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date: 21 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article focuses on commonplace books: collections of quotations ‘culled from authors held to be authoritative’, and organized under headings to facilitate their retrieval. Like electronic databases today, commonplace books helped Renaissance readers cope with ‘information overload’. It is argued that the ‘commonplace’ is as foundational to the practice of early modern prose fiction as literary devices with a more familiar resonance: such as point of view, unreliable narrators, and heteroglossia. The article takes as its starting point William Baldwin's A Treatise of Morall Phylosophie, contaynyng the sayinges of the wyse (1547). Flawed this work may be, but the liberties Baldwin takes with the ancient wise sayings he claims to have collected make this work an important contribution to the understanding of this rhetorical habit. A second collector, the seventeenth-century divine, Robert Burton is also considered.

Keywords: commonplace books, English prose, early modern prose fiction, wise sayings

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