When was the last time you signed yourself someone’s “very loving friend” at the end of a letter or told them you were theirs to be commanded (or, even more ominously, “used”)? Thought so. Perhaps the oddest thing about early modern letters are the sign-offs, because they sound alien to modern ears and often don’t quite tally with our notions of politeness, formality or friendship.
Take, for example the phrase “your very loving friend”. In the unlikely event that you were actually to consider using it to end one of your emails, it would probably be an email to someone with whom you have a close personal relationship – and even then it might seem too touchy-feely for comfort. In early modern letters, however, the phrase gets used everywhere, even in contexts where the writer and the recipient of the letter aren’t exactly friends and the contents of the letter suggest that there wasn’t much love lost between them at the time of writing:
This is a copy of an uncharacteristically angry letter from the Earl of Shrewsbury to his deputy lieutenants Sir Walter Aston and Richard Bagot, in which he claims they “never did any thing at my commandment, which might breed content” (i.e. they’re bloody useless at their jobs) and threatens to report them to the Privy Council for their poor performance of their duties. And yet the letter is signed “your Loving friend G Shrewsbury” and addressed to “my Loving ffrendes”. So clearly friendship in the early modern sense doesn’t mean quite what you might think. The same goes for this letter from the Earl of Essex to Richard Bagot (signed “your very louing frend R Essex” in the Earl’s own hand):
The nature of Essex’ loving friendship with Richard Bagot becomes clear halfway through the letter, however, when he writes “I muste entreate you, as my very good frende, and one in whome I presume to haue some intereste, that you will giue your vttermoste aide vnto the Sheriff […] for the removinge of Robbinson and his associates” (which may be roughly paraphrased as “you owe me, Bagot, so do as you’re told”). So if “your very loving friend” doesn’t have to imply love or friendship between the letter-writer and the recipient, what does it actually mean? Perhaps the best way to think about it is as a relatively neutral, multi-purpose sign-off – a sort of early modern version of “best wishes” and “yours sincerely” rolled into one. It’s also a sign-off that’s normally reserved for letters addressed to people who are the writer’s social equals or inferiors. That’s why in their grovelling reply to Shrewsbury’s letter (L.a.74), Walter Aston and Richard Bagot don’t sign themselves his loving friends but “your Lordships most humble at comandment” – a phrase that sounds obsequious to modern ears but is in fact just the polite acknowledgement of and submission to Shrewsbury’s authority required to pacify him and make him change his mind about that report to the Privy Council. For an example of a truly obsequious early modern sign-off, compare another letter from the Earl of Essex, addressed to the queen (X.c.11), which he concludes “… and with all humble, and reverent thoughtes that may be, rest ever to be commaunded to dye at your feete”. That’s a bit much even by early modern standards.
Histories of sustainability have typically situated the origins of our current environmental crises at the advent of industrialism, as if locating a moment in time when things were otherwise might help to remediate our current ecological crises derived from human-induced forms of destruction: air pollution, deforestation, and others. All of these histories, that is, and for obvious and very good reasons, take as their concern large-scale practices especially rooted in moments of rupture when human practices overreach.
I propose here that we might more usefully approach sustainability, however, by taking a step back, moving from the global to the local, as they say, to focus instead on smaller-scale practices, or “micro-practices” that inform what Rosi Braidotti describes as “sustainable becoming,” or “the ethical state of becoming [that] practices a humble kind of hope, rooted in the ordinary micro-practices of everyday life” (Transpositions. Maiden: Polity, 2006: 137).
Early modern receipt books express and enact the very principles of sustainability that our histories attempt to recuperate, the “micro-practices” of the everyday; their details recount an embeddedness of human and nonhuman things, the sort of mutual dependence that sustainability initiatives today aim to recuperate and reproduce. The creation and efficacy of the recipes we find in these books depend not on discrete human/nonhuman entities but instead on the intimate “micro-practices” that constitute human/nonhuman collaborations, as we see in a recipe from the Lady Frances Catchmay book, “A very good medicen for eyes that be trobled wth a pinne and web be or with any other dymnes” (12r):
Take the oyle of a new layd egge or two, beate and clappe it well till it come to afrothe, then let it stande for a little while, and let the oyle rune into a saucer, and put the juce of daysies, with the blossomes, leaves and rootes, beinge stamped and strained into the oyle of the egges, put alittle clarified honey to it and mixt all thes together well, and let the patient take every eveninge and morninge into his eye that is greaved adroppe put in with a fether, let this be used so longe as he hathe payne.
The person preparing the remedy uses a “new layd egge or two,” which means that the cure depends on the immediacy of time, participation (at least tacit) by the chickens who produce said egg/s, human movement across ground, into henhouse to gather it. And how “new” is a “new layd egg”? Is it still warm? Can it be several hours or even days old? To know what constitutes “new layd” to prepare the medicine requires the housewife (in all likelihood) to have such intimate knowledge of egg and chicken—touching the warmth of the egg newly delivered, observing the point at which eggs go bad and are no longer fresh enough for the cure; the egg “beate[n]” and “clappe[d]” incorporate egg matter, mixing bowl, and human energy to create the new substance the resulting “frothe.” And to “put the juce of daysies, with the blossomes, leaves and rootes, beinge stamped and strained into the oyle of the egges” not only synthesizes said egg-bowl-human mingling with plant matter, but it depends on the recent human harvest of daisies, which requires human form to cross household threshold into adjoining environs (immediate or further afield) to pick fresh daisies so that they might still have juice to be strained. And again, as human feet traverse the dirt- or gravel-covered pathways outside, sights and sounds of nonhuman activity penetrate human bodily boundaries—a wooden stamper encircled by human hands “stampe[s] and straine[s]” the various parts of the daisies, daisy juice (roots, leaves, and all) mingles with frothy oil of egg mixture.
This recipe illustrates how humans and nonhumans are bound to one another in yet other ways too. The clarified honey added to the plant-egg froth recalls multiple forms of the interdependency of bee and human labor: bees gather pollen, some wild-growing and some perhaps human-cultivated, which combines with the enzymes in their saliva to activate the substance we know as honey; the honey, probably extracted from a hive (or skep, perhaps itself made of plant material) built by humans, becomes the golden, sticky substance by way of its production and storage in combs; it is then harvested and “clarified,” which would have involved separating the liquid honey from the wax and residual pollen. And after mixing yet again, the resulting concoction is “put in” the patient’s “greaved” eyes (morning and evening) “with a feather,” such that human and nonhuman animals and plants intra-act to perform the cure.
Rather than focusing on geologic indicators of fissure between humans and nonhumans or destructive large-scale practices that seem to precipitate them, we might turn our attention to alternative narratives, alternative subjects. A focus on the “micro-practices” in receipt books illustrate intimate human-nonhuman relationships in the past that challenge dominant histories of sustainability; after all, household cookery and medicine was, even if driven by necessity more than a romantic sensibility, sustainable all along.
You may have noticed by now that there are a dearth of manuscripts by or about Shakespeare among the thousands of images in Shakespeare’s World. As far as we know, he does not make an appearance in any of the thousands of recipes or letters currently available for transcription (but please prove us wrong!). One letter to Shakespeare does in fact survive, from Richard Quiney in 1598, but the letter is at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and therefore does not appear in Shakespeare’s World.
That will change when we add the genres “miscellanies” (blank books filled with poems, notes, copies of letters, and just about anything worth writing down) and “commonplace books” (blank books with extracts arranged by theme or category) to the site later this year. If you are a close reader of the Bard, you will likely encounter extracts from Shakespeare’s plays and poems, copies of William Basse’s elegy on Shakespeare, and perhaps passages that scholars at the Folger Shakespeare Library have not yet discovered. It will be exciting for Shakespeare enthusiasts to be able to read these references and allusions in the context of the manuscript volumes in which they appear, and to think further about how early modern readers digested their Shakespeare.
Until then, you can get your fill of Shakespeare at Shakespeare Documented, an online exhibition convened by the Folger Shakespeare Library, with contributions by over thirty institutions. Also, many of the actual manuscripts related to the famous literary figure are on display in the current exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Great Hall: Shakespeare, Life of an Icon.
Shakespeare Documented includes high-resolution images, descriptions, metadata, and in many cases, transcriptions, of approximately 500 references to William Shakespeare and his family in their lifetimes, as well as editions of, and references and allusions to, Shakespeare’s works, in his lifetime and in the years following his death in 1616. If we discover anything Shakespeare-related in Shakespeare’s World, we would be thrilled to add it to Shakespeare Documented, and are eager to see this new resource grow and evolve!
Learning to write the alphabet is one of the first stages of writing literacy. For early modern English children, this meant first learning to read the letters of the alphabet (printed in black letter) from a hornbook.
They then learned to write the letters of the alphabet in one or both of the two main handwritten scripts, secretary and italic. For this, they relied on manuscript or printed copybooks or exemplars, usually supplemented by instruction from a writing master at a writing school, a private tutor or family member, or usher in a grammar school. ((See Herbert C. Schulz, “The Teaching of Handwriting in Tudor and Stuart Times,” The Huntington Library Quarterly (4), August 1943: 381-425.))
Below are two plates from Jehan de Beau-Chesne’s and John Baildon’s A booke containing diuers sortes of hands, as well the English as French secretarie with the Italian, Roman, chancelry & court hands (London, 1602 [first ed. 1570]) (Folger STC 6450.2) that depict versions of secretary and italic hand:
On both of these leaves, someone has tried to imitate the letter forms. In the top example, the brand new writer got through some of the minuscule and majuscule forms of the letter A (“a a a A A [upside down!] a a a”) before smudging out his or her work. Further progress is made on the “Italique hande” leaf, where the letters A through J (and perhaps an attempt at the letter K) are awkwardly and painstakingly formed underneath the exemplar. (By the way, the aphorism on this leaf is from Cicero.)
Children learned their letters by repeatedly tracing and copying strokes, letters, alphabets, pangrams (sentences that contain all the letters of the alphabet), and aphorisms. Beau-Chesne’s copybook was not the only one to contain the verse instructions, “Rules made by E.B. for children to write by,” that describe the ideal quill, ink, and posture for a child’s first experiences with writing. The instructions even advise on how the teacher should prepare the paper:
… Scholler to learne, it may do you pleasure,
To rule him two lines iust of a measure:
Those two lines betweene to write very iust,
Not aboue or below write that he must:
The same to be done is best with blacke lead,
Which written betweene, is cleansed with bread.
Your pen from your booke, but seldome remoue,
To follow strange hand with drie pen first proue:
(copied from Folger STC 6450.2)
That is, use a graphite pencil to rule a piece of paper with sets of double lines for the child to write between. Then write some exemplar letters for the child to copy. He or she can trace them with an inkless quill in the first instance, and then proceed to use ink. The pencil lines can be erased with bread.
The result might be something like below, in which one Stephen Poynting, possibly a student at the Free School in Gloucester, practices a pangram, “Job a Righteous man of uz waxed poor Quickly” (i/j and u/v counting as single graphs). He writes it twenty-one times, and his spacing between words grows larger and larger so that he can no longer fit the last word of the sentence (he appears to be writing one word of the sentence at a time, in columnar format). If you look closely at the piece of paper, you can see that it is blind-ruled; that is, guidelines have been made with an inkless quill to help him write in a straight line.
by Heather Wolfe @hwolfe
Some may well ask what is EMMO, and what does this acronym have to do with Shakespeare’s World? To give a short answer first, EMMO (pronounced “eh’-moh” not “ee’-moh”) stands for Early Modern Manuscripts Online.
Essentially, EMMO is a broad paleography project funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and based at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. EMMO has two main goals, the first of which is to build a compilation of vetted transcriptions to accompany images of manuscript pages from the Folger’s collection. To give an idea of the numbers involved, EMMO currently has over 41,000 images to transcribe and encode. The second — but certainly not secondary — goal of EMMO is to promote the general study of early modern paleography. Serendipitously, Zooniverse was branching out from the sciences and looking into the humanities at about the same time that the EMMO project began, so a crowd-sourcing website pertaining to paleography and enlisting the skills of citizen humanists seemed an excellent way to accomplish many goals at once.
In early 2015, members of the respective EMMO and Zooniverse teams reached an agreement about the site, and development work began in earnest over the summer. By September of 2015, we were ready to try a limited alpha test.
Something we discovered during the alpha was a way to make the Shakespeare’s World transcription interface match the way paleography is taught and practiced at workshops and events sponsored by EMMO, such as transcribathons. Taking a cue from the Folger’s online transcription tool, Dromio, and the list of common abbreviations in our “Alphabet Book,” the Zooniverse team crafted a substantial number of shortcut buttons to help citizen humanists transcribe these shortened forms quickly.
Feedback was received from the alpha, observations made, and a beta test followed in November. One of the suggestions was to have sample alphabets available for users on the site. The EMMO team found examples of individual letters, both minuscule (lower case) and majuscule (upper case) and sent these to the Zooniverse team who integrated the alphabets into the main interface.
Originally, manuscript page images from a wider variety of genres were planned for the launch, but we decided to focus on just two genres for the start, specifically letters and recipes, as these materials would likely be more recognizable, and the Folger’s entire collection of these genres could be included. In all, the EMMO team identified and transferred just under 8700 distinct images to Zooniverse for the launch. So far, we been pleased with the way users have taken to these manuscript pages so readily! The discussions on “Talk” have been quite lively and most interesting.
In the months ahead, we plan to transfer additional genres of manuscript images from the Folger collection to Shakespeare’s World, including miscellanies, literary works, newsletters, diaries, coats of arms, sermons, and more. Watch for announcements in 2016.
After we receive aggregated transcription data back from Zooniverse (a conglomeration of the contributions by all the citizen humanists on Shakespeare’s World), the EMMO team will check the data and encode the transcriptions into TEI-P5 compliant XML that will eventually be fully searchable via the free, online EMMO database. When this database is implemented later in 2016 or early 2017, scholars and the general public will have much greater accessibility to these rare manuscripts and a new research tool for analysis.
For more about EMMO and our transcribing events, see the links below:
- A post from The Collation about the first “transcribathon” sponsored by EMMO
- A post from one of the participants in the EMROC transcribathon about the sense of community
- Our “Folgerpedia” page on EMMO and the Practical Paleography series at the Folger
- A post from The Collation about EMMO activities in late 2015
We may try to do some virtual or in-person (or combination) transcribathons with the Shakespeare’s World community of citizen humanists in 2016, so stay tuned!
By Paul Dingman @pding001
Much as we do today, Shakespeare’s contemporaries craved all sorts of sweet desserts at festival times. This entry for “a receipte for damsons to bake at Christmastide or anie other plum” from Folger MS V.a.21, fol. 146 explicitly mentions that this plum tart was to be prepared during the Christmas season, which lasted twelve days from Christmas Eve (December 24) to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6).
Hello my fellow transcriber! If you are reading this hopefully you’ve already caught the transcription bug. If not, perhaps these ten tips will help persuade you to keep calm and carry on.
- Watch out for abbreviations. There are a few that occur regularly (with, which, etc). We’ve included shortcut buttons to make transcribing them easier for you.
- Watch out for spelling as it was not standardized. You’ll encounter all sorts of crazy and wonderful spellings. Perhaps you’ll even discover a new word for entry in the Oxford English Dictionary! [see Philip Durkin’s blog post on December 17th]. Sometimes it helps to say the word out loud as you see it… and remember we transcribe what we see. We don’t modernize spelling.
wendsday (wednesday) saterday (saturday)
- Count your minims. Use the rest of the word to decide if it’s an ‘i’, ‘u’, ‘m’ or ‘n’. minded
- Don’t be put off if there’s something you can’t do. Remember the beauty of Shakespeare’s World is that you can leave out a word, a line, or even a whole chunk of writing if you simply don’t like the look of it! It might be right up the next transcriber’s street…
- Be prepared to encounter both majuscules (capital letters) and minuscules (lower case letters) where you wouldn’t expect them.
- Watch out for interference from letters above and below the line.
- Note the ‘y’ thorn, and the abbreviations it comes with: the, them, that… the
- Use context to help you. If you work out 5 of 6 letters, you might be able to guess the rest. Once you’ve done so check your letter choice in the alphabet. Beware of getting too carried away with guesswork though; if you feel you are guessing a lot move on to a different image.
- Picking up on number 8: USE YOUR ALPHABET. Check your letters. It’s easy to use and it’s located in the side bar.
- Finally, and most importantly, enjoy it. Do as much or as little as you like. We are a transcribing community and we are all working together towards the same end. Thanks for contributing!
Sarah Powell is the EMMO Paleographer at the Folger Shakespeare Library: @S_Powell
Or not, as the case may be! I tried gentle reader, I did, but I think I’ve made an applesauce instead.
The original recipe says: R: [as in rinse?] your pepkins pare them & quarter them in 5 or 6 peeces then coare ym / & take to a pound of pepine a pound. of suger & 3 quarters of a pint of water / or more when you haue Clarifyed your suger put in your Pepins, when / your water boileth apace then with a rolling pinne stampe you downe / to ye bottone in your stirring to breake them, you must be carefull for feare of Burninge they boiling a greate pace, when it groweth thicke as you thinke it will Cet, put it up in Boxes
I began by trying to figure out what apples would be best to use from the selection at a local farmer’s market in Oxford, England. The farmer suggested a tart cooking apple. I got enough to make a double quantity of the marmalade, hoping (well, I still intend) to give them as gifts to family at Christmas.
The recipe/what I did:
I peeled and cored 2 lbs of apples
10 oz white sugar
6 oz brown (though I would omit the brown in future!)
1 1/2 imperial pints of water
lime juice, enough to cut through the overpowering sweetness
I added the sugar and water to the pot, and warmed them enough to dissolve the sugar. I then added the apples and let the mixture boil for a while until the apples started to become translucent. Once this happened I mashed the apples using a potato masher and then cooked for a further 10-15 minutes. When I tasted it and found it overpoweringly sweet, I added a dash of lime juice. I then decanted the sauce-oulade into sterilized jars, and began contemplating how to spin this as a desirable food item for Christmas.
The result: Porridge compote. I’ll be printing out a copy of my favorite porridge/oatmeal recipe (a modified version of this recipe, using jumbo oats), along with a picture and transcription of the Marmalade recipe above, and tying these around necks of the jars with some string and a nice fabric over the lid.
Have you had better luck cooking from Shakespeare’s World recipes? Thinking of swapping your Christmas goose for Mutton served with oysters, lemon and white wine. Tell us all about over on Talk or in the comments field here.