Like swallowes

When is a recipe also a poem? “Like swallowes,” at least on this page, is both a poem and a receipt, a meditation on the seasons and instructions for preparing a “pomatum” or an ointment for the skin or hair. I came across this entry in UPenn MS Codex 252 in late December when I was searching for new recipes to try over at Cooking in the Archives.

The Poem?

Like swallowes when the summer’s done
thay fly and seeke some warmer sun
then wisely chuse oneto your frind
whose loue may: when your  ba beauties end
Remain still firme beprou

These lines come from Thomas Carew‘s, “To A.L. Persuasions to Love,” a poem included in his 1640 Poems that also seems to have enjoyed some modicum of manuscript circulation as well.

Here’s the full verse from Carew’s poem:

Like swallowes when their summers done,
They’le flye and seeke some warmer Sun.
Then wisely chuse one to your friend,
Whose love may, when your beauties end,
Remaine still firme: be provident
And thinke before the summers spent
Of following winter; like the Ant
In plenty hoord for time of scant.

Here Carew implores “A.L.” and his readers in general to choose their friends and lovers wisely, to prepare for the changing of the seasons, to provision themselves well in company and sustenance. The poem as a whole both critiques the carpe diem trope of comparing the beloved to nature or figuring love as seasonal and, at the same time, traffics in these very tropes.

The Recipe?

Like Swallowes
an en Comprable pomatum maid by Madam Thornton
oyle of sweet Almonds new drawn six ounces, oyle of Benn: one
ounce: of Sperma: Ceti too drams; of uirgins wax thine sliced an
ounce: of whitte sugar Candy half an ounce. when it is serced: of
Camphire two penny worth, if you liek it. a quarter of an ounce of
pearl powder grait these into your intended gallypot to make and keep it in set it into
a kettel of water upon the fire untill all the ingredients be melted then take it of &
beat it with a splent putting in by degrees orange flower water

On Cooking in the Archives Alyssa and I don’t tend to prepare medicinal and body-care recipes like these, but the overlap between this perfumed ointment and say, our macaroons, gave me pause. The oils, sugar, and floral water demonstrate a strong connection to other items concocted in the same kitchen. The only ingredient I didn’t immediately recognize, oyle of Benn, is a seed oil that was used as a base in early modern perfumery.

The Page?

What, if anything, was the compiler of this manuscript trying to do? There are three colors of ink on the page, but the hands are very similar. The content is clearly miscellaneous, but the space is sensibly used. Did someone begin to copy a poem on a blank page, stop mid-line, and later add a recipe? Did the writer return to the idea of swallows by writing out those first two words like a title? Reading the page through, the second “Like Swallowes” appears to be an entry on its own rather than a title for the pomatum recipe despite its titular position. Did the person who wrote down the recipe seek to connect the poem and the receipt? Certainly this writer wanted to use the space efficiently, as the smaller letters and extension of the final three lines suggest.

Finally, was the recipe writer, like the ant, preparing for winter by making a wonderful face cream? As January stretches on, this seems like an excellent idea for me.

Thinking with annotated books: the Honnold-Mudd Fourth Folio

A special thanks to the librarians and staff at the Honnold – Mudd Special Collections at the Claremont Colleges Library for supporting my work with this volume and Scripps College student Elisabeth Mayer for analyzing the annotations in The Tempest.

Way back in December I attended a symposium on annotated books organized by Philip S. Palmer  at UCLA’s Clark Library. An engaged group of scholars and librarians made for a day filled with lively conversation. The symposium threw me back into discussions about marginalia and metadata, digitization and materiality, teaching paleography, hybrid books, and other topics at the intersection of manuscript studies and project design. In the flurry of research and teaching at a new institution, I hadn’t yet explored the collections at my new institution, Scripps College, as much as I’d hoped. If you’ve been reading here, you’ll know that planning my “What is a Book?” course and symposium changed all that.

When I was in Honnold – Mudd Special Collections at the Claremont Colleges Library preparing Shakespeare materials to show students in all three of my courses, Gale Burrow (Outreach & Public Services, Special Collections and Liaison Librarian for British and American Literature) brought out a copy of the Fourth Folio of Shakespeare’s works (1685) that I hadn’t seen before. We opened it and realized that it was full of manuscript annotations. I announced our discovery on twitter, Gale Burrow and Carrie Marsh (Director of Special Collections and Libraries) added it to the digitization queue (watch for it on the Claremont Digital Library), I showed it to all my students, it even inspired a final research project by one of my students, but it’s taken me a few months to get back to writing about it here.

This copy of the Fourth Folio, or F4, (call number PR2751 .A4 1685, HON SPCL PHIL 1) was given to Pomona College as part of the Norman D. & Geraldine Womack Philbrick Library of Dramatic Arts and Theatre History. I drew heavily on this extensive collection of theatrical materials whenever I brought my Shakespeare courses to visit Special Collections. The Philbricks purchased this F4 from Dawsons of Pall Mall in 1971. Previous owners pasted a bookplate in the inner cover with a coat of arms that was later identified in a pencil annotation as the arms of Shuttleworth Sheatfeild. This F4 is bound in stamped calf typical of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The binding shows signs of repair, but not rebinding. None of the annotations are trimmed. The iconic Shakespeare portrait is missing and has been replaced with a facsimile.

There are manuscript annotations throughout the entire printed book. Scripps College student Elisabeth Mayer analyzed all of the annotations in the first three scenes of The Tempest and identified 233 unique changes in punctuation and word-choice, and other markings perhaps related to scene division. My analysis of this volume is still largely preliminary and there is much more detailed work to be done to transcribe and categorize the wide array of markings in this book. The comedies receive the most attention and, to my chagrin, the history plays receive the least. But even among the comedies our annotators are selective and perennial favorites like Twelfth Night are left alone.

From my preliminary analysis, I think the annotations fall into four broad categories: lexical correction, mark-up for performance, collation and scholarly inquiry, and completion. These categories roughly align with the four different hands I’ve identified in the book.

Hand 1 is a seventeenth-century hand that only appears in the volume’s preliminaries. This annotator personalized the table of contents by adding the page number for the start of each play and listing the new plays added in the Third Folio (F3, 1664) with page numbers as well. This hand favors secretary hand letter forms that are not present in the other hands in the book.

The second hand is standard eighteenth-century handwriting and it is the most common hand in the book. I may be grouping a few people with similar handwriting into the Hand 2 category. These annotations are most commonly lexical corrections, even on Folio-only plays where no collation with the Quarto tradition would explain corrections, or performance mark-up, cuts and notes that imply that this volume was used for household or amateur theater.

Annotations on The Tempest mark lexical and grammatical changes as well as the setting of various scenes in different parts of the island. In Measure for Measure notes are largely lexical and grammatical as well, with the addition of largely inscrutable long brackets. The Comedy of Errors is the first play in the volume with substantial cuts marked with large Xs, but these marks also appear in Love’s Labour’s Lost and other plays. At the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream the annotator has added a comprehensive dramatis personae list. Annotations in Taming of the Shrew add text, likely from the quarto tradition.

Many of the cuts, minor lexical changes, added scene breaks and locations, and notes about asides and direct address are all indications that the Hand 2 annotator had performance in mind. While we’ll never know exactly when or how this F4 was used in performance, the annotations show readers concerned with theatrical conventions.

The third hand is engaged in scholarly endeavors. This annotator mentions the Quarto printed additions of the play as well as Lewis Theobald’s Shakespeare Variorum (1726). The direct citation of Theobald in a note on Hamlet helps date these annotations firmly to the eighteenth century and the handwriting suggests that these erudite notes are likely from the later half of the century.

The fourth hand plays a minimal role in the volume. It appears that at some point the last leaves were damaged and the volume ends with late eighteenth or nineteenth-century manuscript additions completing the Tragedy of Locrine.


PR2751 .A4 1685, HON SPCL PHIL 1-Hand 4

Thinking with annotated books is slow and painstaking work. The Honnold-Mudd F4 suggests quite a few ways that readers might have used their Shakespeare in the eighteenth century. From single-word corrections to performance cuts, scholarly notes to page numbers, this F4 was annotated by at least four interested readers. There’s much more to be done here, first of all, completing a survey of all the annotations. A full analysis will either deepen or disrupt the schema I’ve presented here. As I continue to work on this F4, I plan to keep using it in my teaching. I’m excited to see what else my students and I can find.

What is a Book? Notes from the Symposium on 4/17

This post was written in collaboration with the students in my course, ENGL 197: What is a Book? 

IMG_3035This course began with a desire to think about the place of the book in humanist inquiry. When we study literature we read books, but we do not always pause to consider what they are or why they are the way they are. What is a book anyway? A dense wood-pulp rectangle? A performance? A scrolling screen? This semester we have asked these questions of an array of materials in special collections at the Denison and Honnold-Mudd libraries, and at the Scripps College Press. We considered the roles of authors, publishers, readers, annotators, illustrators, book artists, and booksellers. We pursued detailed research about three case studies: the multiple texts of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the media explosion that accompanied the publication of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, and the perpetually revised editions of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. These are three case studies selected from many available examples, but they forced us to ask questions about the agency of readers and objects, the printing conventions of different literary genres, and the social hierarchies that shaped book production.

At the symposium we asked these questions anew with papers from the humanities fields of English and Spanish literary studies, history, music, digital studies, and book arts: What is a book now? What were books in the past? What kinds of books will the future hold?

The first panel, “Text & Paratext,” considered books as wholes and as parts. Jessica Rosenberg’s paper on sixteenth-century poetic miscellanies investigated metaphors of gardening, gathering, and “sundering” as processes of book-making and reading. Alvaro Molina and Francesca Gacho’s papers approached Cervantes’ Don Quixote from two different, but related, perspectives. Molina discussed the infamous case of the missing author portrait, an absent paratext. Using the National Library of Spain’s Interactive Quixote as a starting point, Gacho also considered the absence and presence of key contextual material in the hypertext of this digital collection. These papers asked questions about how we classify the material in books as miscellaneous parts, explanatory paratexts, or hypertexts.

We continued to explore these questions in the second panel “Print & Manuscript.” Interactivity was a common through-line between these three papers. Philip S. Palmer examined cases of hybrid books whose manuscript content augmented and exceeded conventional expectations. Likewise, Glenda Goodman’s analysis of instructional music books and household music manuscripts revealed a community of users engaged in the process of making texts. Rachael S. King contextualized the many ways readers could have read The Spectator in sheet or bound forms. These three case studies exemplify the multiplicity of texts that can reside in single codices and the many ways books were re-purposed by individual annotators or communities of users.

The final panel covered a broader range of topics. Papers traced connections within and beyond the category of the book. Warren Liu’s analysis of the digital poetry project Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries showed how technology can control the reading experience. The question of where the text resides (in the code in Liu’s example) carried over into Decca Dennett’s paper which considered the malleable text and constant revision of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Dennett argued that the format of performance lends itself to a process of revision which is uniquely queer in the case of this musical. Laurel Schy’s paper on an 1848 conduct book also raised questions about gender, performance, and text. Linking the conduct book tradition to twenty-first-century women’s magazines, Schy showed that the continuing tradition of didactic texts exists in another media format today. As a book artist, Kitty Maryatt presented a taxonomy of book-ness and raised many limit-cases for the category of the material book. From the digital to the performative, the didactic to the handmade, these papers questioned the very category of the book that underpinned the symposium (and course’s) title.

We ended the day with an exhibition in the Denison Rare Book Room where we looked at examples of the materials we had discussed throughout the day. Our conversation confirmed that the category of the book has always been vexed, miscellaneous, and unstable. We will continue to consider how humanities scholars can use the vocabularies of bibliography, book history, and manuscript studies to reassess this category. And we will continue to ask how we can hone our research methods to account for the particular existences of the materials that we study.

This event was sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School with additional support from Scripps’ Denison Library and English Department.


What is a Book? A symposium on bibliographic research

After a lot of thought, planning, teaching, and generous help from staff and colleagues, my symposium is coming together. (I’ve added a preliminary schedule below, the final schedule including titles will be up soon.)

If you’re local to southern California, save the date: April 17, 2015 1pm-5:30pm Holbein Room, Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College, Claremont, CA (

nicosia, what is a book conference poster 4.8

What is a Book? A symposium on bibliographic research

This afternoon symposium will bring together area scholars, librarians, and students enrolled in the Scripps College course “ENGL 197: What is a Book?” Invited speakers and students alike will present original archival research.

Preliminary Schedule:

1-2 Text & Paratext

Jessica Rosenberg (USC/University of Miami, English)
Alvaro Molina (Scripps, Hispanic Studies)
Francesca Gacho (Claremont Graduate University)

2:15-3:15 Print & Manuscript

Philip S. Palmer (UCLA’s Clark Library)
Rachael Scarborough King (UC-Santa Barbara, English)
Glenda Goodman (USC, History)

3:30-4:30 Beyond the Book

Warren Liu (Scripps, English)
Laurel Schy (Scripps)
Decca Dennett (Scripps)
Kitty Maryatt (Scripps College Press)

4:30-5:30 Exhibition in the Denison Rare Book Room

This event is sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School with additional support from the Denison Library, and the English Department.

What is a Book? – a question of course design

In spring 2015 I’m going to teach a brand new course: “What is a Book?” This question, still tantalizing for me and hopefully engaging for my (future) students, is one the Peter Stallybrass and Roger Chartier ask in their co-taught undergraduate course and their graduate courses at the University of Pennsylvania where I completed my PhD. But my course is not only a rigorous, upper-level seminar, it is also designed to culminate in a symposium I’m organizing as part of my Rare Book School-Mellon Fellowship in Critical Bibliography. At this symposium, all students in my course and a group of invited scholars and librarians will present research on archival materials and participate in a day-long dialogue about the perils and delights of bibliographic pursuits. In the coming months I’ll be writing more about the symposium, but today I want to write a bit about course design.

It’s a tall-order to train even the most talented and committed undergraduate students in the methods of bibliography and book history in a mere semester, let alone prepare them to present their research in public. To this end I’ve divided my course into three units: a review of theory and scholarship about materiality, reading, and selling books; a set of case-studies from the history of printing; a research unit that allows for ample peer-review and will allow me to mentor my students one-on-one during class time as they develop  their final projects. The first two units on my syllabus are skewed towards the analysis of printed materials from the invention of printing to the present because this is the heart of my own training and best reflects campus library holdings. I’m also planning to hold most class meetings in one of the two special collections reading rooms on campus so that discussions of our readings will be directly linked to material objects.

I’d love to hear what you think. I’m committed to this general course design, but I’m still working out quite a few details.

I’ve copied my draft syllabus below. Feel free to borrow elements from this syllabus as you like, but please credit me, if appropriate, (I’ll credit any of your suggestions) and let me know if you’ve used something that works (so I can track impact and reuse.)


What is a Book? Spring 2015

Course Description & Objectives:

The study of literature requires the study of books. In this course we will trace the history of the book as a material object with special emphasis on the period from the invention of the printing press to the present. To this end, we will frequently meet for class in Scripps College’s Denison Library and Honnold-Mudd Special Collections to develop a vocabulary for describing and analyzing books, manuscripts, and archival objects. Students will also complete hands-on labs about the operations of the printing press during visits to the Scripps College Press and Dean Grove’s collection of historical presses. After we pursue three case studies together –William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – students will develop their own original research projects. Students will present these projects, receive feedback from experts in the field, and attend presentations by leading scholars at a special one-day symposium planned for mid-April 2015, “What is a Book?: A Symposium on Bibliographic Research.”

Required Books

William Shakespeare, Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623, Arden

Samuel Richardson, Pamela, Oxford

Eliza Heywood and Henry Fielding, Anti-Pamela and Shamela, Broadview

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass and other Writings, Norton

All other readings will be posted on our course Sakai site.


Assignments & Requirements

Participation 20%

Discussion Leader 10%

Each student will lead the discussion of one piece of secondary scholarship during Unit 1

Midterm Paper 10%

A five-page essay practicing bibliographic description and analysis.

Research Project 60%

All students will develop an original research project around an item (or set of items)         held in Denison or Honnold Mudd’s Special Collections.

Components include: bibliographic description, research proposal with bibliography, a       formal presentation at the symposium, a final research paper of 15 pages.


Unit 1: Reading Books (visits to Denison, Honnold Mudd, Scripps College Press TBD)

Week 1Media and Materiality

Marshall McLuhan, from Understanding Media (1964)

Margreta de Grazia & Peter Stallybrass, “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text” (1993)

Michael Mandiberg, “Introduction” The Social Media Reader (2012)

Jay Rosen, “The People Formerly Known as the Audience” The Social Media Reader (2012)

Week 2 – Books and Readers

Benedict Anderson, from Imagined Communities (1983)

Michel de Certeau, “Reading as Poaching,” The Practice of Everyday Life (1984)

William Sherman, from Used Books (2007)

Ann Blair, from Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (2010)

Week 3 – Selling Books

Pierre Bourdieu, from The Field of Cultural Production (1983)

Michael Winship, “The Rise of a National Book Trade System in the United States, 1865-1916,”  The History of the Book in the West: 1800-1914 (2010)

James A. Secord, “Marketing Speculation,” The History of the Book in the West: 1800-1914          (2010)

Adam G. Hooks, “Book Trade” Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare (2012)

Unit 2: Case Studies

Weeks 4 & 5 William Shakespeare’s Hamlet Lost and Found

Weeks 6 & 7 Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and the “Pamela craze”

Eliza Heywood’s Anti-Pamela

                        Henry Fielding’s Pamela

Weeks 8 & 9 Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass Perpetually Revised

The Walt Whitman Archive []

Unit 3: Research Workshop

Weeks 10 Peer workshops of research proposals

Weeks 11 & 12 Practice conference presentations and peer feedback

Week 13 Symposium “What is a Book?” (mid-April conference)

Weeks 14 & 15 Peer writing workshops

a question of “updating”

Recently, I’ve found myself in the middle of an internet maelstrom. Since June, my colleague Alyssa and I have been working on a project called “Cooking in the Archives: Updating Early Modern Recipes (1600-1800) in a Modern Kitchen.” The instigation for this project was twofold: We love to cook together and Penn has a phenomenal collection of manuscript recipe books that are fully digitized. If these digital archives are for the general public, as well as researchers, we wondered if the recipes they contain might work in a modern kitchen. And many of them do, beautifully and deliciously.

A few weeks ago, our small, amateur, side-project was featured on HuffPost Taste and brought a flood of new readers to our site. Tons of new people are following the blog, which is incredibly cool, but we were also inundated with critical commentators, some with incredibly negative things to say.

The most prevalent critique has been our choice to “update” the recipes rather than reproduce them authentically. These comments have mostly come from trained cooks, but also from readers that are harder to classify by training or background. To be honest, this strand of comments surprised me: How on earth could we possibly cook these recipes authentically in a modern kitchen? What on earth does it mean to be “authentic” anyway?

So in the aftermath of this firestorm I want to think more about “updating.” What does it really mean to update culinary instructions from early modernity? How is this updating analogous to or dissimilar from other ways in which scholars of early modernity update materials through interpretation and teaching?

In what follows, I describe some of the practices and principles Alyssa and I have employed in our project thus far. I also discuss a few aspects of updating that I see at work in our practices as they stand. I’m posting these thoughts on this blog first because I believe its primary readership consists of early modern literary scholars and bookish types and I’m curious to hear what you think. As an early modern literary scholar / book historian / historian, does this sound on-point to you? Alyssa and I have been discussing this topic for a while and I’m thinking about this post as the start of the updates we plan to make to the description of our project. I’m also amassing a small library of historical cookbooks through inter-library loan to consult and compare with this draft, but as it stands these thoughts are my own.


Best Practices

The archive of manuscript recipes we’re working with is completely public and available to anyone with internet access, but that does not mean that there are no obstacles to accessing it. In the spirit of removing barriers of access to this archive, each of our posts include these key elements: clear citations to the digitized manuscript and cataloging information, a facsimile of the recipe in manuscript, a diplomatic transcription completed to academic standards (ie. the ones I learned Heather Wolfe’s paleography course at Rare Book School), definitional comments relating to ingredients, an updated recipe in modern format, notes and images from our cooking attempt.

The project opens up an archive of recipes to the general public in four important ways: we alert the public to the existence of this archive, our transcriptions render often incomprehensible early modern handwriting legible, our lexical and contextual information helps decipher unfamiliar and complex English, and our updated recipes follow a modern layout to render them immediately useable.

Aspects of Updating?

1 – Transcription: Producing a diplomatic transcription of an early modern manuscript is an act of updating.

2 – Context: Defining early modern words and concepts by reference to twenty-first-century analogs is kind of updating. When Sauory becomes savory and cittern becomes citron updating is at work, even when it reveals something we might also think of as authentic. This updating allows cooks to match early modern and twenty-first-century ingredients.

3 – Format: Early modern recipes most frequently take the form of a narrative prose paragraph that includes ingredients, amounts, and method intermixed. Writing out an early modern recipe in a twenty-first-century format — ingredients with amounts first, method second — is an act of updating. It reveals a different set of priorities about supply and practice, and even space on a written page.

4 – Authenticity Problem: It is at worst, impossible, or at best, difficult and expensive, to cook recipes in the twenty-first century using authentic early modern ingredients. For example, traditionally-made, unpasteurized, raw-milk cheese is sometimes available, but its a prohibitively expensive cheese to use for Maccarony Cheese. Wine and spirits of the same style, region, and name tasted very different (in general, wine was sweeter). I could go on.

5 – Another Authenticity Problem: It is impossible to produce a recipe using authentic methods in a modern kitchen. Cooks trained in historic methods with access to the proper tools, spaces, ovens, and ingredients might be able to pull this off and quite a few well-funded, historical reenactment projects do. But working with our apartment kitchens I (and we) never believed authentic methods were possible or desirable.

Because of these two problems (among others) we were never interested in reproducing these recipes authentically. Additionally, the idea of authenticity erects another kind of access barrier between this archive of recipes and cooks that I would rather break-down instead.

6 – Method: We cook in modern kitchens and therefore some of our methods are necessarily different. For example, in July in Philadelphia I keep my butter in the refrigerator most of the time, so this means any treatment of butter in the recipe has to be adjusted. I leave the butter out to get soft before I use it. A modern oven/range is inherently different than an early modern hearth and we have to adjust cooking instructions by following our instincts. When a recipe says “cook after Brown bread” Alyssa and I have guessed an oven temperature that approximates what we would use for a similar twenty-first century recipe (usually 350 F for baked goods). When it’s more convenient to do, we take out all the toys and use a kitchen aid mixer, a food processor, a plastic kitchen scale, a microwave, a freezer, a hand-held mixer.

7 – Taste: Perhaps the most ambiguous and subjective of these principles, taste is at the heart of the project. I want to cook things I want to eat: I want to cook recipes from the archives that I would still want to cook and eat if I’d found the recipes in a modern cookbook or on a food blog.

Alyssa and I didn’t only set out to cook things that were familiar, but our modern tastes may have led us to the recipes that we could relate to. This is not necessarily in the same affective way by which, for examples, students might “relate to” a Shakespearean character, but we noticed from the start that we might be more ready to cook recipes that looked familiar than ones that didn’t. I’d easily say yes to pickled green beans (coming soon) because I make them at home already. But it was harder to imaging making turnip cordial water. But we’re adventurous eaters, too. We pushed one anther to try the recipes that did not feel or seem relatable. This worked well in the case of Carrot Pudding and far less well in the case of Fish Custard.

In all cases, we’ve updated recipes to our taste. Taste guided our selection and in many cases our execution as we’ve adjusted spices, salt, and method to make something taste good to us. Truth be told, despite the differences we’ve discovered, I’ve been surprised by the similarities of some dishes from shortbread cookies and braised meats to flavored brandy and puff pastry tarts. And these recipes do taste good. With some careful updating they work in a modern kitchen and delight a modern palate. Isn’t that what updating should accomplish?

Pointing at Gondibert

As promised, this post analyzes the manicules that gesture from the margins of a Folger copy of William D’Avenant’s Gondibert (and grace the header of this blog). This post is adapted from a paper I gave at the SHARP conference in Philadelphia last summer and it focuses on a single opening in the book.


D’Avenant’s Gondibert is a rollicking heroic poem set in medieval Lombardy.[1] The narrative itself features stag hunting in the Italian countryside, power struggles in Bergamo and Verona, numerous yearning lovers, elaborate funerals for beloved warriors, and a detailed description of a gentleman’s library and scientific endeavors, among other things. But the work is perhaps best known for its lengthy preface in which D’Avenant proposes a model for heroic poetry. Despite the extended analysis of heroic poetry in D’Avenant’s preface, Gondibert has been variously discussed as an epic, a romance, and a drama. This generic confusion or indeterminacy is further fueled by the fact that D’Avenant never completed the work, only ever finishing three of the poems’ five anticipated books (a model designed to mimic the five act structure of classical drama). While D’Avenant composed the preface and the first two books of the poem among Royalist exiles in Paris (and even shared early drafts of the poem and the preface with Thomas Hobbes), he wrote the third book under inhospitable circumstances in Cower-Castle on the Isle of Wight after he was captured at sea en route to take up the governorship of Maryland on the orders of the exiled court Charles II. These three navigations I’ve mentioned – the terrain traversed and adventures shared by the characters within Gondibert, the inter-generic play of the work as an heroic poem undergirded with a dramatic structure, and D’Avenant’s own movement between freedom and captivity or England, France, and the Atlantic – are the background to and constitutive aspects of the textual life of Gondibert.

Indeed, D’Avenant was concerned about the way his reader would navigate his work textually, physically, and morally. In the preface he likens the plan of his heroic poem to a coasting map “where the Shelves and Rocks are describ’d as well as the safe Channell; the care being equall how to avoid as to proceed.” If D’Avenant offered his readers a paradigm for navigating his heroic poem, if he indicated both the safe pathways and the dangerous rocks, how did these readers actually negotiate the pages of Gondibert?

A heavily annotated copy of the 1651 first edition of Gondibert held at the Folger Shakespeare Library shows how one reader navigated the pages of D’Avenant’s heroic poem. An early reader covered the preliminary materials in this copy with manicules—or pointing hands—and left the text of the poem itself untouched. As Bill Sherman suggests in his chapter on the manicule in Used Books, “When we encounter [manicules] among the asterisks, trefoils, ticks, “treaks,” crosses, brackets, running commentaries, and endless nota benes, they have the uncanny power to conjure up the bodies of dead writers and readers.”[2] Sherman’s meditation on the relationship between the pictorial hand and the hands of authors, readers, and annotators long-dead raises questions about the aims and ambitions of the history of reading in general and the annotated Folger copy of Gondibert in particular. Taking this specific copy as a starting point, I ask: What does it mean to “point” at Gondibert? What does it mean to cover the preliminaries with manicules and leave the text of the poem unmarked? And what can this specific copy tell us about the history of reading? To begin to answer this question I’ve selected a single opening of the Folger copy which captures the practices of this individual annotator and highlights the central intergeneric debates at the heart of both the preface to Gondibert and the debates about the poem’s genres since.


Folger D325 Copy 1, C3v-C4r, Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library


This specific copy of Gondibert is a 1651 first edition of the poem.[3] It’s a quarto printing with large margins bound in a contemporary stamped calf binding. The opening above (and the one I’ll focus on here) spans pages eighteen and nineteen from D’Avenant’s seventy page preface and includes examples of the range of marks this reader made in this copy (sigs. C3v-C4r). First, there are three distinct manicules that point to sections of text. Most of the manicules in this book are drawn in a brown ink of varying shades though some are also drawn in pencil.[4] Second, there is one multi-part annotation that includes a manicule, a line that marks a section of lines, and the lone word in an italic or round hand: “Ambition.”[5] While the line marker is used frequently by this reader, the word “Ambition” is the only linguistic, verbal, or non-pictorial annotation in this copy. Based on the hand used to write this single word, the use of manicules, the binding of the book, and the publication date I think it is most plausible that this book was annotated in the late-seventeenth or early-eighteenth century (1651-1700).

Before the point in the preface where these specific annotations occur D’Avenant has already explained some general attributes of heroic poetry (the role of the poet, the legacy of Spenser, the difference between imitation and originality) and some of the specifics of his own heroic poem (a Christian hero, action set in a former age, the poem’s Italian setting, and finally, the moral impact of his work.) Following the precedent of Spenser and earlier writers of heroic verse, D’Avenant argues for the moral benefit of the heroic poetry for gentlemen: the men engaged in court politics and the men at arms, encamped with the nations army and navy. In the opening I’ve selected, D’Avenant continues to speculate about the lessons his readers might learn from heroic poetry and the kinds of readers who might best learn these lessons.

The reader who added the manicules followed D’Avenant’s lead to a point. On the verso, the two pointing hands indicate sentences that demonstrate D’Avenant’s commitment to educating promising gentlemen, rather than the common man. Gondibert is not necessarily addressed to ALL readers. D’Avenant writes,

The common Crowd (of whom we are hopelesse) we desert, being rather to be corrected by laws (where precept is accompanied with punishment) then to be taught by Poesy; for few have arriv’d at the skill of Orpheus, or at his good fortune, whome we may suppose to have met with extraordinary Grecian Beasts, when so successfully he reclaim’d them with his Harp.

To D’Avenant, “the common Crowd,” or all who are excluded from the court, camp, and bloodlines of prerogative D’Avenant had previously discussed, need to be morally educated by law, rather than poetry, because law combines reinforcement with moral lessons.[6] The second manicule on the page points to another sentence that continues this line of argumentation and argues that gentlemen should imitate the lives, deeds, and morals of heroic figures, and the common crowd should not.

The marked passage on the facing page, however, reveals the peril even high-born readers may face when they read heroic poetry. The complex annotation on the recto begins after the quote about navigation with which I began. It appears that our annotator was quite interested in the “shelves and rocks” that might disrupt a reader, or a gentleman’s, smooth sailing. D’Avenant suggests that the two greatest dangers are love and ambition and looking at the annotation, I suggest that our reader was most concerned with “Ambition.” The manicule and line highlight the next sentence in which D’Avenant explains the particular vagaries of ambition.

Yet Ambition (if the vulgar acception of the word were corrected) would signifie no more then an extraordinary lifting of the feet in the rough ways of Honor, over the impediments of Fortune; and hath a warmth (till it be chas’d into a Feaver) which is necessary for every virtuous breast

In D’Avenant’s definition, ambition is essential to a gentleman’s success, but can also overwhelm, distract, and render feverish honorable pursuits. Like love, ambition must be carefully calibrated so it is a strength rather than a hindrance. It is this quality of ambition, I think, that draws our annotator to this moment in the introduction: Properly calibrated ambition can mean the difference between the safe channel and the rocks.

I’m going to skip the final manicule for now (it points to a standard-fare joke at the expense of friars) to think more about the kind of generic and readerly implications of our annotator’s focus on ambition. The plots of heroic poems are conventionally motivated by ambitions and attempts to thwart the ambitions of others. And in Gondibert the headstrong actions of young noblemen bring Lombardy into civil war. Our annotator’s particular attention to the question of ambition as an obstacle raises one further question: if Gondibert can teach a gentleman how to avoid the problem of excessive ambition, why didn’t our reader mark any of the many places in the poem where ambition poses a danger? Why did our reader leave the margins of the poem itself entirely blank? Perhaps the answer is that the detailed advice D’Avenant provides in the preface may be more comprehensible than the advice latent in the poem itself. Our reader preferred to point to D’Avenant’s clearly articulated points than explore the intergeneric morass of D’Avenant’s unfinished heroic poem.

This is not to say that our annotator did not read the poem, we have no way to know that, but we do know that he either did not read it with pen in hand or his pen found nothing he wished to note. Just as D’Avenant offers his reader a way to navigate the trials and tribulations of life in court or camp, our reader perhaps navigated clear channels of lessons about poetry, morality, and a kind of national belonging included in the preface and glossed over the obstacles and impediments of the heroic poem itself.



[1] William D’Avenant, Gondibert: An Heroick Poem, written by Sr William D’Avenant. London: Printed by Tho[mas] Newcomb for John Holden, and are to be sold at his Shop at the sign of the Anchor in the New-Exchange, 1651 [1650]. Wing D324. Thomason Dates January 1650, E.782[1]. Sir William Davenant’s Gondibert edited by David F. Gladish Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

[2] William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) 29.

[3] George Thomason, London bookseller and collector dated his copy “Jan 1650.” Publication of this edition advertised in Mercurius Politicus 29, 19-26 December 1650 p 486 AND Perfect Diurnall “The first Heroick Poem in the Englih Tongue written by Sir William Davenant, a Booke much commended by the learned Mr. Hobs, and long expected, is now published in print” 16-23 December 1650 p 716

[4] Only a few cases can I see pencil with pen traced over it. The text may have been read and annotated multiple times.

[5] The other annotations in the volume are standard annotations that appear across a lot of copies. Gladish, xxxiv-vi. The UPenn copy, the Folger copy, the NYPL copy, and the Thomason digitized copy all have the same ones.

[6] D’Avenant significantly revises this theory in 1654 in the tract A Proposition for the Advancement of Mortalitie, By a new way of Entertainment of the People wherein he argues that theater, spectacle, and painting can shock, awe, and impress the common citizen to higher moral caliber. [William D’Avenant], A Proposition for the Advancement of Mortalitie, By a new way of Entertainment of the People (London: Printed in the Yeer 1654).