It is a cliché of seventeenth-century studies that the shift in poetic mode and sensibility in the century had its counterpart in prose of that period – an observation more often stated than pursued. Only recently has close attention been paid to the process of literary circulation in the shift from script to print, or to the proliferation of literary genres in prose, or to the use of a radically revised rhetoric. What The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain maps and artfully anthologizes in a range of large distinguished papers is pursued more intensively in David McKitterick's Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order. These two books demonstrate in macro what is even more powerfully revealed in the detailed studies of Nicholas McDowell's The English Radical Imagination and Andrew McRae's Literature, Satire, and the Early Stuart State.
It is not possible to cite all the entries in volume 4 of The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Enough to say that the entries are of the high standard of the series. Obviously it is a reference work and not a book to be read through at a go. John Barnard's masterful depiction of printing and [End Page 985] publishing in this period is a major map of the subject. The collection is especially good on the effect of the advent of print and type on the nature of reading. Peter Beal on 'Donne and the Circulations of Manuscripts' picks up on what David McKitterick deals with in his treatment of printing at the two ancient universities: the unreliability of transmission. And Beal's careful account of the processes of manuscript circulation also deals with the coexistent circulation of printed and manuscript volumes.
In The Book in Britain 4, Parry further particularizes this history in his survey of the significance of patronage, an issue that is particularly relevant to Spenser and The Shepherd's Calendar. It is also relevant to Sidney's patronage of Bruno and to the powerful intervention in the field of James i and his son Prince Henry, a legacy still evident in the patronage of Dugdale's Monasticon and Antiquities and even in Dryden's Virgil. That this patronage inestimably improved the nature of publishing is the subject of Nicolas Barker's 'Editing the Past' on the work of Ussher, Spelman, Camden, Selden, Junius, and Dugdale: the great editors. James Carley extends this in his discussion of what was lost and saved from the manuscript tradition: the growing seventeenth-century sense of the integrity of manuscript works and the necessity of their preservation.
What seems most exhilarating in this volume of The Book in Britain, however, is the attention to popular literary genres that previously seemed beneath consideration. Alongside R.C. Simmons's treatment of a popular tradition that included everything from almanacs and ballads to textbooks is Lynette Hunter's equally fascinating study of books for daily life. Even Michael Brennan's account of the transmutation of travel writing into a new kind of discourse illuminates the process by which what had previously been anecdotal or formulaic became a genre. Within this attention to new genres falls Harold Love's survey of the Popish Plot narrative and T.A. Birrell's consideration of 'the journalism of orality' in the writing of Sir Roger L'Estrange.
This subject is extensively augmented in McKitterick...