Friday, June 24, 2011

Two Centuries in the Life of a Biblical Commonplace Book

John Merbecke, A booke of notes and common places: with their expositions, collected and gathered out of the workes of diuers singular writers, and brought alphabetically into order: a worke both profitable and also necessarie, to those that desire the true vnderstanding & meaning of the holy Scripture.
Imprinted at London: By Thomas East, 1581
[44], 688, 699-1194 p. ; 19cm. (4to). Plain sheep binding

Our collection's only example of a printed commonplace book in English, this copy of Merbecke's Scriptural handbook is in fairly poor condition, as it clearly has been well used over time. Fortunately a dense layering of ownership inscriptions has survived on the book's opening leaves, documenting two centuries of male and female owners in the British Isles. 

The first inscription (in pencil), reads "W. Blacks Book Kelsocleugh [???] 9 1805 [?]" (Kelsocleugh or Kelso is in the Scottish Borders, Scotland.) In the next couple of leaves W. Black inscribes a prayer taken from Edward Young's verse "Paraphrase on part of the Book of Job," from The complaint: or, night-thoughts on life, death, and immortality. To which is added, a paraphrase on part of the Book of Job (first pub with the paraphrase in 1750; reprinted numerous times throughout second half of eighteenth century). Black has excerpted the paraphrase of Job 42, the book's final chapter.

It reads: 

William Black his Book
Kelsocleugh may the 7 180[*]
William Black Kelsocleug[h]

thou Canst accomplish all things lord of might
and evry thought is naked to thy Sight
But oh thy ways are wonderful and lie
Beyound the deepest reach of mortal eye
oft have I heard of thine almighty power
But never saw thee till this dreadful hou[r]
Oerwhelmed with shame the lord of life I see
abhor myself and give my soul to thee
Nor shall my weakness tempt thine anger mo[re?]
man was not made to question but adore
                        Job 42    1--7
on lifes fair tree fast by ^the^throne of god
what golden joys ambrosial Clustring glow

[second section]

O thou who dost permit these ills to fall
for gracious ends and would that man should mourn
O thou whose hands this goodly fabric framd
who knowst it best and wouldst that man should know
what is this sublunary world a vapour
a vapour all it holds itself a vapour
earths days are numberd or remote her doom
as mortall tho less transient than her sons
yet they doat on her as the world and they
were both eternal      Solid thou [a dream]

[in pencil] O thou [???? this penciled note is difficult to read]

E. Simpson Alnmouth
Jany 5th 1850

William Black transcribed the first part (before "Job 42 1--7") from the concluding lines of Young's "Paraphrase." He extracted the two lines at the bottom of the first page from "Night the First" of Night Thoughts. On the second leaf he wrote down a passage from the eighth night of the same poem. From this passage he omitted three lines between the last "vapour" and "earths days"; they read:

From the damp bed of Chaos, as they beam 
Exhaled, ordained to swim its destined hour
In ambient air, then melt and disappear.

Black attributes the poem to "young" in the final line. The penciled inscription  is in the same hand as William Black's 1805 [?] pencil signature (see above). An additional inscription in ink—"E. Simpson Alnmouth Jany 5th 1850"—documents the book's latest nineteenth-century owner. And as you probably noticed, the verso of the leaf with Black's transcription of Young's "Paraphrase" bears the inscription "W. Leydon."

The next two openings offer rich provenance information, recording numerous owners and dates while also preserving a notice of an early rebinding.

These two pages contain the following items in manuscript:

1) sums in an eighteenth century hand 
2) inscriptions of a Robert Jobson, one dated 1763
3) inscriptions of William Black, dated 1797
4) inscriptions of Thomas Leydon, dated 1794, Denholm [also in Scottish Borders]. Probably  related to the "W. Leydon" mentioned above.
5) pen trials in numerous hands
6) this note: "this Book was printed in the year 1581 Binded 1802 at verry great age"

Here is a similar list for the next opening (see below):

1) several inscriptions of Robert Jobson, one dated 1772
2) inscription of Mary Dent, Gateshead June 31th [sic] 1704
3) inscription of John Thomson, dated 1707
4) inscription of William Black, dated 1798

Most of these inscriptions, with the exception of Mary Dent's, have Scottish provenance. The note about the binding in 1802 (on the first leaf) is very interesting, capturing an owner's care for a treasured book "at verry great age." Here is a picture of the plainly bound sheepskin binding:

Sheepskin is softer but less durable than calf or goatskin, and for this reason few sheepskin bindings from the early modern period survive without a few tears or imperfections. Sheepskin was the cheap alternative to calf; the finest bindings were made from goat. 

None of the book's five former owners annotated the printed text of Merbecke's A booke of notes and common places, although the work remains interesting in its own right. Here are several sample images of the text which amply demonstrate the book's content and style:

One leaf bears a final ownership inscription, belonging to Thomas Leydon:

I haven't attempted to track down the identities of the book's former owners, although I am sure the answers lie in Google Books searching nineteenth-century English genealogical works. All in all a book with great manuscript content. This is one of two books we own with extensive Scottish provenance; the other is a copy of Sidney's Arcadia that I plan to write about at some point this summer.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Unique Copy of an East India Company Printed Oath

The Center's copy of King James I's Works (1616), as so many other copies of books with elaborate frontispiece portraits, is imperfect. It lacks the half-title leaf, the verso of which bears a portrait of the seated King engraved by Simon van de Pass. In complete copies the portrait faces the elaborate title page engraved by Renold Elstracke, which depicts peace and religion flanking a triumphantly ascendant crown. 

This happens of course—missing frontispieces. Art-lovers remove their favorite images for presentation on a wall or preservation in a scrapbook. Thieves and unscrupulous dealers excise illustrations (and more famously, maps) for individual sale. What is strange about this particular copy isn't the leaf's absence (a common enough condition), but the presence of something else, something that doesn't belong. 

At some point in the eighteenth century a former owner or bookbinder augmented the volume with a new leaf, an unrelated bibliographical item most likely printed over a century after the Workes' original date of publication. 

The leaf is actually a printed oath of allegiance to the East India Company, an ephemeral  document related to early commercial administration abroad. According to the document's text the company administered this oath to all commanders, mates, pursers, super-cargoes, and factors sailing on ships belonging to the United East India Company. 

Generically speaking, the leaf is a printed form intended for manuscript addition (the document contains a space left blank for the ship's name), and since the space has not been filled in we can assume it was never used as an official company document. 

Dating this item is extremely difficult for two reasons: 1) it lacks any and all publication data; and 2) it seems to be the only surviving copy. John Lancaster (our volunteer rare books cataloger) discovered this item, and he could not find a record of the imprint in any of the usual sources. It appears to be a unique copy (see ESTC N477829). Upon further examination, the sheet reveals a few more clues as to its approximate date range of publication. 

From 1698 to 1708 there were two commercial entities in England known as the "East India Company." Earlier legislation (1694) had deregulated English commerce on the Indian subcontinent, thereby encouraging a group of investors to form "The English Company Trading to the East Indies" in 1698. A decade of competition finally ended in 1708, when the two merged as "The United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East-Indies." Since this is the specific company name used on the form in question, we can confidently set a terminus a quo at 1708, the date of the merger.

document verso
document verso, inverted
document verso, inverted, detail
By flipping the document over, we see that it was once folded up and sent as correspondence. The little packet is docketed "James Goodchild at ye Green Man Canon Street ouer a Gainst Abchurch Laine Cuttler," in what looks like an eighteenth-century hand. The identity of this James Goodchild may reveal yet another clue about the date of the printed document. 

By searching for "James Goodchild" among Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills (via the National Archives' "Documents Online" service), I found two mid-eighteenth century Londoners of the same name: the first, a glazier, whose will dates 1729; the second, a cutler, with a will dating to 1751. Is this cutler the "James Goodchild...Cuttler" to whom the folded form is addressed?

The same figure is recorded in a few mid-eighteenth century London commercial directories. A "James Goodchild, Hardwareman, Cannon Street" is listed in the 1737 edition of The Directory: containing an Alphabetical list of the Names and Places of Abode of the Directors of Companies, etc. (p. 22). The same entry appears four years later in A compleat guide to all persons who have any trade or concern with the City of London and parts adjacent (p. 129). (Many tradesmen were known as both "cutlers" and "hardwaremen.") The Court Kalendar for both 1736 and 1737 lists a "James Goodchild" as Common-Councilor representing Candlewick Ward (a small ward just north of the Thames close to London Bridge, encompassing the areas of Abchurch Lane and Cannon Street).

I think it is probable that all of these refer to the same James Goodchild, who is also the James Goodchild who received the folded up East India Company document. This information allows us to set 1751—the date of James Goodchild's PCC will—as our publication date range's terminus ad quem. It appears, then, that the printed form could date anywhere between 1708 and 1751, although typographic evidence would suggest a date closer to 1751.

These binding scraps, made from what seems to be part of an uncut sheet used as printer's waste, could reveal even more clues about publication date, but I have been unable to identify the text. 

The title-page inscription of Stephens Thomson records that the book was a gift from "E. Stephens." The title page also features an early circular book stamp belonging to "Samuel Tvrner," perhaps the East India Company officer who lived from 1759 to 1802. 

The first few pages of the book contain some manuscript doodlings of minor importance.

The beginning of a face.
Fancy "R"?
Poor imitation of the historiated initial? 

While clues in the book have answered some of our questions, many more problems remain. I would be very interested in more information about East India Company printed forms c. 1700-1750 and the publication activities of the Company more generally in the eighteenth century. I found some information about an "R. Penny," printer for the East India Company, who died in the early 1760s, but I'm not sure if he had a hand in the printed oath. Catherine Pickett's Bibliography of the East India Company...1600-1785 (to be released on July 5) looks to be a promising resource.

Look for a potential update next week when I look for a watermark. 

UPDATE (6/23): Although I found a watermark on the printed document in question, its contours are obscured by the woodcut image of the East India Company's coat-of-arms. The watermark looks to be a large coat-of-arms, but without better equipment I simply can't determine for sure what it is. 

In other news, John Lancaster has identified the printed text used as binder's waste in this book:

John Downame, Lectures vpon the foure first chapters of the prophecie of Hosea. At London : Imprinted by Felix Kyngston [and T. East], for William Welby, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Churchyard at the signe of the Greyhound, 1608. 
STC 7145, ESTC S110223 (about a dozen copies recorded).

While the waste does not help us date the printed form (it was printed too early), it does help us date the binding to sometime after 1608.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

French Medicinal Recipes in Manuscript

Paul Dubé, Le medecin et le chirurgien des pauures. A Paris : Chez Edme Couterot, rue S. Jacques, [1671]. 
2 pts. in 1 v. ;  16 cm (12mo).

Literally translated as "the physician and surgeon of the poor," this book offers vernacular remedies for the indigent sick in seventeenth-century France. Paul LinkDubé was a physician and medical reformer from Montargis, France who specialized in the treatment of the poor—a concentration that earned him the title "Le père des pauvres" (the father of the poor). Dubé disapproved of expensive medical tinctures prepared according to Galenic recipes, complaining about their inaccessibility to the poor and even claiming they had no physical effect in France (as foreign medicines). As an alternative, Dubé suggests physicians concoct their medicines from local plants and herbs, thereby making the practice of physic cheaper and more convenient for physicians. Language was another factor in Dubé's drive for medical reform: rather than disseminating such knowledge in the universal scholarly language of Latin, he wrote his books in French, making the secrets of the physician available to all. 

The Center's copy of Dubé is particularly interesting because of its manuscript content. An early owner in perhaps the late-seventeenth or eighteenth century added manuscript medical recipes to the book's front and rear endpapers, in effect putting Dubé's advice into practice.
My French transcription/translation skills are not great, but I will do my best to at least identify these recipes. The first (shown above) is a recipe for a "Decoction fameuse," which contains elderberry (among other ingredients). 

The second recipe, a "Remede contre l’hidropisie" (remedy against dropsy [edema]), is another botanical remedy, its key ingredient being a half gross of the squill plant infused for a day in white wine ("un demi gros de scil que vous serez infusee pendant
24 heures dans une bouteille de vin blanc"). 

The book's third and final leaf of manuscript notes contains a recipe for a "Potion qui d’esaltére et excite la libertée du ventre" (potion to refresh and stimulate the liberty of the belly), which contains both tamarind and ground barley.

More research (preferably by an expert in French) could reveal the extent to which these manuscript recipes actually follow the advice Dubé lays out in the printed book. While tamarind may have been a rarer ingredient at the time, I'm sure "une bouteille de vin blanc" was on-hand in most French households. 

I'll be away for the next ten days, so expect another entry the week of 6/13.