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date: 24 May 2022

Manuscript and Print, 1500–1700

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the uses to which manuscripts and printed books were put in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the changing histories and critical traditions that have accounted for them, beginning with the place of Caxton, Pynson, and de Worde in the early English printing trade and the developing copyright law and discourse of authorship at the start of the eighteenth century. It then discusses the ways in which textual editors have accounted for the interaction between manuscript and print and the new authors and texts that have gained critical attention (with renewed scholarly attention to female authors and the social contexts of writing). It ends with a consideration of the ways in which print and manuscript coexisted and of the ways in which attention to annotations and the history of reading might be leading toward the history of books, rather than the history of the book.

Keywords: manuscript, history of the book, authorship, annotation, copyright, printing press, Caxton, Pynson, de Worde

1. Narratives of Print and Property

In 1500, the printer Wynkyn de Worde exchanged his working premises, close to the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey, for a shop (at the sign of the Sun) in Fleet Street, in the city of London. De Worde had worked since the 1470s with William Caxton, who in 1476 had brought the first printing press to England; in 1492, on Caxton’s death, de Worde inherited his business. His journey from Westminster to London closely coincided with the move made by one of his competitors, Richard Pynson, who set up shop on the north side of the same street, at the sign of the George. At the very start of the sixteenth century, then, London—already a busy market for book producers and scriveners—became home to the new printing trade.1

Even in outline, the journeys of these two men tell us a great deal about the origins of the printed book in England and about what was changing in 1500. Both Pynson and de Worde were originally from continental Europe, just as Caxton himself had worked as a printer in Cologne and Bruges before bringing his new technology to England; the early English printing presses were not just imported from Europe, but were also operated by European craftsmen.2 London’s flourishing trade in printed books, meanwhile, was also fed by large (and ever-increasing) imports of books printed on the Continent.3 And the short move that de Worde and Pynson made from Westminster to London—from court to city—shows us something, too, about the new markets that were opening up for printed books in early sixteenth-century England as new customers and professions started to make use of this new technology and printers began to recognize that they could make a profit from it. In 1512, for instance, Pynson was granted the exclusive right to print royal statutes and proclamations; he also published a number of legal books, while de Worde cornered the market in schoolbooks and grammars.4 Unlike Caxton, who had printed texts that were intended to appeal to a more courtly market, the endeavors of Pynson and de Worde suggest that printers were realizing that they could thrive by selling books to professional and pedagogical readers and also, as David Carlson puts it, that “the book by itself could turn a profit, without authorial subvention or any other form of patronage.”5 Carlson’s history of humanist book production suggests that the change to print did not happen overnight—prestige was still attached to handwritten copies of books, and authors could still effectively seek patronage by presenting these handwritten copies to wealthy readers—but, after a couple of decades, Carlson claims, print was established as a medium in which humanists could make a career.

A little more than two centuries later, in 1710, a Bill was read and passed by Parliament that overturned the relationship between authors and the printers of their books. The “Statute of Anne,” as it is known, “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors, or Purchasers, of such Copies, during the Times therein Mentioned” (8 Anne, c. 19), marked, in effect, the first legal articulation of a modern copyright law, albeit in its earliest form; it granted property to a book’s author rather than to its printer and, for the first time, asserted a form of copyright that was separate from the regulation or censorship of printed books themselves. In Mark Rose’s account of this act—which accords it a significant place in the long and complex development of intellectual and literary property—printing and copyright are intimately linked. Out of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century printing trade, in which it was stationers who asserted their right to publish a work by entering it in the Stationers’ Register—a right that was maintained, as Rose describes, by a guild system of “mutual rights and responsibilities”6—there arose a legal system (and a discourse) something like our modern understanding of intellectual property. Printers no longer bought and registered the right to print a piece of writing: the author of a text now owned it. This situation, writes Rose, emerged through a tension between the stationers’ institutions and customs, and “the emergent ideology of possessive individualism.”7 In other words, it wasn’t just that authors were protected by this new legal system: the figure of “the author” (the owner of a piece of writing as well as its writer) was actually created by it. As Rose himself goes on to explain, the new law did not entirely divest printers of their legal position (or provide authors with absolute independence or autonomy), and, in fact, it was vigorously invoked in the mid-eighteenth century by a group of London booksellers against a group of their counterparts in Edinburgh and Glasgow, who, they claimed, were illegally printing books to which they had no right.8 Furthermore, although the 1710 Act guaranteed the property rights of authors rather than those of printers or stationers, and although, as Rose argues, this discourse of authorship came about through a changing conception of property and labor, articulated, for instance, by writers such as Locke and Defoe, his “author” is firmly a print phenomenon, a product of a law that was brought about to protect the rights of writers within a world of print. “No institutional embodiment of the author-work relation,” he writes, “is more fundamental than copyright, which not only makes possible the profitable manufacture and distribution of books, films, and other commodities but also, by endowing it with legal reality, helps to produce and affirm the very identity of the author as author.”9

Rose’s account of “the Invention of Copyright” is one of the many cultural histories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries dating from the past twenty or thirty years or so that have focussed on the advent of the printing press and the printed book. And many of the most important histories of the book between 1500 and 1700 have been, in effect, histories of the coming of print—histories in which print quickly supersedes the newly obsolete methods of book production that predate it and, in turn, gives rise to the many changes of the Renaissance.10 In effect, this version of the history of the early modern book (a hugely influential version, at that) is the history of the printed book. “The beginning of the Tudor period did indeed coincide with the renewal of printing in England,” writes Lotte Hellinga, for example, at the opening of a recent collection of essays on the subject (a collection both subtle and balanced).11 Hellinga’s account is one in which the periodization of history—the beginning of the Tudor period and, perhaps implicitly, of the English Renaissance itself—goes hand in hand with technological innovation as the first Tudor monarch recognizes the instrument that is changing the way in which books are being produced (“Henry VII began to take an active interest in the potential of the printing press”) and, in turn, fosters it (“the faith the king put in the printed word”).

If this connection between print and innovation is axiomatic, it is also undoubtedly true, at least in some respects—there is no doubt that the manufacture and availability of printed books around 1500 changed the ways in which texts were produced and read. And a great many literary histories of the period and social histories of reading and writing have taken that innovation as their defining point. Roger Chartier, for instance, focuses his history of reading on the effect that “the penetration of printed written matter” had on “the culture of the greater number.”12 Chartier explicitly cites D. F. McKenzie’s bibliographic dictum, that “new readers … make new texts and their new meanings are a function of their new form”13 to justify his claim that the history of reading was changed fundamentally by print: the Order of Books is turned on its head by the coming of printed books. And the central text in this historiographical tradition is Elizabeth Eisenstein’s seminal two-volume study, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. For Eisenstein, the press was more than just a bibliographical innovation: it was central to the many intellectual and cultural changes of the Renaissance, and, more than that—it was actually the cause of those changes. As she puts it on her first page, print “revolutionized all forms of learning.”14 By allowing classical texts to be preserved and widely reproduced in scholarly editions, it was print itself that gave rise to humanist learning and historical scholarship. Because of the accuracy and consistency with which printed books could be designed and reproduced, it was print that enabled the empirical and Copernican literature that fired the scientific revolutions of the period. And print was hailed as a divine gift by the religious reformers who used it to distribute vernacular Bibles (and controversial tracts) to an increasingly literate population.15 Without print, could there have been a Protestant Reformation?

Critics of this narrative, though—a narrative in which print gives rise to the various transformations of the sixteenth century (religious reform, humanism, science, possessive individualism, and so on)—have asked questions about exactly the kind of change that took place when books began to be printed. Did book production change immediately, with the print industry establishing itself just as soon as the presses were brought from one country to the next, or was the change more gradual? Did print actually act as an agent of change (to use Eisenstein’s phrase) or even as the cause of cultural transformation, or did it coincide with these changes in less active ways? Did it always promulgate the new, the revolutionary—or could it also be, as Tessa Watt writes (citing Febvre and Martin), a force “for cultural continuity” even “reinforc[ing] a traditional world view” by recording and popularizing traditional or conservative beliefs?16 Was there a radical difference (either material or typographical) between printed books and the books that preceded them, or did the two kinds of artifact share features in common? And were older forms of writing made immediately obsolete by print, or could these forms survive and even thrive?

In Eisenstein’s account, the answers to these questions are emphatically affirmative. As Anthony Grafton puts it, in an essay that both acclaims the influence and persuasiveness of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change and questions the blunt single-mindedness of its argument, “Eisenstein wishes to emphasize how radical the break was between the age of scribes and that of printers. To do so she minimizes the extent to which any text could circulate in stable form before mechanical means of reproduction became available.”17 Eisenstein suggests, Grafton writes, that “almost no reader in any age of manuscripts could have access to a large number of texts. She both argues and implies that the scribal book trade was a casual and ill-organized affair; she clearly holds that no single scribe could produce any large number of books.” But there had indeed been large libraries of manuscripts, not least in monasteries and universities. “The experience of collectors and readers,” as Grafton puts it, “changed rather less sharply than one might expect with the advent of printed books.”

Adrian Johns’s work on seventeenth-century scholarly writing and natural philosophy also directly challenges Eisenstein’s narrative. Where Eisenstein sees early modern scientific writers (exemplified, in her account, by Swedish astronomer Tycho Brahe) being enabled by the near miraculous mathematical accuracy and certainty that print gave to their writings, Johns argues that publishers and authors had to battle to gain credit for their books in the face of piracy, rival publications, and disparagement. Even the books of Tycho (who attempted to avoid inaccuracy by taking control of the printing process, setting up his own press and even his own paper mill) were discredited and at risk of piracy and unauthorized reproduction shortly after his death. Trust in the printed book, Johns claims, was eagerly sought, but precarious; it had to be fought for by printers and authors alike and was not intrinsic to the books themselves or conferred by the technology that produced them. Eisenstein’s account of a revolutionary, progressive “print culture,” he argues, “neglects the labors through which success was achieved. It identifies the results of these labors instead as powers intrinsic to texts…. To put it brutally, what those labors really tell us is that Eisenstein’s print culture does not exist.”18

So the narrative exemplified by Eisenstein’s Printing Press as an Agent of Change, a compelling account, no doubt, in which the technological innovation of print shortly before 1500 brings about many of the other revolutions of the early modern period—religious, scientific, literary, scholarly, commercial—while quickly rendering other ways of writing redundant and obsolete has come under attack from one direction for its rather simplified and exaggerated view of print. Print may not have been so certain or so stable after all, and the knowledge that the presses made widely public in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may have been available, in different kinds of books and different libraries, earlier than that. But it is a narrative that has also been challenged, or at least complemented and complicated, by a field of textual scholarship that has become all the more important in the thirty or so years since Eisenstein’s study. What exactly happened to manuscripts, to hand-written books—so slow and so difficult to make according to the print-and-progress narrative, so lacking in the accuracy and uniformity that might have promised to make printed books dominant?

2. The Production of Manuscripts

Manuscripts certainly didn’t stop being compiled and written when the printing press appeared, nor did they stop being useful: in fact, it almost seems that the arrival of print focused the attention of writers on what they could do with them. Some sixty years ago, J. W. Saunders pointed out that a great many printed sixteenth-century texts, particularly poetry written by aristocratic or courtly writers, were prefaced by claims that their authors were sending it to the press with the greatest reluctance and noted that the poems of these writers (Wyatt, Surrey, Sidney, and so on) tended to appear most frequently in manuscript copies. Whereas middle-class writers such as Edmund Spenser were eager to make use of the commercial opportunities brought about by print, Saunders noted that “a great deal of Tudor poetry never passed beyond the manuscript stage, and … even where it did ultimately reach print, the manuscript was generally considered the normal medium of publication.”19 Conversely, other printed books of poetry presented themselves as liberating their texts from the clutches of those who consciously chose to hold them back in personal manuscripts: “although it be oftentimes imprisoned in Ladyes casks,” as Thomas Nashe writes in the preface of the pirated 1591 copy of Astrophil and Stella, “& the president bookes of such as cannot see without another mans spectacles, yet at length it breakes foorth in spight of his keepers, and vseth some priuate penne (in steed of a picklock) to procure his violent enlargement.”20 For those writers without an economic reason to go to print, Saunders claimed, there may have been a social reason to avoid it—a “stigma of print.”

Later critics, though, have both extended and questioned Saunders’s work. The question for textual scholars has changed—it is no longer so much why some writers would deliberately ignore a means of producing and publishing books that seemed so obvious to their contemporaries, but rather what they had to gain from distributing their writings in handwritten copies and how this changed the texts that they came to write. And a central figure in many of these studies of early modern manuscripts has been John Donne, whose poems survive today in several thousand handwritten copies contained in hundreds of manuscripts, many of which were compiled or transcribed long before the poems themselves ever came to print. One of the reasons, in fact, for the revival in manuscript studies over the past two or three decades has been the comprehensive cataloguing of documents containing texts by Donne and many other writers, not least in the Index of English Literary Manuscripts (almost certainly the single most important resource for manuscript scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) and the new discoveries that have been made as part of this process.21

Arthur Marotti’s study of Donne, for instance, examines the “socioliterary environment” in which many of his early poems were written: the Inns of Court.22 Marotti shows that the poems that were written at the Inns, and frequently exchanged in manuscript, developed a voice (knowingly anti-courtly, Ovidian, satirical) that depended entirely on the intimacy and personal nature of manuscript exchange. They were also extremely metacommunicative, as Donne’s verse letters, for instance, illustrate. Marotti’s work, and that which follows on from it, insists that we see these poems as “social transactions”—not just shaped by their medium and milieu but actually acting themselves as interactions among their writers, readers, and collectors; in later work, he explores some of the ways in which this “social textuality” gave rise to very particular poetic forms and interactions: poetic exchanges and answer poems, revisions and corrections, and also, by extension, the commonplace books and miscellanies in which the poems were frequently written down.23

The term “commonplace book,” in fact, is a misleadingly simple (and misleadingly descriptive) shorthand for the hundreds of collections and miscellanies frequently contained in small paper books that survive from these two centuries—relics of the tens of thousands of similar books that must originally have existed. These books contain various kinds of writing and were compiled in countless ways; indeed, they rarely correspond to the idea of a commonplace book as it is (and was) precisely defined and imagined (by Erasmus, Bacon, and so on) as part of an exemplary humanist education—namely, excerpts copied out of classical and other kinds of texts and entered into a blank book under a neat and systematic series of headings.24 Such commonplace books are clearly another kind of manuscript that—far from being rendered obsolete by print—were actually enabled by it.25 Many of the surviving notebooks, collections, and miscellanies, though, are less systematic. Many of them contain poems, as we have seen earlier, sometimes copied from other collections or, in some cases, unique to one particular manuscript; many of them were then reproduced in print miscellanies, just as printed books were occasionally the source from which they might be taken.26 Other manuscript miscellanies (and other parts of the aforementioned poetic collections) might contain notes from sermons and academic exercises,27 information on household management and commercial affairs, jokes and memoranda, and so on—not to mention innumerable scribbles, doodles, marks of ownership, and pen trials. Some of them are neatly, even professionally, designed and compiled; others are haphazard and extempore. Together, they illustrate the many purposes for which handwriting and hand copying were still used (and still useful) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Not just literary texts, then, but other kinds of writing—scholarly and everyday, devotional and domestic—were still actively being copied in manuscript, even hundreds of years after print was developed. Manuscripts were clearly not made obsolete, let alone extinct, by the coming of the printing press. And as scholars have become increasingly aware of the kinds of writing that flourished in manuscript (which, in some cases, could only be written and circulated in the intimate and covert conditions permitted by it), our sense of the breadth and variety of early modern writing has become all the sharper. The obscene and the ephemeral, the libelous and the politically and religiously dissenting have been readmitted into the literary history of the early modern period.28 And as Peter Beal and Harold Love, among others, have studied the way in which the scribal production of manuscripts was organized,29 and Marcy North, for instance, has written on the way in which scribes and compilers might have gone about their work on manuscript production and transmission,30 our understanding has increased that manuscripts involved just as much labor, both professional and amateur, as printed books.

3. Textual Editors of Manuscript and Print

Along with our understanding of the changes brought about by the printing press, then, has come an awareness that manuscripts were still useful and still in common use until the end of the seventeenth century—and perhaps even beyond.31 And this increased awareness of the various forms in which texts were transmitted and read between 1500 and 1700—of the ways in which manuscripts might have survived or even thrived in this supposed age of print—has had further consequences for textual editors. If a particular text or the writings of a particular author were partly or principally read and recorded in manuscripts or known in a different form or context when they were recorded there, how should textual editors record them?

Textual editors of the mid-twentieth century tended to pay very little attention to manuscript versions of their authors’ works; any attention that they did give, indeed, tended toward disparagement. Richard Corbett, for instance, was a fairly minor poet of the early seventeenth century (as well as Bishop of Oxford and then of Norwich), but an extremely widely read one. His popularity certainly did not come from print, though, at least during his lifetime: apart from one or two dedicatory or commendatory poems in other volumes (by Donne, Coryate, and so on), his poems were printed only in two collected volumes—Certain Elegant Poems (1647) and Poetica Stromata (1648)—some ten years after his death. But they enjoyed an extraordinary and much more immediate life in manuscript: the miscellanies and collections kept by students and other members of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and well beyond, contain several hundred copies of Corbett’s occasional poems on university and church life. His “Verses made of the Lower House of Parliament” in 1628, for instance, found their way immediately into national networks of news and information and were being transcribed only weeks after they were written in the news books of readers far from London or Oxford. These manuscript copies are witnesses to the early lives of Corbett’s poems, just as they attest to his sheer popularity; when Nicholas Oldisworth, for instance, writes of the failure of his contemporaries to commemorate the death of the renowned Protestant hero, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, in 1632, and wishes that Corbett “such Pyramids would reare, / As should out-last all Time,” he is speaking of a writer whose identity consisted almost entirely in manuscript—not to mention dreaming that his own writings could have such fame and permanence.32 Corbett’s most recent editors, however, J. A. W. Bennett and Hugh Trevor-Roper, disregarded the manuscript copies of his poems (other than those of Corbett’s poems for which no printed texts exist) as “commonplace books of little authority, and sometimes compiled, in part at least, from printed sources.”33 For editors such as these, printed texts alone had the authority that allowed them to act as copy-texts: manuscripts were assumed to be later, less authoritative, and more corrupt.

More recently, though, textual editors have begun to challenge this kind of editorial prejudice and have incorporated a richer understanding of the history of print and manuscript into the ways in which they have presented their texts.34 Harold Love’s monumental edition of the works of the Earl of Rochester, for instance, begins with a statement about textual history that stands Bennett and Trevor-Roper’s misunderstanding on its head: “what we possess is a body of contemporary manuscripts,” Love writes, “some made by private readers and some by professional scribes, with a much smaller number of unauthorized, and generally inferior, printed texts taken from fortuitously encountered manuscripts.”35 Love’s editorial solution (for the majority of Rochester’s poems for which no authorial copy has survived) is recensional editing, a technique in which all surviving texts, in manuscript and print, are studied and collated in order to reconstruct the process by which variants were produced, to recover the version as close as possible to the original and to document, insofar as it is possible, the order in which the surviving witnesses were copied.36 And Love addresses a problem of attribution, too: “since verse circulated in this way was to a large extent scandalous, blasphemous and politically oppositional,” he writes, “it was rarely placed into circulation bearing the name of its author. By the time the larger collections began to appear, authors’ names had attached themselves to a certain proportion of the material; however, such attributions had nearly always been added by readers at one stage or another of transmission.”37 Love’s work shows, in other words, that it is not just that a proper reappraisal of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century history of print and manuscript can transform the ways in which early modern texts are presented in modern editions: editorial work on those surviving texts can also contribute to our knowledge of that history—the interests and textual habits of individual readers, the processes by which authors’ reputations and canons are constructed, the broader patterns of textual transmission and change.

And so this editorial work, informed by the history of manuscript and print, promises to transform early modern literary studies, not just by discovering new attributions or discrediting existing ones or by adjudicating between textual variants that are more or less close to a text’s author, but by also providing more evidence that the processes by which texts came to be associated with their authors and the changes that they underwent as they were passed along to successive readers were dependent on the material forms in which they were transmitted. A recent pair of editions, for example—Robert Hume and Harold Love’s edition of George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, and Michael Rudick’s “historical edition” of the poems of Sir Walter Ralegh—illustrate this very well. In their edition of Buckingham, Hume and Love note that “seventeenth-century readers were unquestionably interested in attribution, but in a high proportion of cases they found themselves grappling (sans introduction and annotation) with anonymous texts.”38 And so their project—to gather not just the texts written by Buckingham, but also all of those associated with him, including writings that he may have contributed to, those that were believed to belong to him, and even his commonplace book containing texts “composed or excerpted by the Duke”39—restores something of the historical conditions in which a late seventeenth-century reader might have encountered him. Rudick’s edition of Ralegh, likewise, presents a poet whose writings were widely collected and often reattributed, reappropriated, and recontextualized before and after his death. Since the collectors of Ralegh’s poems “entitle[d] themselves to a kind of ownership of their texts and treat[ed] them accordingly,” Rudick’s edition sets out to demonstrate “the uses they were put to by collectors”: not just the poems that can be proved to have been written by Ralegh and not just the version of his poems closest to the original recovered through recensional editing, but “a materially documented Ralegh canon which … represents in historical conspectus what comprised Ralegh’s poetic work for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers.”40

4. New Histories of Print and Manuscript

This connection between the history of the early modern book and the practice of editing early modern texts has had further implications for the kinds of texts that literary scholars have deemed to be worth reading. Individual manuscript collections in themselves, for instance, have come to be of greater interest: as well as providing illustrations of the literary tastes (and day-to-day preoccupations) of individual early modern readers—in the words of Harold Love, “indexes to the tastes, interests, and politics of their compilers”—they might, in themselves, show us something about the ways in which texts were transmitted by print and manuscript: why were “certain works rather than others … brought together between a given pair of covers over a given span of time”?41 Love encourages textual critics to think not just biliographically, but, as he puts it, bibliogeographically: “To a bibliographer, a given copy of a work is an item on a particular page in a bound volume on a particular shelf. To the bibliogeographer, … that copy is merely a resting point on the text’s journey through space and time.”42 And both he and Stephen May look forward to a world of scholarship in which editions and transcriptions of many manuscript miscellanies allow those journeys to be traced and studied.43

A second area opened up by this scholarship has been the writing and the writers that traditional criticism has tended to ignore. The writings of early modern women, for instance, are much more widely recorded in manuscripts than in printed books, partly because early modern women so rarely had the practical or financial means to bring their writings to print. They wrote abundantly, though, as scholars are coming to acknowledge—and it is frequently in manuscripts that their writings (sometimes domestic in focus, but at other times devotional, poetic, epistolary, or engaged in contemporary philosophical debates and concerns) appear.44 It has occasionally been easy for scholars to use the paucity of women’s writing in print to underestimate female literacy, female involvement in literary culture, and so on: those women whose writings do survive in print (Margaret Cavendish, for instance) have sometimes been regarded as unusual “learned women,” exceptions to a rule.45 A re-evaluation of writing in manuscript, though, and of the number of functions and purposes that handwritten texts might have served, is helping to reappraise the involvement of women in various literary cultures and areas of public life.46

It may, indeed, have an even more fundamental consequence, in that it has begun to force scholars to re-examine a set of terms that are central to their writing, not least a word (and a concept) that has been under examination since the very first paragraphs of this essay—the “author.” Reading the period between 1500 and 1700 through the lens of print prompts us to think about authorship in some very specific ways: print authorship might seem to have to do with permanence, with professionalism, with possession and property, with publication and publicness. If the study of manuscripts has corrected many of these conceptions and complemented our awareness of the importance of print, it might also inhabit a similar (or at least a complementary) discursive space: manuscript production might be professionalized in ways of its own (through scribal labor), may perhaps be an alternative form of publication, an alternative (although similarly self-conscious) literary voice. But the writers—both male and female and from various social classes—who collected literary texts and other pieces of household information in handwritten books or in the margins of printed texts, who wrote in collaboration with friends and members of their family, often sharing their books with their households and provincial communities of readers but unable (nor, perhaps, always inclined) to bring them to print, may have been a very different kind of “author.” These “social texts,” to use Margaret Ezell’s term,47 written collaboratively, might in fact prompt contemporary scholars to look beyond the binaries that this chapter has encountered—public versus private, amateur versus professional.

And, finally, to bring this chapter to a close, this kind of scholarship might prompt us to look beyond the binary of manuscript and print itself. David McKitterick’s recent book, Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, for instance, repeats and explores some of the arguments about printed books discussed earlier, questioning the illusion of stability that printers (and writers about print) have created about their books. But he goes further: it would also be misleading for scholars to talk about a print revolution occurring around 1500, McKitterick says, because printed books and manuscripts were really not as separate as future generations have come to believe. “Printing combined with older practices and habits of thought in the manuscript tradition,” he writes; “it is more realistic to speak not of one superseding the other, but of the two working together.”48 McKitterick turns his attention to books in which print and handwriting complement one another: books printed with gaps (for maps, illustrations, rubrication, non-Roman script, and so on) that book-producers found it practically easier to fill by hand, the handwritten corrections that were frequently made to printed books, and so on.49 Even typographical changes in book production “did not of themselves arise from printing rather than manuscript,” he says: book design was changing in any case, even if the changes of the sixteenth century “may have been given new stimulus and focus by the new technology.”50

Work such as McKitterick’s points future scholarship in a number of directions leading away from some of the assumptions with which this chapter began. Not only does it offer a very different version of cultural change from Eisenstein’s (because it tells us that print is not strictly an agent of change, but rather that it changes in conjunction with a number of other changes around it); it also asks us to see print and manuscript “supplementing” one another, “cohabiting,”51 and insists that our critical talk of “print cultures” and “manuscript cultures” may be missing an important point—namely, that the readers and users of books, as well as their makers, might have seen printing and handwriting as just two methods of writing, good for some things and less useful for others, but to be used (and read) in conjunction. Alexandra Gillespie’s work on the Sammelbände (collections of short pamphlets) of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries has likewise shown that “bibliographical culture at the end of the Middle Ages accommodated dynamic and varied modes of printed and also scribal production”: printed and handwritten separates shared many of the same features, and, far from tending towards fixity and stability, print could actually be used to produce books that readers could assemble in a variety of different ways.52 McKitterick argues, in fact, that textual scholars have inherited a potentially misleading classification in which manuscripts and printed books are categorically different things (even if they are sometimes similar). The two were only ever “divorced,” he says, by the catalogues of mid-seventeenth-century librarians who placed them in different categories.53

And if one direction for present and future research has been the interpenetration of manuscript and print—the ways in which they cohabit (rather than one usurping the other)—another new direction comes from an increased interest in the varied and fluid ways in which individual books were made, read, and used: a history of books, as Gillespie puts it, rather than an overdetermined history of the book.54 Work on the lives of books and the habits of their readers has also broken down the exclusive binary between manuscript and print. William Sherman’s Used Books, for instance, studies the annotations that early readers, for whom reading appears to have been a process that also engaged their writing hands (often leaving their mark in manicules—hand-drawn images of pointing hands—as well as other kinds of annotation), and finishes by noting a change in attitudes to contemporary marginal annotation: whereas handwriting in printed books often used to be regarded as defacement and was more often than not cleaned or trimmed away by zealous librarians, it is now treasured as evidence of reading practices and of the ways in which readers interacted with their books.55 Books are coming to be studied increasingly as objects with social and material lives. “By replacing the traditional orientation toward production and consumption with a sustained focus on agency and interaction,” as Sherman puts it elsewhere, “[scholars] have offered frameworks that account more fully for what books do, the people for whom they do it, and the contexts in which they do it.”56


Beal, Peter. In Praise of Scribes: Manuscripts and their Makers in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Beal, Peter. “Do Manuscript Studies in the Early Modern Period have a Future?,” Shakespeare Studies 32 (2004): 49–55.Find this resource:

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(1) See further C. Paul Christianson, “The Rise of London’s Book-Trade,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, 7 vols., vol. III: 1400–1557, edited by Lotte Hellinga and J. B. Trapp (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 128–147.

(2) On the “geography of the book”—in fact the geography of the printed book—see Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450–1800, translated by David Gerard (London: Verso, 1976), 167–215.

(4) David R. Carlson, English Humanist Books: Writers and Patrons, Manuscript and Print, 1475–1525 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), 133.

(6) Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 14.

(7) Rose, Authors and Owners,17. On this connection, see also Joseph Loewenstein, The Author’s Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

(10) The introductory chapter to Margaret J. M. Ezell, Social Authorship and the Advent of Print (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999) provides an extended account of this very partial historiography.

(11) Lotte Hellinga, “Prologue: The First Years of the Tudor Monarchy and the Printing Press,” in Tudor Books and Readers: Materiality and the Construction of Meaning, edited by John N. King (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 15–22, at 15.

(12) Roger Chartier, The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries, translated by Lydia G. Cochrane (Cambridge: Polity, 1994), 22–23.

(13) D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 29.

(14) Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), I, 3.

(15) “The astonishing power of distribution possible with the printed text became evident with the ninety-five theses, said to be known throughout Germany within a fortnight and within a month throughout Europe.” Brian Cummings, The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 16. For essays on some of the kinds of popular writing that could be widely distributed in print, not just religious writing but also pamphlets and chapbooks, newssheets and almanacs, didactic and medical writing, see The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, 9 vols. vol. I: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660, edited by Joad Raymond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(16) Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 330.

(17) Anthony T. Grafton, “The Importance of Being Printed,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11 (1980), 265–286, at 274.

(18) Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 19.

(19) J. W. Saunders, “The Stigma of Print: A Note on the Social Bases of Tudor Poetry,” Essays in Criticism, 1 (1951), 139–164, at 139. For an important response to Saunders, see Steven W. May, “Tudor Aristocrats and the Mythical ‘Stigma of Print,”’ Renaissance Papers 11 (1980), 11–18.

(20) Syr P.S. his Astrophel and Stella (London: for Thomas Newman, 1591), sig. A3r. “President books” may be legal “precedent books” (see OED, “Precedent,” n., C2), but Nashe may also simply mean “aristocratic.” On this passage, see also Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).

(21) See Peter Beal, editor and compilator, Index of English Literary Manuscripts: Volume One, 1450–1625, 2 parts (London: Mansell, 1980) and Volume Two, 1625–1700 (London: Mansell, 1987–93). Now superseded by the online Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts <>.

(22) Arthur F. Marotti, John Donne: Coterie Poet (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986). See also Peter Beal, “John Donne and the Circulation of Manuscripts,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 4: 122–126. An equivalent “socioliterary environment” in which the exchange of poetry survived were the universities: see Mary Hobbs, Early Seventeenth-Century Verse Miscellany Manuscripts (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1992); H. R. Woudhuysen, Sir Philip Sidney and the Circulation of Manuscripts 1558–1640 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

(23) Arthur Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995).

(24) For a collection of these manuscripts, see On commonplace books, see also Peter Beal, “Notions in Garrison: The Seventeenth-Century Commonplace Book,” in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts, edited by W. Speed Hill (Binghamton, NY: Renaissance English Text Society, 1983), 131–147.

(25) On the form’s journey into print, see Ann Moss, Printed Commonplace Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

(26) See Adam Smyth, “Profit and Delight”: Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640–1682 (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2004).

(27) See Christopher Burlinson, “The Use and Re-Use of Early Seventeenth-Century Student Notebooks: Inside and Outside the University,” in Material Readings of Early Modern Culture, 1580–1700, edited by James Daybell and Peter Hinds (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2010), 229–245. On the exercise of note-taking, see Ann Blair, “Note Taking as an Art of Transmission,” Critical Inquiry 31 (2004–05), 85–107; and Richard Yeo, “Notebooks as Memory Aids: Precepts and Practices in Early Modern England,” Memory Studies 1 (2008), 115–136. For more on notebooks in the universities, see Peter Mack, Elizabethan Rhetoric: Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Margo Todd, Christian Humanism and the Puritan Social Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); and Hugh Kearney, Scholars and Gentlemen: Universities and Society in Pre–Industrial Britain 1500-1700 (London: Faber and Faber, 1970). On sermon notes, see Ceri Sullivan, “The Art of Listening in the Seventeenth Century,” Modern Philology 104 (2006), 34–71. And on the practicalities (and materiality) of note-taking, see Peter Stallybrass, Roger Chartier, John Franklin Mowery, and Heather Wolfe, “Hamlet’s Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England,” Shakespeare Quarterly 55 (2004), 379–419.

(28) On libel, for instance, see Andrew McRae, Literature, Satire and the Early Stuart State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). On anti-courtly and often obscene verse, see Joshua Eckhardt, Manuscript Verse and the Politics of Anti-Courtly Love Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

(29) Peter Beal, In Praise of Scribes: Manuscripts and their Makers in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998); Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

(30) Marcy L. North, “Amateur Compilers, Scribal Labour, and the Contents of Early Modern Poetic Miscellanies,” English Manuscript Studies 16 (2011), 82–111. Scholarship on labor within early printhouses abounds; a good starting point may be D. F. McKenzie, “Printers of the Mind: Some Notes on Bibliographical Theories and Printing-House Practices,” Studies in Bibliography 22 (1969), 1–75.

(31) Harold Love’s concludes his Scribal Publication (284–310) with a discussion of the “triumph of print,” exemplified in an account of Jonathan Swift, dependent on print even as he realizes that it is a contested medium. Margaret Ezell, on the other hand, shows that Alexander Pope made use of manuscript publication in his early career. Ezell, Social Authorship, 61–83.

(32) Nicholas Oldisworth’s Manuscript (Bodleian MS. Don.c.24), edited by J. Gouws (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2009), 83.

(33) The Poems of Richard Corbett, edited by J. A. W. Bennett and H. R. Trevor-Roper (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), lvii.

(34) For a more detailed consideration of this connection and the challenges still faced by textual editors, see Christopher Burlinson and Ruth Connolly, “Editing Stuart Poetry,” Studies in English Literature, 52 (2012), 1–12, and the articles contained in that journal issue.

(35) The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, edited by Harold Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), xviii.

(36) Love gives detailed advice on the practice and technique of recensional editing in Scribal Publication, 313–356. The challenges of dealing with textual contamination, in which branches within these complicated traditions are corrected or revised with reference to other branches, are discussed at greater length in Love, “The Ranking of Variants in the Analysis of Moderately Contaminated Manuscript Traditions,” Studies in Bibliography 37 (1984), 39–57, and further words of advice (and caution) are to be found in John Whittaker, “The Practice of Manuscript Collation,” Text 5 (1991), 121–131. For two examples of this kind of editing, see L. A. Beaurline, “An Editorial Experiment: Suckling’s A Session of the Poets,” Studies in Bibliography 16 (1963), 43–60; and Mark Bland, ‘Francis Beaumont’s Verse Letters to Ben Jonson and “The Mermaid Club,”’ English Manuscript Studies 12 (2005), 139–179.

(38) Plays, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings Associated with George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, edited by Robert D. Hume and Harold Love, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), vol. I, ix.

(40) The Poems of Sir Walter Ralegh: A Historical Edition, edited by Michael Rudick, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 209 (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999), xxv, lxxv, xvi.

(41) Harold Love, “The Work in Transmission and its Recovery,” Shakespeare Studies 32 (2004), 73–80, at 74.

(43) Steven W. May, “The Future of Manuscript Studies in Early Modern Poetry,” Shakespeare Studies 32 (2004), 56–62. May is elsewhere judiciously cautious about the value of editions of manuscript miscellanies: “Renaissance Manuscript Anthologies: Editing the Social Editors,” English Manuscript Studies 11 (2002), 203–216.

(44) The Perdita Project, an online catalogue and edition of many of these manuscript writings, did much to bring these writings to the attention of scholars. See also the collection of essays Early Modern Women’s Manuscript Writing: Selected Papers from the Trinity/Trent Colloquium, edited by Victoria E. Burke and Jonathan Gibson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).

(45) Margaret J. M. Ezell, “The Laughing Tortoise: Speculations on Manuscript Sources and Women’s Book History,” English Literary Renaissance 48 (2008), 331–355.

(46) On women’s involvement in book production itself, including the printing process, see also Helen Smith, “Grossly Material Things”: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

(47) Ezell, Social Authorship, especially 21–44.

(48) David McKitterick, Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order 1450–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 21.

(49) On almanacs, another form of printed book that invited completion by the hands of its users, see also Adam Smyth, Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

(52) Alexandra Gillespie, “Balliol MS 354: Histories of the Book at the End of the Middle Ages,” Poetica 60 (2003), 47–63, at 55. See also Gillespie, “Caxton’s Chaucer and Lydgate Quartos: Miscellanies from Manuscript to Print,” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 12.1 (2000), 1–25; “Poets, Printers, and Early English Sammelbände,” Huntington Library Quarterly 67 (2004), 189–214.

(54) Alexandra Gillespie, “Bibliography and Early Tudor Texts,” Huntington Library Quarterly 67 (2004), 157–171, at 163–164.

(55) William Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). For an early and seminal study of annotations and reading practices, see Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, ‘“Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy,” Past and Present 129 (November 1990), 30–78. On this revision, see also Jason Scott-Warren, “Reading Graffiti in the Early Modern Book,” Huntington Library Quarterly 73 (2010), 363–381.

(56) William H. Sherman, “The Social Life of Books,” in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, edited by Joad Raymond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), vol. 1, 164–171,at 165.