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Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England.

Harold Love. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. xi + 379 pp. $62.

Publication in manuscript continued well after print established its primacy. Harold Love demonstrates that it also played particular social roles until the end of the seventeenth century. His interest is to describe "the ways in which scribal publication served to define communities of the like-minded . . . within a culture which had developed sophisticated means of transmitting [handwritten] copies" (32-33). He defines scribal publication, describes its importance and decline through the century as exemplified by state poems and "the pornopolitics of the lampoon," and gives guidance in editing scribally published texts.

The book will reward those interested in reception practice (and theory) and the history of the book, along with analytical bibliographers and textual critics, and students of Dryden, Rochester and Swift. Along the way Love comments on Donne and Katherine Philips (Orinda), and on poets represented in Poems on Affairs of State including Sackville (Dorset). His time period, from James I to the accession of Anne in 1703, is carefully chosen. It neatly brackets and integrates the seventeenth century, often divided for literary study at the Restoration of 1660.

Love's first section defines scribal publication by providing terminology, context and examples. Scribal communities, "bonded by the exchange of manuscripts," (181) comprised both producers and receivers of script separates (themselves often either aggregations or compilations) or perhaps newsletters. Author publication was dissemination under tight control, while entrepreneurial publication and user publication (where a copy was made for one's own use) loosened that control.

Love describes examples, such as Donne's allowing a few friends to see his manuscript Biathanatos, the familiar verse miscellanies, and the less familiar controlled transmission of manuscripts for consorts of viols. Newsletters from court to country, providing texts of parliamentary speeches and court gossip, were produced in scriptoria on a subscription basis (for as much as 20 [pounds sterling] a year for a weekly report). Love provides a compact but thorough description of the mechanics and economics of scribal production, both individually and as enterprises (applying D.F. McKenzie's influential work on early printeries, "Printers of the Mind").

His second major section, "Script and Society," shows how scribal publication changed during the century, ceding to print its role as an instrument of power. Making use of Ong (after quickly citing and as quickly discarding Derrida), Love describes the continuum of relative "presence" provided by voice, script and print. Each may be used to express power, as for example in performatively transmitting the monarch's wish. Love uses Richard II effectively to describe the transition of legitimacy from voice to the written word. The scribal communities were then succeeded by "communities of the book" which perforce were less exclusive, as print by definition was available on the open market. Part of the power of scribal text was that its possession could be denied to others during the time that it was a medium for more open expression than was print.

By the end of the century, however, the lampoons, satires and parliamentary reporting that were earlier restricted to manuscript had surfaced openly in print, reducing the privilege that scribal communities had enjoyed. Love describes how the Rochester circle, and other poets such as Dorset and Buckingham, Etherege and Marvell, exercised manuscript distribution (often employing Robert Julian, "the period's best-known scribal publisher," whose career is described in detail). Finally he shows how Swift used print to deny its seeming objectivity, thus allowing it to succeed script as "an inscriptional space m which attitudes could be expressed without reservation or disguise" (310).

"Editing Scribally-Published Texts," the final section, is an intelligible but perhaps too concise how-to manual, ranging from detailed instructions ("collating from right to left will protect against the anticipation of known readings") to theoretical precepts arising from discussions of the Kane and Donaldson editions of Piers Plowman. Love urges positive revaluation of genealogical reasoning when editing scribally published texts, though (as he admits) the theory of how to do so remains at the point where W.W. Greg left it in 1927. Fredson Bowers' work in textual criticism, oddly, is not mentioned.

Love's book is rich in detailed discussions of writings, techniques and processes. His wide scholarly reading is matched by sensitivity both in his interpretations and in his theorizing. Unfortunately, the book's production does not serve him well. Its unsewn, glued "burst binding" is not expected by conservators to last. Inking is gray, variant and smudged. Bookmaking damage was evident even in the replacement copy the publisher kindly provided. Scholarship expects more of Oxford's premier imprint.
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Author:Graham, Peter S.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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