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.

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Printers’ Ornaments in Renaissance Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolfe Books

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

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

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

ASK

For (much) further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Rare Books Online

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

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

Milton, EEBO Text

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

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

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

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

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

John Milton and “Pamphlet Pandemonium”

This post will digest some of my recent archival research into a story about one of the foremost canonical authors in the English tradition and his entanglements with an untrustworthy category of Renaissance printed matter – the pamphlet.

Pamphlets, now and then. As the Oxford English Dictionary begins to tell us, “pamphlet” encompasses a variety of meanings. I think we most commonly encounter pamphlets today at information desks or doctors’ offices – they are small, brief, and often ephemeral textual materials that relate information on a specific topic (Arthritis, for instance). “Book” is usually another matter. Few would categorize an intentionally literary publication like a novel, hard-bound and for sale in a Barnes and Noble, as a pamphlet (except, perhaps, for the sake of ridicule). In short, we have in our minds a very comfortable distinction today between “book” and “pamphlet.”

However, for John Milton and his seventeenth-century contemporaries, this distinction was less stable. Beginning in the 1640s, England saw an unprecedented increase in the number of titles published, which means that printers were not necessarily working more diligently, but that they had uncovered and had begun to exploit a market for short publications. These square-shaped, quarto “pamphlets” were usually less than 96 pages long, but often much shorter, and they were very affordable, costing no more than a few pennies. In addition, pamphlets were also often associated with sensational subject matter including monstrous births, terrifying weather, or gruesome murders. (Think of the tabloids at your local supermarket – cheap and often trashy.) For Renaissance readers, the term “pamphlet” could thus refer to the physical characteristics of a publication, its number of pages, the nature of its contents, its genre, its price, or a combination of these things. As a term, it was quite flexible.

The outpouring or “explosion” of printed pamphlets in the 1640s resulted from a number of factors, including the official disbandment of the Star Chamber, the governmental office responsible for licensing and registering printed matter. Joad Raymond has written extensively about these pamphlets, and has spent much time in the archive studying their material characteristics. According to Raymond,

Oral dialogues echoed with the innovative accents of novel pamphlets, with imperative and ever-fresher news and criticism, and the presses creaked and the bookstalls groaned under the weight of pamphlets and short, pointed books. (204)

This might be an exaggeration, but it describes what was truly a substantial change in the culture of communication technology. Large, studied, and ambitious books in folio became less of a priority as an unprecedented volume of news and criticism in quarto flew off the press and towards an increasingly literate English audience. It seemed to promise a “public sphere” of communication characterized by disagreement and discussion, rather than the established and hierarchical structures of the University or the Church.

Pamphlets and problems. If these pamphlets promised a communicative democracy in print to some, they represented the threat of uninformed and hacked-together noise to others. John Minsheu, a scholar who exhausted nearly all his money and savings in publishing a massive, eleven-language dictionary, defined the pamphlet as “a fool’s diminutive performance.” John Taylor, known today as one of the most frivolous hack-poets in Renaissance England, comically drew a connection between a pamphlet and . . .

Taylor, 'Whore and Pamphlet'

Clearly, Taylor wanted no one to miss his joke. He is hardly being serious, satirically capitalizing on the prevalent anxiety among authors about the circulation of once-held-private writings among an anonymous or “impersonal” public. Pamphlets often were deemed just as foolish as they were promiscuous. This “pamphlet pandemonium” was discussed recently in a talk by Newberry Library President David Spadafora.

So . . . all very interesting. But where does John Milton, the famous poet known and studied mainly because of Paradise Lost, fit into this story?

Milton, divorce, and pamphlets. Decades before the Christian epic saw print, Milton became deeply entangled in the controversial pamphlet culture of the 1640s. First writing against the authority of the English bishops in five quarto publications, Milton turned in 1643 to the subjects of marriage and divorce, a project that would occupy him for two years. Scholars once speculated that Milton’s unhappy marriage to the royalist Mary Powell sparked some of his interest in this issue, a supposition that has been contested and since reconsidered. In any case, within this short period of time, Milton collaborated with his printers Thomas Paine and Matthew Simmons to issue a succession of publications on the topic. By 1645, there were seven circulating in London:

1) The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. 1st ed. London: T. P. & M. S., 1643.
2) The Doctrine and Discpline of Divorce. 2nd ed. London: [Thomas Paine & Matthew Simmons], 1644. (A transcribed edition is available in Thomas Luxon’s Milton Reading Room.)
3) The Judgement of Martin Bucer. London: Matthew Simmons, 1644.
4) Tetrachordon. London: [Thomas Paine & Matthew Simmons], 1645.
5) Colasterion. London: [Matthew Simmons], 1645.
6) The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. 3rd ed. London: [Thomas Paine & Matthew Simmons, 1645.
7) The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. 4th ed. London: counterfeit copy, 1645.

The Newberry Library holds all but one of these publications (#6), and so I was able to get an adequate feel for the material artifacts as they most likely appeared to their first readers in London (of course, taking into account some important changes made to them since by collectors and curators). The first edition and the second edition appear side-by-side below, and one can immediately notice some distinct differences in the typographic delivery, including but not limited to the extended title, the presence or absence of author’s and printers’ initials, Scriptural verses, etc. You can click on the image to study some of the differences on your own, as I have; interestingly, the substantial differences between the two editions remained mostly invisible to scholars before the 1950s (that’s more than 400 years!).

Milton, 2 eds. of D&D

As these title pages begin to indicate, The Doctrine and Discipline attempts to establish continuity between Mosaic Law (which allows divorce) and the doctrine of Christian Charity as articulated by St. Paul. It’s a tricky bit of Scriptural interpretation; Milton’s ultimate goal is to overturn the English prohibition of divorce according to the outdated “bondage of Canon Law.” He claims that the suffering one endures in an unhappy marriage need not be borne with, especially if it drives Man and God apart (more than a few scholars have recognized the pamphlet’s masculinist leanings).

Milton thus saw his divorce pamphlets as a serious effort to further the mission of the Reformation, and although he never referred to these or any of his other publications as “pamphlets,” the integrity of his argument was compromised in part because of the material conditions of their production and dissemination. Milton invited his readers to seek “a friendly conference with the author, who would be glad and thankfull to be shewn an error, either by privat dispute, or public answer” (Bucer, B2v). However, the public responded not with “friendly conference,” but rather with bitter judgement and scorn. No one referred to his divorce pamphlets as “whores” sincerely or in jest, but Milton was criticized from the pulpit and in print as a “libertine” who advocated “divorce at pleasure.” In fact, an anonymous pamphleteer penned An Answer to a Book, Intituled, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1644), a vituperative response to the first edition of Milton’s initial divorce argument. For many Englishmen, Milton’s arguments differed only marginally from the other quarto pamphlets on sensational topics or heretical controversies. And physically, as they appeared in the marketplace, they were almost identical.

The multiple market presence of Milton’s argument on divorce evinces his attempts to defend his project from the promiscuous reputation of the printed pamphlet, although it simultaneously increased its circulation and exchange within the same market. The argument in the second edition is greatly enlarged and subdivided into two books and multiple chapters; it thus loses much of the personal or anecdotal quality of the first pamphlet and grows into a more scholastic and exegetical project, distancing itself from the ephemeral pamphlet trade. In The Judgement of Martin Bucer, a translation and adaptation of a sixteenth-century book that confirms his claims, Milton associated his pamphlets with an authoritative Reformation scholar. In Tetrachordon, Milton composed his most substantial divorce publication of all; because of its bulk, it surpasses the physical category of the pamphlet altogether. On the other hand, Milton engaged his attacker’s Answer head-on in Colasterion with a brief and rather snobbish argument that co-opts the chaotic and impassioned language of the pamphlet trade to defeat his opponent on his own terms. Milton’s engagement with the pamphlet exchange of the 1640s left him forlorn and misunderstood, and scholars believe that his turn to more serious poetry in 1645 owed something to these problematic experiences in Renaissance print culture.

Back to the future. Although this dispute about the early modern pamphlet, its circulation, and the threats it posed to authority took place nearly four hundred years ago, we live today in an era characterized by reconfigurations of the same debate. Pamphleteering then, blogging now, and the historian Robert Darnton has commented on some of these connections already. According to pundits, journalists, and academics alike, the U.S. presidential election of 2012 witnessed an unprecedented volume of commentary in the seemingly ever-widening digital sphere. Newspapers, radio broadcasts, and televisions programs were hardly the only sites of political debate. The burgeoning infrastructure of independent blogs and websites, as well as the circulation of articles and videos through social media platforms including but not limited to Facebook and Twitter, enabled Americans from any geographical, socio-economic, or political background to register their opinions and respond to those of others. While these channels of opinion and commentary promised a more democratic exchange of ideas to some, they posed the problem of uninformed noise to others, not entirely unlike the printed pamphlets that John Milton and his contemporaries used for their polemical projects during the Renaissance.

So, in my publishing these words online and your reading them here, we take our places in yet another stage in the historical definition of the public sphere and its relationship to technologies of communication.

ASK


The images in this post come from John Taylor’s All the vvorkes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet (London, 1630), STC 23725 [Bodleian], and from John Milton’s The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (London, 1643), Wing M2108 [British Library] and The Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce (London, 1644), Wing M2109 [British Library]. The images are used here in accordance with the fair use policy included in the ProQuest/EEBO licensing agreement. For future posts I will seek permission to include archival materials from research libraries like the Newberry to provide a richer story.

To further satisfy your curiosity on Milton, pamphlets, and the print marketplace, see:

Darnton, Robert. “Blogging, Now and Then.” History Weekend Lecture. Raleigh, NC. 18 February 2012.

Dobranski, Stephen. Milton, Authorship, and the Book Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Halasz, Alexandra. The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Raymond, Joad. Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

Parker, William R. Milton’s Contemporary Reputation. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1940.

Zaret, David. Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-Modern England. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000.

Some First Thoughts

Ciao, world!

Because this is my first post on this blog, I’ll establish some helpful facts about who I am, what I do, and what you can learn about from this website. From then, I’ll write an introduction of sorts.

Who I am. My name is Andrew. I live in Chicago and I am a doctoral student in the Department of English at Northwestern University. Before coming here to work with Northwestern’s Renaissance specialists, I lived and studied in Boston (where I earned my B.A.) and North Carolina (my home state, where I also earned my M.A.).

What I do. I often think about language and literature, but I really like to read and study old books. More specifically, I examine artifacts published in Europe between 1500 and 1700. I’ve been involved already in the “bookish” academic groups at both the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and Rare Book School at UVa. Nowadays you can often find me propping up a seventeenth-century folio in the reading room at Chicago’s Newberry Library. (I’ve also begun a collection of unusual, autographed, or hard-to-find books, centered mainly around a few first-edition Hemingways – but nothing too rare, really.) In the spirit of my book-historical approach, I am also getting involved with a few online textual analysis tools (I’ll mention these later).

What you can learn, or find out. The title of this blog is “Vade mecum,” which is Latin for “go-with-me.” In that sense, this website is designed to be a handy and useful window into the wonderful world of rare books (mostly in the Chicago area, mostly at the Newberry) and the oddities I encounter there. I’m therefore writing somewhat in the tradition of the Folger Library’s blog The Collation (which I highly recommend). If you’re involved in an academic community somehow, then you might learn about a particular artifact that could be of interest for your research. If you’re simply a lover of books and curious about the mysteries (and often, headaches) associated with dusty, hands-on archival research, well, this place is for you, too.

Something of an introduction.  We live in a remarkable time as human beings. I’ll clarify with the help of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared. . . . This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

The “age of Revolution” is a very compelling idea. Elizabeth Eisenstein, a historian of early modern printing, commented on one revolution in particular, the “print revolution,” and suggested in her book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) that the invention of printing was responsible for remarkable and momentous developments in religious, scientific, and cultural history. However, as scholars since have noted, the introduction of moveable type did not fully supplant or render useless the “technologies” of manuscript culture. Scribal culture and print culture complemented each other in significant ways, no matter how important the introduction of moveable type was. Both of these communication “technologies” – and it is essential to think of them as technologies – had distinct characteristics that rendered them more or less private, authentic, or valuable, depending on the context at hand. My account here is heretical in its simplicity, but I only mean to show that during the Renaissance, print could be simultaneously praised as a heavenly gift from God and scorned as a promiscuous cheapening of the authentic. In Emerson’s words, it was a time when the old and the new stood side by side, an “age of Revolution.”

My reasons for keeping this blog call to my mind a number of similar issues that attended early modern writers and thinkers. In our own “age of Revolution,” the “Information Age,” as some have called it, we are witnessing our own historically contingent configuration of the Renaissance’s “stigma of print.” Except now, this time, the tension lies not between the manuscript and the printed book, but between the printed book and the e-book (or Nook, or Kindle, or iPad – the picture is obviously complex). Advertisements, conversations I overhear on the train, small-talk on frivolous TV morning shows – they all provide evidence that this is the case. 400 years after Shakespeare’s time, we are undergoing an important and uncomfortable change in communication technology. The president of the American Historical Association, William Cronon, recently published his anxieties about this transition on the AHA website. Cronon seems to join a number of scholars who have declared the physical book “dead” in an era that is increasingly digital, increasingly immaterial, and threatening to our sense of self. But – returning to Emerson – if we know what to do with the age of Revolution, it is a very good time to live in.

I hope it is a very good time to live in. I write from a somewhat vexed position as a graduate student in the humanities during a particularly challenging economic period in American history. The academy is changing, many think for the worse, into a neoliberal system characterized by videotaped lectures and adjunct faculty positions. I admit these frustrations, and I obviously do not approve of some of the truly shameful budgeting decisions in the public university system (If you’re interested in this, read Christopher Newfield’s book). But, if we know what to do, I think that there is a way to navigate a transition that is not an overnight change but a gradual movement. Things can change for the better in the academy, but we must first be vigilant and knowledgeable about the conditions of scholarly communication today (not in the sense that we must all become computer programmers – more on this later, maybe).

So, my decision to write this blog comes in part from a recognition that academic research, like journalism, is undergoing some important changes that, in a way, establish us as kindred spirits with writers of the Renaissance – men and women to whom the printed book was not an invisible container of authentic words, but a material technology with recognizable properties beyond the meaning of the words within. But if that seems too ambitious, I also want to use this space to share some photographs, thoughts, and suppositions about the dusty volumes in the archive in the hopes that someone might be as curious or intrigued as I am about that amazing technological device- the Renaissance book. Which, to me, is very much alive.

ASK