Books and Readers in Early Modern England

Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies

Jennifer Andersen
Elizabeth Sauer
with an Afterword by Stephen Orgel
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Books and Readers in Early Modern England
    Book Description:

    Books and Readers in Early Modern England examines readers, reading, and publication practices from the Renaissance to the Restoration. The essays draw on an array of documentary evidence-from library catalogs, prefaces, title pages and dedications, marginalia, commonplace books, and letters to ink, paper, and bindings-to explore individual reading habits and experiences in a period of religious dissent, political instability, and cultural transformation. Chapters in the volume cover oral, scribal, and print cultures, examining the emergence of the "public spheres" of reading practices. Contributors, who include Christopher Grose, Ann Hughes, David Scott Kastan, Kathleen Lynch, William Sherman, and Peter Stallybrass, investigate interactions among publishers, texts, authors, and audience. They discuss the continuity of the written word and habits of mind in the world of print, the formation and differentiation of readerships, and the increasing influence of public opinion. The work demonstrates that early modern publications appeared in a wide variety of forms-from periodical literature to polemical pamphlets-and reflected the radical transformations occurring at the time in the dissemination of knowledge through the written word. These forms were far more ephemeral, and far more widely available, than modern stereotypes of writing from this period suggest.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0471-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Current Trends in the History of Reading
    (pp. 1-20)

    These quotations from Ben Jonson and John Milton epitomize the two main ways in which we think of books—as material objects and as systems. Jonson’s pun on “sheets” turns on the fact that early modern paper was made of cloth. Paper is the topic of the first chapter in Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin’s Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450–1800 (1990), frequently credited with advancing the concept of “book as object” in the study of book history. Milton, by contrast, regards books as “systems” or parts of a socio-cultural matrix. The latter notion of the...

  4. I. Social Contexts for Writing
    • 1 Plays into Print: Shakespeare to His Earliest Readers
      (pp. 23-41)

      As is well known, Shakespeare, at least in his role as playwright, had no interest in the printed book or in its potential readers. Performance was the only form of publication he sought for his plays. He made no effort to have them published and none to stop the publication or distribution of the often poorly printed versions that did reach the bookstalls. His own commitment to print publication was reserved for his narrative poetry.¹ His Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were published in carefully printed editions by his fellow townsman, Richard Field, and to each Shakespeare contributed a signed...

    • 2 Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible
      (pp. 42-79)

      Contemporary pronouncements about the death of the book are puzzling, for in many ways, it is the book form—the combination of the ability to scroll with the capacity for random access, enabling you to leap from place to place—that has provided the model which these other cultural technologies now seek to emulate. Computers, for instance, with their extraordinary powers of random access, are for most people extremely ungainly and unwieldy in their scroll functions. But computers take to a new level a crucial aspect of the ways in which we often use books—our ability, through bookmarks, to...

    • 3 Theatrum Libri: Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and the Failure of Encyclopedic Form
      (pp. 80-96)

      The beguiling manners of Burton’s Democritus Junior make it easy to suppose that the Anatomy of Melancholy performs more or less what it promises in its dauntingly preemptive Ramistic chart, supplemented by an index or “Table” beginning in the second edition of 1624. Readers have persisted in this understandable acquiescence despite their likely resistance to Burton’s résumé for the historical Democritus, featuring, at the outset, a virtually Orphic link with the natural order (1.2–3), proceeding with travels mapped so as to suggest a scheme of complementary sojourns in Egypt and Athens (including hints of the Alexandrian conquests envisioned by...

    • 4 Approaches to Presbyterian Print Culture: Thomas Edwards’s Gangraena as Source and Text
      (pp. 97-116)

      The phenomenon of cat baptism, associated with sectaries in the London of mid-1640s, can be illustrated from two very different sources. Surviving Middlesex quarter sessions records reveal that in August 1644 John Platt, a Golding Lane heel maker, and his wife Susan were bound over to appear in court, “for depraveing the two sacraments of Baptisme and the Lords Supper . . . (saying) that a Catt or a dogg may be as well baptised as any Child or Children in their Infancie.” This case dragged on for some months, prompting “tumult” in the streets with insults exchanged and physical...

  5. II. Traces of Reading:: Margins, Libraries, Prefaces, and Bindings
    • 5 What Did Renaissance Readers Write in Their Books?
      (pp. 119-137)

      Roger Stoddard has recently reminded us that “When we handle books sensitively, observing them closely so as to learn as much as we can from them, we discover a thousand little mysteries. . . . In and around, beneath and across them we may find traces . . . that could teach us a lot if we could make them out.”¹ During the past two decades, scholars have been increasingly concerned with making out, and making sense of, the mysterious traces that readers leave behind in their books. Both historical and literary studies have seen a renewed interest in the...

    • 6 The Countess of Bridgewater’s London Library
      (pp. 138-159)

      A recent survey of early modern women’s reading follows earlier scholarship in assuming that “few women developed libraries of their own.”¹ As a challenge to this widely held belief, this essay presents a case study of the London library of Frances (Stanley) Egerton, Countess of Bridgewater (1585–1636),² a collection, I argue, that was not extraordinary in its day. Many other women, particularly among the aristocracy, also amassed collections that left traces in the historical record. As I situate Lady Bridgewater’s case in the broader context of gendered reading and book ownership, I will explore the circulation of books in...

    • 7 Lego Ego: Reading Seventeenth-Century Books of Epigrams
      (pp. 160-176)

      Epigrammatists routinely refer to their own labor as writers, including the work of revising their poems, and for reasons that will soon become clearer, I start by invoking and participating in that tradition.

      As I researched Robert Herrick’s Hesperides (1648) a few years ago, I became interested in how frequently and urgently Herrick addresses his readers, particularly how he attempts to accommodate readers of disparate tastes in a single, flexible, but still monumental book.¹ After having published that research, however, I became concerned that I had been studying Herrick’s book primarily in terms of implied rather than actual readers, and...

    • 8 Devotion Bound: A Social History of The Temple
      (pp. 177-198)

      Bookbinding is the final stage in a mechanical process of reproduction, but in early modern Europe it must also be understood as the first act of reception. For a customer had a say, at least potentially, about several important aspects of the binding, including the materials and methods of decoration and the limits and order of the contents within. In other words, any given binding could be custom work and therefore speak of a customer’s tastes. With that idea in mind, this essay probes the role of binding as an act of reclamation, one that highlights the convergences of slippage...

  6. III. Print, Publishing, and Public Opinion
    • 9 Preserving the Ephemeral: Reading, Collecting, and the Pamphlet Culture of Seventtenth-Century England
      (pp. 201-216)

      In 1641, England experienced a culture shock—an explosion of small cheap books and broadsides reporting, commenting upon, and manipulating public events. That pamphlet culture waxed and waned until the Restoration, by turns more and less seductive. But it always remained a cultural presence, providing the greatest common denominator of public experience. Splitting the difference between high and low culture, pamphlets became the middlebrow point of contact of public life.¹ Peer and apprentice inhabited different material and mental worlds. So did conformist and sectarian, royalist and radical. Ostensibly defining their disagreements and differences, the pamphlet culture paradoxically brought the disparate...

    • 10 Licensing Readers, Licensing Authorities in Seventeenth-Century England
      (pp. 217-242)

      Historians and literary scholars of seventeenth-century England have argued in recent years that if the political upheaval which occurred there midway through that century revolutionized nothing else, it revolutionized reading.¹ Most seventeenth-century contemporaries would have agreed that the revolution they experienced was in large part constituted in the highly politicized act of (and greatly increased opportunity for) reading. While it is the case that England was simultaneously experiencing a number of revolutionary events and the population was undoubtedly deeply affected by occurrences such as battlefield combat between the king and his Parliament, it is also the case that the vast...

    • 11 Licensing Metaphor: Parker, Marvell, and the Debate over Conscience
      (pp. 243-260)

      As English citizens weary of sectarian battles welcomed their restored monarch in a groundswell of public concord, some might reasonably have hoped that the impulse toward national unity would help to settle long-standing disputes over liberty of conscience. King Charles II in the Breda Declaration had expressed willingness to “declare a liberty to tender consciences.”¹ Meanwhile, less magnanimous Restoration leaders felt they could afford to think of nonconformist sectarians, the most vociferous free conscience advocates, as a defeated, hence nonthreatening, minority. After 1660 it became increasingly acceptable to portray nonconformist language and habits of thinking as the remnants of a...

    • 12 John Dryden’s Angry Readers
      (pp. 261-281)

      When we consider John Dryden’s achievement today, it is rightly as the Restoration writer who most completely defines his age. A narrative of his ascent to national prominence would point first to his appointments as poet laureate in 1668 and as historiographer royal in 1670. It would note that in 1671 the success of The Conquest of Granada and of Marriage a-la-Mode confirmed his standing as one of London’s leading playwrights. By 1672, William Ramesey, physician in ordinary to Charles II, was recommending Dryden together with Chaucer, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Beaumont, and Fletcher to would-be gentlemen readers in The Gentlemans...

  7. Afterword: Records of Culture
    (pp. 282-290)

    The revolution in modern bibliographical studies has in large measure been effected through a willingness to notice what had been unnoticeable, to find evidence in the hitherto irrelevant; so that, for example, habits of reading, marginalia, and traces of ownership become as central to the nature of the book as format and typography, watermarks, and chain lines. The history of the book, we are coming to realize, is not simply a history of print technology; more important, the history of any particular book does not conclude with its publication. The fact that this collection focuses on readers, booksellers, and collectors...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 291-294)
  9. Index
    (pp. 295-305)