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  • In the Prayse of Writing: Early Modern Manuscript Studies eds. by S. P. Cerasano, and Steven W. May
  • Julie Davies
Cerasano, S. P., and Steven W. May, eds, In the Prayse of Writing: Early Modern Manuscript Studies, London, British Library Publishing, 2012; hardback; pp. 320; 50 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. £50.00; ISBN 9780712358576.

This volume contains fourteen essays on subjects relating to early modern manuscripts, composed in honour of Dr Peter Beal, a driving force behind the English Manuscript Studies 1100–1700 journal, the online Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450–1700, and A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology: 1450 to 2000 (Oxford University Press, 2009). For the most part, the manuscripts discussed in the volume are early modern, in English, and found in either British or American collections. However, the collection reflects the wide-ranging nature of Beal's interests. The manuscripts discussed are connected to a range of traditional literary figures such as Sir Philip Sidney, Lord Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, John Lane and Milton, as well as female writers including Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, and Anna Cromwell Williams. The essays themselves examine many different [End Page 188] physical elements of the manuscripts as well as a variety of methodological approaches to manuscript studies and different genres including poetry, theatre, correspondence, and notebooks.

The diversity of essays, while making for an eclectic collection, adds value to the volume as a whole. The essays are short and focused, enabling the volume to expose the reader to a wide array of possible approaches to studying manuscripts. Nevertheless, the submissions can be loosely grouped according to their contributions to the following generalized themes.

Boffey, Edwards, Cerasano, Kelliher, and Ezell use close textual analysis of original text, modifications, marginalia and shorthand to great effect and their findings demonstrate the diverse outcomes that these techniques offer. These essays successfully engage with questions surrounding the manuscript author's decision to use the vernacular over Latin, the traditional assumption that the oldest surviving version of a text is necessarily the most accurate (for a contained example see pp. 32–33), the recovery of the historical value of manuscripts tainted by known fraudulent alterations, and our biographical understanding of related figures, and their intentions for the volume they have produced.

Pitcher, Ioppolo, Wolfe, and Nelson broaden the focus by also considering the manuscripts themselves as material objects whose production, collection, and provenance provide significant historical insight through understanding of the non-textual codes of their production. These essays combine textual analysis with considerations of scribal production techniques and the fates of early modern manuscript collections with great effect. This group of essays challenges accepted attributions (pp. 114–15) and shows how additional insight can be gained by considering the life of a collection as a whole. Wolfe's intriguing investigation into the choices made when deciding how to seal a letter conveyed both emotion and intent to the recipient. Overall, these contributions demonstrate the importance of a holistic approach to manuscript studies.

Woudhuysen, Hammer, Duncan-Jones, May, and Marotti explore the genres of manuscript anthologies, notebooks, annotations and autograph poetry. Hammer shows how such ephemeral material, when it does survive, can provide a relatively rare and valuable opportunity to glimpse the political machinations and intrigues that accompanied events of this nature from a first-person perspective. These essays also introduce the reader to several of the new texts and variations contained in the manuscripts discussed. They explore how the shape and nature of such collections reflect the interests and opinions of the collectors themselves and examine both cultural and stylistic trends reflected in the volumes.

Given the diverse array of topics and collections explored in the volume, some attempt at grouping essays together in some way would have made it easier to identify the general themes of the work. Having this level of [End Page 189] focus would have, in turn, helped ameliorate the mildly disruptive sense of swapping back and forth between genres and methodologies that one experiences when reading through.

Nevertheless, the volume is a valuable read for anyone who uses manuscripts in their work, be they early modern British manuscripts or otherwise. The volume offers its readers...


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