Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MS. Rawl. Poet. 142

"What on earth is that?" some of you may be asking yourselves. While others of you, perhaps with a slight air of superiority, are thinking, "I know what that means." Well for those in the first group, I shall translate: MS means manuscript. Rawl is short for Rawlinson, which refers to a collection of MSS (that's the plural) amassed by Richard Rawlinson in the first half of the 18th century (that's the 1700s) and bequeathed to the Bodleian Library in his will. Poet pretty obviously refers to poetry, meaning that this particular MS contains some poetry (though not exclusively; poetry just seemed the most prominent), and the number 142 is to help differentiate it from the other 238 MSS that begin with MS. Rawl. poet. These of course comprise only a fraction of the collection, which contains over 5,000 shelf marks.

Now, why on earth am I beginning my post with the name of a manuscript? Simple: because that is what I have been spending my time on this past week, so it is all I have to write about. MS. Rawl. poet. 142 and I are becoming very good friends, and it all started with me calling up a random selection of commonplace books and miscellanies to see if I could find something interesting to work with for my B-course essay on textual criticism and history of the book. One of our options is to produce an edition of something, so I went fishing for a something. Starting with the catalogue of poetic MSS, I read through all the descriptions (these cover other collections as well, not just Rawlinson) and tried to select a few that either named authors I knew or sounded unusual in some way. This resulted in a list of at least 50 possibilities, so I randomly called up six--which arrived in their grey boxes in all different shapes and sizes, made to fit the MS--and went through all of the other 5 before discovering this little gem. I don't really have time to describe all of them, and my guess is that most people aren't as excited as I am about really old paper and ink. Suffice it to say that some were in large, bound, folio volumes with extremely legible and even writing, meant as a presentation manuscript or intended for the press, while others were small, irregularly shaped leather-bound commonplace books where owners had scribbled down bits and pieces of anything that interested them, from poems and songs to bits of sermons or lectures to entire chapters of books.

MS. Rawl. poet. 142 (let's call it 142 for short) is one of these latter, but what makes it even more fascinating is that it is covered in writing, horizontal, vertical, upside-down and sideways, in every margin, between and across other texts. Plus, it comes in at least four hands, possibly more, meaning that it was shared or passed down from one user to the next (I rather think it was concurrent, but I can't prove it yet). I think they were students, because they mention lectures and Doctors early on (when they copy down a lot of poetry and history), and later they are interested in sermons.

I have already written a bit about reading 17th century hands, but it still astonishes me how very varied the letter forms can be, even within the same hand. One of the hands wrote almost exclusively in italic letters, while another mingled italic with secretary, and sometimes the form would switch mid-word: the letters e and s, if appearing more than once in a word, were almost certain to take on two different forms. One wrote almost entirely upright letters, one had a pronounced slant, and one scribbled and scratched so poorly that I have to stare at a word with my nose nearly touching the page for a few minutes just to work out what it means. This is exceptionally difficult when the word is in Latin, as occurs with regularity in this manuscript--as does Greek, but it is relatively easy to recognise the different alphabet, so I know when that is happening! The most common abbreviations are "ye," "yt," "yn" (that's y, superscript e, etc) for the, that, and then, the "y" coming from the Anglo-Saxon rune known as the thorn. This gets confusing when the same hand decides to use "y-superscript-w" to mean you (spelled "yow"). Most u's are v's and i's are j's and vice versa. There is also a lot of "w-superscript-ch" for which and words that end in "-tion" are often left at "-tio" with a superscript squiggle called a tilde denoting the n. All of these superscripts were obviously meant to save space (I like the idea; I've even adopted some of the abbreviations into my own note-taking!) and to make writing faster.

The pages have been foliated in pencil for reference, which means each sheet has been numbered. This is different from pagination, in which each side of a sheet is numbered. So, page 1 has two sides, the recto (what we might call the front) and the verso (the back). This is denoted by writing Fol. 1.r for recto and Fol. 1.v for verso. I am telling you this because below I have recorded some of the more interesting tidbits from my reading of the MS so far, and I want you to understand what my notation means. I have maintained the spelling as closely as I could approximate in type, though I have expanded "-tion" and a few other contractions.

Fol 9.r - Left margin: “Dews his wordes” and below that a fun vertical list of words that perhaps our scribe found interesting...or made up: “Ancillating. Assassination. Infamoused. Crapulosity. Excarnificating, Pupillary age. Purpurrted. Proditorious. Vid-quid sir.”

Fol 11 r - Left margin, light brown: "The Empirour of Chinois never speaks to his subjects but at ye window of his gilded chamber yt ye reflection may dazzle theyre admiring eys.” Latin follows.

Fol 13 r “What time a yeere Summer at Willies: always so durtie.”

Fol 15 r has strange margin notes, such as “He wants furniture for ye vpper roome,” and in another hand “Gloworms in a glas for fish with a Bownett.” And “Pares not good till rotten.”

On fol. 15v the Carew poem (In Her fayre cheeke two pitts doe lye) in the final couplet, “Come then & Qill me wth thine eye / For if though let me live I dye.” Qill!

On Fol 17 recto the name “John Starling” has been scribbled (John once, Sta-, Starlin-, J-, Starling, and Starling)

F21v sideways in a lovely hand, “Shakespear. But J more weak than is a womans teare / Tamer than sleep, gentler than Jnnocence / More fearfull than a virgin in ye Dark.” [Troilus and Cressida: But I am weaker than a woman's tear, /Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance, /Less valiant than the virgin in the night /And skilless as unpractised infancy.]

F35 sideways “The Bee yt naturall good-huswife leiyed up her sweet sweat in her waxen cabinet.”

F 84v (final page of MS) Scribblings everywhere. Along inside margin: “They le thinke wee are all madd & in Bedlame” Hehe!

“Robert Brewster is wittnesse that Will Bloys owneth this booke” [Both William Bloys and Robert Brewster appear on the 1656 Suffolk constituency of the UK Parliament. Bloys appears in 1654 as well.]

Obviously this is just a smattering of the material to sift through--I think "crapulosity" is still my favourite, though!--and it has taken me over a week just to transcribe what I have (more than I have posted here, obviously, but there is lots more to go). I do not intend to transcribe the entire MS, as that would take ages and would probably not result in anything useful, but I am giving a presentation on 142 this coming Tuesday, and I hope to get ideas from my classmates on what to do with this fascinating find. I am also going to do some research into its provenance (origin and movements till it got into the hands of Mr. Rawlinson), and of course I will read up on Mr. Bloys and Mr. Brewster, as well as on William Strode, whose possible autograph appears near one of his poems on Fol 16.r. I'll keep you posted (ha) on any interesting developments.

For now, I think I ought to try to get some sleep. This post, composed between the hours of 1 and 2 a.m., is brought to you courtesy of a tank session with the rowing club at 9 p.m., followed by a brisk walk home in the cold at 10:15 and a long shower preceded and succeeded by a few nibbles, all of which got me utterly wired and not at all in the mood to go to bed. Blasting some country music didn't help, either... But now I am thinking about tomorrow (today) and the time I must spend reading and researching before erging at 7 p.m., and I think I should rest.

Feel free to comment on this--or go crazy and write me a letter in good old-fashioned manuscript!

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