Peter Beal and Jeremy Griffiths, eds. English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700. London: The British Library, 1997. 272pp. ISBN 0 7123 0406 1 Cloth.
Jerome de Groot
University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne


De Groot, Jerome.  "Review of English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.3 (January, 1999): 8.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-3/degrrev.html>. 

  1. The series English Manuscript Studies has quietly established itself at the cutting edge of not just the technical stuff of bibliographic or codicological study, but our whole way of thinking about literature and our study of the culture and cultures which produce it. In particular, Mary Hobbs' article on Henry King's Manuscripts in the first volume of this series seemed to underline the feeling throughout the volume that here was a scholarly gauntlet flung down with the minimum of fuss, but nonetheless challenging preconceptions of texts and their transmission. This latest set of essays continues the good work with solid and stimulating discussions on topics as various as Manuscript Illumination or the analogues of I Henry IV. Much of the best work on manuscript culture seems to be concentrated on the later period covered by these studies, and accordingly the volume has three very strong essays based on seventeenth-century texts, including Harold Love's latest report from his journey toward the ultimate Rochester text.

  3. Love contributes an extensive study of Rochester's scurrilous poem on Charles II, "I'th' isle of Britain." He sets out his stall when discussing the attitudes of previous editors of the poet:
  4. Logical enough in the light of their function, which was to supply a 'complete poems' of the traditional kind, they do not address the needs of users whose interest lies either in the process of transmission as such or in the reading history of popular, scribally-circulated writings. To researchers with a 'systemic' rather than a narrowly editorial concern with the textual tradition, other kinds of information and analysis are required (178).

    Love analyses the various sources (19 Manuscript, 1 printed) for the poem in painstaking detail. He splits the sources up into five separate groupings, noting that "The variations permit a simple division into groups defined by characteristic line orders...All the sources have now been assigned to groups, whose integrity will be found to be fully confirmed by the verbal variants" (180-1). Love's point overall is that Rochester's poem went through several profound changes whilst being circulated, and that few of these were authorial. The variants, be they syntactical, metrical, or formal, are thus important for manifold reasons important to the sociology of the text rather than the status and "intention" of the poet. The approach is incredibly detailed; what is stimulating and interesting about the essay is the critical use that Love makes of the evidence he musters at such length. His marriage of rigorous textual technique to an inquiring critical faculty makes the piece less dry than the rest of the essays in the volume, and far more useful: manuscript studies as applied science rather than esoteric archival work. Love also adds refreshing caveats to his lengthy methodological descriptions ("These conventions will be found simpler to follow in practice than they probably are in this explanation" [182]).


  5. Love discusses distinct modes of circulation, tracing the several phases of a text's life. In one of the most useful passages he considers the different stages of the text's circulation; the text takes on different significance in the light of each stage. Beginning as a court satire, part of a factional battle within Whitehall (certain rewritings indeed reflect different allegiances), when the text then came to be included in the professionally written anthologies its political aspects took on a more national importance. Love shows that the variations are due to shifts in the meaning and significance of the text as cultural artifact: obscure references are lost, the poem slimmed down and made terser for satirical purposes: "These phasal tendencies, grounded in the needs of different readerships, would have been felt as an influence on unconnected acts of copying, leading possibly to interventions of a similar kind with different - or the same - verbal results" (205-6). Thence comes the movement toward textual stasis, the limbo-like state of a text that no longer engages with the political moment. With the Rochester poem this begins in the 1690s with inclusion in "retrospective collections of texts put together to form a kind of informal political and social history of the two reigns" [206], and is completed with the first printed version in 1697.

  7. Love acknowledges that his consideration of this fairly unique text is far too complicated for standard editions, but insists that the editor must address the manifold versions and transmissional history of texts: "It is only in this sense that editing can be regarded as an intellectual activity and the editor as an active participator in a humanist culture whose defining rationale is the exchange of considered arguments about commonly accessible bodies of evidence" (217). Whilst Love has a tendency to hyperbole, his work points out intriguing and important avenues for consideration, not least in relation to electronic and hypertext editions. He concludes that his approach is maybe too rigorous and intricate, but defends his position that there is no such thing as an "abstractly 'correct' text" (219).

  9. John Gouws' article "Fulke Greville's A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney and the Protocols of Textual Scholarship" chimes with Love's to argue for a multi-layered consideration of text and textual transmission. Gouws' piece is a critique of Victor Skretkowicz's revisionary theory that establishes "the existence of a hypothetical single physical document, the author's foul papers/working copy, from which all known manuscript and independent printed representatives derive" (125). Gouws argues that this transcendental view of textual transmission -- presupposing, as it does, an ultimate source for all known versions of a text -- is deeply flawed and "does not take account of all the evidence" (125). The research is absorbing and extensive, at times almost dismissive, as at one point he suggests that "Skretkowicz's solution depends on an impossibility and an improbability" (116). Skretkowicz's theorem has manifold implications: "we are to think simply of a single physical document, the foul-papers, palimpsestically revised...If we alter our presuppositions about the conditions of production we also alter our conditions of understanding" (109). Gouws warns against such a schematic view of textual construction, concluding by insisting that we can resist these theories by emphasizing the instability of text and our own lack of physical evidence.

  11. Elsewhere William Schipper considers in depth two manuscript copies of Rabanus Maurus's encyclopedia De rerum naturis, demonstrating that it was both copied and used, and thence claiming that Maurus's influence was wider than is generally thought. His extensive and solidly argued essay (with adequate facsimile illustrations) underlines the importance of the series as a whole; there are few forums for such exhaustive scholarship to be published, yet given the space and the freedom that this volume affords, Schipper can make profound inferences from the minutiae of manuscript marginalia. Similarly, Michael Brennan's work on the Badminton Manuscript of Barckley's A Discourse of the Felicitie of Man is given room to breathe and to infer extensively from the source text. Brennan is particularly interesting when considering the movement from manuscript to print; his intricate analysis of the substantive alterations imposed by compositor and printer highlights the value of the manuscript as an illustrative but perhaps unique case-study. He argues for greater authorial intervention and care in preparing a work for publication than is normally thought to be the case at this point in time.

  13. Arthur Freeman's account and printing of a new analogue for 1 Henry IV cautiously suggests that the Tapster manuscript is related to Shakespeare's play to a small degree. The analogue sheds light on the cultural moment rather than any direct or easily measurable influence it might have had on 1Henry IV. Freeman uses his material well and considers the text in detail; his suggestion is that the manuscript is a actor's script from a production in Oxford between 1600-1620. Such caution is necessary; Freeman documents with amusement the controversy aroused when the Shakespearean Information Institute alleged it was the autograph work of Francis Bacon. The reprinting of the text of the manuscript is useful and will probably fuel the arguments further.


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.

© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).