marginalia

Personal Reasons: On Mai-mai Sze’s Motivations for Reading and Annotating

By guest contributor Erin Schreiner

In studying annotations, we think of ourselves as entering into an otherwise impenetrable space: the mind of another reader. As I’ve looked closer and closer at Mai-mai Sze’s books and the marks she made in them, I’ve been especially curious about one thing. What motivated her to read so intensely? After all, she published only one work of scholarship in 1956 at the age of 47. After that she was neither writing nor teaching, but she was littering the margins of her books on eastern and western philosophy, religion, art, and history with notes in both English and Chinese. Why? As I’ve spent more time with both her as both reader and writer, I think I’m getting closer to an answer.

Annotations from Mai-mai Sze’s copy of Science and Civilisation in China, volume 2.

Annotations from Mai-mai Sze’s copy of Science and Civilisation in China, volume 2.

One of the books that Mai-mai read with the greatest care was Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China. Of the fifteen volumes she owned, the second on the history of scientific thought in China is by far the most carefully studied. In this book Needham comprehensively explores the relationship between Chinese philosophy and its role in shaping scientific thought and study in China. He boldly argued that Taoists, “whose speculations about, and insight into, Nature, fully equalled pre-Aristotelian Greek thought, and lie at the basis of all Chinese science.” ((1) For more on this argument, see Nathan Sivin’s fascinating study of the relationship between Taoists and science.) This controversial point was of great interest to Mai-mai, and guided her reading of every book in the series. While this entire volume is heavily annotated, her interests in Taosim in particular come to light through her extensive marginal notes in section 10, “The ‘Tao Chia’ and Taoism.”

Mai-mai’s interests in Taoist philosophy can be traced back to her translation of The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, which the Bollingen Foundation published in 1956 as a two-volume set with her only published piece of scholarship, The Tao of Painting: A Study of the Ritual Disposition of Chinese Painting. “The main intent of this inquiry,” as Mai-mai wrote in her introduction, “has been to seek a fresh approach to Chinese painting by exploring the main features of the tao or Chinese ‘way’ of painting and tracing and relating these aspects to the ideas a the source of Chinese life and thought.” (Volume 1, ix) The intention of volume two of The History of Science and Civilisation in China, published in the same year, was much the same, and I think that this that drove her to read the book with the remarkable intensity conveyed in her copious annotations.

Annotations from Mai-mai Sze’s copy of Science and Civilisation in China, volume 2.

Annotations from Mai-mai Sze’s copy of Science and Civilisation in China, volume 2.

Much like early modern readers like Gabriel Harvey or Adam Winthrop, Mai-mai read Needham alongside several other books, and cross-referenced these in her penciled notes. She occasionally references secondary sources, such as Percy J. Bruce’s study of the Neo-Confucianist Chu Hsi, but her most common references are to the philosophical texts that Needham used to support his arguments about the relationship between philosophy and science. Throughout the book, Mai-mai copied the original texts in Chinese into the margins, often with English translations by Arthur Waley others, contrasting Needham’s translations of Laozi, Zhuangzi, and other philosophers. Her copies of these texts – many published a decade or more after Science and Civilisation in China, suggesting that her interests in Needham’s work evolved over time – also contain references back to Needham.

Mai-mai’s interests in Taoism and her emphasis on the translation and interpretation of primary sources as a reader and annotator suggest two things. First, it establishes her as the Bollingen specialist on Chinese esotericism, alongside Cary F. Baynes, the translator of Richard Wilhelm’s German translations of the I Ching. As William McGuire makes clear in his memoir, Bollingen was as much a cohort of scholars and thinkers as it was a publishing enterprise. His memoir and correspondence with her (now part of his archive at the Library of Congress) show that her relationship with him and with some other Bollingen thinkers – particularly Maud Oakes and Natacha Rambova, both women artist-scholars without advanced academic training, like Mai-mai– continued almost to her death, long after the publication (and republication) of The Tao of Painting and the dissolution of the Bollingen Foundation by Paul Mellon in 1963. Although the specifics of her participation in and the overall cohesion of the group remain mysterious to me, her reading and her correspondence help to better situate Mai-mai within a very well defined group of writers and scholars with interests in esoteric humanism broadly conceived.

Second, Mai-mai’s annotations in English and Chinese show that language and translation were a lifelong obsession, continuing long after her only published translation of a Chinese text. Although she was born in China, she was raised primarily in England and America and spoke only rudimentary Chinese. Wellesley did not offer instruction in the Chinese while she attended the college in the late 1920s; she was entirely self-taught in classical form of the language. In The Tao of Painting, Mai-mai wrote much on the paleographical history and etymology of Chinese characters, expressing the relationships between the written language and the ways in which characters themselves help to illuminate certain philosophical concepts. While the book was positively reviewed in several publications, two critics – Nelson I. Wu and James F. Cahill – condemned the Tao of Painting, specifically because of errors in the translation and disagreements with her viewpoint in her study of the relationship between Chinese philosophy and painting. Cahill was particularly harsh, devoting three full pages to mistranslations and factual errors. These criticisms must have deeply wounded Mai-mai, a devoted reader of reviews. Considered alongside her annotations, which show the intensity and duration of her study of Chinese philosophy, language and translation, Nelson and Cahill’s criticisms may help to explain why the Tao of Painting was her first and last scholarly publication.

Mai-mai Sze’s notes on the concept of yin and yang, in Chinese and English.

Mai-mai Sze’s notes on the concept of yin and yang, in Chinese and English.

In the memoir of her child- and young adulthood, Echo of a Cry (1945), Mai-mai describes learning the French word deraciné: one who is uprooted from her native society. Throughout her life, Mai-mai struggled to bridge the gap between the disparate cultures she was raised in, without ever feeling that she was truly part of any one of them. This internal struggle took on an intense form and meaning in her reading and, at least up to 1956, her writing. Mai-mai’s reading was part of her search for identity in a world in which she felt she belonged to neither the culture of her birth in the east nor the society of her upbringing and adult life in the west. With Mai-mai Sze, reading, annotating, and translating was an intensely personal act that that helped her to situate herself in the world; it was a lifelong pursuit.

Erin Schreiner is the Special Collections Librarian at the New York Society Library. You can see Mai-mai Sze’s annotated books there at Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books (through to August 15, 2015).

Breadcrumbs in the Library

by guest contributor Erin Schreiner

In the spring of 1989, Mai-mai Sze (1909-1992) and her partner Irene Sharaff (1910-1993) were looking for a home for their library. The collection is strong in East Asian religion, philosophy, and scientific history and well-stocked with classics in translation, English literature, books on art, and western philosophy from ancient to modern. After rejections from Wellesley College, Sze’s alma mater, and Yale, where the School of Drama Library had taken a portion of Irene’s drawings and designs, the couple looked elsewhere. Through a connection at the Cosmopolitan Club, the books came to the New York Society Library, a subscription library founded in 1754 and the oldest library of any kind in New York City. All biases aside (I’m the Special Collections Librarian there), it’s a good fit. Founded as a secular alternative to the Anglican King’s College Library, the Society Library has always operated outside of the academy or perhaps as an autodidact’s alternative toit. As the scholarly character of their heavily annotated library suggests, the Sharaff/Sze Collection is a living record of two creative, educated women who maintained an intense and active engagement in scholarly culture throughout their lives. Today, their books show how these two artist-intellectuals engaged with literary and scholastic culture in New York City in the twentieth century, and carried on a long established tradition of engaged reading that extends far beyond the library.

Irene Sharaff is not nearly so present in the collection as Mai-mai Sze. Best remembered for her translation of the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Bollingen Foundation, 1956), Sze never established a career as a scholar or translator, but she read like one. Her annotations in books like Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China (the subject of my follow-up post) are full of cross-references and translations, and she often wrote her own indexes. In addition to her notes, Sze’s books preserve a biblio-geographical breadcrumb trail connected to a global community of intellectual readers.

Mai-mai Sze’s copy of John Donne: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose.  London: The Nonesuch Press, 1932.  Clipping laid in at rear cover.  Smith, A. J. "A John Donne Poem in Holograph." Times Literary Supplement [London, England] 7 Jan. 1972: 19. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

Mai-mai Sze’s copy of John Donne: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose. London: The Nonesuch Press, 1932.

Clippings from the Times Literary Supplement also turn up inside the front and rear covers of more than 50 books in the collection, as do reviews from the Manchester Weekly Guardian, The New Statesman, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Saturday Review. Sze relied on the TLS in particular as an intellectually rigorous literary weekly covering a wide range of disciplines to connect her with a global community of informed readers with dedicated interests as far-reaching as her own. The collection itself is extremely broad in scope and may appear haphazard, but the clippings show that the books were carefully chosen. Mai-mai snipped and dated TLS reviews for books on Chinese medicine, for an annotated edition of George Malcolm Young’s Portrait of an Age, novels by Iris Murdoch and religious philosophy by Frithjof Schuon. She also clipped and saved reviews on topics of interest, like the poetry of John Donne, that were printed long after she had bought a book. The book itself is thus an index of sorts for her exploration of a given topic, showing that she kept up with scholarship in these areas throughout her lifetime.

Clipping laid in at rear cover. Smith, A. J. "A John Donne Poem in Holograph." Times Literary Supplement [London, England] 7 Jan. 1972: 19. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

Clipping laid in at rear cover. Smith, A. J. “A John Donne Poem in Holograph.” Times Literary Supplement [London, England] 7 Jan. 1972: 19. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

And what’s more, Sze’s annotations show how the TLS guided her active and intense reading. In a 1964 review of W.A.C.H. Dobson’s Mencius: A New Translation Arranged and Annotated for the General Reader, I.A. Richards wrote, To enjoy Mr. Dobson’s version fully we need to have Legge’s (or Courvreur’s) open on the table too to help us in recognizing its felicities and theirs. And also the Chinese characters, if only to hold constantly before us the contrast between a succinct and resonant utterance and the relatively relaxed ramble of vocables that readable English sentences employ. Sze read and annotated Dobson’s Mencius not only with Legge’s translation in hand, but also with his translations of the Confucius’s Great Learning (referenced as T.H. “Ta Hsueh”) and The Doctrine of the Mean (referenced as C.Y. for “Chung yung”). Following Richards’s advice to the letter, she also transcribed the original Chinese.

Mencius.  Mencius: a new translation arranged and annotated for the general reader.  London: Oxford University Press, 1963, with annotations by Mai-mai Sze.  Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Mencius. Mencius: a new translation arranged and annotated for the general reader. London: Oxford University Press, 1963, with annotations by Mai-mai Sze. Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Fig2_Mencius1

Mencius. Mencius: a new translation arranged and annotated for the general reader. London: Oxford University Press, 1963, with annotations by Mai-mai Sze. Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Booksellers’s labels also connected Sze with an international community of scholarly-minded readers in more direct and personal ways. In New York, she visited the Holliday Bookshop, Gotham Book Mart, The Paragon Book Gallery, Books & Co., Orientalia, and Museum Books. In Europe, we find her at Heffer’s in Cambridge, Blackwell’s and Parker’s in Oxford, W. & G. Foyle and the Times Book Club in London, and Galignani’s in Paris. Shops like these catered to educated readers, many of whom were also active members of academic, literary, dramatic, and artistic circles. The Gotham Book Mart and Books & Co. are particularly well known for the social, literary-artistic scenes they fostered, and the others pop up (like Sze herself) in the memoirs of New York writers and artists who worked, shopped, and socialized there.

Booklabels in the Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Booklabels in the Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Few of Sze’s letters survive, and the best are in bookshop archives. In the 1950s, she corresponded with bookseller and sometime literary critic Terence Holliday. The muted-gray label of the Holliday Bookshop appears more often than any other in the Sharaff/Sze Collection. The 49th Street bookstore was founded in 1920 by Terence and Elsa Holliday, and specialized in English imports. The Hollidays drafted a memoir of the life at the shop (printed in The Book Collector, volume 61, issues 3-4), and they wrote that they decided to “stick strictly to the selling of books. There were to be no side lines, no gifts, no tea serving, no authors’ parties. And we would never have a shop on the street level.” This was a shop for readers who wanted their booksellers to know how to find out of print and specialized publications. It was for people who read a lot, who read reviews, who called the shop and placed orders for themselves and for their friends. This letter from Theodore Bernstein to Mai-mai (c. 1944) shows that he called the bookshop to have three titles on Shakespeare by John Dover Wilson sent to her as a Christmas gift.

Theodore Bernstein to Mai-mai Sze, 15 Dec. 1944?  Sharaff/Sze Collection File, Institutional Archives, New York Society Library (click for larger view)

Theodore Bernstein to Mai-mai Sze, 15 Dec. 1944? Sharaff/Sze Collection File, Institutional Archives, New York Society Library (click for larger view)

Sze wrote Mr. Holliday in 1943, when she lived just 12 blocks from the shop on 37th street to thank him for yet another gift. Eleven years later she wrote again to set a date for an informal “seminar,” saying that she would bring her copy of “Karlgren’s book on the Chinese language,” which is annotated and part of the Sharaff/Sze Collection today.

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952.  Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College (click for larger view)

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952. Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College (click for larger view)

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952.  Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College.

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952. Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College (click for larger view)

Collections like Mai-mai Sze’s vividly show us just how actively cosmopolitan intellectuals developed their minds, in both public and private spheres. In many ways, her reading extends the kind of knowledge-gathering we see in early moderns like the Winthrops, a familial network of readers who relentlessly cultivated their minds across continents and generations. In Mai-mai Sze’s library we see how the tireless reader thoughtfully picking her own path through the vast territory of human knowledge—on a global scale, from the distant past to the present—traversed the twentieth century.

Erin Schreiner is the Special Collections Librarian at the New York Society Library. You can see Mai-mai Sze’s annotated books there at Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books (through to August 15, 2015).

Personal Philology

by guest contributor Richard Calis

For those who care to look closely enough, the world of early modern philology has many treats in store. Contrary to its reputation as nit-picking, dull scholarship, philology is in fact a discipline full of love, strife, passion and emotion. One such passionate and dedicated, yet now sadly unknown practitioner was Pieter Fontein (1708-1788). A student of the renowned Dutch philologist Tiberius Hemsterhuis in Leiden, Fontein became a teacher at the Mennonite Church in Amsterdam in 1739 and would remain so until his death some fifty years later. Over his career, Fontein amassed an impressive collection of Latin and Greek classics, all of which he bequeathed to his church, except for a small group of related books on the Greek philosopher Theophrastus. It is this collection of forty-three Theophrastiana (currently in the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam) that brings back to life the philological achievements of a scholar who never made it into the annals of classical philology.

Casaubon's annotated copy of Theophrastus. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D17.

Casaubon’s annotated copy of Theophrastus. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D17.

It is still unclear when exactly Fontein amassed his books, but our story begins in 1754, when he was spending his days reading a rather special book from the collection of the then-famous botanist and Professor of Anatomy Willem Röell (1700-1775). The book that Fontein found so absorbing was a 1542 edition of Theophrastus’ Opera Omnia, printed at the famous Froben press in Basel. Moreover, the book was nothing less than a working copy of that great Theophrastus scholar Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), who, over a century earlier, had adorned its pages with numerous notes and annotations.

In 1591, Casaubon had published his own edition of Theophrastus’ Characteres, a lively set of character sketches known for its problematic text and manuscript transmission yet also the philosopher’s most popular work. Ever since, Casaubon was known to the world of scholarship as the single most important authority on Theophrastus, a reputation that was not lost on Fontein. In fact, the primary reason that Fontein took an interest in Röell’s book was because of Casaubon’s marginal notes. This, at least, is suggested by the way in which Fontein treated them: when he went to examine the book, Fontein bought and brought with him his own clean copy of the same 1541 edition —no mean feat more than two centuries after its publication— and herein copied nearly every single annotation that Casaubon had left in his book. For pages on end, Fontein faithfully transcribed Casaubon’s notes in his own beautifully regular eighteenth-century hand.

Casaubon's notes. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D17.

Casaubon’s marginal notes. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D17.

Fontein's transcription of Casaubon's notes. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D19.

Fontein’s transcription of Casaubon’s annotations. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM: Hs VII D19.

We may pause for a moment to appreciate the great intimacy of this —to my knowledge— unique practice of relocating marginalia from an annotated copy to a pristine one. To Fontein, these were not only notes explicating a text, but also the material evidence of the reading and annotating practice of one of his greatest predecessors. We know of scholars who organized their information in commonplace books but buying a two hundred year old edition to copy notes in was not everyday practice; not even for Fontein, whose book collection does not seem to include any other such inscribed copies. It will come as little surprise then that Fontein would even go on to buy Röell’s book in 1767, when the latter found himself in rough financial waters. After all, a transcription of Casaubon’s annotations was surely no replacement for the original.

By then, Fontein had steadily collected more and more Theophrastus editions dating from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Some of them were densely annotated. This collecting spree was undoubtedly aimed at gathering every bit of information on Theophrastus that was available. As another copy from his library attests, Fontein was concurrently working on his own edition of the Characteres, Originally, he drafted his material in a small, handy octavo reprint of Casaubon’s edition, published in Cambridge in 1712. Yet today it can hardly be recognized as such: the edition is now completely interleaved with huge folio-sized pages, all of them awash with Fontein’s corrections, notes and interpretations. From these ‘additions’, one can observe how he continuously reworked the text. Fontein crossed out sentences, rewrote entire paragraphs, emended or explicated words, and crammed new notes in the margins of the margins. There are at least four drafted introductions to the work and its author, some prolegomena and countless comments and notes on the Greek; horror vacui takes on a whole new meaning.

Fontein's working notes on Theophrastus. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM Hs. XVI A5.

Fontein’s working notes on Theophrastus. By permission of the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Shelf mark: OTM Hs. XVI A5.

Sadly, the project came to nothing, as Fontein died before its completion. But even in his final days, the philologist’s passion for the project burned steadily. In his will —made in 1769, specified in 1775, and now in the Amsterdam City Archives— Fontein gifted all his books to the Mennonite Church with the sole exception of the Theophrastiana, which he wanted to keep to himself. We can almost see how the elderly Fontein with only a handful of necessary books unceasingly fine-tuned his views on a notoriously elusive text, while continuously adding new material to his already massive commentary. Again and again he kept revising, never gave up, and continually worked on a more accurate edition, with Theophrastus on his mind and his cherished Casaubon on his desk. What a character he was.

Richard Calis is a first-year Ph.D. student in history at Princeton University. He has worked for Annotated Books Online (ABO)—which provides online access to three of Fontein’s books— and is predominantly interested in book history, marginalia, news, and the various cultures of the Medieval and Early Modern Mediterranean.

Imagining the World of Early Print

By guest contributor Devani Singh

"Private Lives of Print: The Use and Abuse of Books 1450 - 1550" at Cambridge University Library. Photo by M. McMahon.

“Private Lives of Print: The Use and Abuse of Books 1450 – 1550” at Cambridge University Library.

Amongst the incunabula or “cradle books” – those produced before 1500, in the infancy of printing – currently on display at the Cambridge University Library is a more recent manuscript. It is an autograph copy of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”: a response, in verse, to what the Poet Laureate dubs the “the world’s most unreadable text” of the same name, a dizzying amatory dream narrative printed in Venice in 1499. Like the sonnet response to the book penned by sixteen-year-old Sisto Medici (1501/02 – 1561) on this copy’s title page, Duffy’s poem is an homage to the human relationship with early printed books and texts. “How we know what we love—”, Duffy’s poem wonders, “what we make, or hold, or pass on with our hands”. In this exhibition, “The Private Lives of Print”, focused as it is on celebrating not only the technical achievements of the first European printers, but also books’ subsequent reinventions in the hands of later owners, such lines might serve as an anchor for thinking about encounters with the products of the hand-press period, historical and recent.

England’s first printer, William Caxton, was a mercer by training; he learned the technique for printing books in Cologne, planning to incorporate these new goods into his mercantile business (ODNB). The items that he printed in Flanders supplied the English market abroad with the first books produced in the language. And the texts on display at the University Library confirm that many of the books he and his contemporaries made were intended to travel. Incunabula moved along the familiar Continental trade routes, tracing paths that Caxton had travelled to sell his wares —perhaps even manuscripts — long before he acquired a printing press (ODNB). From printing house to illuminators and binders, from authors to patrons, and from readers old to new, the striking mobility of the early printed volume at the hands of historical agents is underlined here.

A defaced woodcut of Thomas Becket. Cambridge University Library. Photo by M. McMahon.

A defaced page of the life of St. Thomas Becket. Cambridge University Library. Photo by M. McMahon.

One of the exhibition’s centerpieces is a Gutenberg Bible (Mainz, 1455), once used to set copy for a Latin Bible printed in Strasbourg around 1469/1470, and here displayed alongside its exemplar. Paul Needham, who discovered the relationship between these two books, contributes an essay to the CUL’s virtual exhibition, recounting a remarkable narrative of this Gutenberg Bible’s early history that unfolded even as it sat unsold for over a decade (see also his essay here). When early printed books did reach the hands of purchasers, of course, they were often modified further, sometimes irreversibly so. One of the exhibition’s English books is a translation of the Legenda aurea, printed in London by Wynkyn De Worde around 1498/1499. Preserving an act of later censorship, this copy bears a lattice of dark ink across the remaining pages of the life of St. Thomas of Canterbury — the “hooly blissful martyr” of Chaucer’s Tales — whose cult was proscribed in 1538 by Henry VIII.

Some readerly interventions, on the other hand, have been reversed by the classifying tendencies of modern libraries, as in some of Caxton’s works on display: The Boke of Curtesye and Anelida and Arcite, once bound together with six other pamphlets into a reader-assembled composite unit. This volume saw its constituent parts separated into distinct codicological units at the University Library in the mid-nineteenth century (Gillespie, “Poets, Printers, and Early English Sammelbände”, 195). Here, an attempt is made to restore the pamphlets’ earlier configuration, as the curators return the eight booklets to proximity, inviting us to imaginatively reconstruct their existence in prior centuries as a single book.

Both edifying and divertive acts of reading are documented, sometimes in the same volume, as in a popular Latin volume on the Trojan war printed at Messina in 1498 composed of Dictys Cretensis’ De bello troiano and Dares Phrygius’ De excidio Troiae historia. One reader rendered full-page ink drawings of Roland and Hector on the book’s endpapers, transcribing additional Latin verse alongside them. But most visually arresting, perhaps, are not the drawings and dense annotations added to some books, nor even the sumptuous professional gilding and hand-coloured woodcuts that adorn the more lavish volumes in the collection, asserting the reliance of the new trade in printed books on familiar ways of beautifying them.

Rather, the eye is drawn to a group of books near the far end of the Milstein Exhibition Centre, showcasing a range of bindings in which contemporary owners covered their books. Their descriptions alone evoke the bindings’ sensuous quality — for instance, that of the delicate humanist knot-tooling on a black goatskin binding of Cornelius Nepos’ Vitae Excellentium Imperatorum (Venice, 1471), or of the pink-stained alum-tawed sheepskin that encloses a monastic copy of Cicero (Cologne, 1472). These tangible relics of previous owners and past readings permit an imaginative encounter with the people who made, cared for, and used these volumes, and with the myriad motivations these historical agents brought to their encounters with the leather, metal, wood, paper, ink, or vellum that comprise the books seen here.

The frisson that we experience from our own encounters with material texts is no doubt heightened by an awareness of their movement across time and through unknowable pairs of hands — what Duffy’s poem calls “the human chain”. That early printed texts often preserve both the intentionality and idle whims of their makers and readers is a substantial facet of their attractiveness.

Yet the CUL incunabula also speak productively of absences. One composite volume of three texts printed at Louvain in the 1480s tells of another type of chain — this one physically lacking, but evident from holes in its distinctive binding. This missing chain tethered the bound book to a lectern, probably in a Cambridge library, in the late fifteenth century.

In the case of this Cambridge book, in the compilation described above, or in the sole extant leaf of a broadside almanac offering guidance of the appropriate purging regimens for a given place (Budapest) and a given year (1475), we encounter early printed books and texts differently than their first readers did. The text of broadsides like this one would lose utility and thus, value outside of their localised geographical and temporal contexts, and were likely recycled for their physical material. This ephemerality is instructive, and grants the space to interpret archival absences. In doing so, we might better apprehend the loss, mutability, and destruction — both intentional and inevitable — that necessarily characterise the history of early printed texts.

Private Lives of Print: The Use and Abuse of Books 1450-1550 is curated by Ed Potten and is on display at the Milstein Exhibition Centre, Cambridge University Library, until April 11, 2015.

Devani Singh is a Gates Cambridge Scholar completing a Ph.D. in English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where she is studying early modern readers of Chaucer’s printed editions. She is also interested in Renaissance historiography and in early modern uses of medieval books and texts.

Annotations and Generations (II)

by guest contributor Frederic Clark

Adam Winthrop died in 1623—seven years before his son John would board the Arbella and sail to Massachusetts. John Winthrop’s son, John Jr., was studying abroad at Trinity College Dublin at the time. His father wrote to inform him of his grandfather’s passing, explaining that Adam had enjoyed a peaceful death: “He hathe finished his course and is gathered to his people in peace, as the ripe corne into the barne. He thought longe for the daye of his dissolution, and wellcomed it most gladlye.” John Sr. also consoled his absent son, reminding him that “no distance of place, or lengthe of absence, can abate the affection of a lovinge father towardes a dutyfull well deservinge childe.”

Yet shortly in the same letter, John Sr. followed this poignant, affective language with a quick reflection on a different form of distance—namely, that between his son and his books. John Jr. had written earlier to ask his father for a Latin dictionary, Thomas Cooper’s Thesaurus linguae Romanae et Britannicae. John Sr. explained that travel conditions between England and Ireland were not ideal: “for Coopers dictionary I will sende it you so soon as I can but it is so difficult and hazardable.” Even as they mourned the loss of the family patriarch (who had built their familial book collection), the Winthrops continued to exchange books—even across bodies of water if necessary.

Adam Winthrop’s books made a far more “difficult and hazardable” journey less than a decade later, this time across the Atlantic. Once in the New World, John Jr. continued to annotate items from his grandfather’s library. At some point, he also began to acquire books from the libraries of far more famous scholars. John Jr. developed a special fascination for the books of John Dee (1527-1608/9). An advisor to Queen Elizabeth, Dee had also been an enthusiastic student of alchemy, esotericism, and the occult—subjects for which the young Winthrop developed a lifelong devotion (documented most recently in Walter Woodward’s rich study). And Dee’s library—one of the largest book collections in sixteenth-century England—constituted a treasure trove of information on such topics.

Like his grandfather Adam, John Winthrop Jr. was an avid annotator. However, he was not just a producer, but also a consumer of marginalia. He was interested not only in the books in Dee’s library, but also in how Dee himself had written in them. As Bill Sherman and others have shown, Dee was one of the early modern world’s most prodigious and creative of annotators. Perhaps nowhere is John Jr.’s obsession with the mechanics of marginalia clearer than in his copies of two books by the German physician and occultist Paracelsus (1493-1541). Both had formerly belonged to John Dee, who filled them with extensive notes. Again like his grandfather, John Jr. used annotation as a means of contextualization. But instead of jotting down details on Paracelsus’ composition of the texts, he produced meticulous (and rather repetitious) descriptions of Dee’s own notes.

Below one of these notes in Paracelsus’ Baderbuchlin—whose title page bore the inscription “Joannes Dee 1562”—John Jr. exhaustively catalogued every way that Dee had written in the book: “the above written and the name on the top of the frontispice of this booke and the writing in the middle of the frontispice and the severall notes in the margent through the whole booke, was written by that famous philosopher and chimist John Dee.” He then proclaimed, “I have divers bookes that were his wherein he hath written his name and many notes…”

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

In another of Dee’s Paracelsus books, Das Buch meteorum, John Jr. said nearly the exact same thing. As he explained, “the writing on the next leafe and the name on the top of the frontispice and the marginall notes in the booke were written by that famous and learned philosopher John Dee.” Just in case there were any doubts, he reiterated that everything was in Dee’s “owne handwriting,” and that “this book was his while he lived.” Again he asserted that “I have divers other bookes…that came out of his study,” while adding that Dee’s notes made then “farre the more precious.”

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

While John Jr. perfected the art of effusive meta-marginalia, he also used annotation to fix his own acts of reading in time and space. We close with one of the more curious items in the vast Winthrop library, namely a 1589 bibliography of Florentine writers or Catalogus scriptorum Florentinorum omnis generis. This Florentine bibliography belonged to the same genre as John Bale’s Catalogus of British writers—an aid that had proven essential to Adam Winthrop’s reading. John Jr.’s otherwise clean copy contains but a single note found beside the entry for the Renaissance Neoplatonist philosopher Marsilio Ficino. When the bibliography enumerated the contents of the first volume of Ficino’s collected works, it triggered John Jr.’s memory. He recorded in Latin that “I saw this volume when I read from the book De sole and De lumine in the library of the college of Edinburgh, when I was in Scotland in the year 1634.”

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

Although we cannot say with certainty whether John Jr. explicitly followed Dee’s practice here, this note was classic Dee. Dee was himself an enthusiastic annotator of bibliographies, which he filled with numerous references to the many books he possessed or had seen. In addition, John Jr.’s casual reference to reading Ficino in Edinburgh allows us to track the precise itinerary of his first trip back to the Old World after his 1631 arrival in New England—the first of several such journeys. On both sides of the Atlantic, John Winthrop Jr. continued a family tradition of annotation begun by his grandfather Adam. This tradition enabled him to record acts of reading performed by an eminent scholar almost a century before and an ocean away. And along the way, it facilitated remembrance of his own travels, both readerly and literal.

Frederic Clark received his PhD from Princeton in 2014 and is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. His research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe, especially book history, classical reception, and the history of historical thought. He, Erin Schreiner, and JHI Blog editor Madeline McMahon are the curators of Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library (through to August 15, 2015).

Annotations and Generations

by guest contributor Frederic Clark

The history of reading has recently witnessed an explosion of interest, doing much to transform and reinvigorate the practice of intellectual history. Although recent histories of reading range across every conceivable genre and period, early modern Europe has played a starring role in the rise of this field of study. This is due above all to the fact that many early modern readers were prodigious annotators.

But we, with our taste for self-reflexive inquiries, are hardly the first to contextualize the acts of readers. Early modern annotators often obsessively detailed the circumstances of their reading—recording where and when they read their books, what other books they owned, and in turn what other books the authors themselves had read. Such annotations wove together an elaborate web, linking multiple books and readers to one another, while fixing each respectively in space and time. These meditations on reading facilitated the movement of books across continents and oceans, or through the generations of a single family.

One of the most famous of these annotating families transported their books from the Old World to the New. We remember this family—the Winthrops—for the outsized role they played in the politics of colonial New England. They were perhaps the first American political dynasty. But they were also a family of readers—obsessive annotators in precisely the fashion described above. And as they were so often in motion, so too were their books.

When we hear the name Winthrop, John Winthrop Sr. (1587/8-1649) likely first springs to mind along with his famous declaration upon approaching the shores of Massachusetts—namely, that he and his fellow Puritans had come to found a “city on a hill.” But long before there was a city, let alone a nation, there was a library. The Winthrops possessed many books: John’s father, Adam Winthrop (1548-1623), was a Cambridge-educated lawyer. Not a scholar by profession, he nevertheless moved in scholarly circles; for instance, every year he rode up to Trinity College to audit its finances. When he was not managing his lands or working in court, Adam reserved his hours of otium for books. He collected hundreds of them and wrote in many with a painstakingly clear and careful hand.

Adam died in 1623, seven years before his son set sail for Massachusetts. While he did not make it to New England, his books did. His already sizable library formed the nucleus of what would become a still larger collection. Although John Winthrop Sr. did not annotate the family books, his son, John Winthrop Jr. (1606-76) produced a quantity of marginalia that rivaled his grandfather’s output. In addition, John Jr.—who joined the family business and became governor of the new Connecticut Colony in 1657—acquired still more books. There is evidence that Adam provided his young grandson with direct personal instruction in the marking up of books. For Adam Winthrop did dictation for John Jr.—filling in the pages of an almanac in his voice—when the latter was just fourteen years old.

How did Adam, the family patriarch, annotate? He often began by fixing both a book and its author in context. He was aided in this task by the massive encyclopedic bibliographies of the sixteenth century, especially John Bale’s Catalogus of British writers. For instance, in his copy of the Tudor-era polemic The Complaint of Roderyck Mors, Adam discovered that Bale had identified the true author of this pseudonymous work as one Henry Brinklow. Accordingly, he wrote this out front and center on the title page, remarking “Mr. Bale maketh mention of the author of this booke in the end of his Centuries”:

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

Here, in a neat little text-box he drew out at the end of table of contents in Thomas Elyot’s Image of Governance, Adam again turned to the trusty “Mr. Bale” for biographical details on Elyot. As he explained, “Sir Thomas Eliott Knight was the sonne of Sir Rich: Eliott Knight one of the Justices of the common plees anno 12 H.8 [i.e. in the twelfth year of Henry’s reign] and was borne in Suffolke as Mr. Bale reporteth”:

JHI IMAGE 2

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

In other cases, Adam relied upon his own memory of England’s tumultuous religious politics when setting a text in context. When reading a collection of sermons prefaced by the English cleric John Walker, Adam wrote that Walker was involved in the events leading up to the 1581 execution of the Jesuit Edmund Campion: “Dr Walker was Archdeacon of Essex in the reigne of Q. Eliz. and was one of them that disputed with Campion the Jesuite, in the Tower of London.”

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

Reading for Adam was clearly a family affair. Consider the physician John Cotta’s Triall of Witch-Craft. John Cotta was Adam’s nephew, the product of his sister Susanna’s marriage to one Peter Cotta. Adam meticulously marked up his copy with cross-references to the many sources alluded to in the text. Here he prepared to add an exact page reference to William Camden’s Britannia, but then apparently forgot to do so:

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

Here, where Cotta signed his preface “John Cotta,” Adam added that he was “the sonne of Peter Cotta an Italian”:

(by permission of the New York Society Library)

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

And in the back of the book, Adam constructed a remarkably detailed index of “authors cited” in the treatise. He listed diverse sources ranging from ancients like Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine to moderns like Scaliger, and Melanchthon, and supplied the page numbers where his nephew had mentioned them:

(by permission of the New York Society Library)

(By permission of the New York Society Library)

Adam’s meticulous annotating not only identified and recorded the conversations his books had had with one another, but also fixed their authors in time, space, and circumstance. Annotation was a tool that rendered a motley assortment of books into a single unified library. As I’ll discuss in the next installment, it was also a tool that made a library mobile and expandable—as Adam’s grandson John Jr. used the very same methods of annotation when transporting this library across the Atlantic, and expanding its contents still further.

Frederic Clark received his PhD from Princeton in 2014 and is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. His research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe, especially book history, classical reception, and the history of historical thought. He, Erin Schreiner, and JHI Blog editor Madeline McMahon are the curators of Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library (through to August 15, 2015).

Records of Student Life in Early Modern Europe

by Madeline McMahon

Much of student life in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe revolved around writing in books. Unlike modern library copies of frequently assigned texts or even students’ personal copies (such as this outraged copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter in the Onion), however, many of these books were intended for annotation. The cover of Wynkyn de Worde’s publication of Virgil’s Bucolica (1514) shows students poring over the text as their teacher expounds upon it. But if the early English printer imagined his customers writing in the Bucolica, he did not leave them much space to do so. The lines of poetry are jammed against the accompanying commentary interspersed every few verses or so.

Title page of 1513 copy of Virgil's works. By permission of the New York Society Library.

Title page of a 1513 copy of Virgil’s works. By permission of the New York Society Library.

Yet at the same time, De Worde’s contemporaries on the continent were adapting their printed textbooks of classical works to student use. From about 1490 to 1520, publishers in German university towns churned out “lecture texts” that included interlinear spacing and wider margins to accommodate note-taking (Jürgen Leonhardt, “Classics as Textbooks: A study of the humanist lectures on Cicero at the University of Leipzig, ca. 1515” in Scholarly Knowledge, Textbooks in Early Modern Europe). Thousands of such books can be found, often with identical annotations—many hands recording the same series of lectures (Leonhardt, 90-1).

Annotations between the lines and in the margins of Virgil's Eclogues. This book will be displayed at the New York Society Library's upcoming exhibition, "Readers Make Their Mark," Feb. 5 - Aug. 15.

Annotations between the lines and in the margins of Virgil’s Eclogues. This book will be displayed at the New York Society Library’s upcoming exhibition, “Readers Make Their Mark,” Feb. 5 – Aug. 15.

The book shown here, a copy of Virgil’s poetic works printed in Leipzig in 1513 and now in the New York Society Library, is one of many such extant school texts. The anonymous student annotated the Eclogues the most heavily; while all of Virgil’s works were commonly assigned bestsellers in this period, the Eclogues were particularly popular (Leonhardt, 90, 107). He used the spaces between lines of Virgil’s text to add vocabulary notes, and wrote more advanced comments in the wide margins around the short commentary of Hermano Torrentino that punctuated the poetry. Yet in general, although this student underlined some of the printed commentary, his primary annotations were more or less transcripts of lectures, in which his teacher would paraphrase the poem’s meaning in easy-to-understand prose. Red-colored ink, much like the modern neon highlighter, helped important information leap off the page. This book shows the early sixteenth-century humanist classroom in action: this student learns how to annotate as he is taught how to read a classic.

Such annotations can help us to imagine the experience of attending early modern lectures—or not. A lecture text’s pristine pages can signal when a student failed to show up to class (Leonhardt, 104). Such absences remind us that student life was not confined to the lecture hall, then as now. We can glimpse the friendships formed at early modern universities from a different kind of book meant for writing as well as reading: the album amicorum, or register of friends. These small books of blank pages were also popular in German universities, although they were used across Europe (June Schlueter, “Michael van Meer’s Album Amicorum, with Illustrations of London, 1614-15,” 302). An owner would solicit entries from friends and acquaintances as well as the great. Filled with pithy quotations, flattering notes, coats of arms and illustrations, albums are valuable sources for the history of scholarly culture in addition to a range of other approaches—from the history of theater to that of politics. The album amicorum was like an early yearbook or proto-Facebook, keeping the memories of one’s college friends within reach. The Englishman Nathanael Carpenter (1589 – 1628) brought his album with him to Dublin, where he spent much of his career. The book (Trinity College Dublin MS 150) is full of notes in Latin, Greek, and French from an international group of friends Carpenter met during his time at the University of Oxford in the early 1610s. Flipping through the clever adages and colorful drawing of an astrologer in his album, Carpenter would have come across his friend Jonas Adelwertus’s note:

You desire, good friend, that my hand be read in this album; why should I deny?
I will inscribe not only my name but I will add a distich,
So that you may never not remember me.
I pray, good friend, that you may be well, flourish, and live as long as Nestor, and that you remain happy.

Ut mea conspicue manus, hoc cernatur in albo,
Optime Amice cupis; qua ratione negem?
Non tantum inscribam nomen, sed Distichon addam,
Ut nunquam possis, non memor esse mei.
Ut valeas, vigeas, vivasque in Nestoris annos,
Et maneas fielix, Optime Amice precor. (TCD MS 150, 86r)

Like Carpenter, we can still access early modern student life through annotations, the record of friendship as well as education.
 

Many thanks to Erin Schreiner, rare books librarian at the NYSL, for permission to show the images. The copy of Virgil shown here will be on display at “Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library.” My thanks to Will White for leading me to TCD MS 150.