The direct exemplars used by early printers show us much about the printers' working practices--whether and how they "cast off" copy; how they handled space and layout--and about their responses to Middle English literature in the years around 1500--how far it seemed to need updating; how closely it deserved to be transmitted. So, happily for the history of printing, literature, and language, there are several exemplars recognized from the presses of the second generation of English printers, Wynkyn de Worde and Richard Pynson. (1) But from the first generation, such as William Caxton or the printers in Oxford and St. Albans, fewer exemplars are known. From Caxton's press, we know only the exemplar for Lorenzo Traversagni's Nova rhetorica (1478), and from the Oxford press of "the printer of Rufinus," who came there from Cologne, only that for Rufinus's Symbola apostolorum (1478). (2)
Besides these Latin texts, only one English manuscript has been firmly recognized as even spending time in Caxton's workshop--the "Winchester" manuscript of Malory's Arthurian writings--and this was seemingly not the exemplar for Caxton's 1485 edition. (3) It has also been suggested but ultimately doubted that Oxford, Magdalen College, MS 213 was a collateral source for Caxton's 1483 edition of Gower's Confessio Amantis, for checking against rather than printing from; (4) and it has been hypothesized but admitted unprovable that London, British Library, MS Harley 1900, was copied into a separate manuscript, now lost, in which the text was updated and rewritten to serve as Caxton's exemplar for Trevisa's English Polychronicon. (5) As yet no direct exemplar is known for one of Caxton's editions in English for which he is most famous.
It might, though, be possible to identify the exemplar for Caxton's first edition of the Middle English prose Brut, which he calls, more descriptively, The Chronicles of England (STC 9991). (6) This edition was printed in 1480 and was innovative in several respects: it was the first chronicle printed in English; it involved technical innovations in the use of justification and signatures; and it was the first dated use of Caxton's Type 4. It includes a blank leaf, a prologue, and a table of contents by Caxton in a first unnumbered quire of eight leaves (most likely added later). The rest of the book is in quires of eight leaves, a to y, apart from the final quire y, which has only six. Quire a begins with another blank leaf, and then the prose Brut, extending to the year 1419, runs through signatures a2r to u3v. This ends at the foot of signature u3v with the words "in rewle and in gouernaunce," but Caxton's edition then adds seamlessly to it from the top of signature u4r to signature y6v a continuation of the chronicle to 1461 found only in manuscripts descending from Caxton's edition (as is noted below). (7) Lister M. Matheson argues convincingly that Caxton composed the continuation himself. (8)
But where did Caxton get the prose Brut from? In a brilliant tracing of the textual tradition, Matheson deduces that Caxton got the prose Brut from a manuscript of the textual tradition that Matheson calls "CV-1419(r&g): B, subgroup (c)," that is, the Common Version, Group B, subgroup (c), extending to the year 1419, ending with the words "in rewle and in gouernaunce" and en route including or excluding various elements. (9) Matheson's exhaustive search allows him to note that this textual tradition is "represented" by only "a single manuscript," namely manuscript HM 136 in the Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California. This manuscript is "important" for studying the textual tradition because "a text of this type formed the basis for William Caxton's." (10)
One might wonder whether manuscript HM 136 was in fact copied from Caxton's edition of The Chronicles of England. After all, there are six other manuscripts of which that is true, (11) and there are extant far more manuscripts copied from printed books than there are manuscript exemplars for such books. (12) (Indeed, it is noted below that a further short excerpt from Caxton's continuation has been added to the end of HM 136.) However, it is argued here that the likeness between this manuscript and the printed book is even closer than has hitherto been suggested but that the relationship runs in the other direction: it is argued that beyond those few folios of continuation, HM 136 was not a copy from Caxton's edition but rather was the exemplar for the edition of The Chronicles of England printed in 1480.
The Marks in Manuscript HM 136
Manuscript HM 136 in the Huntington Library is a parchment manuscript of the mid-fifteenth century, certainly after 1419, the date of the last events in the Common Version of Brut in this copy. The main scribe uses a hand modeled on the secretary script typical of the mid- to late fifteenth century. The handwriting is in some places fairly current, with minims run together and e "reversed," but in other places there is some slow care, with horns and broken strokes adorning several letters. The layout includes a certain amount of decoration: the first folio has a painted border; most of the chapter titles run on from the end of the preceding chapter but are in red; and the chapters themselves begin with blue lombards with red tracery and are punctuated with blue paraphs. The frame is ruled but the lines are not, and for the main text there are between thirty-nine and forty-two lines of text on each page. (13) The manuscript is in quires of eight leaves, and the Common Version of the prose Brut to 1419 ends with the words "in rewle and in gouernaunce" a little way down the verso of the fourth leaf of quire 20. (The short addition to the remainder of this quire is discussed below.) The manuscript has been annotated heavily by several people. There are several Latin prophecies and scholarly annotations in late fifteenth-century and early sixteenth-century hands. There are the names of several owners or readers, such as one Dorothy Helbarton, who wrote her name umpteen times (slightly obsessively) and John Leche, who wrote his ex libris inscription on a rear flyleaf. Similar ex libris inscriptions link this owner to other English and Latin manuscripts and to the distinguished Cheshire branch of the Leche family. (It should, though, be noted that many current comments on the manuscript's early owners and annotations will be clarified and corrected by research forthcoming from Anthony Bale, Julia Boffey, and Masako Takagi.) (14)
It is another set of marks added to HM 136 that offers the most important evidence that this was Caxton's exemplar. These marks have not been discussed in previous studies of the manuscript nor of The Chronicles of England but they deserve to be, because they seem to be marks by somebody using the manuscript for printing from it. (15) They occur throughout the 311 pages of the prose Brut to 1419. With a few exceptions, they consist of one, two, or three of the following components.
The first component occurs in the left-hand margin beside a line of text. It is a small circle about two millimeters in diameter, drawn in dark ink. The circle is usually at the extreme fore-edge of verso pages or in the gutter of rectos and is therefore sometimes trimmed or buried so that it is difficult to see (especially on the microfilm).
The second component occurs level with the circle but much closer to the left-hand edge of the text-block. It is a pair of virgules drawn in dark ink like this: [paragraph]. The scribes of fifteenth-century manuscripts often used a pair of virgules to guide the rubricator to add a paraph mark ([paragraph]) at the point thus noted. (16) However, in HM 136 a paraph would almost never be customary at these points, as there is seldom a clear break in the prose there.
Then, in the middle of many lines marked with two virgules and/or a circle, there occurs the third component. It is [conjunction], like an upturned letter v, drawn in perhaps slightly paler brown ink than the the virgules and circles. It looks most like the caret mark used by fifteenth-century scribes to insert text interlineally when correcting; it is placed between words at a low level, almost below the line of text. (17) It slightly suggests a more upright version of the mark that Malcolm Parkes calls the simplex ductus, which was "placed within a verse to separate matters erroneously run together," and here it does indeed separate things (as is noted below). (18) On no occasion does this seeming caret occur where text seems to be missing in HM 136. Manuscript HM 136 does also contain twenty-four other interlinear insertions, many of them with a real caret, (19) but those caret marks for interlineation seem to be by the scribe, whereas the seeming carets that accompany circles and/ or virgules differ in ink color, size, and style.
There are 307 sets of these marks. Most sets have the marginal circle; most also have the double virgules next to the text. Some fifty-four sets have, in addition, the seeming caret in the middle of the line. (20) There are some exceptions: fourteen times the circle and seeming caret occur without the virgules;21 nine times the circles, virgules, and seeming caret straddle two subsequent lines rather than marking just one;22 and a few other glitches occur, such as the duplication of the marks or the separation of their components by a line or two. (23) But three fifths of the sets are uniform in having a circle and virgules, and a further fifth in having a circle, virgules, and a seeming caret, too, so the marks are very regular in their appearance.
Moreover, they are regular in their position, for they recur at intervals of between thirty-nine and forty-two lines of the manuscript's text and most often after forty or forty-one lines. Only seldom do they recur after smaller or larger intervals, just once after only thirty-seven lines and once after forty-five. (24) As the manuscript most often has only forty lines of text or fewer per page, albeit with much variation, the marks appear successively further down each page, until just a few times the arithmetic makes them skip a page entirely and then occur twice on the following one.
The placing of these marks becomes even more regular just under halfway through. On folio 65r, the circle and virgules occur next to the first line of the page, after a count of forty-three lines of text;25 and thereafter on 172 of the remaining 182 pages of the manuscript the marks appear on this top line on each page. The exceptions are five pages where they appear on the first line but are duplicated on the last line of the preceding page, (26) three pages where they appear on the first line but are duplicated on the second or third line, (27) and two other oddities. (28)
Oddities aside, it is the overwhelming regularity of their spacing that suggests the significance of these marks. For the pair of virgules in the margin almost always falls at the precise point in the text where a page break falls in Caxton's edition of The Chronicles of England in 1480, unless there is a seeming caret. Where there is a seeming caret, then that always falls where a page break does in the edition. That is, when Caxton's page break occurs at a line break in this manuscript, the line is marked with virgules; when his page break occurs at a point in the middle of a line in this manuscript, it is marked with the seeming caret. This coincidence occurs precisely with 293 of the 307 sets of marks in HM 136. There are only fourteen of the 307 sets of marks in HM 136 in which none of the components coincides with Caxton's page break precisely, and even with those fourteen, Caxton's page break does usually fall just a few lines, words, or even letters away (as explained below). The most likely explanation of this methodical annotation and its coincidence with Caxton's page breaks is that these markings were made by somebody in Caxton's workshop using HM 136 as the exemplar for The Chronicles of England in 1480.
Of course, circles, virgules, and seeming carets are tricky to date paleographically, so it is worth checking whether they were not prompts to Caxton's edition but were the work of somebody collating manuscript HM 136 against Caxton's edition at a later date. Amazingly, somebody has written the name "Caxton" on a flyleaf in an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century hand; but "Caxton" could be a shorthand title for the prose Brut, given Caxton's printing of it, so it need not imply any close study of the manuscript. (29)
But could somebody have marked up the printed book's page breaks in this manuscript out of some curious bibliographical fervor? Eighteenth-century scholars did study other copies carefully on occasion. (30) Yet probabilities make this explanation unlikely. If a bibliographer had marked up the manuscript, he would have struck lucky: the text he would have chosen to collate was the only surviving example of the textual tradition that Caxton followed, and followed in meticulous verbal detail, too (as is shown below); and he would have found his task lightened by the coincidence that 171 of the manuscript's page breaks occur exactly where Caxton's do, and 82 more occur at the manuscript's line breaks. This coincidence would be more difficult for a scribe to achieve in transferring prose to an unruled page than for a printer. And for such a manuscript then to be used by a bibliographer interested in comparing the two books' page breaks would be a fluky coincidence that, while possible, is less likely than that these marks were made in preparing Caxton's edition from this manuscript.
Casting Off with These Marks