14.10.20, Boffey, Manuscript and Print in London

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Timothy A. Shonk

The Medieval Review 14.10.20

Boffey, Julia. Manuscript and Print in London c.1475 - 1530. London: The British Library, 2012. Pp. xxii, 246. ISBN: 9780712358811 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Timothy A. Shonk
Eastern Illinois University

In this handsomely printed and generously illustrated book (14 color plates and 66 black-and-white figures), Julia Boffey has given students of book history an important study of the five-decade period following Caxton's introduction of printing into England in 1485. This period, falling between the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the early modern period, has lacked a full study that brings together manuscript and print cultures during this fifty-year period. Thus, until the advent of this book, we have had primarily studies of one form of textual production or the other, one century or the other. Ralph Hanna's superb London Literature, for example, examines the types of literature fourteenth-century readers desired and the manuscript production methods that met those desires. Boffey's text is further distinguished by her focus upon texts other than those by the major poets or literature for court circles, texts previously examined in single studies or overviews.

Boffey opens her book with a striking example of the types of manuscripts still being produced in the very early sixteenth century by discussing the sumptuous presentation copy given to Henry VII by Italian astronomer William Parron, another being presented two years later. These manuscripts represent the continuing perception of the written book as a prestigious gift. Boffey then traces the impact of the advent of printing on the culture and acknowledges the important work done by such other scholars as Elizabeth Eisenstein, while noting that more recent studies tend to focus more on printed documents than on simply books. Boffey's major questions guiding her discussion are two: "what perceptions did people have of printed material after its introduction into England" and "how did these perceptions determine their own practices in dealing with books and documents, whether as producers or consumers" (5)? Finding answers to these questions, she admits, is difficult at best; impressions and responses have rarely survived. Instead, Boffey turns to those "crucial points of intersection [in these decades] between the production and use of manuscripts and the production and use of printed materials" (5).

Boffey organizes the book around a series of small studies, the first chapter focusing on two similar miscellanies: a 1502 printed book--The Customs of London--compiled by Richard Arnold, and San Marino, Huntington Library, MS HM 140, comprised of two separate fifteenth-century manuscripts; each copied by more than one scribe and combined by the early sixteenth century. The two books in use at approximately the same time demonstrate that sixteenth-century readers were accustomed to different kinds of textual production. Perhaps the most challenging and thoughtful segment of the chapter is Boffey's attempt to define a "London book." Boffey's approach deftly denotes the difficulty in making such a label possible: the point of production (Arnold's first printing done in Antwerp, the English printing in 1525; the lack of identification of the hands of the Huntington); the frequent absence of information about the compiler, sources used, etc.; problems with localizing mobile scribes or with their copying texts that have been brought to London; rubrication and decoration done in different times (e.g., the fascinating hybrid books, some of which, for instance, may place an excised woodcut within a manuscript). She identifies markers that suggest more definitive evidence of a London book: local (i.e., London content), works by notable London authors, dialect--even the confusion resulting from some retained bits of a dialect turned into a London book. Boffey then applies these criteria to the Arnold printed book, seeing it as a personal or household compilation that was of a type widespread at the time, and to the Huntington Manuscript, showing that at the least it was in London for a time.

Chapter 2 focuses on the reception of print and manuscript material, "the circumstances in which script and print were brought together or kept apart" (44). In this fascinating and revealing chapter, we are shown the associations of the noted early printers with scribes and illustrators during this period of transition. For example, Boffey's investigation of the printer's offsets and inks suggests that the famous Winchester manuscript of Malory may have resided with Caxton for some time, even though it was not the copy used for the 1485 printing. Wynkyn de Worde's printing from manuscript copies and Richard Pynson's work with members of London mercantile centers, who owned books, perhaps wrote them, dealt in them, lent them to printers, and perhaps collaborated with them in production, demonstrate the frequent interchange of print and manuscript copies. Perhaps less commonly known, though, are the occasions when print works were transferred into script: obvious ones like student notes or clerks' records, but also short extracts from printed works copied into personal manuscript anthologies. The combinations of sources--print and manuscript--to produce final printed texts make source work extremely complex. Some printed texts (e.g., indulgences and certificates for confession), Boffey shows, were printed with blank spaces for written names. Furthermore, scribes occasionally upgraded texts by supplying information missing from printed texts; others painted over woodcuts, while printed texts were sometimes rubricated and decorated by hand. The integration of the two forms of production is fully and concretely demonstrated in this provocative chapter.

In Chapter 3, Boffey focuses upon the pressures and decisions that led to print and manuscript texts. Boffey notes that London printers "evinced curiously little enthusiasm for reproducing London chronicles" (85), surmising that continental printed editions presented a more universal view. Examples of texts found in manuscript are civic records at the Guildhall and day-to-day records. Bills, posters and the like are largely in print, the time and labor of hand copying being too onerous. In 1504, the position of King's Printer was first filled, and Boffey depicts the production of printed accounts of ceremonies, civic events, and the like that increased quickly, some produced by Pynson, who was also a King's Printer. Sermons and lectures were not often copied, but Boffey observes that a number of relationships were quickly cemented between printers and preachers who underwrote the printing of missals and processionals. The Bishop of Ely, John Alcock, worked with de Worde and Pynson, who produced five editions of various sermons between them. Other pieces, such as political satire and seditious literature, sometimes emanating from prisons, were necessarily hand copied. Religious reformers often sent manuscript copies to continental printers, but Boffey also describes the secret manuscript shops reproducing the works of such people as Tyndale.

Chaper 4 presents the conclusions that can be drawn from an analysis of printed books in London after Caxton. Boffey examines the holdings of institutions at which Londoners would find books, the old world of manuscript production still alive in some forms in them. For example, stationers could buy printed sheets and then arrange for the finishing off processes of decoration and binding, similar to their functions as manuscript sellers in the earlier century. Printers would import as well as produce books, retaining sometimes illuminators and bookbinders. Merchants also sold books. The prices of manuscript in contrast to printed books are examined in this chapter, though with little certain conclusion, since prices noted in books are often vague about what exactly is being priced. Parish churches, when they needed to renew texts from 1520s on were often printed texts. The holdings of school libraries show a mix of copied notebooks and printed books. Pynson and de Worde quickly engaged in printing schoolbooks, Pynson also a key printer for law books. Boffey the describes the Guildhall's two main collections: the first group--used by the Mayor's Court and for reference materials--exhibiting many manuscripts (e.g., the famous Liber Horn) with records also showing payment to Pynson for printing books for the city in 1517; the second group--used mostly by priests of the Guildhall College--also exhibiting a number of manuscripts, printed books obtained by bequests. The records of London's religious houses and books possessed by women show a similar mixture, though research cited by Boffey shows that the women's religious houses were the "most energetic purchasers of books of all kinds" (141) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Boffey's discussion of associations between printers and company networks--Caxton was a member of the Mercer's Company--provides an intriguing insight into the book world of the period. As she shows, some members of city companies underwrote printed texts, while at the same time selling, importing, and involving themselves in the production of printed texts. The Mercers having been the subject of other studies, Boffey looks at the Drapers, who had among its company people who sold books and others who acted as stationers and text writers. Boffey's depiction of the activities of members of the Drapers provides a well-documented and insightful reading of this group's contributions as members of London's reading and text-producing public.

Boffy concludes her book in Chapter 5 with a case study of the work of Robert Fabyan, master of the Drapers in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, who compiled and read texts in manuscript and print. Fabyan is perhaps best known for Fabyan's Chronicle, the earliest version (1504) in two volumes, each copied by a single scribe. Ironically, as Boffey notes, the first attribution of the work to Fabyan comes in a printed edition in 1533. Fabyan is also associated with The Great Chronicle of London. Boffey argues persuasively that Fabyan seems to have copied both and to have authored the former and at least part of the latter, building her case upon codicological evidence. The mixture of manuscript and decorative bits obtained from printed sources, Boffey argues, show that Fabyan thrived in this world of manuscript and print, the overall impressions of his three large manuscripts and one incunable showing "someone who took a striking degree of pleasure in mixing elements of printed books and of manuscripts together" (169). This full case study of the readings and sources, the productions, and the later uses of Fabyan's works (as well as the resulting decisions that went into reproduction in print or manuscript) is an absorbing and enlightening portrait of the members of the reading public in London.

This exceptionally well-researched and clearly written book, complete in its evocative and provocative study of this often-overlooked fifty-year period, is the kind of work we have come to expect from Julia Boffey. Medievalists, early modernists, and students of the history of the book should all have this text on their shelves. Aside from the masterful and full presentation of the production methods of texts and the texts readers were obtaining in the decades after Caxton's first printings, Boffey's book is an intriguing and enlightening study of London's book culture in this transitional period, one to which students of the book will return repeatedly for its wealth of details set in a sharply focused study.

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Author Biography

Timothy A. Shonk

Eastern Illinois University