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Shakespeare’s Scribe and Scull & Cross Bones?

While we were improving the minimal cataloging of our medieval and early modern manuscript holdings, we came across a hand-written copy of one of the earliest specialized English Dictionaries, Henry Manwayring’s Seaman’s Dictionary.  Since our library boasts an amazing collection of early English dictionaries, we were not overly surprised.  It is always pleasant to see examples of industrious lovers of books copying out the text from printed books in the days before xeroxing.  The layout mimics the printed text of 1644, the entries appeared to be the same, and it even included the author’s preface.  But wait, this manuscript predates the printed text! More on that in a moment.

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The 1644 printed text is considered the first authoritative treatise in seamanship in English.  It was written by Sir Henry Manwayring, a famous seaman of the Jacobean era, who happened to be an infamous pirate for a few years.  Manwayring was a Shropshire lad, born in 1587.  And lest you think your own children or grandchildren are precocious, consider Manwayring, who matriculated at Oxford at the age of 12, received his B.A. three years later, and was admitted to the Inner Temple as a lawyer at 17. He soon became a naval officer, chasing pirates in the British Channel and off the coast of Newfoundland.  But a few years later, he took offense when King James I buckled under Spanish pressure and prevented him from fulfilling one of his naval missions.  He took out his frustrations on the Spanish, becoming a notorious pirate on the Barbary Coast.  He bedeviled the Spanish navy for several years and annoyed the French with his swashbuckling, though he claimed never to have attacked English ships.

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Fearing reprisals from France and Spain, King James eventually offered Manwayring pardon if he gave up piracy. He came back to England in 1616, received knighthood in 1618, and dedicated his “Discourse on Piracy” – an insider’s perspective, obviously – to the King.  In that book, by the way, he warns the King against granting pardons to pirates.  He later served in Parliament and received an honorary doctorate of physics from Oxford.  Needless to say, there is more to tell about our pirate-knight, but let’s get back to our manuscript.

The 1644 imprint is very small, just 20 centimeters, a handy vademecum  for a sailor to carry on board.  Though small, there is a bit more text on the title page of the printed book than the folio manuscript, but that’s to be expected since it includes publication information.  The manuscript is twice the size and the title is a little different: “A Briefe Abstract, Exposition, and Demonstration of all Termes, Parts, and Things Belonging to a Shippe, and The Practick of Navigation.” Manwayring is noted as the author.

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Suddenly, the date in the lower right corner catches the eye.  1626?  But this is a copy of a book that was first printed in 1644.  We soon learn that Manwayring appears to have written the Seaman’s Dictionary while serving at Dover Castle from 1620 to 1623.  Clearly, this is one of those texts, so common in early modern literature, which circulated in manuscript before it appeared in print.   And sure enough, there seem to have been at least 14 manuscripts of the text in circulation from 1620 to 1644.

Looking at our manuscript again, we see that the scribe has signed and dated it, and we see that his name is Raph Crane.  This is when our hearts beat a little faster because, as denizens of one of the best Elizabethan and Stuart drama collections in America, we know that Raph Crane was a scrivener for the King’s Men at the Globe Theater.  He is generally thought to have been the scribe for at least five of the fair copies of Shakespeare’s plays that appear in the First Folio.

Of course the date is 1626, ten years after Shakespeare’s death, but the connection is still there.  Scholars always want more evidence for Crane, more examples of his penmanship, and here it is in our manuscript.  Though ours is the only one signed, four other extant manuscripts have been attributed to Crane’s hand.

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So, what to make of it all?  This little encounter with an interesting manuscript in our collection not only introduced those of us not up on our Jacobean naval history to Henry Manwayring and his important early English dictionary, but this bibliographic adventure also provided further evidence for the common practice of circulating books in manuscript in the 17th century; clarified for the world exactly which copy of Manwayring’s dictionary we hold; and provided Renaissance scholars with another example of Raph Crane’s handwriting.  We have digitized the manuscript and already two researchers in England are working on it.  VH

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April 16, 2014 · 1:06 pm

Frances Wolfreston: A Woman Reader of the Late Renaissance Revealed

The Schoole of Vertue, and Booke of Good Nature (ca. 1640) by F. Segar

The Schoole of Vertue, and Booke of Good Nature (ca. 1640) by F. Segar

A rare book is seldom dumb. If you know how to listen, it can speak volumes (pardon the phrase) about who owned it, why it was read and how often, where it was sold, what the purchase price was, when its binding was fitted, and so on. Take the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s The Schoole of Vertue, and Booke of Good Nature (ca. 1640) by F. Segar, shelfmark IUA11184. It is a slim, 48-page octavo bound in full blue morocco, with marbled endpapers and a bookplate from The Huth Library on the front pastedown. The binding is signed in small gilt letters by F. Bedford (1799–1883), indicating that the book was rebound sometime in the mid- to late 1800s. This is the provenance that talks the loudest. But there is a whisper, more intriguing, of somebody else: a woman reader from the late Renaissance by the name of Frances Wolfreston. 

Very faint inscription reads: "Frances Wolfreston hor bouk".

The very faint inscription reads: “Frances Wolfreston hor bouk”.

Wolfreston, who lived from 1607 to 1677, was probably the book’s first owner and would have been in her early thirties when it was published. Her inscription on the recto of leaf A3 reads Frances Wolfreston hor bouk. As the book is filled with prayers and instructions for raising children, we can surmise that she used it as a parenting aid. Some Non-Solus readers may find this information unsurprising, even typical. Wolfreston’s story is not one of a simple provincial housewife, however.

Just down the road from the RBML, at Illinois State University’s Special Collections in Normal, Illinois, is a scarce book by Lady Mary Wroth called The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania (1621)Widely considered to be the first English work of prose by a woman, Uraniais a sprawling pastoral romance with characters based on the contemporaries of its author Lady Mary Wroth, niece of Sir Philip Sidney and a lady in Queen Anne’s court. Fewer than forty copies of the work survive—most were withdrawn from publication and destroyed after Wroth’s allusions to her contemporaries sparked an outcry. (For details of the feud, see Josephine A. Roberts’s 1977 essay “An Unpublished Literary Quarrel Concerning the Suppression of Mary Wroth’s ‘Urania’ (1621).”)

Inscription reads: “[H]or bouk / bot at London”

Inscription reads: “[H]or bouk / bot at London”

Illinois State’s copy of Urania bears some interesting provenance indeed. Frances Wolfreston’s ownership inscription appears on it three times, once on each pastedown and once on the verso of leaf Mm3. Wolfreston has written “bot at London” beneath the inscription on the front pastedown. Urania exemplifies Wolfreston’s keen interest in literature and books about women. Though her collection includes a number of religious texts and domestic miscellany like The Schoole of Vertue, the majority of her surviving books are literary in nature. Identifiable women readers of this time period are rare, and it is even more unusual to come across one so unabashed in her love for romances and light reading, content thought in Wolfreston’s time to make women lazy and licentious. Wolfreston also owned dozens of pamphlets and tracts, bought from traveling chapmen and not meant to survive for centuries, as they have. The Schoole of Vertue falls in the latter category.

I am not the first to be captivated by Wolfreston’s bold inscription; scholars have been writing about her for at least thirty years. The premiere article on the subject is Paul Morgan’s 1989 “Francis Wolfreston and ‘Hor Bouks’: A Seventeenth-Century Woman Book-Collector.” Morgan tells us that Wolfreston’s library, willed to her youngest living son Stanford, survived intact at the family seat of Statfold Hall for close to 200 years before being auctioned by Sotheby and Wilkinson in 1856. Though Morgan estimates that Wolfreston may have owned as many as 400 books, the whereabouts of three-fourths remain unknown.

Morgan’s essay includes an appendix of around 100 located copies of Wolfreston’s books. The School of Vertue is one, Urania is not, suggesting that many books from Wolfreston’s library have yet to come to light. Another copy not mentioned in Morgan’s appendix is Wolfreston’s copy of Chaucer, given hor by hor motherinlaw, featured in 2008 on the blog of Sarah Werner, Digital Media Specialist at the Folger Library. Werner has also highlighted Wolfreston’s copy of Othello, now housed at the University of Pennsylvania. It is a book which Wolfreston–not a habitual note-maker–has declared a sad one. (For more by Werner, visit her blog here: http://sarahwerner.net/blog/). The majority of Wolfreston’s books have ended up in the Folger, the British Library, The Huntington, and other academic libraries.

Unlike the thick quarto that is UraniaThe Schoole of Vertue is a short, thin volume, a booklet really, that illuminates the domestic side of a literature-lover. The book is well-used; the pages are creased, smudged, and softly worn in the same manner as Urania‘s. Taken together, The Schoole of Vertue and Urania indicate that Wolfreston returned to her books again and again throughout her lifetime. Unfortunately, binder F. Bedford or another previous owner expunged Wolfreston’s trademark inscription from The Schoole of Vertue; only a faint blot remains, impossible to make out unless you’ve seen her hand before (and had the aid of Morgan’s helpful appendix). Still, it is worth examining the next time you visit the Rare Book and Manuscript Library—and has much to say about what you can learn from a book if only you listen closely.

The Schoole of Vertue

The Schoole of Vertue

Unlike the thick quarto that is Urania, The Schoole of Vertue is a short, thin volume, a booklet really, that illuminates the domestic side of a literature-lover. The book is well-used; the pages are creased, smudged, and softly worn in the same manner as Urania‘s. Taken together, The Schoole of Vertue and Urania indicate that Wolfreston returned to her books again and again throughout her lifetime. Unfortunately, binder F. Bedford or another previous owner expunged Wolfreston’s trademark inscription from The Schoole of Vertue; only a faint blot remains, impossible to make out unless you’ve seen her hand before (and had the aid of Morgan’s helpful appendix). Still, it is worth examining the next time you visit the Rare Book and Manuscript Library—and has much to say about what you can learn from a book if only you listen closely. —Sarah Lindenbaum, Project Cataloger

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October 28, 2013 · 9:58 am