Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsSo for the rest of this week, we're going to be looking at an example of a manuscript. So to get our heads around manuscripts and the culture in which manuscripts circulated, we are joined today by Jim Fitzmaurice, lead educator on the course, and Jim is going to be talking to us a little bit about manuscripts. And we've actually got with us today two manuscripts from The University of Sheffield Special Collections Archive. And, Jim, you've brought one of your own manuscripts as well. That's my own, yeah. So "manuscript" is a word that we still use today. I think it gets used quite a lot. But in the early modern period, what would the word "manuscript" have meant?

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 secondsWell it means, basically, something that's handwritten. I guess with the advent of the typewriter, it could be typewritten too, but for our purposes today, for what we're doing, it's a handwritten document. And we would probably divide those into literary manuscripts, as with this Marvell piece right here, and other sorts of manuscripts, which might be personal, going back and forth between friends, or might be legal. I have a document right here, which is a limited power of attorney.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 secondsSo the lord of the country house says to his steward, "I want you to go somewhere and buy a bunch of sheep, and you decide on how much to pay, you decide on what the deal is going to be, and this is your legal document right here that allows you on this one occasion to be me." And this is actually written in the handwriting of the man himself, who is the lord. It's signed, it's sealed, and it's got two witnesses. He wrote this himself. I just think that's extraordinary. There's something about handwriting this, a real connection back to these people, and it's sort of intimate. It is, it is. And this one is written by Marvell, did you say?

Skip to 1 minute and 57 secondsAndrew Marvell, the poet. That's correct. Yeah, extraordinary. Although this is not in his handwriting. No, so who would have written this one? He wrote out the poem in the first place, but this is a scribal copy, and that is a paid professional handwriting guy who writes out a very clean, very clear copy that can then be passed around. And it might be copies, there might be five, ten, 15 of these passing around among important people. And then after however many years, maybe somebody gets hold of a copy, and they print it, maybe without the permission of the person who wrote it, because there wasn't a lot of copyright law to enforce.

Skip to 2 minutes and 39 secondsBut you could keep it out of print for a while by using a manuscript. So who would have had scribes? Would everyone have had scribes? No. It would have been country house owners, husbands, wives, children, lots and lots of people. In the case of Margaret Cavendish, the daughters have plays that are actually in scribal form. And so if you're reading any manuscripts or manuscripts in the past, what was the handwriting like in these things? Is it easy to read? That's a good question, that is. If you go into the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the handwriting is going to be probably pretty difficult, it's going to be secretary.

Skip to 3 minutes and 20 secondsThe Italian hand came in at the beginning of the 17th century and took over, and that was good for people like me, who don't have to work on secretary hand. There are palaeographers who love secretary hand, but I'm not one of them. So all of these documents, in fact, are in one version or another of the Italian hand. Though this one right here, the one that belongs to me, actually has bits and pieces of secretary. So you're reading along, and you run into something and say, "What is that?" And then you think, "Oh, that's secretary." So this doesn't have that. OK. I think it's interesting here, because one of these examples is from a lot later.

Skip to 3 minutes and 57 secondsYes, this is the one right here. That's 1825. So this is late 17th-century, late 17th-century, and then 120 years later. So you can see how the hands have changed. What kind of hand would this be in? I would call that Italian. And, I think, they probably would've called it Italian, too. But it's very, very clear, and you might find just occasionally a little bit that goes back to the secretary but not much. So what does that mean when you describe a hand as Italian? Is there any relationship between that and what we call italics today? I suppose so. I guess we would call it cursive today.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 secondsSo the Italian hand and cursive are almost - they're not almost the same - but they are enough alike that we have no trouble reading the Italian hand because we're used to cursive. Yeah. Certainly when I write anything by hand, I always make spelling mistakes, I cross things out. I always make errors. Did that happen to people when... Yeah, of course. In the case of a scribal copy, occasionally scribes made mistakes, and they would run a line through something that was a mistake. And if it was something that is kind of in the middle of a long poem, and they didn't want to have to redo the whole thing, just run a line through.

Skip to 5 minutes and 13 secondsIf they left out a word, then they would put it in above the line, and they would put in a caret, exactly the way we do today. Alright. And I noticed as well, on this one there are some blots. So this word is slightly obscured. How do you deal with that if you're a scholar working with manuscripts? Well, you probably put in square brackets and "illegible." Although in this case, the line runs 'in the county of Suffolk.' I mean it actually runs 'in the county' - can't read it - 'Suffolk.' And so you could figure out it's got to be 'of' and you can kind of see it through.

Skip to 5 minutes and 50 secondsBut if there's enough blotting in there, you just can't do it, and you have to say "illegible," which is what we did with the baby poem, which I think is coming up a little later. Yes, and this as well, just looking at this, so this is your manuscript that you brought in with you today. It's incredibly fragile, isn't it? It's extraordinary that it's survived. Well it's good paper, and so it's actually opposed to bad paper, which came in the end of the 19th century, that has lots of acid in it and that falls apart, but this paper is pretty robust. So, if you don't mess with it, it's fine.

Skip to 6 minutes and 27 secondsI tend to use my fingers rather than white gloves, I don't believe in white gloves, which I think catch on the edges anyway, so it's fine to pick them up. But if you found a manuscript that had been partly damaged, or there is missing text, how would... so you were mentioning earlier palaeography. This is transcribing manuscripts, is that right? It's the study of manuscripts, and the study of hands. And, as I say, when you go back to the time of Queen Elizabeth and before, there were various kinds of hands, and they can be extremely difficult. And you've got to have people who are very practised and people who have the brain structured in a way that they can see it.

Skip to 7 minutes and 5 secondsThat's not quite me. But when you transcribe manuscripts, are there certain ways... so you mentioned square brackets for blots and things. Is there a kind of a language of transcribing manuscripts? That is absolutely true. You can use square brackets and put in "illegible." And if you're going to add something, if you see that the scribe has added something in, I normally use these angle brackets. And then you have a note at the bottom of the page, which says, this is what I did, these were my procedures.

Skip to 7 minutes and 39 secondsSo square brackets for things that are illegible, in some cases lines where you can read it, but it's been lined out, and then the angle brackets for what's been added later, and sometimes in another hand. My final point I want to raise is that later this week we're going to be looking at a manuscript that you found in The Huntington Library. Yes. Can you just tell us a little bit about how you came to be working on that poem, or how you found that poem? Serendipity, which is a part of what happens, as you well know, in the business of going to libraries and doing research.

Skip to 8 minutes and 13 secondsI mean you're researching on one topic, and then you run across something in a collection of manuscripts, and say, "I think I'll just read this." And so you're not really doing the work that you're supposed to be doing, you're doing some fun work. And then you read a poem, like the poem on the baby, and you think, "This is so good, I just love it, it's so much fun, I'm going to transcribe it." And that's what I did. I ended up teaching that poem to undergraduates in Arizona years ago, and I loved it. So that's not been published anywhere? Never been published, never been published. Well, I'm trying to think whether or not we have...

Skip to 8 minutes and 47 secondsNo, we've never published that one. So that's an exclusive for our learners. That is an exclusive for our learners, this is true. Excellent, thank you very much, Jim.

Material Conditions: Working with manuscript material

In this video, Dr Jim Fitzmaurice and Dr Adam Smith discuss the study of early modern manuscripts.

What do we mean when we refer to ‘manuscript material’ in this context? What are some of the challenges of working with such material and how can we interpret damaged or partially obscured texts?

As you watch this video it might be useful to reflect on some of the issues it raises, and to think about how this information might inform the interpretation of manuscript material.

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This video is from the free online course:

Literature of the English Country House

The University of Sheffield