Peter Redford, Ed.: The Burley Manuscript

By Dickson, Donald R. | Seventeenth-Century News, Spring-Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Peter Redford, Ed.: The Burley Manuscript


Dickson, Donald R., Seventeenth-Century News


Peter Redford, ed. The Burley Manuscript. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017. xiii + 447 pp. 90.00 [pounds sterling].

In the 1879 report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, Alfred J. Horwood brought to the attention of the scholarly world the existence of a seventeenth-century manuscript miscellany in the possession of the Finch family at Burley-on-the-Hill, noting that it contained "copies of letters seemingly by and to Sir Henry Wotton." Logan Pearsall Smith then made considerable use of it for his edition of The Life and Letters of Henry Wotton (Oxford, 1907) at which time a transcript of the Donne-Wotton portions was made. Herbert J. C. Grierson drew upon the manuscript for his edition of The Poems of John Donne (Oxford, 1912), having discovered in it the previously unknown verse letter to Wotton, "H: W: in Hiber: belligeranti." When an extensive fire broke out at Burley-on-the-Hill in 1908 that destroyed most of the archives and library, this transcript was thought to be the only witness of the Burley Ms. until 1960 when I. A. Shapiro discovered the manuscript in the National Register of Archives where it had been moved for safekeeping before the fire. Now that Peter Redford has edited this important manuscript, those interested in Donne, Wotton, Spenser, and other poets of the seventeenth century will be able to assess its significance more readily.

The Burley Ms. contains 373 folios (61 of which are blank) with writing on both recto and verso. All told there are 616 items in this manuscript miscellany that includes poems, letters, semiofficial reports, and other kinds of writing, most in English. The volume was assembled from previously copied booklets that were acquired, expanded, and eventually bound together by Sir William Parkhurst (1581-1667), who had been secretary to Sir Henry Wotton in Venice and later Warden of the Mint. Redford conveniently gathers all that is now known of Parkhurst into a brief chapter on his life (as yet there is no ODNB article for him). About half of the manuscript is in Parkhurst's hand; the rest, in various sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scribal hands, notably a hand called "D1" by Grierson and Pearsall Smith that copied most of the Donne materials. While Redford lists all 616 items with an incipit and notes about the scribal hand that produced the item, he only transcribes the private letters and the verse in English. The Burley Manuscript is thus more useful to students of literature than of history. His transcriptions retain the original spelling but expand contractions, normalize i/j and u/v, so the text is reader friendly (though not diplomatic).

One of Redford's most interesting contributions is his theory of interception to explain how the "45 or so private letters" were copied into the Burley. Noting that the bulk of the Donne-Wotton correspondence (most in the hand of the D1 scribe) is from 1598-1601 when both men were employed as secretaries to Sir Thomas Egerton and the Earl of Essex, Redford argues that these letters were copies of copies made as part of a domestic surveillance effort most likely ordered by the Secretary of State, Sir Robert Cecil. …

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