A “prity one”: Frances Wolfreston’s copy of Thomas Heywood’s The English Traveller (1633)

The early modern reader Frances Wolfreston (1607-1677) has attracted a considerable amount of attention from scholars in recent decades. “Frances wolfreston her bouk,” she often wrote in her copies of seventeenth-century publications. Intriguingly, Wolfreston sometimes left short critical remarks in her books, rare and invaluable assessments of literature from a woman in early modern England.

If you’re reading this, you might know that these books aren’t all in the same place, which poses a challenge (or travel opportunity) to those who want to know more about Wolfreston’s reading habits. Dispersed among many research libraries, her collection includes the only surviving 1593 copy of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, which Johan Gerritsen discussed in pioneering 1964 article, as well as a Folger copy of Chaucer’s Workes (which Sarah Werner discusses here), a UPenn Q3 copy of Shakespeare’s Othello (which Werner also wrote about here), a book called The Schoole of Vertue at the University of Illinois and a copy of Mary Wroth’s Urania at Illinois State (both of which Sarah Lindenbaum wrote about here), and Boston Public Library copies of  The Merchant of VeniceThe Taming of the ShrewEastward Hoe, and A Pleasant Conceited Comedy, Wherein is Shewed, How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (jointly discussed here by Lindenbaum, Lori Humphrey Newcomb, and Jay Moschella). In some cases, she indicates where she bought her books, or from whom. If you want to know more about these and other “bouks,” Paul Morgan’s 1989 article is an essential source, for it includes a list of 106 printed books owned by the Wolfreston family, with 95 of them inscribed by Frances.

This week, I came across Wolfreston’s copy of Thomas Heywood’s  The English Traveller at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA (RB 64122). The catalog specified that this particular copy featured the book plate of Robert Hoe and that its binding was signed “Matthews.” Upon opening it, however, I was delighted to find both an autograph and a brief critical assessment from Wolfreston, who was 26 years old when The English Traveller was published. This was two years after she married the landowner Francis Wolfreston (as many have noted, this story isn’t one without a little name confusion; the Wolfrestons had children named Francis, too). Lindenbaum has told me that this copy of The English Traveller was included in a Sotheby’s sale of 1856 and that there are several other Wolfreston-Hoe books at the Huntington Library, though this Heywood playbook’s whereabouts have been obscure. On the first page of the play’s text, you can clearly read “francis wolfrest[on] / her bouk” (sig. A4r), and below the play’s prologue on the facing page, “prity one” (sig. A3v).


By “prity,” Wolfreston may have meant something along the lines of cleverly done, ingenious, or artful (OEDadj. 1b) quite likely mingled with “pleasing; attractive or charming” (adj., 2b). To be sure, the fathers and sons in this tragicomedy ultimately reconcile, though a character named Mistress Wincott does die of grief after an secret affair with Young Geraldine’s best friend Dalavill (scandalously, Young Geraldine had been attracted to Mistress Wincott the whole time, with Mr. Wincott completely oblivious). Perhaps Wolfreston was won over by the comic subplot, which features – I kid you not – a scene in which drunken revelers collectively hallucinate a shipwreck inside another character’s home. Have I convinced you to read The English Traveller?

If you won’t take my word for it, know that Wolfreston generally had good things to say about Heywood’s works. She left an approving remark in the playwright’s Second Part of the Iron Age, and in her copy of A Pleasant Conceited Comedy, she wrote “a exeding prity on[e].” I should add that although scholars sometimes group Othello with The English Traveller on accounts of the plays’ common domestic themes, Wolfreston saw a distinction between them. Shakespeare’s play was “a sad one” and Heywood’s a “prity one.” (By the way, see Werner’s thoughtful reflections on Othello as, or as not, a “sad book.”) In this case, a reader’s annotations offer not only a declaration of ownership or a flash judgment, but commentary about tragicomedy, a dramatic genre that pointed in different directions. Following a thoughtful suggestion from Lindenbaum, I also was able to track down what could be Wolfreston’s copy of another Heywood playbook at the Huntington Library: The Foure Prentises of London (RB 54919). Its title page is missing, however, and though I looked carefully I found no inscriptions. Hopefully we come across more of this interesting woman’s “bouks.”


Bilingual drama & Renaissance language-learning

As some of you know, I’m crazy about books, especially old ones. I wouldn’t consider myself a serious book collector, but a couple times a year I treat myself to an early printed book of some kind. Although early editions of drama in the English language tend to be far beyond a graduate student’s budget, Continental imprints are often fairly affordable. It’s my research on Renaissance language-learning and translation that led me to my latest acquisition, a 1610 bilingual edition of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s tragicomedy Il Pastor Fido.

pastor_fido_tpGiovanni Battista Guaraini, Le Berger Fidelle / Il Pastor Fido (Paris: Matthieu Guillemot, 1610), title page. Personal collection.

Adding the French title Le Berger Fidelle to Guarini’s Italian play, the title page of this book adds that it is “Faict Italien et françois pour l’vtilité de ceux qui desirent apprandre les deux langues” [Made Italian and French for the use of those who desire to learn the two languages]. Il Pastor Fido was first published in Venice in 1590, in quarto. This stout octavo edition follows a series of  French, English, and Spanish translations of the play as well as an Italian edition issued in London by the stationer John Wolfe — and aims specifically at an audience of language-learners. In a preface, the translator asserts that the Italian language “entre les langues vulgaires a cest ho[n]neur d’auoir plus de grace & de mignardise que pas vne autre, pour exprimer vne amoureuse passion” [among the vulgar languages has this honor of having more grace and preciousness than any other, to express an amorous passion]. Il Pastor Fido, a tragicomedy featuring ancient prophecies, unrequited love, and mistaken identities, offers fertile ground for these “amorous passions.” Here, then, is a dramatic application of the language-learning techniques Joyce Boro finds in the period’s bilingual prose romances.

Like many bilingual language-learning books issued in Europe at this time, the play’s text is arranged in a facing-page layout, Italian on the verso, & French on the recto. This arrangement extends to the paratext as well. “Le persone che parlano” appears before the Italian list of characters, facing “LES PERSONNAGES” in French, while during the first act one sees “ATTO PRIMO” at the top of each verso, “ACTE I.” at the top of each corresponding recto:

pastor_fido_layout Giovanni Battista Guarini, Le Berger Fidelle / Il Pastor Fido (Paris: Matthieu Guillemot, 1610), A2v-A3r. Personal collection.

Like many bilingual or polyglot publications from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this book differentiates languages with its use of typefaces. Italian appears here in italic, while the stationers selected roman for the French. Altogether, this book presents an example of how dramatic publications could be designed specifically for language-learning, and — as Anne Coldiron and Guyda Armstrong have suggested — shows how the principle of translation was not only a linguistic concern, but also a typographic and paratextual concern.

Foreign-language phrasebooks and the language of Renaissance comedy

If you lived in Shakespeare’s England and needed to learn a foreign language, you had a few options. Using traditional methods, you could study with a tutor or journey abroad to converse with native speakers. At this time, however, it was also possible to learn foreign languages from printed dialogues in bilingual or polyglot phrasebooks (you can listen to historian John Gallagher talk about these foreign-language manuals here). Here’s an example from the widely-published Colloquia, originally composed by Noël de Berlaimont in the 1530s:

Figure 1. Dictionariolvm et colloqvia octo lingvarvm, Latinae, Gallicae, Belgicae, Tevtonicae, Hispanicae, Italicae, Anglicae & Portugalicae (Antverpiae: Apud Henricvm Aertsens, 1662). Northwestern University, shelfmark 413 D554.

Abbie Weinberg wrote about editions of Berlaimont’s dialogues earlier this year for The Collation, paying special attention to their unique mise-en-page and diminutive size. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, this oblong manual witnessed nearly 150 editions from Lisbon to Warsaw, and over a period of almost 300 years. As you can see in the photo above, it could include some combination of Latin, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, English, and/or Portuguese. The contents included a guide to letter-writing, a dictionary, and a short grammatical treatise, along with a lively set of dialogues.

Dialogues were also the substance of John Florio’s Italian-English conversation guides, First Fruites (1578) and Second Frvtes (1591). The first manual begins with “familiare speache,” including greetings and a bit of commentary on the theater (not all good):

John Florio, Florio his firste fruites (London, 1578). Huntington Library 60820.

Figure 2. John Florio, Florio his firste Fruites (London, 1578), STC 11096. Huntington Library, shelfmark 60820, in EEBO.

In Florio’s Second Frvtes, interlocutors would discuss the theater again, remarking on how in England one can find “neither right comedies, nor right tragedies.” Rather, there are “[r]epresentations of histories, without any decorum” (D4r).

Understandably, the dialogues of Berlaimont, Florio, and others have captured the attention of scholars, who often comment on the theatrical nature of these exchanges.  In his book-length study of early modern Anglo-Italian relations, Michael Wyatt recognizes a “theatrical structure” in Florio’s bilingual dialogues (The Italian Encounter, 167). William N. West notes in a discussion of cant in Jacobean theater how “the dramatic potential” of bilingual language manuals could be brought to the stage (“Talking the Talk,” 234).  More recently, Joyce Boro has stated that these multilingual dialogues have “affinities to closet drama” (Tudor Translation, 22).

These observations raise bigger questions for me, though. First, if language-learning dialogues seem so similar to Renaissance plays, then exactly why do they seem so similar? Put differently, what are the characteristics governing both genres? Second, if language-learning dialogues and drama are indeed categorically similar, which plays — in which genre, or by which author — are these dialogues most like? Finally, and perhaps most consequentially, how might this generic similarity come to influence our understanding of Renaissance drama?

To begin to answer these questions — and that “begin” is key, so if you’re looking for a definitive answer, best to stop reading now — I opted for a large-scale analysis of dramatic and language-learning dialogue texts using the linguistics analysis software DocuScope (created by David Kaufer and Suguru Ishizaki). In using DocuScope to assess dramatic genres, I’m taking an approach indebted to Jonathan Hope and Michael Witmore, who have used this software to investigate Shakespearean genre, and Ted Underwood, who reminds us how blurry our agreed-upon genres can be. Breaking language down into strings of characters, DocuScope uses more than 100 language action types, or LATs for short, to identify words and phrases common to lots and lots of texts. With this approach, I can investigate dozens of characteristics of these texts at a single blow, drilling down where appropriate in order to assess  more nuanced similarities at the level of the sentence.  For the dramatic texts, I used a corpus of 320 works of early English drama curated by Martin Mueller.

This is where things start to get messy, though. For the language-learning dialogues, I combined 3 EEBO-TCP texts available to me with 6 that I keyed myself, using only the English text columns, and stripping out speech prefixes to match Mueller’s corpus. (Polyglot or bilingual texts have been a relatively low priority for TCP; altogether, the keying amounted to a little over 82,000 words.) Furthermore, none of these 9 texts I’m comparing with Mueller’s corpus have yet been processed with Alistair Baron’s VARD modernization software. (The complexities of using VARD for early modern texts are documented here on the Visualizing English Print blog). Not using VARD certainly adds noise to the results — as the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out” — but I’m willing to take the risk in the hopes that some shared characteristics do emerge from the test. Consider this as a single and rather early  stopping-point on the longer road of these questions.

Processed with DocuScope and displayed in the statistical suite JMP, the texts look like this:


Figure 3. Principal component analysis of 320 works of Renaissance drama and 9 language-learning dialogues.

Each color indicates a separate genre  (as you can see, DocuScope is quite good at distinguishing comedies from tragedies). My mini-corpus of language-learning dialogues appears here in green, and occupies a diagonal path through the lower portion of the chart (keep in mind, though, that we’re looking at hundreds of dimensions at once, so “lower” or “left” have little true meaning here). Left to right according to this visualization, they are: Benvenuto Italian’s The Passenger (1612, Ita-Eng), John Florio’s Firste Fruites (1578, Ita-Eng), John Eliot’s Ortho-epia Gallica (1593, Fre-Eng), John Minsheu’s Pleasant and Delightfull Dialogues (1599, Spa-Eng), John Florio’s Second Frvtes (1591, Ita-Eng), Claudius Hollyband’s French Littelton (1576, Fre-Eng), Claudius Hollyband’s French Schoolemaister (1573, Fre-Eng), William Stepney’s Spanish Schoole-master (1591, Spa-Eng), and Noël de Berlaimont’s Colloquia (1639 ed., Polyglot).

At a first glance, it seems many of our dialogues are just a bunch of outliers. There are probably good reasons for this, though. First, discrepancy of modernization might be one. Processing my mini-corpus of 9 language-learning dialogues with VARD could address this issue down the road, though only as well as I’d match the conventions in Mueller’s drama corpus, I think. Second, the length of texts is a factor, and an important one at that. Simply put, some of these dialogues are short, and others are very long. Hollyband’s French Littleton amounts to just under 5,000 words, while The Passenger weighs in at a whopping 103,862. Chunking the texts — that is, breaking them up into smaller units — could begin to address this issue, even if it involves its own methodological curveballs.

With those caveats on the table, it’s worth remarking that these language-learning dialogues stand out from other dialogues published in the period. According to Visualizing English Print‘s Beth Ralston, writing in March 2015 on an effort to map the ‘whole’ of early modern drama, Renaissance dialogues tend to “have lengthy monologues, which might explain why they fall mostly on the side of the tragedies.” Her diagram, published on Wine Dark Sea, appears below:


Figure 4. VEP’s principal component analysis of 704 early modern dramatic texts, with dialogues highlighted in black. Accessed 9/5/2015 at Wine Dark Sea.

This picture, however, is not what we find for the language-learning dialogues at all. Even if the complications I briefly addressed above play a role here, my corpus of 9 texts clearly falls on the side of comedies instead.

This observation leads me to ask a few more specific questions that might get us somewhere. What accounts for The Passenger‘s position among an odd mix of plays — a comedy (Nashe’s Summer’s Last Will and Testament), a tragicomedy (Heywood’s 1 Iron Age), and a tragedy (Marlowe and Nashe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage)? What about Florio’s Firste Fruites is so similar to The Fortunate Isles and their Union, a masque by Ben Jonson? And what factors might land the same author’s Second Frvtes in close relation to Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Jonson’s The Alchemist (both known today as fairly important “city comedies”)?

Identifying relevant LAT vectors will help us to identify the characteristics common to drama and the dialogues. It’s really messy, but have a look at the 100+ LATS used for this test (not all of them are significant):

doscuscope_dia_fig_2aFigure 5. Visualization of vectors for this test representing DocuScope’s 100+ LATs.

Here, the vectors illustrate the statistical relationships most relevant for generic distinctions among our texts. The direction of the vectors indicates the relative co-occurrence of LATs, and the length of the vectors indicates the strength of their influence upon generic relationships. Focusing on the  lower right-hand quadrant, we find a number of LATs commonly associated with comedies: Directives_Imperative, Elaboration_Numbers, Character_OralCues, and Interactive_Question.

If we look at Interactive_Question more closely, we find this LAT to be associated first with our dialogues, and second with a handful of Jonson’s city comedies. This LAT uses punctuation to indicate a request of specific information, which makes some sense for books designed to introduce readers to foreign vocabulary, phrases, and information. (Think of lessons in today’s language textbooks: “How much does it cost? Dov’è la stazione? Combien d’etudiants sont-ils?”) The texts in this corpus exemplifying Interactive_Question to the highest degree are Hollyband’s French Schoolemaister, Berlaimont’s Colloquia, and Stepney’s Spanish Schoole-master, each of them in our lower-righthand quadrant. We also find that Jonson’s city comedies The Alchemist, The Case is Altered, and Every Man Out of his Humour display this LAT prominently, along with Heywood’s A Maidenhead Well Lost, Dekker’s Honest Whore, and Fletcher’s The Chances. Even if the diagram presents the Hollyband, Berlaimont, and Stepney dialogues as outliers, this test suggests that they nonetheless have something in common with these particular works of drama. The next step would be to look closely at what types of interactive questions one finds in the dialogues vs. in the plays, and to assess those relationships on more qualitative terms.

With a similar approach, we can begin to investigate the relationship between Florio’s Second Frvtes and Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, which I find a little more interesting. Looking at DocuScope’s tagged texts for the dialogue and the play, we see several coinciding LATs, among them Descript_SenseObject, Assert_First_Person, and Interactive_You_Reference. I’ll just focus on these three for now. Descript_SenseObject consists of concrete nouns, and accounts for the five senses’ perception and experience of objects. Assert_First_Person consists of self-referential language (I, me, etc.), while Interactive_You_Reference refers to a second party (you, thee, thy, etc.). These LAT definitions are based upon DocuScope’s 2008 dictionaries.

To really find out how these LATs play out, we’ll have to take a closer look at the texts. After all, as Witmore and Hope put it, “Digitally based research is not an end point: its findings need to be tested against the texts” (369). Scanning through the tagged texts of Second Frvtes and The Shoemaker’s Holiday, we can highlight and identify specific passages that feature these LATs, then compare them to see if any patterns emerge.

Florio’s dialogues often unfold a series of related vocabulary items during verbal exchanges between two speakers. In DocuScope, the result is often a chain of Descript_SenseObject punctuated by Assert_First_Person and Interactive_You_Reference. In Florio’s first chapter, a servant named Ruspa is helping his master Torquato get dressed in the morning:


Figure 6. Tagged text of Florio’s Second Frvtes in DocuScope, with Descript_SenseObject, Assert_First_Person, and Interactive_You_Reference highlighted.

In this passage, Florio’s interlocutors deal out a series of nouns related to apparel, fashion, and hygiene, words that would appear on the facing page in Italian. DocuScope identifies 15 instances of Descript_SenseObject, and would recognize more if this text were modernized with VARD. (The human eye can identify several more, a testament to our brains’ immensely complex and sophisticated furniture). Accompanying this catalog-like list of things are first-person and second-person pronouns that cushion the vocabulary and frame it into a coherent exchange between two persons. In Florio’s lessons, there’s a need to discuss physical objects (“shirtes,” “handkerchers,” “bands,” “cuffs,” etc.) often many at a single time, as well as a tendency to attribute them to an owner as they circulate or change hands (“your,” “your,” “me,” “my,” etc.).

The Shoemaker’s Holiday features a similar kind of interplay between these three LATs, particularly in scenes between two characters that concern material goods or commodities. In these moments, and there are there are several of them, “I/me/my” and “you/your” mix together with lists of nouns. Let’s look at a particular example which I was able to identify in DocuScope’s marked-up text. In Act IV, Scene 1, a gentleman named Hammon is speaking with Jane, a shoemaker’s wife. Her husband has been sent off to war, and Hammon hopes to woo Jane while she’s alone. He speaks a scorned lover’s soliloquy at the beginning of the scene, but when he first addresses Jane, the text’s language shifts into a mode characterized by Descript_SenseObject, Assert_First_Person, and Interactive_You_Reference. Although the text processed with DocuScope has been modernized, I present the unmodernized version from EEBO-TCP here to help retain a focus on the historical context. Our relevant LATs are highlighted in red, blue, and yellow:

Sir, what ist you buy?
What ist you lacke sir? callico, or lawne,
Fine cambricke shirts, or bands, what will you buy?
That which thou wilt not sell, faith yet Ile trie:
How do you sell this handkercher?
Good cheape.

And how these ruffes?

Cheape too.

And how this band?

Cheape too.

All cheape, how sell you then this hand?

My handes are not to be solde.

In this scene, Hammon and Jane begin their interaction according a script one recognizes in several language-learning dialogues in this period (“to buy and to sell” being an important component of these manuals). With a series of Interactive_You_Reference (blue), Jane lists a number of objects that DocuScope recognizes as belonging to Descript_SenseObject (yellow): “callico,” “lawne,” “shirts,” and “bands,” and Hammon responds with similar language: “handkercher,” “ruffes,” “band,” etc. However, at a certain point, “hand” joins this list of commodities as Hammon begins to woo Jane, turning from potential customer to potential lover. Although he tries to replace the dialogue’s focus on “I/me” and “you” with a first person plural — “Good sweete, leaue worke a little while, lets play” — Jane refuses to follow him, claiming her hands as her own (“My”), and this resistance matches what Hope and Witmore observe in Twelfth Night between Cesario/Viola and Olivia (372). Altogether, the language we find here in Dekker’s play — and this is one out of several passages featuring these characteristics — resembles the instructional dialogues of Florio and other language tutors. Furthermore, the many questions in this exchange — identified in DocuScope as Interactive_Question — illustrates this scene’s similarity to the dialogues of Hollyband, Stepney, and Berlaimont, located in the lower right-hand quadrant of our PCA diagram.

Some of this might seem rather unsurprising to scholars of Renaissance drama. After all, it’s well established that comedies, and city comedies in particular, tend to focus on commodities and rapid exchanges between pairs of characters. Karen Newman’s important essay “City Talk” discusses this connection, particularly as it relates to women in Ben Jonson’s Epicene. Douglas Bruster uses the term “materialist vision” to account for this phenomenon in these plays (Drama and the Market, 38-46). So, couldn’t we identify these two passages’ similar characteristics without computers?

The answer: of course we could. The difference here, however, is that we can identify this generic similarity at the level of the sentence, in a way that can point us to fresh sites for convincing close readings. If these multilingual books for language-learners have something in common with the period’s drama after all, and we can identify it at this nuanced level, how does this knowledge affect our understanding of plays like The Shoemaker’s Holiday? Furthermore, what sense can we make out of this play’s disguised Dutchman and garbled mock-Dutch, or the pretend Spaniard in Jonson’s The Alchemist? Like Bruster, I’ve questioned the sub-genre of “city comedy” before along transnational lines, and computational approaches may offer alternative approaches to these same questions. Though we often  talk about the “dramatic potential” of Florio’s dialogues, could we begin to see Renaissance plays alternatively as “staged dialogues?”

These reflections come out of some investigations I made earlier this summer as part of Early Modern Digital Agendas: Advanced Topics (find our conversations documented at #EMDA2015). I’m grateful to all participants and faculty for their suggestions, especially Michael Witmore, Jonathan Hope, and Jacob Tootalian.

Phase 1 Report: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you know, I’ve been working and communicating this summer with a number of librarians, undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members at several universities across the Midwest. Our collective goal has been to report certain eligible Special Collections items — namely, printed materials published between 1473 and 1700 in the English language or in English territories — to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). The effort to increase awareness of these Midwestern copies of early printed books is beneficial both to scholars of the Renaissance and to the libraries that hold them. “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” has recently reached the end of its first phase, and not without some significant success. What follows is a summary and report of this progress as we prepare for phase two. (I’ll be talking more about all this next month, both at the IIT Digital Humanities Series and at the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities & Computer Science.)

First, a word on where we began. A comparison of reported items at eight private, prominent institutions in the Northeastern United States to those of the Midwestern universities making up the Humanities Without Walls consortium reveals a general discrepancy in numbers:

IL 1473-1700

HWW 1473-1700 [initial]2Institution Codes (ESTC)

Both tables reflect reported holdings as of May 2014, and remember here that although the ESTC includes items published up to the year 1800, we are limiting ourselves to 1700 for the sake of ease. Although the reported ESTC holdings of the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of Minnesota stand in relatively the same ballpark as those of Ivy League institutions (that is, the 5,000+ range), most HWW institutions appear to have fewer than 2,000 items. Northwestern’s holdings, for instance, amount to just under 200 according to this chart. My own work at Northwestern Special Collections, however, and my realization that many of the items I paged were not listed in the ESTC, strongly suggested to me that this picture did not reflect actual holdings at all. I suspected that this was also the case at Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and other institutions in the HWW consortium.

The first round of the Global Midwest Initiative project that I proposed aimed to address this issue at Northwestern and to stimulate simultaneous projects at other HWW institutions. Working first with Gary Strawn and Sigrid Perry at Northwestern, I devised a list of 2,687 Special Collections items eligible for inclusion in the ESTC. Then, with a team of skilled Northwestern undergraduates — Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko — we reported the items to the catalog one by one, flagging doubtful items for a later, second pass. The project thus operates as an effort in both cataloging and pedagogy.

By the end of the firspiet phase of this project, we had entered 1,231 items to the ESTC, raising Northwestern’s representation in the catalog for the interval 1473-1700 from an initial 188 items to 1,419 items.  The pie chart to the left offers a view of the total 2, 687 items in our starting list, the work we completed, and the work remaining. This portion will include the 1683-1700 items, which we have not yet reached, as well as the “hard cases,” which are currently flagged for deeper assessment in the archive during the project’s second phase.

The project has seen substantial success thus far. However, there is still much more to do. We invite others to join with Northwestern, Iowa, and Wisconsin in an effort to make visible to ESTC users the many Renaissance books that the American Midwest has to offer. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or suggestions as we prepare for the next round.


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.

ASMR and the Pleasures of Book History

What follows in this post is much more anecdotal than usual; it might also seem absurd or ridiculous next to my other Vade Mecum entries. But I’m very curious about a possible relationship between the pleasures of book history and a very strange physiological sensation that I’ve had since I was a child. If that sentence doesn’t daunt you, gentle reader, read on.

When I was in elementary school, I started getting this weird feeling in my head. It still happens now, but I was probably around the age of seven or eight when I first noticed it or started paying attention to it. Far from a painful headache, it was a warm, calming, tingling sensation that spread out from the crown of my head down my scalp and into my neck and spine. I had no idea why it happened, but as I got older and went through high school and college, I began to associate it — at least, in my own mind — with personal, one-on-one moments of detailed instruction, explanation, or directions. For instance, my second-grade teacher tracing her hand on paper to make a Thanksgiving turkey decoration would trigger the feeling. Or, my ninth-grade art teacher demonstrating a complex painting technique to me after class would bring it forward. I associated the feeling with learning and with my teachers, with quiet or whispered speaking, and with certain sounds, visuals, and thought patterns. Mainly, at school.

I remember attempting to explain this sensation to family and friends on multiple occasions, but no one could quite understand. In college, I spoke about it with one friend who claimed that she’d felt the same feeling too. (Please bear with me; I know this sounds strange.) This was really exciting for me to hear, but we lacked any kind of terminology to talk about it. Basically, we didn’t know what it was, so the fact that we both had it seemed more of a coincidence than anything else. I’ve since gone about my life, reading and writing here, watching hockey there, socializing with friends, and traveling whenever possible. But I’m frequently on the lookout for moments that trigger that weird, pleasurable sensation for which I had no point of reference or explanation.

Until yesterday, that is. I learned that I’m far from alone in experiencing what is known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. Wikipedia’s entry defines ASMR as “a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli.” The materials cited for this Wiki-entry are startlingly new, the earliest article having been published in February of 2012. Tracing my way through these news stories and a recent radio episode of This American Life, I listened to and read about others who experienced roughly the same perplexing sensation during childhood and the great difficulty of classifying, understanding, or even explaining it adequately to family and friends. The ASMR “community” online is actually quite substantial, as can be seen from hundreds and hundreds of YouTube videos of people – often, women, though not always – who play certain roles, whisper, speak in an explanatory manner, and use inanimate objects to create soft, soothing noises. The view-counts for these videos are staggering. As Andrea Siegel explains on This American Life, it might seem at first that these videos are sexual or pornographic, but they’re not; on the contrary, rather than arousal, they inspire a sense of peace, almost a stoner-like high.

As I learned about this and watched a couple of the trigger-videos, I immediately recognized my sensations, and I began to think about my love for books and the bibliographical threads of my research in graduate school. What if ASMR, I wondered, has some kind of connection to my deep interest in material books? My scholarship concerns Renaissance printing and bookmaking, and requires me to visit research libraries like the Newberry where I handle and study 400-year-old artifacts. These books often have roiled vellum bindings or exposed stitching jobs; the letters of the text have been stamped into the watermarked leaves in a very three-dimensional way; traces of readerly practice or use are visible in 16c or 17c marginalia. To these quiet, whispery reading rooms, I bring a set of developed, but hardly complete bibliographical methods that often depend on sequential instructions and great attention to physical detail. In fact, I can recall moments in my own bibliographical training in which I experienced ASMR, though I had no name for it at the time.  Could this research, let alone my general love for books and my own (unfortunately expensive!) book-collecting habits have any relationship to ASMR? I definitely know, now more than ever, that I experience this pleasurable brain-tingling. But is it possible that this sensation, triggered commonly by inanimate objects, whispered descriptions and instructions, sweet or particular smells, and certain mental connections, has something to do with my investments in bibliography and book history?

I will probably never be able to answer that question, but I find it deeply provocative. I also wonder how many other bibliographers or book historians out there experience ASMR, in or outside the archive. As my colleague Rebecca Fall has suggested recently in a NUDHL blog post, Renaissance reading involved a very sensory set of practices hardly limited to the visual; she wonders furthermore how this knowledge comes to bear on how we read in the 21st century. “When we read with our whole bodies, it seems,” she says, “we learn better—or at least I do.” I do as well, and scribble on any copy I get my hands on (barring the archive, that is). But while Fall is interested mainly in the tactile here, I wonder about how other sensations come into play when we do book history. And I wonder about how ASMR might offer some kind of increased incentive for bibliography and archival investigation. My research isn’t only interesting to me — it feels good.

If my isolated case still seems strange, I’ll conclude this post by pointing to some videos on YouTube. Hardly conclusive, this picture is meant mainly to be suggestive about ASMR and the pleasures of books. A good number of the role-playing videos, some created upon YouTube users’ requests, suggest that booksellers and librarians are common activators of ASMR. This particular clip features a young man playing the part of a librarian; his whispering, his accent, his explanations of the books’ content, and the page-turning sounds are designed to stimulate the sensation in viewers.  Another video simply shows a bookshelf, and the sounds of the books being taken down and perused by the video’s creator deliver the sensation. Here, a video creator rakes her fingernails against two books’ bindings; this clip has a place among many other “tapping and scratching” book videos. While contemporary books appear in many of these videos, some include older or rarer artifacts. For instance, in this video, which is nearly an hour long, the creator examines an 1892 edition of The Scarlet Letter with a very unstable, damaged binding and a 1907 edition of Shakespeare’s Pericles.  “The Aberdine University Press, Limited,” whispers the reader-narrator at the end of the clip. The bibliographical accuracy of the whispered commentary in these videos could easily be criticized as lacking, and the notion underlying this post might seem equally absurd. However, I think that these clips speak to a broader and perhaps more consequential issue: a particular physiological sensation that we are only beginning to comprehend and its relationship to the world of books.


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.”