The Feathery Scribe
IN my first chapter, In praise of scribes, I spoke about knaves, as well as drudges, in the world of seventeenth-century clerks and scriveners. I now want to introduce one particular scribe--a drudge, perhaps. But whether harmless or not I shall leave an open question.
A case history of one particular scribe is not, I would suggest, unseasonable. For, as I have said before, while we have a mountain of information about seventeenth-century printers, stationers, and publishers--and even about some compositors--we know little, if anything, about individual scribes--and even those who have attracted some attention ( Ralph Crane, for instance) have done so only because they happen to be associated with particular literary or dramatic interests, not because their work is felt to deserve bibliographical study in its own right.
The anonymous but extremely distinctive and prolific scribe I am now focusing on flourished in the 1620s and 1630s. He is a scribe whom I christened many years ago the 'Feathery Scribe'.1 The reason for this epithet will, I hope, become apparent from illustrated examples of his work. Plate 25, for instance, shows a few lines in one of two manuscripts by him I own myself. He writes in a script quite unmistakable in its really quite sophisticated sense of style. In his own way, this scribe is as much a conscious, professional craftsman, with pen, ink, and paper, as a cabinet-maker is with wood and cutting-tools, and I would invite you to consider his work (at least to some extent) in this light.2 While few bibliographers would regard the seventeenth century as an age of fine printing, there is at least a case for judging its scribes from a different perspective.
This man's style is distinguished, among other things, by the very light, fine-nibbed ornamentation of the lettering: the wispy, trailing strokes to which he is prone. His is a busy, sometimes swirling, fluttery style, marked by a characteristic lightness of touch.____________________