A Hybrid Book: Print to Manuscript

Published: August 14, 2013

The Clark Library has a number of printed books that are very heavily annotated. They are so heavily annotated, in fact, that the weight of the hand-drawn ink seeps into your eyes as you contemplate the very nature of the object as a printed book or manuscript.

Clark DA30 H61 1680* p.6-7

Here is a two-page spread toward the beginning of one of these hybrid books held by the Clark. Its printed layer is a text by Peter Heylyn, called A Help to English History (London: Thomas Bassett, 1680). This book was meant to aid the reader in learning about kings and queens of England, and the peerage generally, with a focus on heraldry. Books of heraldry were popular in the early modern period and the College of Arms, the body granting heraldic achievements, saw a revival of its own in the late 18th century.

One reader of this particular book took up this text as a tool with singular focus, annotating so copiously, offering his own notes on heraldic description and royal origins, that his writing covers the margins as well as the blank spaces between the printed lines (that is, most of the space not already occupied by printers’ ink). This is an emphatic manuscript layer.

Does this object have to be either a manuscript or a printed book? Do we have to choose? Past Clark librarians decided to classify it as a printed book. (The Clark holds three versions of this 1680 edition of Heylyn’s text — this copy is copy 2; copy 1 is devoid of any owner or reader interaction with the text and copy 3 is a two-volume set interleaved with blank pages for notes — something the former owner of copy 2 really could have used, but copy 3’s interleaved pages are mostly blank.) Clearly, copy 2, its pages heavy with annotation, is different from its printed siblings, and is something more than a printed book. While the catalog record for copy 2  notes that it “contains copious ms. notes in more than one early hand, and many small, precise drawings of coats of arms, armour, mythical animals, and various objects connected with heraldry,” does it provide sufficient information to find the transformative manuscript layer sitting atop the printed?

Within the manuscript layer, our annotator has included not only extensive textual notes but, also, a fair number of drawings, most of which are animals and other objects that could serve as heraldic charges. As the pages proceed, we see less textual annotation and more drawings. Is there any significance to this? Did the annotator lose his intense focus or get a little bored at the end of his engagement with Heylyn’s text? Was there less of interest in the final sections, which focus upon baronets created by King Charles I and King Charles II? Perhaps for one of these reasons, there are a slew of delightful drawings around these sections.

Clark DA30 H61 1680* p.602-603

For example, here are schools of fish (and even a lobster claw), with a particularly notable dolphin naiant imbowed. So, a robust watery ecosystem flows across the margins of these pages, though these aquatic creatures seem to have no association to the printed list of baronets, whose paper they share. Interestingly, the style of these drawings harkens back to what one might find in the margins of a medieval codex.

Clark DA30 H61 1680* p606-607

A virtual zoological garden occupies a two-page spread just a few leaves later, where we find a mole, a spider and its web, a mountain lion, an adder, an ermine, a holy lamb, two rams, a toad, a emmet (or, ant), and two tigers — one much more convincing than the other (who slides into obscurity within the gutter in this quick snapshot). Once again, these creatures seem to have no relation to the printed text. How did the annotator determine to draw these particular animals? Why did they end up on these pages? And why in this combination? Some of the drawings are grouped by type: aquatic animals and land animals. But what do you make of this set of three?

Clark DA30 H61 1680* p.628

This page features a sword, a cardinal’s hat, and a three-headed chimera. Not only is it not clear how these three relate to the text, but how do they relate to each other? What inspired their drawings and placement? For now, the answers to these questions remain mysteries.

Heraldic blazons are, in essence, a string of words creating an ordered description of the objects and colors on a coat of arms. Our annotator, very much interested in heraldry, took substantial time to create visual aids to assist in his understanding of this textual information, engaging with both the official heraldic description in the blazon and its translation into pictorial representation.

This object is thus a play of dualities, a manuscript and a printed book, a text and a catalog of visual imagery, and featuring an early modern annotator with a penchant for medieval imagery. This book, with its idiosyncrasies, is packed with historical evidence, waiting for the right scholar(s) to take up the task of reading the evidence it contains.

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Andy Foster on

We all need inspiration to begin writing. The author of the Hybrid Book manuscript must have seen the printed word here as a departure point for creative expression.

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