Philobiblon: A short guide to learning about an early modern pamphlet

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A short guide to learning about an early modern pamphlet

Today, at the British Library, I think I really, finally, after a couple of days of flailing around, finally worked out how to approach this simply and systematically. (With a lot of thanks to my commenter Clanger, who sent me in many of the right directions.) So, in case this is of use to anyone else (and for my own future reference), here it is:

Imagine you've just found, say in a catalogue, a pamphlet or broadside from the 16th or 17th century that you want to know more about, but all you've got at this time is probably an extended title. (And a secondary literature search indicates no one has written anything on it.)

Walk through the rather gloomy doors of the Rare Books Reading Room at the BL, then:

1. Search the English Short Title Catalogue, which is available online at the BL, and I believe most decent uni libraries, to find out particularly where copies are held. There is also a print version. (This will also provide lots more technical data - write it all down, it may make some sense eventually.)

2. If somewhere accessible to you, it is best to get the pamphlet itself, as the actual artefact will tell you more than any copy. (Handwritten annotations often don't come out on copies.) However, if a trip to the US to consult one pamphlet is out of the question - and lots of them are in America - see if it has been microfilmed (which all of the ones I've encountered have been.)

3. But stop - don't get out the microfilm without checking Early English Books Online - a completely separate database (don't you wish it was linked to the Short Title Catalogue). All of the microfilmed Early English Books 1475-1650 are on this - taken from the microfilm, but far easier to handle, and to print ... (even at the ridiculous BL price of 20p a sheet.)

4. To find out more, try checking the Register of the Company of Stationers (ed. Arber), which is on Open Access in the rare books reading room. (The above two databases may only be available in there too - not sure about that.)

5. If you are trying to find an author only identified by initials, try The Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English literature by Samuel Halkett and John Laing.

(If you are wondering what I've been researching there is a listing here.)

Looks simple, doesn't it. But my search was complicated by the fact that the BL's copy of Monodia appeared to have been printed with another work by the same author, The Sacrifice of Isaac which was first printed two years earlier. (And it appears that the person who put the stamps on it when it entered the BL thought so too.) The numbering of the leaves of the printing runs A3, A5 etc, then the next item starts B1 etc. And the font and general style seems to be identical.

But it is catalogued separately, and the only other known copy, in the Huntington, has a different call number and also appears separate. I finally solved the mystery by looking at the EEBO image of Isaac, which shows the numbering of it starts at B because there are eight pages of prefatory matter - a letter to the reader, to two of his "beloved friendes" (for which, I think read patrons), and a stray sonnet. These have leaf numbering with "As".

(Leaf numbering, BTW, means that each sheet has its own number, rather than each side, and it usually seems to start with a letter, followed by a number.)

So now I've got lots of info, and a whole heap of new research questions.

There's one I'm hoping anyone who's read this far might be able to help me with, specifically the following woodcut image, which is found on both of the elegies of Helen Branch printed by Thomas Creede.

Not quite sure how that is going to come out, so to describe it, the image is of an apparently naked woman holding an open book, wearing a crown over long hair flowing down her back, and striding right foot forward. Behind her is a cloud from which descends a hand holding a sheath of hay/brush (?) that is almost running down her back, or perhaps striking her. The Latin around it reads: Viressit Vvlnere Veritas.

It may be that this is used on other Creede books, maybe all - that's one of Monday's projects, but I'd still like to know what it shows...

I'd also love if anyone could point me in the direction of a work dealing with woodcuts and other decorations (fancy letters etc) of these books and pamphlets ...!


Blogger Scott McLean said...

You are a great writer. I looked at your website too and like it as well. I will go back there once I get a little more rest. Are you in England? You are welcome to my site too. Take care, Scott

3/18/2006 11:02:00 pm  
Blogger clanger said...

The woodcut is Creede's device.

It is on the web here:

And is described from a 1578 text printed by Creede as showing "a naked woman, wearing a crown, being whipped by a hand appearing out of the clouds. Between her feet are the initials TC. The border of the roundel is inscribed: "VIR ESSIT VVLNERE VERITAS"."

Many of these replicated the sign above the door, by which printers and booksellers were known and located. They are usually described in the imprint, but Creede was a printer rather than a bookseller, so an imprint description of his sign will be uncommon. It will probably be noted in the third volume of STC (Pollard and Redgrave).

The standard work is:
Mckerrow, R. B. "Printers' and publishers' devices in England and Scotland, 1485-1640" London: 1913. Rep. 1949, 2003.
[See No. 299 for Creede's, according to a web note.]

There are various other guides to early woodcut usage.

Ames, Joseph. "Typographical Antiquities." Easiest to use the 4 vols. facsimile reprint- Hildesheim: 1969.

McKerrow, R. B., and F. S. Ferguson. "Title-Page Borders used in England & Scotland, 1485-1640." London: 1932.

Davies, Hugh William. "Devices of the Early Printers, 1457-1560."
London: 1935.

Driver, Martha W. "The Image in Print: Book Illustration in Late Medieval England and its Sources."
London: 2004.

A good online site for early ballad woodcuts:

3/19/2006 01:17:00 am  
Blogger Penny L. Richards said...

You'll want to look at this recent article, it mentions the illustration you reproduce:

Megan Matchinske, "Moral, Method, and History in Anne Dowriche's The French Historie," _English Literary Renaissance_ 34(2)(May 2004): 176-200.

The motto "virescit vulneres veritas" is "Truth increases when it is oppressed," by one translation. The Brownrigg family motto is a variation on this: "virescit vulnere virtus"--"Her virtue flourishes by her wound." (The woman depicted?) Got that from this website:

But other families seem to have used the motto too--this website gives it as part of the Burnett family pinsel:

3/19/2006 01:37:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

When working with early books it is standard practice to use the signatures (the letters with numbers at the bottom of the pages) rather than the page numbers. This is because the page numbers are often printed incorrectly, whilst the signatures are fixed to the physical form of the book.

The use of the signatures (sometimes called 'the register') is difficult to explain textually, especially without superscription, but a friendly librarian or bibliographer can explain it all in 5 mins.

Gaskell's 'A New Introduction to Bibliography' is usually cited as the standard work here, but it can overcomplicate things.

3/19/2006 02:53:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

As ever Clanger, thanks. You are a total star, even though I'm disappointed my discovery isn't much of a discovery at all: :-(

Also thanks Penny for the reference - it does seem a very odd image - presumably there is a Christian angle, but it looks very pagan.

I have been using Gaskell - in fact there's a little post coming up on it soon - but you're right, he does seem to go for the most convoluted explanation possible.

Oddly, in the four pamphlets I'm working on the page numbers are a lot more sensible and logical than the signatures, but suppose that is just a fluke. (The business with Monodia and Isaac took a lot of sorting out, although still useful in the learning process.)

3/19/2006 10:41:00 am  

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