Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

'These Proverbes Yet Do Last': Lydgate, the Fifth Earl of Northumberland, and Tudor Miscellanies from Print to Manuscript

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

'These Proverbes Yet Do Last': Lydgate, the Fifth Earl of Northumberland, and Tudor Miscellanies from Print to Manuscript

Article excerpt


Two miscellanies containing analogous texts, the 1510? Prouerbes of Lydgate printed by Wynkyn de Worde and part of Bodleian MS Arch. Selden. B 10 commissioned by the fifth Earl of Northumberland, are of interest in this article. The evidence provided by de Worde's edition of the impact of mass, printed production on the taxonomy of the medieval vernacular miscellany is discussed. The article then describes the impulse of early printers and patrons of Tudor manuscripts to elide evidence of commercial motives for book production and to appropriate widely circulating texts from printed miscellanies for a traditional, noble definition of literary value.

Around the first year of the reign of Henry VIII (1510?), the printer Wynkyn de Worde issued a quarto edition of fourteen leaves, The prouerbes of Lydgate (STC 17026). (1) The edition is in fact a collection of literary extracts. It contains six of the fifteenth-century poet John Lydgate's interpolations into his translation of The Fall of Princes ([A2.sup.r]-]B2.sup.r]). (2) The first two are separated from the remaining four by the addition of versions of Geoffrey Chaucer's Fortune ([A3.sup.r]-[A4.sup.r]) and Truth ([A4.sup.r]-[A4.sup.v]). (3) The remaining pages contain two minor poems from the Lydgate canon: Consulo Quisquis Eris ([B2.sup.r]-[B4.sup.r]) and Look in thy Merour ([B4.sup.r]-[B8.sup.r]). (4) De Worde reprinted the book in a twelve leaf quarto in 1520? (STC 17027), and a copy of one of the 1510? or 1520? prints (or perhaps a missing de Worde reprint) served as copy text for a manuscript, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B 10. The manuscript contains a fifteenth-century copy of John Hardyng's Chronicle, to which the sixteenth-century printed text has been added on a gathering of vellum folios prepared so as to match those bearing Hardyng's text. (5) It was owned in the early Tudor period by Henry Percy, fifth earl of Northumberland, who apparently patronized the addition to this manuscript himself sometime after 1516 and before his death in 1526. His arms are added to the initial, limned capital of the Prouerbes, and his arms and motto are also painted on the last folio of the Chronicle (see Figure 1). (6)


These books have been described elsewhere; (7) for the purposes of this discussion and this volume, they are of interest because they are miscellanies, and have some place in scholarly discussion of that term. Recent scholarship on medieval English book production has sought to identify the circumstances in which the manuscript miscellany ceases to be miscellaneous and may be read as a 'whole book', constructed by a scribe or an owner who has arranged texts around some anthologizing principle and whose work can be reconstructed by the assiduous student of codicology. (8) The problems such a student tends to encounter are described in an important essay by Ralph Hanna:

In the pre-1450 English situation [...] all books are probably 'bespoke', the product of special orders. Rather than being publicly available renditions of texts as are printed books [...], they represent defiantly individual impulses--appropriations of works for the use of particular persons in particular situations. In such contexts, the books may have required no explanation, the private quirks behind their manufacture being abundantly clear; certainly, the medieval disinterest not simply in expressing but even in developing any critical terminology like our own estranges us and renders the objects of our study opaque. (9)

Implicit in Hanna's commentary, and central to the following discussion, is the idea that the shift to print, or even to the 'public', perhaps speculative, commercial manuscript production of the post-1450 period, involved a shift away from opacity and towards the development of the 'critical terminology'--paratextual and epitextual enunciation of the book--that is absent in the bespoke period. …

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