Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

George Harbin and the Malet Family Manuscript of Rochester

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

George Harbin and the Malet Family Manuscript of Rochester

Article excerpt

OF THE VARIOUS NEW SOURCES of Rochester texts brought to attention by Peter Beal in the second volume of the Index of English Literary Manuscripts (1993) two were subsequently singled out by Harold Love in the introduction to his monumental Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1999) as "vitally important": (1) the "Hartwell" MS now held in the Beinecke Library as MS Osborn b 334, and the "Harbin" MS contained in volume XXVII of the Thynne papers in the collection of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat. Love judged these manuscripts to be "very closely related," descending from a common source which probably "acquired its texts from Rochester's extended family" (Works of Rochester, 519, xxxvii). Accordingly, he gave special weight to variant readings in the Hartwell and Harbin copies when establishing his texts, in line with his general preference for "private" manuscripts--those compiled not for profit but for personal use, by someone close to Rochester--over the "professional" ones emanating from commercial scriptoria which were favored by Rochester's previous scholarly editors, David Vieth and Keith Walker. This principle has lately been extended by Nicholas Fisher in his edition of The Poems and Lucina's Rape (2010), leading to even greater exposure for the Harbin manuscript in particular. Love, who assembled his texts by "recensional editing," gave final authority to no single copy, whether professional or private. But Fisher, revising Walker, employed "best manuscript" theory. He replaced three quarters of Walker's copy-texts with more private ones, sixteen of them (since "Love drew extensively on ... Hartwell") from Harbin. (2)

The prominence of Hartwell and Harbin in current Rochester textual scholarship contrasts strikingly with the meager extent of our knowledge about the manuscripts themselves. Beal, whilst declaring Hartwell after Osborn b 105 "the single most important MS of Rochester's poems," noted that its "full mysteries ... await explication,"3 and a few years later Love concluded some brief remarks on the manuscript by saying that it had "still to be fully evaluated." (4) But these invitations to further study have not been taken up. More fundamental confusions surround "Harbin": both Love and Fisher refer to the manuscripts former owner, the Rev. George Harbin, as its "scribe," (5) although the index entry to volume XXVII of the Thynne papers states that it is not in his hand, and this is confirmed by the evidence of Harbin's script in his "Memoirs of Gardening," which immediately follows the Rochester copies. The exhaustive tables of variants in Loves edition have now made it possible for readers to situate the Hartwell and Harbin copies within the "transmissional histories" of the poems to which they provide witnesses. But such internal analyses need to be supplemented by complementary external accounts of the transmission of the manuscripts themselves, of the kind that Love provided for Osborn b 105 in a classic article, and most recently for the "personal miscellanies" of Sarah Cowper and Thomas Watson. (6) In the first half of this essay, I use new archival evidence to plot the various stages of the "Harbin" manuscripts journey until its arrival in the hands of George Harbin. This provenance then forms the basis of an examination, in the second half of the essay, of the "private" purposes the manuscript served, in the decades after Rochester's death, for its original owners--members of his wife's extended family, the Malets of Somerset.

I

George Harbin was born in 1665, one of the six surviving children of the prosperous London merchant John Harbyn and his wife Mary. (7) He went to St. Paul's School and from there to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, taking his B.A. in 1687. A year later he migrated to Jesus College, as a Fellow-Commoner, where his reputation for learning brought him to the attention of Francis Turner, Bishop of Ely and Visitor of the College, to whom he subsequently became chaplain. …

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