Pet Book Report #2 – Manuscripts and Transcribing

When I was first choosing my pet book, I didn’t think I would have a lot to write about during our manuscript week since The Philadelphia Vocabulary is clearly printed. However, it turns out that there is plenty for me to talk about. If the readings and visit to the Boston Public Library Rare Books Collection opened my eyes to anything, it is that manuscripts are not simply the traditionally thought of medieval tomes handwritten on vellum featuring intricate illuminations. While these are beautiful examples of manuscripts, just about any document that has been handwritten can be considered a manuscript.

With this more inclusive definition in mind, it began to dawn on me that my pet book might include a (or perhaps many) manuscript(s). As I mentioned in my introductory report, my pet book includes a great deal of writing within it, especially on the blank leaves. While I’m hesitant to call a name written on a random page a manuscript, even with this new liberating definition of “manuscript,” the writing on the blank leaves is so intense that it feels almost natural to consider these as a separate manuscript from the printed text.

I say “a separate manuscript” singular, but I was originally unsure if I should make it plural. The writing in my pet book seems to have different authors since there are multiple names written throughout as well as what appears to be different handwriting styles (although I am admittedly not a handwriting expert). However, does multiple authors mean that there are multiple manuscripts? What about when there are different authors on the same page—is half of the page one manuscript and the other half another manuscript? I have never considered other manuscripts written by multiple authors as separate, nor printed books by multiple authors for that matter, so that didn’t feel like appropriate criteria for multiple manuscripts. I think what most made me consider multiple manuscripts was the fact that some of the writing is in the beginning blank leaves and some is in the ending blank leaves, separated by the entirety of the printed text. However, some of the writing in the front and the back seems related, and they are still all apart of the same book.

The discussion of “how handwritten texts are to be classed as published or unpublished” (35) in Scribal Publication in Seventeeth-Century England by Harold Love also made me think critically about my newly appreciated manuscript. It was a fascinating read that made me realize how anachronistic and inappropriate the word “published” can feel when applied to manuscripts. I thought Love’s argument of “publication as a movement from a private realm of creativity to a public realm of consumption” (36) was the best way of translating our modern ideas about publishing to manuscripts. According to this thinking, then, the manuscript in my pet book has been “published” because it is now public, although I guess that also brings up questions about how public a book in a special collection at a private library really is.

Love also discusses author intentions about whether they meant for the manuscript to become public or not, but Love doesn’t seem to think that affects publishing status much since “work intended… for strictly private use might become a public possession against its author’s wishes” (43). However, even if it did, I would argue that the authors of the manuscript in my pet book did imagine their writing would become public at least in some sense. I don’t think that James Williams wrote his name and “James Williams Book” throughout The Philadelphia Vocabulary for his own benefit but rather because he thought others might open the book and need to be informed of his ownership.

The readings helped me think about the writing in my pet book as a manuscript, but the transcription activity is what most reminded me of my pet book. From the moment I saw the handwriting in The Philadelphia Vocabulary I tried to transcribe it, but it was surprisingly difficult just like transcribing the Dragon Prayer Book. Some of the writing in my pet book felt as hard to read as the writing of the Dragon Prayer Book, and the Dragon Prayer Book is in another (abbreviated) language! I stared long and hard at the Dragon Prayer Book trying to transcribe my page and it took me a long time to discover any words. However, once I was able to transcribe a few words, Googling them like Professor Boeckeler suggested helped me discover what Psalm or prayer was being quoted and made transcribing much easier. In the end, I was able to transcribe most of the page, although there are still some lines that elude me.

Transcribing the handwriting in my pet book was a similar experience, but definitely had some marked differences. While it took me a long time to find any words in the Dragon Prayer Book, it was very easy to read many of the words written in my pet book on the first try. However, while I had the aid of Google with the Dragon Prayer Book to help with the more difficult words and abbreviations, I have no such help with my pet book manuscript. This has led me to think that there are some words that might remain a mystery to me. Take, for example, the following page.


This is what I’ve been able to decipher so far of the writing at the bottom of the page:

“The figure represents a (glass?) manufactory
A. the arch which conveys water to it
B. the (boon?)
CC. the small (?) (?) (?) air.
(?) (XO?) ____

{ (?) 17 (?)
off the (?) (?)
the (picture?) D”

Each time I look at it I discover a new letter (or word if I’m lucky), but there is no saying that I will ever completely know what is written there. This is a disappointing thought, but an unfortunate reality of transcription.

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