News: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you may know, I recently received a grant through the “Global Midwest” Humanities Without Walls Initiative. A Mellon-funded program, HWW unites humanities centers at 15 research universities in the Midwest and is designed to stimulate inter-institutional collaboration. (You can read more about it here.)HWW-Logo-web

The project I proposed, “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” hopes to do two things over the next few months: 1) register Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings, at least for now the printed matter issued 1473-1700, in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC); and 2) develop relationships among HWW-institution faculty, graduates, and undergraduates who have investments in some combination of Renaissance literature, book history, and digital humanities. You can find my sub-page on the HWW Wiki here.

I’m very happy to report that I just got the project off the ground  this week. My highly-recommended research assistants Erin Nelson, Nicole Sheriko, and Hannah Bredar recently joined me for an orientation session outlining the project’s objectives and workflow. As I mentioned, our task will be to register about 2600 early printed books into the ESTC, thereby putting our institution’s rare books “on the map” for scholars and students around the country and around the world. This is done by the process of matching, or correctly identifying and updating records on the ESTC’s back-end based on a carefully curated list of our holdings. Special care must be taken in the case of multiple issues or states, fragmentary printed matter, sammelbände, and incorrect catalog information (should we be able to pick it out). Modern facsimiles require some caution as well, since NU’s catalog does not always designate them as such (for instance, the Upcott typographical facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio [1807] is dated “1632” in the library record.)  Discussing these “hard cases” in the Special Collections reading room was one of the purposes of our orientation sessions. At this stage, I have divided the first 1600 items between the four of us, and although Erin and Nicole will be working remotely for the majority of the job, Hannah and I will be on point to verify a record in the archive, if need be. (And need there will be.) You can expect to read about some of our triumphs and challenges here.

I’ve  also begun to communicate with scholars at a few other Midwestern institutions about the prospect of spreading this effort. If you feel your institution’s Special Collections holdings aren’t well-represented in the ESTC (or, if you just don’t know what you have), feel free to get in touch. Ideally, this initiative will be able to demonstrate that the Midwest is actually a profoundly good place to study Renaissance book history (or, to do rare book research more broadly).

I’ll close here with a few key thank-yous. I’m very grateful to Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for the Humanities for bringing this project into being. I also have Ben Pauley (Eastern Connecticut State U), Ginger Schilling (UC-Riverside), and Northwestern Special Collections Librarians Sigrid Perry, Gary Strawn, and Scott Krafft for their diligence, patience, and encouragement. Gary was instrumental in providing a list of NU’s Special Collections holdings, and Sigrid has provided critical help since the consultation stage. And of course, I’m indebted to the usual suspects in the Department of English, as well as my wonderful assistant book historians, Erin, Nicole, and Hannah, who will likely be adding guest postings here about what they find during the course of their work.

Typography and Obscenity: The Case of John Donne’s “The Flea”

More or less out of use since the end of the eighteenth century and the contemporaneous transition to machine-press printing, the “long s” occupied for centuries a curious but consequential position in the third line of John Donne’s three-stanza poem “The Flea.” Below is an image of the first stanza as it appeared in the Poems volume of 1633:


To many modern readers and critics, the third line of this poem — a poem concerned with seduction, sex, and the mingling body fluids of a lover and the beloved — includes a kind of visual pun. The “long s,” only narrowly distinguishable from the letter “f,” invites an alternative reading imbued with obscenity. The unstable textual condition of Donne’s manuscripts is well-known to us now, but this “long s” points suggestively to the ways in which the typographical fortunes of Donne’s lyric could also provide a particular kind of textual malleability — that is, they could furnish, and continue to furnish, readers with multiple approaches to gender, sexuality, and desire. In today’s post I will trace — if in a cursory manner — the “long history” of this “long s,” and I will argue that its ambiguity illustrates one way in which typography can destabilize and reconstitute a poetic speaker’s sexuality and desire before new reading audiences (and critics).

A quick Google search for “donne,” “flea,” and “long s” reveals that this typographical ambiguity is widely known, if not completely obvious, although a few Donne scholars have addressed it in some detail. (Surely, more than I mention here.) In a discussion of the shifting spatial and temporal dimensions of Donne’s verse, Thomas Docherty suggests that this visual sign, fostered by print, “opens the poem . . . to an immediately titillating ambiguity” in the service of a masculinist project (54). Taking an alternative stance, Susannah B. Mintz argues that this stanza and its ambiguity suggest Donne’s play with gender:

Coursing beneath the overt terms of the seduction is a longing to do the passive thing, not just to penetrate but to be ‘pampered,’ not simply to suck but to be sucked (with the implications both of being nursed and of being ‘fucked’). (584)

These claims evince some clear opposition. While Docherty recognizes the poem’s “long s” alongside “the phallic apprehension of the female body” (58), Mintz encourages readers to view the typographical crux as showcasing jouissance and a challenge to fixed gender categories. These comments, thought brief and made somewhat in passing, fit into a larger debate about Donne and his sexuality. Rehearsing the terms of this debate, Rebecca Ann Bach attempts to break apart what she views as a consensus about Donne’s heterosexuality:

Not only will I suggest that Donne was not a heterosexual, I will also argue that, pace [Catherine] Belsey, [Richard] Halpern, and [Benjamin] Saunders, heterosexuality was not emergent in 1609 when Donne was writing his poetry. (261-62)

Bach suggests that the broader corpus of Donne’s poetry and prose — Holy Sonnets, sermons, &c — evinces a non-modern attitude toward sexuality that is religiously invested, Augustinian in nature, and often deeply misogynistic. This attitude leaves little room, she says, for egalitarian relationships between men and women.

Keeping all this in mind, I’m now going to sideline this debate, investigating — in a manner much more provocative than exhaustive — the typographical instability of “The Flea”‘s third line in relation to these recent conversations about the poet’s sexuality. Such an investigation, if carried out more fully, would join with recent calls to recognize more thoroughly the ways in which histories of editing and textual transmission help to shape critical claims about gender and sexuality. (Here, I’m indebted to D. F. McKenzie, Jerome McGann, Margreta de Grazia, and other scholars and students of the material text.)

So. Although we know the “long s” was conventional in early modern typography, the ambiguity present in “The Flea” may easily have been legible to early readers of Donne’s printed “Songs and Sonets.” An example from one of the poet’s contemporaries can illustrate just how. First published in 1598, John Florio’s Italian-English dictionary A VVorlde of Wordes included “fucker,” “a fucking,” and “fuckt” under the headwords “Fottitore,” “Fottitura,” and “Fottuto.” The lower-case “f,” appearing three times among these entries in italic type, is in close proximity in each case to “a sarder” and “a swiuer,” “a swiuing” and “a sarding,” and “sarded” and “swiued.” Pictured below, the difference between the “f” and the “long s” is very slim, if it can be discerned at all:


I am not suggesting here that readers were “confused” by the multiple “s” and “f” characters in these entries. Rather, I include this passage as an influential (and early) example of printed obscenity that also made immediately visible — indeed, showcased — the typographical similarity between “f” and the “long s.” “Fuck” was indeed known as a word in Donne’s England, and had been for a while (OED lists 1513 as its first appearance). Moreover, this book was in all likelihood familiar to Donne, who, like Florio, had ties with Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford. Both men composed verses for her, and Florio counted her among his patronesses when he composed his translation of Montaigne’s Essayes. Furthermore, Donne satirized Florio following this translation’s publication in 1603. Evidence is lacking (as it often is), but one could speculate that filthy words would have held a special attraction for a young Donne and his colleagues at the Inns of Court.

Although the “long-s” accompanied “The Flea” through its manuscript instantiations, the typographical instabilities of this character as exhibited in Florio’s dictionary became affixed to Donne’s poem upon its first printed appearance in 1633. Furthermore, the ambiguity in line three would persist typographically for nearly three centuries as the poem benefited from increased readerly and critical attention. The second edition of Donne’s Poems, issued in 1635, witnessed the grouping-together and reorganization of the “Songs and Sonets,” as well as the shuffling of “The Flea” from the twentieth position to the first. Modern editor John Carey has commented on the extreme difficulty of ordering or dating Donne’s poems in this collection, and uses the later order of 1635 “on the grounds that whoever assembled the poems for that edition showed some concern for getting the poems into a ‘correct’ order” (88). In doing this, Carey departs significantly from previous editors (notably, Herbert J. C. Grierson, who uses the 1633 order). Yet “The Flea” remained the first poem in the sequence through all the major editions between 1635 and 1669; it can also be found first in editions of 1719, 1779, and 1793. (More can be done to study these editions, of course.) This poem clearly came to occupy a prominent position in Donne’s oeuvre, even through the eighteenth century. In each of these editions, one could find the “long s” in line three — at least, until the nineteenth century, when the character fell out of use.

Bach suggests that religious vocabularies of shame skew “The Flea” away from a lighthearted conceit or pseudo-argument and towards an Augustinian context (268-70), but this reading does not account for the typographical instability in line three that remains a small, but important element of this poem’s transmission history. Indeed, once Donne’s poem saw print, the “long s” simultaneously fixed and made possible interpretations of the poem that challenge Bach’s author-centric and compositional assessment. In fact, in the hands of a print audience, the first three lines emerge as a tercet that exhorts not only the beloved, but also the reader to pay attention to nuance, both to “Marke but this flea” and to “marke in this.” William Sherman has illustrated how material and how common the practice of “marking” in books was among Renaissance readers; the lengthy entry for “mark” in the OED also makes this clear. Repeated twice in the first line, this word hails a reader to consider something closely, but also to imagine if not engage in a particular form of textual practice with his or her own printed copy of Poems.

Taken in such a way, “this flea” stands not only as a fictional flea sucking the blood of the lover and beloved, but also as Donne’s poem clearly titled so. The meaning of “this” at the end of line 1 is obscure, although it could refer to the poem or to the conceits about to unfold. The second line, a bridge between the exhortation to “marke in this” and the typographical obscenity emerging in line three, accomplishes this task through its focused attention to the infinitesimal: “How little that which thou deny’st me is.” Paradoxically, the speaker here casts a spotlight on what is barely perceptible in order to emphasize its presence. This directs readers to the third line, which presents two instances of the “long s” – one for the speaker, one for the beloved. Straying away from authorial control on the text, this typographical deployment points simultaneously to “s” and “f,” to sucking and fucking, although the distinction between then — presumably as “little” as the deed that the beloved denies the speaker — has now been rendered visible to readers.

The consequences of this rather myopic reading involve an interpretational strategy that empowers the reader and invites appropriations of Donne’s verse according to alternative gendered paradigms. Typography makes this possible, and one may perceive related cases elsewhere in early modern literature (line 6 of the first poem in Richard Barnfield’s Cynthia stands as an example). Mintz regards this instability and its function in the poem as “a compelling example of Donne’s play with gender” through which “Donne manages to identify himself both with the female body and with a kind of ‘bisexualized’ erotic pleasure” (584-85). However, Bach’s thorough-going historical assessment of sex in Donne’s poetry and prose raises serious questions about such an interpretation, and would tend to support Docherty’s conclusions about “The Flea” instead. In order to disengage readerly possibilities from authorial intention, both of which are valid elements in any study of the poem, we might emphasize the histories of transmission that connect the two, and that supply or obscure typographical instabilities such as the “long s” that have been used to argue one way or another about Donne’s sexuality.

Thanks to Amy Nelson & Toby Altman. Images drawn from EEBO according to fair use.


Not Shakespeare’s Beehive? Doesn’t Really Matter

Like many of you, I awoke on Monday to a startling claim about “Shakespeare’s Beehive,” a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie (1580) covered in extensive annotations. New York booksellers George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler  launched what is truly a beautiful website to showcase their belief that the annotations in this copy of Baret can be attributed to William Shakespeare. Coincidentally – or not – this week marks the 450th birthday of the poet from Stratford.

Of course, from the moment “Shakespeare’s Beehive” went live, it has faced healthy criticism from scholars of Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and book history. (An updated overview of the conversation can be found here.) Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe wrote a very smart piece in The Collation about the reasonable doubts forestalling any easy attribution to Shakespeare. This book, they say, must stand thorough tests assessing paleography, rare and peculiar words, associations, and marginalia before any Shakespearean attribution can be confirmed. More recently, Aaron Pratt has examined a particular case in the annotations, the supposed word “Buck-bacqet,” which he finds not to be a word unique to Merry Wives (as Koppelman and Wechsler think), but rather a French and an English word listed beside each other: “Bucket bacquet.” As Pratt suggests, this is “what we might expect a reader to record in their multilingual dictionary.”

Like Pratt and others, I am very glad this annotated copy of Baret has come to light for the things it tells us about Renaissance dictionaries and how they were used. This issue has been a preoccupation of mine from some time, and in recent years I’ve consulted a few hundred copies of books designed for students of Renaissance language, Baret among them. My corpus includes bilingual and polyglot dictionaries, proverb collections, dialogue books, and grammars. Italian, French, and Spanish books are of particular interest to me, and the study of these books’ annotations constitutes the most recent stage in the project. So even if this “beehive” is proven definitively to not belong to Shakespeare, I am pleased to see Twitter “buzzing” (sorry) with questions about Baret’s book and the ways in which Renaissance dictionaries were used by readers and writers.

I’ll make a few remarks now about Baret’s dictionary itself, which has been somewhat obscured in all the talk about Shakespeare’s hand (or lack thereof). This lexicographical effort was first published by Henry Denham in 1574 as a “triple dictionarie” in folio. It includes entries in English, Latin, French, and a smattering of Greek (the Greek would be amplified substantially for the second edition of 1580, now a “quadruple dictionarie”). The production of this dictionary may be of special interest to Renaissance scholars for its compilatory and collaborative nature. A fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, Baret had begun collecting material for the Alvearie nearly two decades before the volume’s publication. In fact, he recounts in a preface that the dictionary had its origins in the pedagogical practice of translation, explaining that he required his students “daily to translate some peece of English into Latin, for the more speedy, and easie attaining of the same” (*5r).

Their labors resembling those of “diligent Bees,” the students’ collaboration resulted in a sort of polyglot reference book assembled from phrases in Latin literature. Soon afterward, supplementing his knowledge from overseas travel with the aid of “M. Chaloner” and “M. Claudius,” Baret added both French entries and index tables. This “Claudius,” I should note, was probably Claudius Hollyband, perhaps the most famous instructor of French in sixteenth-century London, and who was responsible for the massively popular French Littleton and French Schoolmaster. The frontmatter of the Alvearie also contains four lines of commendatory verse by Richard Mulcaster, who taught Edmund Spenser at the Merchant Taylors’ School and who was deeply involved in debates about pedagogical reform in England. Altogether, this collaborative effort at multilingual lexicography stands at the center of debates about Renaissance language-learning and education in England, incorporating the work of Latinists, French instructors, and students at Cambridge.

So, if we stop worrying about Shakespeare, Koppelman and Wechsler’s copy of the Alvearie can tell us something useful about the relationship between language-learning and book use in the Renaissance. (Here, I join with Adam Hooks, who stated in Monday’s Shakespeare Q&A livestream at Iowa that he remains interested in the notion of a “beehive.”) As the “Shakespeare’s Beehive” website shows, the markings across the polyglot dictionary evince the annotator’s linguistic interests in English, French, and Latin, as well as the possibilities commonplacing held for the understanding of these languages. Furthermore, the “trailing blank” at the end of the volume features a number of words and phrases in these languages compiled by the annotator independent from the book’s printed matter. The annotations in this book are impressively thorough, but still merit comparison with other copies of the 1580 Baret. A copy at the University of Chicago, for instance, features the competing hands of Richard Emery (of Arlesley, Bedfordshire) and John Plomer. Although the annotations suggest that this Alvearie was given to Emery “by his Granfather,” Emery and Plomer appear to struggle for the possession of the book through their writing: “John Plomer oweth this dictionarye,” one finds, and elsewhere “But thou shallt not steale.” Another copy of the book at the Boston Athenaeum is inscribed by “Edward Lye” in the central column of E4r, and features trefoil symbols and some Latin inscriptions on Y4r. If closely examined, these copies of the Alvearie, and many others that survive – the ESTC lists 52 second-edition copies, though surely there are more out there – might give us a better picture of how Renaissance students of language used this particular book.

Of course, other polyglot dictionaries and language manuals feature far more extensive signs of use. Gabriel Harvey’s language-learning manuals, which are held by the Huntington Library today, rank among these books. The most impressive example that I have found to date, however, might be the University of Chicago’s interleaved copy of Richard Percyvall’s Bibliotheca Hispanica, a Spanish-English-Latin dictionary first published in quarto 1591. The book features an intricate array of multilingual markings in different colors throught its entirety, with 163 blank leaves bound up with the printed text to faciliate the user’s additions or workings-out of linguistic complexities. It’s fantastic. Among the very first printed efforts in Spanish-English lexicography in England, Percyvall’s dictionary occupies an important political and linguistic place in history, and this particular copy of the book tells us much about how its users could restructure it and mark upon it for their own ends.

How these practices bear upon literature would be the next step, although the answers are admittedly harder to seek out. In Astrophil and Stella, Sidney mocked “You that do Dictionaries methode bring / Into your rimes, running in ratling rowes,” although I suspect that these language-learning books were not as irrelevant or far-off from poetry as we might commonly think.

A 1549 Giolito Anthology at Northwestern

The Giolito anthologies are a series of volumes of collected lyric poetry published in Italy during the mid-16th century. The poems in these books are deeply indebted to Petrarch, and one can find in them conventional images and language that were becoming increasingly common in Renaissance lyric. Scholars have given the volumes their name on account of their publisher, Gabriel Giolito, who ran an enormously successful and wide-reaching publishing institution in Renaissance Italy. The presses operated mainly out of Venice, but the trade reached well into France.

Title page of Rime diverse di molti eccellentiss. auttori nuovamente raccolte. (Venice, 1549). McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library, 851.08 D668r v.1

The poems contained in these volumes have been known widely among critics as being, well, pretty bad – they are commonly referred to as the work of “minor poets.” Recently, however, JoAnn Della Neva has argued that these Giolito anthologies exerted a profound, if underacknowledged, influence upon the literary efforts of 16th century France. (Joachim Du Bellay’s sonnet collection Olive is a particularly useful example of this.) By extension, these volumes can be seen to have had an effect on emerging poetic traditions in England, which one can begin to find in numerous English poetic anthologies (Tottel’s Miscellany of 1557 being only one of many published in London before 1600).

Verses by Laura Terracina to the volume’s editor, Lodovico Domenichi. In Rime diverse di molti eccellentiss. auttori nuovamente raccolte. (Venice, 1549), R4r. McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library, 851.08 D668r v.1

Part of the interest in the Giolito anthologies comes from their compilatory nature and rather unusual printing history. Following Salvatore Bongi’s Annali di Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, Diana Robin has laid out a useful set of appendices that organizes the anthologies’ bibliographical data by publication date or people’s names, along with descriptions of the 15 volumes in the Newberry Library. (Her book is entitled Publishing Women and has a special eye to the women contributors in the volumes; it was released in 2007).

I’ve looked at a few of the Newberry volumes researched by Robin, but I also found a surviving Giolito anthology in the McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern. There is only one up here, published in 1549 (and, in Robin’s appendix, the 3rd edition of volume 1, or 1c), but it features some interesting elements and annotations that tell us something about how the Giolito volumes could be used. Already, one can find a printed index to the poets in the volume, which is especially helpful because the poems are not grouped sequentially by individual author. Note the initial woodblock representing Actaeon pursued by his dogs after seeing the naked Diana, a figure invoked repeatedly by Renaissance sonneteers:

Index of poets included in the volume. In Rime diverse di molti eccellentiss. auttori nuovamente raccolte. (Venice, 1549), 2A4r. McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library, 851.08 D668r v.1

The Northwestern volume has interesting features beyond the index, though. An early owner inscribed the volume’s tailside foredge with “Rime Diuerse.” While we can’t derive a whole lot of information from this, it may be suggestive of the way the book was stored on a shelf (likely, before it received its marbled binding). Because no number follows “Rime Diuerse,” perhaps this particular owner possessed this volume and none of the other Giolito anthologies (two other first editions and two second editions were available in 1549, when this book saw print).

Exterior binding and foredge, Rime diverse di molti eccellentiss. auttori nuovamente raccolte. (Venice, 1549). McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library, 851.08 D668r v.1

If we open up the book, there are further traces of use in a number of early reader’s annotations. (You can already begin to see this on the title page, pictured above (one can easily make out “Raymondi” to the right of the ornament.) Here, a reader disagreed with the editor Domenichi’s attribution of a sonnet to Pietro Bembo. “questo sonetto / non è del / Bembo” [This sonnet isn’t by Bembo.]

bembo not
Rime diverse di molti eccellentiss. auttori nuovamente raccolte. (Venice, 1549). McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library, 851.08 D668r v.1

Bembo is featured very prominently in the volume; in fact, his name in the index stands out in a much larger type than those used for the “lesser” poets. But this reader’s marginal comment is interesting in that it expresses concern about correct authorial attribution in a literary genre (that is, the c16 lyric anthology) that generally seems to strain against it. (This point I gather from Wendy Wall’s great book The Imprint of Gender.) At least, later in England, poetic anthologies were characterized by unrepresentative titles and authorial attributions, interventions by editors and printers, and the inclusion of “uncertain authors.” From here, one might investigate if this reader is actually onto something, or if the attribution is sustained or corrected in later or other editions. But that’s beyond the scope of this post, which is simply to point out an interesting item at Northwestern’s Special Collections Library.

MS Annotations in a 17c Polyglot Dialogue Book

Frontispiece engraving, Colloqvia et Dictionariolvm octo Linguarum (Antwerp, 1662). Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, 413 D554, Northwestern University.

Thanks partly to a growing body of Protestant refugees in London, the sixteenth century in England witnessed a significant increase in the production of printed aids for vernacular language-learning. During the seventeenth century, it seems that trade and travel amplified the importance of these books. I’ve been assessing the development of this niche in the print marketplace across the Italian, Spanish, and French languages thus far, and I’m beginning to turn my attention to Dutch, German, and polyglot books as well, both in England and on the continent.

In fact, this past summer, I spent several weeks training around the Chicago/Central Illinois area to dig around in the archive to see what I could find. Institutions I visited included Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, the University of Chicago, the Newberry Library, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Overall, I looked at 76 books (50 for learning Italian, 12 for French, 7 for Spanish, and 7 polyglots). I’d already been keeping record of the physical dimensions of language-learning guides and dictionaries in other libraries, so I took measurements of each of these copies. I also looked at both sides of every leaf in every book. It was tedious work sometimes, but I found a number of very interesting manuscript inscriptions throughout these books, inscriptions that I view as material traces of early modern language study.

To give an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s one example from my home institution’s Special Collections library. This is a 1662 edition of the Antwerp language teacher Noel van Berlaimont’s Colloqvia et Dictionariolvm octo Linguarum. As the title suggests, this oblong octavo volume features seven dialogues in eight languages arranged horizontally and in different typefaces. It also includes guides to practical letter-writing, treatises on proper pronunciation and conjugation, and a brief dictionary in the back. First published in 1530, it was issued from the press of most major European cities and saw nearly 150 editions throughout the handpress period. Susan Phillips has called it an “international best seller” (see note below for this comment’s location).

As you can see in the image at the top of this post, this edition includes a frontispiece engraving in which two groups of four men converse with and greet each other. An art historian with a finer 17c fashion sense than me would be able to explicate the clothing of these individuals in light of the book’s eight languages/nationalities.Berlaimont02

The eight-language apparatus in the oblong octavo Colloqvia (with a handy snake). Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, 413 D554, Northwestern University.

If you open this book, you unfold an apparatus of eight languages printed long-ways upon octavo sheets. The printer deployed three typefaces here, perhaps not merely for the purposes of R.B. McKerrow’s “differentiation type,” but also to make use of the associations between typeface and language that are common in many other language-learning books. Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese appear in roman; French and Italian, in Latin; and “Neder-duyts,” “Hoogh-duyts,” and English are in black-letter.

A closer look at six leaves in the first dialogue, which concerns a banquet (“A dinder [sic] of ten persons”) reveals a significant amount of manuscript annotations in the Italian language column. The annotations are in French, and often underline and translate certain words or phrases, using the corresponding words in the French column on the opposing page.

Berlaimont03French annotations in the Italian column, first dialogue, Colloqvia, C8r. Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, 413 D554, Northwestern University.

Beside “& poi per tutto,” the reader has inscribed “et puis per tout.” “Ici” is written beside the printed word “qui,” which is underlined, and a similar annotation for “qui” appears at the bottom of the column. In another line, “minestra” is accompanied by the manuscript annotation “pottage,” and the final annotation here glosses “mentre” as “tandis.” I’m really no expert in paleography, but the hand seems to me to date back to the late seventeenth century, or perhaps the early eighteenth.

As William Sherman and others have made clear, it is often impossible to derive stable conclusions about reading habits from marginalia in printed books. Indeed, we have no indication in this volume of who our annotator is, where he or she was from, or exactly what he or she needed the book for. However, this edition of the Berlaimont dialogues do showcase how readers could put their language-learning books to productive use through their own manuscript additions, and how the facing-page, polyglot apparatus could support a process of reading, copying, and marking in the interest of language study.


For further reading on books like this one, see Susan Phillips, “Schoolmasters, Seduction, and Slavery: Polyglot Dictionaries in Pre-Modern England,” Medievalia et Humanistica 34 (2009): 129-58; quoted at 130.

A 16c Italian Grammar Book owned by Robert Sackville

This entry is an extension of a guest post in Scope Notes, the University of Chicago Special Collections research blog.

Last month I tweeted about an early printed book I was examining at University of Chicago Special Collections. This was a third-edition copy of William Thomas’s Principal Rules of the Italian Grammer, published in 1567 by H. Wykes (STC 24022). First issued in 1550, Thomas’s manual in fact contains the first Italian grammar and lexicon in print for English readers. Provenance is of interest here, however, for it seems clear from an inscription on the title page that the U of Chicago copy once belonged to the sixteenth-century English politician and administrator Robert Sackville (1560/1-1609). The inscription reads:

“Robert Sackevill oweth / this book.”

Sackville’s name is perhaps most familiar to historians of early modern English politics. His father, Sir Thomas Sackville, First Baron Buckhurst and First Earl of Dorset (1536-1608), was cousin to Queen Elizabeth, as well as an accomplished poet and administrator. With Thomas Norton he was responsible for the courtly drama Gorboduc (1561). He also composed the “Induction” printed in William Baldwin’s second part of Mirror for Magistrates (1563) and a sonnet prefacing Sir Thomas Hoby’s English translation of Baldassare Castiglione’s The Courtier (1561). Sir Thomas Sackville traveled to France, Italy, and the Netherlands on royal business, and his son, Robert, surely benefited from his father’s highly visible political career.

In his youth, Robert also occupied a rather central position in a growing community of English educators and language teachers. At the behest of his grandfather, Richard Sackville, Robert received his early instruction alongside the son of the royal tutor Roger Ascham. In the preface to his posthumously published book The Scholemaster (1570), Ascham praised Robert’s grandfather as “That earnest fauorer and furtherer of Gods true Religion: That faithfull Seruitor to his Prince and Countrie: A louer of learning, & all learned men.” He continued, mourning the loss of Richard, but acknowledging Robert’s worthy place as recipient of his book:

I wishe also, with all my hart, that yong M. Rob. Sackuille, may take that fructe of this labor, that his worthie Grauntfather purposed he should haue done: And if any other do take, either proffet, or pleasure hereby, they haue cause to thanke M. Robert Sackuille, for whom speciallie this my Scholemaster was provided. (B4r)

Not only Ascham, but also the native French language instructor Claudius Hollyband (or, Claude Desainliens) published educational books with Robert Sackville in mind. During this time, modern languages were beginning to carry more weight in university curriculum, and as French tutor to Sackville, Hollyband dedicated both The French Schoolemaster (1573) and The Frenche Littelton (1576) to him. The title of the former book evidently sought to evoke Ascham’s Scholemaster, although Hollyband hardly desired to limit his work to elite, aristocratic readers. Arranged often in a bilingual, facing-page apparatus, these books were immensely influential in English communities of French language study during the sixteenth century, and saw a combined total of twelve editions through the final year of Sackville’s life. At least eight more would follow through the year 1640, to say nothing of Hollyband’s later Italian Schoolemaister.

Yet, like so many of his contemporaries, Hollyband sought to justify his work to the public with a dedication to a patron, in this case, “yonge Gentilman Maister Robert Sackuill, sonne and heyre to the honorable the Lorde Buckhurst.” At the time he composed The French Schoolemaster, Sackville was twelve or thirteen, and soon to embark on a university education, it seems. In the dedication, Hollyband offers praise to both Sackville and his father in both appearance and in soul. He then explains his reasons for publishing the book:

And so muche the more was I willyngly mooued therevnto because I knew my good Lord your father to bee so much delighted and to excell in the varietie of tongues: and beying good in many, yet hee may iustly complayne vpon the harde learning of the Frenche tongue, wishynge that some, whiche knew more then other, would take some payne therein. (A2v)

Positioning himself as a worthy and gifted native speaker, Hollyband presents this book as the first printed guide to the French language including instructions for both reading and pronunciation. Lauding Sackville as “a profitable patrõ, youge and notable, a Salomon in witte,” Hollyband provides further detail about his choice of dedicatee:

These causes haue allured mee to dedicate this simple worke vnto you, bycause you are not entred any thinge at all into the language, but are new to learne: not that you shuld leaue of your weightier, and worthier studies in the Uniuersitie, but when your minde is amazed, and dazeled with longe readinge, you may refresh and disport you in learning this toongue. (A3v)

Should the present work succeed, Hollyband promises to publish a more serious French language-learning manual, also to be dedicated to Sackville. This would be the Frenche Littelton of 1576, issued in 16mo “that it might be easier to be caried by any man about him.” The book includes also a complex system of typographical markings to clarify pronunciation. (The imprint reads “1566,” but, as A. W. Pollard has shown, this is a mistake, and the book was most likely issued in 1576.)

It is not clear exactly when Sackville acquired or inscribed the U of Chicago third-edition copy of Thomas’s Italian Grammer, which preceded Hollyband’s French Schoolemaster by six years. Nor can one find any marginal annotations in the book that preserve some sense of the ways in which he used it. However, it does offer us a sliver of material evidence concerning Sackville’s interest in vernacular language-learning and the circle of scholars and instructors with which he communicated. Significantly, it demonstrates his possession of an Italian grammar available before his tutor Hollyband embarked on printed Italian language pedagogy. Moreover, it shows that in addition to being a model student and patron in the view of both Ascham and Hollyband, Sackville had some interest in Italian that could have prepared him to study Castiglione in the original.


Jacob Burckhardt and the Crisis in Renaissance Humanities

There’s a crisis in the humanities today, they say. Read any article with the tagline “Just Don’t Go,” now a fixture among academic essays on the topic (perhaps the most famous examples come from William Pannapacker and Rebecca Schuman). The system is so broken, these scholars warn us, that it is better to avoid it altogether. After all, there are more than a few documented cases of adjunct instructors living from food stamps and laboring at multiple institutions for meager compensation. Additionally, scholars are often uprooted from their home regions today and led by the job market to small towns on the other side of the country. MOOCs and distance-learning modules are creeping into curricula, too. Commenting on related phenomena, Christopher Newfield has investigated some of the reasons for the decline of public higher education in Unmaking the Public University. He discovers that English departments are often betrayed financially in return for the low-overhead service and prestige they lend to the university in the first place. Most recently, this humanities crisis has been approached skeptically by Michael Bérubé (who has discussed enrollment) and optimistically by Wall Street Times writer Lee Siegel. The issue is undeniably real; the debate, heated.

Many of these writers have been at pains to emphasize, however, that today’s humanities crisis is not entirely new. The humanities, in truth, have often faced some kind of opposition at one time or another and have had to justify themselves to the public with vocabularies of utility and value. In fact, we can see this at work in the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt’s Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy). First published in 1860, it remains one of the most influential modern analyses of the Renaissance, and its theses about the emergence of the individual within the political and economic circumstances of c.14 and c.15 Italy remain important to historians and literary scholars today. Burckhardt’s book has been assessed and critiqued for over 150 years now, but its commentary upon the humanities crisis in the Renaissance are striking to the reader of today. (For the sake of ease, I’m going to provide quotations from S.G.C. Middlemore’s 1878 translation; my copy is 2nd ed., 9th imp.: London, 1928).

Buried in the middle of Burckhardt’s book is the chapter “Fall of the Humanists in the Sixteenth Century,” which offers a very bleak picture of the humanities indeed. The “poet-scholars” who revived antiquity and exercised great influence in the public and in aristocratic spheres of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were now struggling to explain their purpose. Often, they faced accusations of self-interest, dissipation, and atheism. “Why, it may be asked,” wonders Burckhardt, “were not these reproaches, whether true or false, heard sooner?'” The principal reasons, he answers, are deeply related to the printing industry:

[T]he spread of printed editions of the classics, and of large and well-arranged hand-books and dictionaries, went far to free the people from the necessity of personal intercourse with the humanists, and, as soon as they could be but partly dispensed with, the change in popular feeling became manifest. (272)

Possibly understood here as a means of “distance education,” printed books, especially hand-books and dictionaries, seemed to require less interaction between the public and humanists. I’m immediately reminded of titles including Roger Ascham’s The Scholemaster (1570), Claudius Hollyband’s The Italian Schoole-maister (1597), and Giovanni Torriano’s The Italian Tutor (1640), each of which seem to substitute a printed book for a classroom lesson. Rather than working together to overcome this technological challenge, however, Burckhardt’s poet-scholars attacked each other all the more viciously:

The first to make these charges were certainly the humanists themselves. Of all men who ever formed a class, they had the last sense of their common interests . . . . All means were held lawful, if one of them saw a change of supplanting another. From literary discussion they passed with astonishing suddenness to the fiercest and most groundless vituperation. Not satisfied with refuting, they sought to annihilate an opponent. (272-73)

Instead of collaborating, these scholars denigrated one another in a race for glory fueled in part by the vogue for bitter satire. More generally though, and more simply, Burckhardt says, the sixteenth century “had . . . grown tired of the type of the humanist” (273). The industry was, it seems, running out of steam. Although this may have been the case, and although anti-humanist complaints were justified in certain instances, Burckhardt presents three facts that

explain, and perhaps diminish, their [i.e. the humanists’] guilt: the overflowing excess of favour and fortune, when the luck was on their side: the uncertainty of the future, in which luxury or misery depended on the caprice of a patron or the malice of an enemy: and finally, the misleading influence of antiquity. (273-74)

To take up the life of a humanist in this era, Burckhardt continues, meant entering a career “of such a kind that only the strongest characters could pass through it unscathed” (274). Nevertheless, it still attracted precocious young men who were gifted learners and tempted them with the prospect of fame and fortune. The “life of the mind” or the “cult” of the humanities was just too good to resist. More common than fame or fortune for these students, however, was “a life of excitement and vicissitude . . . in which the most solid worth and learning were often pushed aside by superficial impudence” (274-75). Moreover, the humanist had little opportunity to settle down or to be at peace in a single place:

[T]he position of the humanist was almost incompatible with a fixed home, since it either made frequent changes of dwelling necessary for a livelihood, or so affected the mind of the individual that he could never be happy for long in one place. He grew tired of the people, and had no peace among the the enmities which he excited, while the people themselves in their turn demanded something new. (275)

In the remainder of the chapter, Burckhardt delivers specific examples of how these tendencies play out in the writings of Gyraldus, Piero Valeriano, Contarini, and Pomponius Laetus. Rather than recounting these anecdotal bits, I want to emphasize that Burckhardt’s account, composed during the mid-nineteenth century, delivers a picture of sixteenth-century Europe in which the humanist struggled to get by. The wide availability of printed books rendered his lectures and expertise less relevant or necessary. He faced opposition from the public, and was scorned as self-indulgent, extravagant, and atheistic. However, he also attacked and was attacked by other humanists in a heated race for influence and glory. Wandering up and down the country in search of stable income, the humanist ultimately found it difficult to settle in one place, and found himself disconnected from the public, which “demanded something new.” Burckhardt’s account is certainly too general to apply in all cases, of course. However, written at the beginning of modern institutional academic practice and addressing one of the most canonical periods in contemporary historical and literary scholarship, it merits a footnote today among the proliferating number of “Just Don’t Go’s” and essays on the “humanities crisis.”


Renaissance Dictionary Technologies

After a hiatus filled with reading and research, today I’m publishing an account of the early modern lexicographer John Minsheu and the extraordinary services he rendered to language-learners in print. The value of his work was intricately related to his collaboration with his printers, his knowledge of typography and the London book trade, and his sheer persistence in the face of financial adversity. In short, much of his success was contingent upon his manipulation of the communication technologies at his disposal – the technology of the Renaissance dictionary. (I’ll actually have more to say about this in July at the 2013 SHARP convention in Philadelphia, but for now, let’s take a look in the archive.


Here, you get an idea of the typographical intricacies of Minsheu’s Spanish-English bilingual dictionary and grammar. Bracket-pieces and a variety of typefaces assist readers through the “lesson.”  The use of black-letter type was diminishing at this time in English print, but Minsheu and others in the language-learning book business found a purpose for it. Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections L 463 P428, Northwestern University.

I became acquainted with Minsheu accidentally through my research on printed dictionaries and grammars for early modern English students of foreign languages (both Italian and Spanish, and soon French). In 1599, he was responsible for A Dictionarie in Spanish and English, pictured above, which can often be found in the archive bound and cataloged with A Spanish Grammar (I list them separately because they have distinct title pages). However, Minsheu’s most monumental effort was without question his 1617 eleven-language polyglot dictionary, Ductor in Linguas, which also goes by its English title Guide into tongues. It is a truly massive – and impressive – book. If you search Minsheu’s records in the ESTC, they seem fairly messy, with a number of imprint variants and a strange “Catalogue.”

It’s important for me to say that Minsheu’s “scholarly credibility” has faced some serious criticism. In 1973, Jurgen Schäfer published an article that admits Minsheu’s contribution to language learning as a compiler, but casts him otherwise as a “scholarly poseur.” Originality is the key issue in this debate. True enough, a vast number of entries in Minsheu’s Spanish dictionary were “lifted” from Richard Percivale’s quarto dictionary Biblioteca Hispanica (1591). And interestingly, modern library catalogs often still list Minsheu’s Dictionarie under Percivale’s name (this is the case at Northwestern and the Newberry, and it bothers me). Schäfer doesn’t go as far as the playwright Ben Jonson, who declared Minsheu a “rogue,” but he ends up showing how the lexicographer’s academic rigor was at best questionable.

Jonathan Warren has studied Minsheu’s work more recently. As he investigated Minsheu’s dictionaries for the Early Modern Dictionary Project at the University of Toronto (now the exceedingly useful Lexicons of Early Modern English, or LEME), Warren uncovered some of the strange methods that this compiler used to capture and document languages in print. Some of these methods are rather unusual from a twenty-first century perspective:

Indeed, many of these entries were in Percivale’s original. What Minsheu adds is all manner of variation to these entries: big goat, little goat, place of big goats, place  of little goats, a he goat, a she goat,  a place of he goats, a place of she goats, and so on. The practice  is the same for plant names and all other words.

It seems fairly clear just how committed Minsheu was in approaching the task of collecting a language in all its forms, locking it down in print, and setting it forth on the market. These compilation methods were certainly not “original” in the Romantic or modern sense of the word, but we can be sure that intellectual property functioned differently in 1599 or 1617 than it does today. Instead, if we focus on Minsheu’s work as a compiler with great interest and faith in the potential of print, we see an individual committed to providing an useful (if absurdly complete) tool to language students with the most intricate and thorough printed apparatuses imaginable.


Minsheu’s polyglot dictionary (regular-size iPod for size contrast). Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, L 423 M666, Northwestern University.

A massive folio volume, the Ductor in Linguas was no small project for Minsheu or his printers. It consists of nearly four hundred leaves (close to two hundred sheets) printed in the normal roman, italic, and black-letter faces but also including Greek, Anglo-Saxon and Hebrew type. A two-column dictionary features the eleven-language apparatus, and the final hundred or so leaves are Minsheu’s concurrent project, Vocabvlarivm Hispanico Latinum et Anglicum copiossissimum (Most copious Spanish, Latin, and English dictionary). The copy of this volume at Northwestern measures about 24 by 38 cm, so you have an idea of how massive this book is. The printers involved on the job included Melchisidec Bradwood at the Eliot’s Court Press, who had assisted the earlier and famous lexicographical efforts of John Florio. (Bradwood’s ECP colleague Edmund Bollifant had handled the 1599 printing of Minsheu’s Spanish dictionary.) For both the Ductor in Linguas and the second edition of Florio’s Italian-English dictionary, Bradwood shared printing labor with William Stansby, who undertook the important task of printing of Jonson’s Workes in 1616.


Minsheu’s “catalogue.” Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, L 423 M666, Northwestern University.

Such bulk came at a considerable cost, and scholars have indicated the unusual publication of this polyglot dictionary as an early instance of something like modern subscription. Although the Stationers’ Company refrained from supporting Minsheu in any way, individual booksellers and benefactors provided some support. In the archives, one can find a several issues of a “catalogue” that lists Minsheu’s financial backers (431 in total throughout all variant issues) as he sought to “sell” the dictionary in advance. The catalogue could be inserted into a volume, or it could hang somewhere to advertise the dictionary. This did not totally lighten the load for the compiler, however, who entered heavy debt to afford the services of his printers, even after petitioning Inns, societies, and wealthy individuals for gifts and loans. Despite the financial chaos of the dictionary that “hath cost me the hazard of my life,” in Minsheu’s words, the Ductor in Linguas eventually saw print after a period of two years. It was a labor of love. Because Minsheu mentions no price exactly, Franklin B. Williams believes that he simply asked the greatest sum he could in any given case; surviving copies appear with the prices of 30s. and 22s., which is rather high for the time but appropriate for such a massive and remarkable effort of lexicography and a noteworthy moment in early modern printing history.


For further reading on Minsheu’s work:

Schäfer, Jurgen. “John Minsheu: Scholar or Charlatan?” Renaissance Quarterly 26.1 (1973): 23-35.

Warren, Jonathan. “Reflections of an Electronic Scribe.” Early Modern Literary Studies [Special Issue] 1 (1997).

Williams, Franklin B. “Scholarly Publication in Shakespeare’s Day: A Leading Case.” Joseph Quincy Adams Memorial Studies, ed. J. G. MacManaway et. al. Washington D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1948. 755-73.

Dramatic Speech Prefixes and “Distant Reading”

What do we talk about when we talk about Renaissance drama? Do we talk about the performances of plays like Othello or Volpone, or do we talk about their appearances in print? Do we talk about “audiences” or do we talk about “readers?” Is the “play” a performance, or is it a “book?” It’s not my plan to offer my own opinion here (even if my interests probably lean more in one direction than the other). But I will say something about a curious textual feature in printed play-texts that poses some interesting problems to either camp in this debate, especially when we submit the plays to some kind of digital textual analysis. It also calls us to pay close attention to discrepancies among modern editions of Renaissance plays.

Speech prefixes. In early dramatic play-texts, speech prefixes are the tags that appear throughout the text, usually down the left margin (but not always) and that indicate who is speaking. Here’s a good example from a particularly exciting scene in the 1592 edition of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (British Library copy, available in EEBO). The speech prefixes are clearly marked off in purple (by me, of course):

ST [3]

As a technology of printed drama, speech prefixes are undeniably useful, but at the same time they quite possibly interfere with the “continuous” kinds of reading that understand the play as an acted performance. They are, and are not, a part of the text (in some ways, they are like stage directions, although these bear their own distinct complexities).

I began thinking about this issue recently after reading Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy. Curious about what the play’s text “looked like” from a distant perspective, I hastily pulled a version of the play’s text from Luminarium, dropped it into a simple text file, and then examined it through the digital text-analysis tool Voyant. Thus far I have found Voyant useful for its ability to bring forth commonly-used words in a given text or corpus, and to track the trends of words as they appear.

Here’s what Voyant showed for this Luminarium preparation of Kyd’s play. I should add that this text was transcribed in 2007 by Risa S. Bear, and before that it hails from J. Schick’s 1927 London edition. We might very well question Schick’s methods if we had time to investigate editorial history. But alas; once again, “hasty” is the word to describe what was really an experiment more than anything else. The results appear below:

ST [1]

Upon my first glance at these results, I noticed something, and was actually a little annoyed by it. The speech prefixes from the Schick-Bear text constituted a significant portion of the recurring words (these appear in the bottom-left window of the interface). You can also see this to be the case in the “Word Cloud” at the top-left, which visualizes words in a size according to their recurrence; although this feature normally strikes me as kitschy and not very useful, it also showed that “hier” (this edition’s prefix for “Hieronimo”) was the most frequently-used “word” in this text, with 141 appearances. A quick scroll down and I found other encroaching speech prefixes: “lor” (Lorenzo) 97 times, “bal” (Balthazar) 65 times, “bel” (Belimperia) 60 times. From one perspective, these prefixes are intruding upon the language of Kyd’s play, that is, the language that would have been spoken in some form or another upon the Renaissance stage (I should note that this play’s textual history is famously knotty and confusing).

Yet, the inclusion of these speech prefixes in the distant reading tell us something about the very real presence of these tags among the speeches, soliloquies, and verbal banter that readers find so commonly in printed Renaissance drama. Textually, or even typographically speaking, this realization complicates the notion of the “play-text” as a comprehensible whole. Rather than resisting their frequency, we might press upon the issue further.

I’ll end with some derivative questions: What does the proportion of speech prefixes to “regular text” impress (pun possibly intended) upon the reader? How do these proportions change across plays in a playwright’s corpus, or over a period of time more generally? What can we make of prefixes that effectively double the name of a character, like “King” in The Spanish Tragedy, which appears 107 times, sometimes as a prefix, and sometimes within a particular character’s speech? What about prefixes that change and fluctuate at the mercy of print-shop compositors, or at the hands of modern editors? All within good time.


“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:


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:


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.


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