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  • A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology, 1450–2000
  • Arnold Hunt (bio)
A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology, 1450–2000. By Peter Beal. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008. xx + 457 pp. £55. ISBN 978 0 19 926544 2.

This book will be indispensable to anyone — librarian, archivist, book dealer, postgraduate student, or academic — who has ever had occasion to describe an early modern document or refer to a catalogue of manuscripts. It is a handy A to Z (well, A to Y, anyway) of some 1,500 terms relating to English manuscripts, from ABBREVIATIONS to YEAR-BOOKS. No one could be better qualified to compile it than Peter Beal, who must have handled thousands if not tens of thousands of manuscripts in the course of a long career at Sotheby's and the compilation of the Index of English Literary Manuscripts. He is generous with his erudition: the entry on SIGNATURE, for example, wanders learnedly into a discussion of the royal SIGN MANUAL and the use of ink-stamps to save busy monarchs the trouble of signing routine documents by hand, a practice that I was surprised to learn can be traced back as far as the reign of Henry VIII. He is also cheerfully opinionated, severe on the deficiencies of some of the existing BRITISH LIBRARY catalogues ('less than adequate for modern scholarly use') and even more scathing about the management executives who deemed it necessary ('deliberate obfuscation') to rebrand the Public Record Office as the NATIONAL ARCHIVES.

The book is comprehensive in its coverage, ranging from the familiar (AUTOGRAPH, SCRIBE) to the vaguely recognized (TOPONYMY) and the downright obscure (SWIB, WADSET). If you have ever wanted to know the difference between a HOLOGRAPH and an APOGRAPH, this is the place to look. (Beal describes the latter term as 'now virtually obsolete', though he might have cited its occurrence in Nabokov's Pale Fire: 'This is not a holograph but an apograph, made by a scribe for the printers.') I can find only a handful of omissions. The entry on SEALS omits to define a FLYING SEAL ('said of a letter with a seal attached but not closed, so that it may be read by a person who is requested to forward it to its destination', OED). The history of BLANK FORMS might have been covered in more detail (see STC 9175 and following), not forgetting the blank sheets printed with outline shields for use in armorials (e.g. [End Page 211] British Library, Harl. MSS 246 and 5862), or the blank sheets printed for Ralph Starkey (e.g. BL, Add. MS 39851) with what the British Library catalogue describes as 'engraved forms of charter shape'. (Starkey's forms, like Sir Simonds D'Ewes's drawings of charters in BL, Harl. MS 381, deserve mention in the entry on FACSIMILES as well.) There is an entry for EXCHEQUER, but no entry for treasury, nor for the humble TREASURY TAG. The LIBRARIAN gets an entry, but the ARCHIVIST does not. There is no general entry for ECCLESIASTICAL COURTS, though certain forms of ecclesiastical document (e.g. PRESENTMENT) do get entries of their own. And if CARBON COPY merits an entry, why not PHOTOCOPY?

There are just a few points where I differ from Beal. ADVERSARIA is defined as 'any kind of memorandum book or notebook, large or small, in which unassimilated matter is recorded or roughly entered just as occasion arises, without any conscious or formal arrangement', but there is no mention of the more common use of the term to refer to printed books with manuscript notes. Under JOUSTING CHEQUE we are told that 'no cheques appear to survive after the Elizabethan period', but there is at least one extant seventeenth-century example (BL, Add. MS 12514, fol. 169), from the short-lived chivalric revival of the early Stuart period. Under ROLL it would have been helpful to point out that a roll of arms does not have to take the physical form of a roll, but can be a bound volume. I have not previously encountered the use of VESTRY DOCUMENTS as a catch-all term for parish records, and would question its appropriateness, as not...


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