson’s use of the ornament in 1594, and nothing substantial to suggest that it represented anything continental or “Italianate” to a designer or reader. Moreover, as I said before, Robinson’s ornament is subtly, but importantly distinct from Wolfe’s, and Wolfe does not use it on his title pages (at least, not the ones I mention here). There is therefore no clear link between these ornaments or even these printers to speak of, and what we have is essentially a kind of negative result (at least at the moment). Printer’s ornaments were sometimes random, then, and often had the practical purpose of holding up paper on the press to avoid an uneven print-job. But I bring up the issue because I want to suggest that this kind of approach might not always finish with such a dead end.

We face some questions, some of which have surely been posed recently by Juliet Fleming in terms of flower-devices (in effect, she is revising some of her older thoughts), but I want to rehearse a few of them here. What did printers’ ornaments mean in reference to a book’s or a play’s text? Did they have commercial properties, or could they entice prospective buyers somehow with “visible codes?” If so, were some printers more demonstrably aware of the commercial properties of ornaments? Can we prove this? How does this relate to genre (Fleming discusses sonnets)? How did these ornaments exchange hands on the book market? What does an ornament on a title page mean, as opposed to one at the end of a dedication? How were these “pretty knottes” different from head- or tailpieces, initial blocks, “flowers,” “acorns,” and other ornaments that fit somewhere between “text” and “illustration”? The Text Creation Partnership (TCP) has already begun to make the full texts of microfilmed and digitized EEBO records searchable, but the images are more tricky to navigate. As it becomes easier to electronically catalog and search through the ornaments that appear in early modern books, we are opened up to a range of new questions and possibilities for the study of early books and their paratextual materials.

ASK

For (much) further reading:

Fleming, Juliet. “Changed Opinions as to Flowers.” In Renaissance Paratexts, ed. Helen Smith and Louise Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011. 48-64.

Galbraith, Steven K. “‘English’ Black-Letter Types and Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar.” Spenser Studies 23 (2008): 13-40.

Hoppe, Harry R. “John Wolfe, Printer and Stationer, 1579-1601.” The Library 4th ser. 14 (1933): 241-88.

Masten, Jeffrey. “Bound for Germany: Heresy, Sodomy, and a New Copy of Marlowe’s Edward II.” Times Literary Supplement 21 and 28 (2012): 17-19.

McKenzie, D. F. “Typography and Meaning: The Case of William Congreve.” 1981. Reprinted in Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays. Ed. Peter D. McDonald and Michael F. Suarez, S.J. Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2002. 198-236.

McKerrow, R. B., ed. A Dictionary of Printers and Booksellers in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of Foreign Printers of English Books 1557-1640. London: Bibliographical Society, 1910.

Reading Rare Books Online

For many researchers today (whether academic or simply curious), one of the greatest benefits of recent technological progress is the ability to conduct archival research at home, in your pajamas, or at two in the morning. (Or, all three at the same time.) For readers with access, electronic databases including Early English Books Online (EEBO) offer thousands of early and rare printed materials that can be downloaded to a home computer, printed out, consulted in a PDF reader, or marked electronically. I recently read Robert Tofte’s poetry collection Laura (London: 1597) on my iPad, for instance.

The EEBO database consists of thousands of early titles originally published between 1475 and 1700 (the periods covered in the short-title catalogs of Pollard & Redgrave and Wing), which were formatted onto microfilm in the 1930s by the University of Michigan and have since been digitized. After a centuries-long journey through manuscript, print, microfilm, and digital media, the text images are sometimes poor in quality and therefore hard to read. Below is an example of the kind of “show-through” you can find in an EEBO document (this is taken from the 1644 edition of John Milton’s The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce:

Milton, EEBO Text

Despite these occasional exigencies, EEBO is ultimately an invaluable resource, and it continues to grow. Beginning in 1999, a collaborative effort between ProQuest LLC, the University of Michigan, and Oxford University known as the TCP (Text Creation Partnership) began to key the full texts of first-editions in order to make them searchable by keyword. Now in its second phase, the TCP seeks to bring its total to 70,000 titles and includes the collaboration of over 150 libraries. I’ve had the pleasure to hear Martin Mueller speak recently on EEBO, and I share his enthusiasm for a project that certainly has its “noise,” but that probably promises more good than ill. In fact, it opens up a new generation of scholars to the textual and editorial practice that has been mostly taken for granted in the academy for decades. It does matter what editions we read.

And yet. We must temper our enthusiasm, for although EEBO is an invaluable resource, it does not and will not replace archival research. At least, not yet. There are physical aspects of rare books that cannot be fully conveyed through these digitized microfilm copies, such as watermarks, physical dimensions, and bindings, each of which offer important clues about the production, consumption, and circulation of a given book. Additionally, EEBO images (often from copies in the British Library and the Huntington Library) represent a very small sample of the surviving copies of a given publication. Far from being identical, copies of early books often have very subtle differences in terms of press variants and error corrections. Fortunately, scholars and librarians are becoming increasingly aware of the value of retaining “duplicate” copies of early books in the effort to digitize them. Claire Stewart recently pointed me toward this HathiTrust duplicates report, which acknowledges the value of “duplicates” for scholars in certain fields (see p. 6). It’s my belief that the effort to digitize our cultural heritage will lead us back toward the material, the physical, and the artifact, and I’m thinking more about this after reading Bethany Nowviskie’s MLA 2013 paper, published just yesterday.

EEBO is not alone in its home-delivery of rare books to readers and researchers. Other projects including GoogleBooks, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive contain millions of printed books from earlier eras, and in some cases allow readers to download the whole artifact. I want to use the rest of my time here to show some of the potential and limitations of the Internet Archive, however, mainly in order to call attention to some of its unusual features. Here is what you find when you search for John Milton’s The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce: a copy of the 1645 pirated edition held by the Boston Public Library. I came across this in November while researching Milton’s pamphlets:

Milton, Internet Archive
The Internet Archive allows you to do with this book some of the same things you can do in EEBO. For instance, you can page through the artifact in its entirety; you can download it to your computer; you can peruse the ASCII text (although EEBO’s TCP project currently only has available first-edition keyed texts, so this one would not be there). However, this online archive allows you to do some different things as well that come slightly closer to the archival visit. For instance, the images of the artifact appear in color, as opposed to black-and-white (although you have the choice to download the PDF here in color or in black-and-white). The resolution of the images is not excellent. There is, however, a two-page layout and a page-turning animation effect that you can opt for, which I have found found for modern texts in iBooks, but less commonly among early modern digital archives. You can also “play” the book as a slideshow and watch the pages turn rhythmically, one after another. It’s a bit mesmerizing. I admit I’m not sure how useful it is to be able to “play” and “pause” a book like this, though. Below is an image of the “page-turn,” although you have to see it in action to really get the full effect.

Milton, Internet Archive (page turn)
The final aspect of this interface I’ll consider here is perhaps among the most promising, but the least successful. If you press the sound button in the top-right corner, you can hear a simulated, female voice read the text. This could be a useful feature, but the OCR delivery of the text is confused by the typography of this early modern book, and systematically garbles the “long s” into an “f” sound. There are other problems with it as well. Olin Bjork and John Rumrich have recently collaborated on a Paradise Lost audiotext, and their work suggests that the visual and the aural can indeed work together productively in a hypertextual archive site. The Internet Archive’s current “iffues” suggest that we still have many years and hard work ahead of us, but we should not sacrifice the effort on account of the “noise” we will inevitably encounter.