Archival Visit Report #2

For my second archival visit I decided to explore the resources at the Houghton, a trip I was excited to make as I had never been there before. Like the Boston Public Library, they also had a copy of The Philadelphia Vocabulary as well as a few other texts by James Greenwood, so I wanted to be sure to look at those. However, the main idea that I wanted to pursue was to look more into manuscript notes—what’s being written, where it’s being written, why it’s being written, etc. This was much easier to do at the Houghton than at the BPL because, as a curator told me when I contacted them via email, the Houghton keeps records of manuscript notes so it is easy to search specifically for texts with handwriting in their online catalogue system.

First, though, are the texts by James Greenwood. The Houghton copy of The Philadelphia Vocabulary, published in 1806, is actually a “newer” version than the two I’ve seen so far, but despite being printed almost ten years later the texts are fairly identical. The only difference that I could find was that the 1806 version did not use the long s anymore. Also, while this copy did not have a tremendous amount of handwriting inside, it did have a name, “Joshua Riley” written inside the cover, as has been a trend.

The other texts by James Greenwood that were at the Houghton were An Essay Towards a Practical English Grammar and a poetry collection entitled The Virgin Muse. Greenwood did not actually write the poetry in the collection but rather was more akin to an editor and compiled these texts together in a collection. Although much different than a grammar, the poetry collection was still meant to be didactic, teaching young women morals and the importance of “the protection of your virtue and innocence.” This text does surprisingly have some writing in it: someone wrote the name of the author of a poem next to the title of each poem when it appeared in the book (the author was listed in the table of contents but not on the actual page itself). Interestingly, though, these manuscript notes are only on the first few pages and do not continue throughout the text, similar to the manuscript notes of John Adams that I described in the last archival assignment.

As for An Essay Towards a Practical English Grammar, this work was much different from The Philadelphia Vocabulary being an essay about grammar and not simply a grammar. However, it did still have some handwriting on the front flyleaves. “Frederic W Pratt” wrote his name inside the book, as did “A. Bronson Alcott,” which is of course Amos Bronson Alcott. In my last archival post I found a connection between a manuscript note and my hometown, and this is actually another one: Amos Bronson Alcott was born in my hometown.

Besides looking at books by James Greenwood, I also examined the Houghton’s copy of another book I saw at the BPL: the Nomenclature Brevis Anglo-Latino. This text was the same edition as the BPL’s 1752 copy and like the BPL’s copy this book also had handwriting in it, although unfortunately most of it was in pencil and long faded. However, I could make out the name “James” and the year “1763.” Here I want to make note of a trend I was noticing: that most of the manuscript notes I was finding in these grammars were in the endpapers and flyleaves and not in the actual text itself. As I continued looking at texts that had been marked as having manuscript notes in them, I kept this observation in mind and tried to note when books actually had marks in the text and when the marks were only in the flyleaves.

The next text I examined was called The Scripture Lexicon published in 1784 and it is basically a dictionary of places, names, and things that appear in the Bible. The manuscript notes I encountered in this text were unlike any I had yet encountered because they seemed to all be supplementing and adding to the text rather than marking ownership. In fact, I did not see the name of a previous owner written anywhere in the book. Instead, in the front flyleaves a previous owner wrote over a few pages what he called a “Chronology from Heidegger,” which seems to be referencing a chronology of Biblical events from a book titled Enchiridion Biblicum Hieromnemonicon Lectioni Sacrae by Johann Heinrich Heidegger. In the back flyleaves there is about a page and a half written about the history of Middle Eastern empires in the early BC centuries, such as the Pathian Empire and Seleucid Empire, and at the end has the citation “Rennels memoir of a Map of Hindoostan 2nd Edition 1791 Vol 2 Sect: 3. P: 201 or the last.” Whoever this previous owner was, they were certainly well read and very knowledgeable. This book also had some notes in the actual text as well, some of which also cite other works, especially the Bible. It seems pretty clear that the owner was engaging with the text and adding the knowledge he gained from other works to this work.

To this point I’ve mostly looked at texts that were grammars or didactic in nature. So, I decided to look at a piece of fiction that was marked as “copiously annotated,” a copy of Hudibras: in Three Parts by Samuel Butler. Copious honestly does not even begin to describe it because this text had an overwhelming amount of notes in it. Every single blank leaf in that book was completely covered in handwriting, as well as some of the pages of the actual work as well. However, I noticed that when these notes were written on pages of the work and not just on the flyleaves, those were pages towards the end/beginning of each canto of Hudibras or, in other words, pages that had a lot of blank space. It was clear that the author of these notes was simply looking for space to write, which tipped me off that these notes might not have anything to do with Hudibras.

Most of the notes, however, were in French, a language I do not know, and in a very tiny script handwriting that was not the easiest to read. So, I decided to take the approach we did with translating the Dragon Prayer Book: try to distinguish a few words, enter them into Google, and hope for the best! I did this a few times with little success, but finally got a result: a French play from 1696 entitled Arlequin Misantrope by “Gherardi,” which I think is actually an Italian playwright named Evariste Gherardi. I couldn’t find much about this play on the internet besides copies that had been scanned into Google Books, but it confirmed my suspicion that the notes were unrelated to Hudibras and in fact are not notes at all but rather copies of other texts. Also, since I could only distinguish a few words, I’m sure that the French contains more works than just Arlequin Misantrope.

There were a few pages in English at the back of the book (where there were another 7 leaves covered front and back in writing), and this was the poem The Dispensary by Samuel Garth. While I can’t even begin to guess why the author of the notes, or I guess I should say the copier of the works, paired Hudibras with Arlequin Misantrope, pairing Hudibras with The Dispensary is actually quite fitting because, while about separate topics, they are both mock epic poems from the late seventeenth century and it’s interesting to see evidence of a reader making connections to other texts.

These weren’t the only types of notes found in the text, though (I told you it was overwhelming!). In the endpapers, someone wrote a sort of index for the text, breaking the text up into bits such as “they advance to the Enemy, and view their camps, &c 62 to 76.” While pairing a text with other texts is certainly an act of engagement, this index is the only note that actively engages with and references the text. To this point, the handwriting did not provide any clue as to whether the owner had actually read Hudibras or not; the owner could have copied these other works into the text because they knew that they had no intention of ever reading Hudibras! However, the fact that the writing is only in the blank spaces of the text does suggest that the owner cared about Hudibras to some degree. Speaking of the owner, there are actually several names written on either a flyleaf or the title page: John Buck, John L(?), Henry (?), J. Anderson, and Mary Byards. I was excited to see Mary Byards’ name because I realized that this was the first time I had seen a woman’s name written inside a book! This is reflective of education standards at the time since women usually did not have the same educational opportunities, and I think it’s especially telling that the only book I found a woman’s name written inside of was the fiction book and not any of the educational books.

One text that I examined that I thought was especially fascinating was a text called Hermes or, A philosophical inquiry concerning language and universal grammar printed in 1751. It has a great ownership note on a front flyleaf, “Presented by the very learned & ingenious author to Hester lynch Salusbury 1760,” but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Throughout my research I’ve been thinking about how these textbooks invite people to write in them, but this text makes the how very obvious: every other page is a blank leaf for notes! Accordingly, there are a lot of manuscript notes throughout the text that directly engage with or respond to the text. While there are all sorts of manuscript notes in the books I’ve examined, these notes reinforce the idea I’ve had that the blank leaves are the sites of the most writing. Of course, the obvious reaction to this observation is “Duh! That’s where the most space to write is!” But to that I say, why do we feel the need to write in our books at all? I think there is something about the blank leaf that specifically encourages us to write on it. Many of the texts I saw had manuscript notes that had nothing to do with the works, such as ownership marks and practicing handwriting; when there were notes in the works, there weren’t a tremendous amount of notes and they were often only one word. This text with its blank leaves, though, has a lot of notes in it that are sentences and sentences long. The author of the notes could have continued the tradition of short annotations because even though the page is blank, you don’t have to fill it with notes. However, they did. They adjusted their notes to fill the space because I think that there is something about humans that sees a blank page and sees something incomplete. For some reason, we need words on pages.

The last book I want to briefly mention, for this is only a sample of the books I examined while at the Houghton and yet I’m rapidly approaching two thousand words, is a copy of M.T. Varronis De lingua Latina from 1480. It has some small manuscript notes in the text of the work, but also has a much longer note in a front flyleaf that seems to be replicating the format of the text. This supports the idea I’ve proposed above about blank leaves inspiring writing, but I mostly wanted to discuss it because of the age of the book. It shows that people have always had this urge to mark their books. It shows that even in the exciting new days of print, we couldn’t let go of manuscript. And we still haven’t.

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