Milton’s Shakespeare?

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It’s always annoying when someone tries to claim that they’ve discovered a lost literary artefact. I was myself a little bit brutal when, five years ago, we were treated to the supposed rediscovery of Shakespeare’s dictionary. In this as in other cases, there’s usually a lot of wishful thinking, plus copious spinning of the evidence to make it seem plausible, and elision of anything that doesn’t seem to fit. However, I’m going to make my own unwise pronouncement on the basis of just a few hours of research. I’m going to claim to have identified John Milton’s copy of the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623.

In a recent article (‘Vide Supplementum: Early Modern Collation as Play-Reading in the First Folio’, in Kathy Acheson, ed., Early Modern English Marginalia [London: Routledge, 2019]), Claire M. L. Bourne offers a rich analysis of the manuscript annotations in a copy of the Folio now at the Free Library of Philadephia. She demonstrates that the annotations are highly unusual in character, having been added by a reader who was very attentive to misprints and metrical errors, and who in two cases–those of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet–was comparing the Folio text with the text supplied by a Quarto edition of each play (Q5 [1637] in the case of the former, and one of Q3-5 [1611-37] for the latter). In several cases, the reader corrected the Folio from the Quartos, but his emendations were by no means slavish, and were accompanied by other textual changes that seem to have been inspired by his own sense of what was needed in the particular context.

The reader also added a few smart cross-references, to Tottel’s Songs and Sonnettes for the Gravedigger’s song in Hamlet, and to Samuel Purchas’s Purchas his Pilgrimes for the identity of The Tempest‘s deity Setebos; and he supplied the second verse of the song that is sung to Mariana in Measure for Measure. (Someone, perhaps a different reader or the same reader using a display hand, transcribed the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet, which is missing from the Folio text). Finally, our reader added marginal markings to all of the plays except for Henry VI 1-3 and Titus Andronicus. Bourne suggests that these are not marks for cuts but are instead commonplace markers, indicating passages of special note or broad applicability. On the basis of the various texts cited and of the binding, which likely dates from the early Restoration, Bourne tentatively dates the annotations between c. 1625 and some point in the 1660s.

So this reader is intelligent and assiduous. But the evidence that makes me want to suggest that it’s Milton is strictly palaeographical. This just looks a lot like Milton’s hand. Here I’m going to offer some words and letter-forms for comparison. Let’s start small and relatively unrevealing, with ‘the’. On the left we have the Folio, on the right the Trinity manuscript.

With that citation on the left, and its neatly spaced reference by volume and page to Purchas, we might compare this citation of Machiavellis’ Arte della Guerra in Milton’s commonplace book in the British Library:

(The commonplace book also makes reference to the same first volume of Purchas, but since everyone read Purchas this may not mean very much. Having a cross-reference for a reference to Setebos does seem quite sophisticated, though).

Now let’s look at some more specific words. At one point in the text of Measure for Measure, Milton struggles to make sense of Angelo’s claim that ‘these blacke Masques / Proclaime an en-shield beauty ten times louder / Then beauty could displaied’. He changes ‘en-shield’ to ‘enshrin[ed]’ or ‘enshrin[‘d]’ (the page has been trimmed in binding, so not all of the word survives). Here is the word in the Folio, and next to it is ‘shrine’ from the Trinity MS (sadly wordpress keeps rotating the images, so please crank your head through 90 degrees):


Another comparison: ‘morne’ (Trinity) and ‘morn’ (Hamlet):



Those are perhaps pretty equivocal (it’s something about the tidy separation and discreteness of the letter forms, rather than the forms themselves, that might make us wonder). But here’s ‘Hence will I’ (in the Folio) and ‘will I trie’ (in Trinity):

And here’s ‘he’ (Trinity MS/Folio), which seems to me quite telling in the way that the right foot of the ‘h’ doesn’t quite get to the ground before it heads up into the ‘e’:

While we are going minute, we might also note that Milton has an enlarged italic hand, sometimes rather scratchy, sometimes quite elegant, that he uses for headings and suchlike. Compare the ‘R’ in the speech-heading for ‘Romeo’ in the Folio and another ‘R’ from the commonplace book:

Finally we could look at the way Milton corrects things, in the Philadelphia Folio and in the corrected copy of ‘Lycidas’ in Cambridge University Library (Adv.d.38.5). It would be wrong to claim any easy overlap here–one of Bourne’s points is that the annotator of the Folio seems to be adding new readings while leaving the original to stand, so as to suggest that both are possible. But still, here is ‘Lycidas’ on the left and the Folio on the right:

Obviously, in the style of this kind of analysis, I’ve suppressed all the information that doesn’t with fit my claims. One interesting thing (confessing for a moment) is that the annotator of the Folio seems to use the ‘modern’ Italianate form of ‘e’ rather than the ‘Greek’ epsilon-shaped ‘e’, which Milton uses a lot in the poems of the Trinity manuscript, though rather less in the prose. Wishfully, I’d suggest that this might be due to his desire to imitate the forms of print when annotating. Palaeographers have also suggested that Milton dropped Greek-‘e’ after he returned from a visit to Italy in 1639, so that detail might also allow us to date the annotations.

The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts lists nineteen books that have been thought to survive from Milton’s library, though many of those are lost, spurious or disputed. The description of the annotations in one of these, Heraclides of Pontus’ Allegoriae (1544), now held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, sounds at least promising. One description refers to lots of curved vertical pen-strokes, perhaps akin to those that fill the margins of the Folio. But nobody, in the age before digital cameras, took photos of curved vertical pen-strokes.

If this book is what I think it is, it’s quite a big deal, since Shakespeare was, as we know, a huge influence on Milton. The younger poet paid tribute to his forebear in an epitaph published in the Second Folio of 1632, in which he testified to the ‘wonder and astonishment’ that Shakespeare created in his readers. Milton learnt so much from Shakespeare–how to write nature poetry; how to create charismatic villains like Comus, or Satan in Paradise Lost; how to sculpt taut, tense argumentative exchanges between speakers locked in verbal combat–though their relationship has often described as fraught and agonistic in itself, with Milton struggling to break free from his brilliant precursor. Perhaps the most obvious objection to my proposal is that the Free Library of Philadelphia Folio isn’t quite interesting enough to be Milton’s. Wouldn’t his copy be bristling with cross-references, packed with smart observations and angrily censorious comments? To this I have no response, except that maybe (as the epitaph claims) he was just wowed and struck dumb by Shakespeare. Or perhaps he saved those kinds of interventions for his Quartos…  

Postscript 11/9/19: I’ve received a very positive response from several distinguished Miltonists who are confident that this identification is correct–and have been roundly rebuked for understating the significance of the discovery. On the basis of his knowledge of the development of Milton’s hand, Will Poole (who a few years back discovered the poet’s copy of Boccaccio’s Life of Dante) has suggested that the earliest handwritten addition (the prologue to Romeo and Juliet) probably dates from the early 1630s, but that the bulk of the annotations were likely made in the 1640s. So this is probably a re-reading (or several re-readings) rather than a first reading, coinciding with a time of political upheaval, when Milton was writing some of his most powerful polemical prose. My concluding comments on how the volume may be ‘not interesting enough’ will also need to be revised, given the density and detail of the annotation to this copy. More to follow.

Postscript 12/9/19: Am adding in some higher-quality images below; these were generously shared by Claire M. L. Bourne, and are posted here with the kind permission of the Free Library of Philadephia.

The second stanza of the song sung to Mariana in Measure for Measure, written in at the end of the play in the Free Library of Philadelphia First Folio and trimmed by the binder. The song, with this stanza, circulated in manuscript and was printed for the first time in John Fletcher’s The Bloody Brother (1639) (Bourne 2019, 205)
The prologue to Romeo and Juliet, transcribed on the last page of Titus Andronicus because it was omitted from the First Folio.
A textual emendation in Anthony and Cleopatra.
A textual emendation in Macbeth. ‘Senie’ is senna; in the New World of English Words (1658), compiled by Milton’s nephew Edward Phillips, there is an entry for ‘Senie, the leaf of a medicinable herb which purgeth cholerick and melancholick humours’.
A textual emendation in Macbeth; Milton suggests that the correct reading may be ‘Seare, and yellow Leafe’.
A textual emendation in Hamlet, which shows Milton consulting a Quarto edition of the play to repair the text (Bourne 2019, 220)


A new Gabriel Harvey at Cambridge University Library

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I’ve just written a report for the Cambridge Digital Library about a book that is about to go live on their website. It’s a new acquisition for the UL, with generous assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries, and a tiny but very exciting purchase. Copying it here for those who can’t wait.

“Adv.e.8.1 is a copy of A Mervaylous Discourse Upon the Lyfe, Deedes, and Behaviours of Katherine de Medicis, Queene Mother, a translation of an anonymous  European bestseller which was published in London in 1575 with a false imprint (‘At Heydelberge’). It is a diminutive octavo volume with a text block measuring 129 x 89 mms and it has been harshly trimmed, probably when it acquired its current mid-nineteenth century binding. Nonetheless, that trimming failed to excise the evidence of an extraordinarily intensive reading of the volume by the Cambridge scholar and bibliophile Gabriel Harvey (1552/3–1631). This hitherto unrecorded book from his collection offers a unique record of an English analysis of recent French history and extends our knowledge of one of the most conspicuous and fascinating early modern annotators.

Issued soon after the death of Charles IX in 1574, the Discours merveilleux de la vie, actions et deportmens de Catherine de Medicis, roine mere (1575) attracted substantial attention across Europe. The Universal Short-Title Catalogue currently identifies seven French editions before 1580, along with early translations into Dutch, German, Latin and English. The text offers a blow-by-blow account of ‘the pernicious and wicked practices of the Queene’, emphasising her ruthlessness, her willingness to exploit religious divisions to increase her power, and the threat that her machinations pose to the realm of France.

The different shades of ink in the annotations may point to two or more readings, which were probably undertaken during Harvey’s time as a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge; a note on the final leaf is dated 1578. Harvey’s attention is throughout closely focused on the political principles that can be drawn out of Katherine’s life story. The indexed notes on the verso of the title-page offer a preliminary guide to the nature of his interests. He saw Catherine as an embodiment of amoral modernity, embodying precepts from ‘Machiavels pragmatical Politiques’, and ‘Aretinos licentious Ethiques’, all of which were put in the shade by ‘Her own private, and publique Experience in all ambitious, covetous, and voluptuous Practises of the world’. She was ‘In manner, thonly Curtisan Politique of France, In respect of whome, Bodin [is] but A schollar, & theorist’ (a note on H4v seems to refer to a meeting between Harvey and the political philosopher Jean Bodin). Harvey frequently proclaimed the superiority of action to contemplation, and he displays a kind of horrified admiration for Catherine’s unceasing villainy: ‘Evermore in actu: in esse: unhorsing other, & setling herself in the saddle: never owt of worke, at home, abrode; private, publique, of al sorts: fram’d to do, & undoo all thinges, at her pleasure, and for her advantage. In manner, th’only Polypragmatical of the world’. 

The copious marginal notes that follow are also darkly appreciative, relishing ‘Italian Practises’ (I3r) and acts of ‘deepe, & profounde dissimulation’ (F7r) and labelling the 1572 St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestants a ‘Comicotragoedia’ or tragicomedy (G4r). Harvey also deploys his standard (but often mysterious) array of marginal symbols, including astrological symbols (e.g. Mars for war) and ‘J.C.’ (‘jurisconsultus’) for legal affairs. There are several glances at English politics, as when a discussion of whether a dying king as a right to appoint his successor leads Harvey to recall how ‘King Edward VI. ordeinid by will, the Lady Jane Grey; excluding his two sisters’ (L1r). The Comte de Retz, meanwhile, is ‘the Lord [Thomas] Cromwell in another kind’ (M3v). Harvey’s determination to be up-to-date is indicated by his use, on several occasions, of the word ‘assassination’ (E6v, E7r), a word which is not elsewhere attested before 1590.

Harvey notes on the title page that he also owns a French edition of the Discourse with the annotations of his patron Sir Thomas Smith; this book is currently unlocated.Virginia F. Stern’s 1979 study Gabriel Harvey: His Life, Marginalia and Library counts 155 works known to have belonged to him, not all of which are extant. One of the those books, an edition of Livy now in the Princeton University Library, formed the basis for a seminal article by Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, ‘“Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Reed his Livy’ (1990), which showed that early modern reading was often communal and political rather than solitary and private. In the wake of this intervention, many more scholars have examined the nature of Harvey’s reading, and 14 of his books have now been published in digital facsimiles, with full transcriptions, on the ‘Digital Bookwheel’ of the Archaeology of Reading project (https://archaeologyofreading.org/). The present volume offers a fascinating addition to the corpus and an opportunity to extend our conversations about what reading has meant in the past, and what it means today.”

Congratulations!

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to Professor Simon Franklin, of the Department of Modern and Medieval Languages, on the publication by Cambridge University Press of his book on The Russian Graphosphere, 1450-1850. The book explores ‘the dynamic space of visible words’ as it mutated across the long early modern period, with detailed attention to changing scripts, languages and technologies. It promises a feast for anyone interested in material texts and the intersections between words and things. (See the blogpost on Simon’s talk to the CMT in 2014, https://www.english.cam.ac.uk/cmt/?p=3967)

For those at subscribing institutions, PDFs of the book are available on open access from Cambridge Core.


in praise of public libraries

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I’ve just finished reading Darren McGarvey’s Poverty Safari (2017), an engrossing attempt to speak about the experience of growing up in poverty and to think about the gulf that separates the middle classes from the ‘underclass’. Along the way I found this impassioned defence of public libraries, attacking the fashion for blending libraries with community centres, and thus removing that crucial element of the library experience–silence:

“Admittedly, many of us don’t use libraries any more, but for those who do, it’s impossible to overstate how indispensable the service is. Particularly in communities characterised by poor education, low opportunity and high levels of stress, the library is an engine room of social mobility where people go to complete college and job applications, get help filling out forms to access benefits and bursaries as well as accessing the internet and books to learn new skills or find information. People who enter a library are actively trying to better themselves in some way and often lack the basic resources or skills to reach their goals. When you are in a public library, you are in the presence of people who are attempting to take a massive stride forward in their often chaotic and stressful lives. Aside from this more obvious function, the library performs a much simpler one–one which any librarian worth their salt will guard jealously. As well as not costing any money, the library is one of the few places in a deprived community that is quiet enough to hear yourself think.

To get a sense of how difficult it is to concentrate when there are things going on around you, pick up your smart phone and start thumbing through a selection of ring tones, while continuing to read this page–I’ll wait. Now imagine you are already pretty stressed, perhaps because you have no money, or because debt collectors and council tax are breathing down your neck. Now throw in the fact you are maybe not the best reader. Maybe you are a single mum, with a learning disability like dyslexia, or you might be battling with a drink problem. Maybe you’re looking to get back into education and have a limited amount of time for activities that require concentration? Maybe you are a young man, recently released from prison, perhaps on a tag, who has been given an apprenticeship in a barbers or a local deli but have no experience? Throw a little ADHD in the mix and an underlying psychological issue, which is exacerbated by stress, and suddenly the simple act of entering a library becomes an immense act of personal courage.

… Then we have the senior citizen, largely forgotten in the beard-stroking dither of progressive politics. Perhaps a widow who lives alone, or a disabled man who uses a wheelchair and can only access a certain number of buildings in the area. The library is one of the only places they’ll be allowed to stop for more than five minutes without being expected to spend money. And let’s not forget, there’s a reason why people in areas like this need to get out of their homes every now and then: paper-thin walls that mean you can hear your neighbours flushing toilets, boiling kettles, having sex, arguing, doing DIY, cutting their grass, revving their cars–at every hour of the day. This is not to mention the less-than-serene sounds of a stressful community, and all the challenging, often frightening, behaviour it fuels; couples engaged in aggressive disputes, drunken young people shouting in the streets, strangers coming and going all day and night. Not to mention the regular sound of police cars, ambulances and fire engines.

The library is one of many dwindling resources, like the community centre, that act as safety valves. A library provides a safe and supportive environment where vulnerable people can educate themselves or mentally regroup. But increasingly, they will arrive at the library to find children running around, or people taking part in discussions or courses, or Mother/Toddler groups. These activities are equally essential–but they should be going on in a community centre. Libraries have become busy, often quite noisy places, which seriously defeats their intended purpose.”

of sombreros and tea-towels

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I’m still basking in the glow of William Noel’s wonderfully engaging 2019 Sandars Lectures in Bibliography, on the theme of ‘The Medieval Manuscript and its Digital Image’. Arguing that images of medieval manuscripts are in their way as artificial as the ‘photograph’ of the Sombrero Galaxy taken by the Hubble Space Probe, Noel emphasized the value for repositories of treating their images as open-source data, thickly documented in the metadata so that they can be used and abused by the networked community in innumerable ways. While scholars need to know when, where and by whom an image was produced, as part of their ongoing investigation into a manuscript, the maker of tea-towels just needs an appealing image, and in Noel’s view both should be able to get their pictures without punitive fees. (In the questions after the second lecture, he said that academics need to complain more about the costs of reproducing images, and suggested that if more of them did so, the costs would soon come down or evaporate).

Noel’s concluding lecture was a survey of the ways in which digital tools can be used to understand the physical structure of books, with a shout-out to ‘VisColl’, which allows you to take manuscripts apart and see how they would have looked to their producers. Much of the lecture was taken up with a whistlestop tour through the different sizes of paper that were used in the production of late medieval manuscripts (imperial, royal, median, chancery and their variants), with an introduction to a gizmo called the ‘Needham calculator’ that Noel has invented to turn page measurements into a statement of book format and paper-size (taken together, these constitute what he calls the ‘flavour’ of the manuscript). Noel concluded with the hypothesis that the metal engravings of the period were specifically designed to fit onto particular sizes of paper, but that a tradition also developed in which (like the one shown in Georg Gärtner’s 1618 painting of St John the Evangelist) prints came with lavish margins, which tend not to survive today. All in all it was a fascinating recovery of the rules of a game that have been lost to us, achieved by combining cutting-edge digital technologies with a deep investment in the materials of textual production.

trust in the book

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Just posted by a colleague on Twitter, this account by Ursula le Guin of the book as a fabulously reliable object (something like a faithful dog?) that will continue to be valued when all of our gizmos are buried in the ground.

ruminant reading

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In the latest London Review of Books, Charles Nicholl reviews Christopher Celenza’s 2017 book Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer. Along the way he quotes a passage that we missed in our edited collection on the eating of words. Petrarch is writing to Boccaccio about his immersion in the classics:

“I have read Virgil, Horace, Boethius and Cicero. I read them not once but a thousand times; I did not run by them, but lay down beside them. I brooded over them with every effort of my intelligence. I ate in the morning what I would digest in the evening; I imbibed as a boy what I would ruminate on as an older man. I have ingested those things in such an intimate way that they have become fixed not only in my memory but in my marrow.”

It’s a powerful statement that makes it seems as though the hungry poet has swallowed ancient literature whole, absorbing it into every fibre of his being–going against the grain of recent scholarly accounts of reading that emphasise its necessary selectiveness. But Nicholl goes on to point out that Petrarch was a manuscript hunter who got his classical literature in tantalising fragments, and who published his own writings as fragmenta. And when it comes to the Canzoniere, Petrarch’s ‘mesmeric sequence of 366 sonnets, songs, madrigals, ballads and sestine’, Nicholl recommends restraint, commenting drily that ‘one a day in a leap year is the recommended dosage’.

the air is thy register

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The latest issue of The Library has an article by the CMT’s own Dunstan Roberts on the chained parish library of Chirbury in Shropshire. Now held at the Shropshire Archives, the library was left to the schoolboys and parishioners of Chirbury by the will of the vicar Edward Lewis, who died in 1677. It is particularly interesting for its preservation of several books belonging to the polymath Edward Herbert, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, including his annotated copy of Chaucer’s Workes (1598).

At the end of the article, Roberts draws attention to a different volume of Works, this time of the sixteenth-century divine Richard Greenham. The book (dating from 1605) has, inscribed on a flyleaf, a handwritten poem:

Misterious God thy thorough pearcinge eie
vieus our black deeds lockt in nights treasurie
the aire is thy register where wee
With our oane breath pen our owne historie
Our thoughts are Caracters to thee more cleer
th[a]n to mans opticke mountaines can appeare
Who then can scape when our deeds night displais,
Our words our breath, our thoughts our hart betraies?
Lord none except thy grace inspire vs soo
Our deeds, Words, thoughts onlie from thee may flow

Beatrix Herbert

Roberts identifies the likely author or scribe of the poem as Beatrice, Edward’s daughter. It’s a striking piece of writing in which the invisible and immaterial is cast as solid and massive in the eyes of God. And it appears to be otherwise unrecorded, itself ‘lockt in nights treasurie’ as a private act of devotion on the fringes of a cherished devotional book.

new CMT annual report out (finally)

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The CMT Annual Report for the academic year 2017-18 is another epic, which includes perhaps the longest account of a conference ever penned (for our ‘Paper-Stuff’ event back in September). It also offers an opportunity to reminisce about David Pearson’s bookbinding workshops, the latest series of Medieval Palaeography Seminars, and the launch of some significant publications, including Text, Food and the Early Modern Reader and The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books. You can download it here.

eating words

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What a pleasure to blog about this magnificent edible manuscript, made for the 80th birthday of Professor Anne Hudson. Anne is the UK’s leading expert on the Lollard Bible, and the manuscript is a fine example of a Wycliffite New Testament, Bodleian MS Fairfax 11. It’s all edible, including the text and the booksnake. The cake was made by Jo Marsden at Piece of Cake (https://twitter.com/PieceofCake_Jo).

This visual feast is the perfect pretext for advertising what might be thought of as the CMT’s first publication, Text, Food and the Early Modern Reader: Eating Words, which has just appeared from Routledge. Deriving from our 2011 conference on the intersections between reading and eating, this volume brings together a star-studded cast (Juliet Fleming, Deborah Krohn, Raphael Lyne, Randall McLeod, Helen Smith, Peter Stallybrass, Lizzie Swann, and Andrew Zurcher) to think about all manner of alimentary alignments. Whether your interest is in the terminology of carving or the textuality of catering, in sweet and sugary poems or indigestible macaronic hodgepodges, in digesting or the divine or vomiting the demotic, there is something here for every ravenous reader. Like many academic books, it’s not exactly a snip: think of it as a high-end Christmas present for the bookworm in your life, to be consumed along with sparkling wine and Christmas pud.