The Yeoman and the city.
So rich is it in vivid historical detail and local color, this story, briefly and un-dramatically summarized here, could easily serve as a new historicist anecdote, providing an ethnographically thick description of the intellectual and aesthetic tastes of its readers, or as an entry point into a larger network of cultural and historical networks. But as Steven M. May and Arthur F. Marotti show us in Ink, Stink Bait, Revenge, and Queen Elizabeth: A Yorkshire Yeoman's Household Book, what is of the most interest to this story is the condition of its survival and compilation: it makes up a large part of a remarkable Yeoman's commonplace book, acquired in 2007 by the British Library, compiled by John Hanson of Rastrick, Yorkshire (1517-99), a scrivener and legal agent who, sometime in the late 16th century, began collecting material for preservation.
The commonplace book contains two versions of the Eland-Beaumont legend, one in prose of six folio pages and another in ballad stanzas of nine folio pages. Certainly the inclusion of two versions of this story suggests, on one level, an early modern fascination with revenge narratives and their moral implications. But in the context of John Hanson's manuscript, the narratives serve other ends: to affirm the importance of a functioning judicial and legal system, to solidify family ties, and to reaffirm the interdependence of local and national history. From a sixteenth-century perspective, the narratives function to romanticize and moralize the brutal history of Yorkshire and to use those historical events to end a contemporary feud between the Saville family, presumably allied with the Hanson family, and Sir Richard Tempest, who seemed to terrorize the district in a way similar to John Eland in the ballad (69). The tension, or, rather, lack of tension, between the local and the national is one of the most fascinating aspects of this book. As Marotti and May note, local interests could serve as political "counterweights" to London's centralized monarchical power (66). As a commonplace book recording local and national history, the book was ultimately a personal item created by John Hanson for use by his immediate family and neighbors, but as a book, it came to record "material embedded in the cultural memory of its provincial compiler and readers while demonstrating the dissemination of material from the cultural center to the periphery" (3).
As Arthur Marotti notes in his earlier Manuscript, Print and the English Renaissance Lyric, other than the court, the two universities, and the Inns of Court, the household of the nobility and the gentry were the most common sites of manuscript compilation (40). Through their excellent commentary and editing of the texts, May and Marotti bring to life a community of readers, namely the family, household, and extended family of John Hanson. Commonplace books represent utilitarian and aesthetic interest through the choice of materials, the shared interests and tastes dictated by practical considerations and knowledge, and the influence of "extrinsic" sources such as traveling ballad sellers, religious controversies, and national political issues. In his book, Hanson showed a particular fondness for ballads. Marotti and May do an excellentjob of surveying the rather thorny landscape of ballad scholarship, including the initial difficulty of defining a ballad, noting that while ballads had strong roots in an early oral performative tradition, by the sixteenth century, ballads were often transcribed, often printed, and given a new life when literate balladeers performed them (37). As the authors note, one of the most valuable items found in the Hanson manuscript are two ballads describing Queen Elizabeth's 1588 procession through London giving thanks for the Armada victory. These ballads not only reflect a ballad aesthetic (the second ballad ends with the writer stating, "Thus have I made a simple song / To synge the contrye folke among / Of all I sawe" [108; 2.206-08]) but also possible tensions between "a centralizing monarchy and the individual and corporate rights of citizens," with the authors carefully introducing the two ballads to reflect this tension (115). The two ballads, available to Hanson either through connections in London or purchased from traveling ballad-mongers, were previously published (and listed in the Stationer's Register) but were subsequently lost (107). And these ballads were not alone: as the authors note, between June 29th and November 27th, English printers registered twenty-seven ballads on the topic of the Armada, but only four survive in printed form (120). Marotti and May provide an essential service in their continuation of the curatorial acts begun by John Hansen, who, by choosing these ballads for inclusion and writing them down, did a great service to early modern scholarship and literary history.
The ballad is more detailed than the prose version in its narrative, for example, in portraying the parishioners who came to the aid of Beaumont as "hardye men," and in creating a more vivid illustration of a local population coming to the aid of its feudal lord (32). It is somewhat surprising to find the ballads serving as a moral treatise, more so than the prose version:
oh Lord this was a wicked dede who cowlde theyr hands Refrayne for to wede owt suche wicked menne Though yt were to theyr payne (f. 36, st 46)
As the authors note, revenge narratives were often the topic of sermons and other moral discourses (62). While it is possible that Hanson saw the prose and ballad versions as accurate histories, and thus saw the two versions as having a purely transcriptive worth, it is more likely that their real importance for Hanson's family lie in the moral lessons the ballads contained.
The "real" historical event was far less dramatic, and the contrast between the book's two accounts serves to highlight what Marotti and May see as three distinct historical contexts of the narratives' composition and transmission. First is the mid-fourteenth century when the events are said to have occurred; second is the latter part of Henry VIII's reign when the narratives were likely first composed; and finally is the late-sixteenth century, the time of Hanson's transcription. As for the historical verity of the events, Robert Beaumont was dead eleven years before Eland was sheriff. As the authors note, the ballad and prose narratives "obscure or eliminate most of the legal realities of the situation" (50) and instead create an adventure story, a revenge narrative, undoubtedly composed for an audience with a taste for such adventures. Mid-fourteenth-centuryYorkshire was a relatively lawless place (it is probably not a coincidence that Yorkshire is the setting for many of the Robin Hood legends), and this historical time and place provided an opportunity to turn the story of Beaumont into an affirmation of the importance of a systematicjudicial system and the maintaining of local political affiliations.
Reading Ink, Stink Bait, Revenge, and Queen Elizabeth partially recreates the experience of owning and reading a commonplace book such as Hanson's in that it is not one reading experience but many. The book is at times deeply pedagogical and at others viscerally entertaining. Each section of Ink, Stink Bait begins with analysis and commentary and then moves to the carefully edited and transcribed texts, many of which are followed by textual notes on the history of the text and its relation to other extant sources. The introductions provide fascinating contextual readings of the texts. By gathering together many of the short texts into two chapters, one for items from printed sources and one for those from manuscript sources, Marotti and May might suggest a homogeneity that the actual text resists. A careful reading of the introduction, however, will remind readers that the original manuscript is ordered in a far more disparate way, with items included as they came available to Hanson.
Commonplace books, likewise, seem to work on two planes, one as a gathering of utilitarian texts, as a vehicle for storing valuable "homespun knowledge" (227), and for recording matters of a family and estate business. Secondly, commonplace books are aesthetic objects with edifying moral ends. But as we read the various texts, we continually see the two planes collapsing into each other, as is the case with the two epitaphs for members of the Saville family, which not only function in a traditional sense to mourn lost friends, but serve to reinforce family political ties and, in the case of the epitaph to Sir Henry of Thornhill, to praise a "stout defender of the King's cause" against the northern rebellion of 1536-37 (175). As a commonplace book, it was seemingly not intended for dissemination beyond Hanson's immediate family and heirs, yet the text also serves a social end by keeping local records, history, and "scrapbooking." In addition to the Beaumont-Eland poem and narrative, the text includes instructions for catching fish and fowl, a legal agreement, and, in the final pages, a list of tenants and land owners in various parts of Yorkshire, as well as a list of counties of England and Wales, along with the number of parishes in each. Hanson's text offers further insight into the Tudor book in that it contains advice on how to make a book: the first folio pages contain recipes of colored inks (to create a violet-blue or purple, "take a little earewax and temper yt together, then set yt in the soone unto it thyken" ) and an elaborate recipe "to make glewe for bookes" (221).
The manuscript shows Hanson copying items of local and domestic importance alongside those of national and international importance. As Marotti and May note, "during Elizabeth's reign provincial scribes created miscellanies displaying as great a diversity ofcontent as their urban counterparts" (8). Ink, Stink Bait serves to complicate common assumptions about urban versus rural readers: while the text includes more than forty recipes for catching fish, fowl, rabbits, and frogs and other reflections of a rural lifestyle, John Hanson was also proficient enough in Latin to copy a Latin epigram and Latin legal documents in his job as a scrivener. While Hanson shows knowledge of a wide variety of literary and scholarly texts, in English and Latin, and seemed proficient in some minor legal matter, we have no record of his education (15). The manuscript contains a variety of verse; in addition to the Eland-Beaumont and Armada victory ballads, the manuscript contains proverbs and maxims excerpted from Cato, a verse calendar, a verse Decalogue, three verse epitaphs (one for Sir Henry Saville, one for Henry Saville of Thornhill, and Thomas Churchyard's epitaphs for the Earl of Pembroke), a nativity poem, one poem rightly attributed to Queen Elizabeth and a second one mistakenly attributed to her but, in fact, written by Thomas Churchyard), a poem by Thomas, Lord Vaux, and a Latin epigram excerpted from Foxe's Acts and Monuments.
Hanson's manuscript also demonstrates much about the relationship between manuscripts and print. "More than a quarter of the contents, nearly fifteen of the manuscripts' fifty folios, can be traced to identifiable prints" (148). Hanson copied items from printed sources in order to create a new text according to his personal tastes and utilitarian ends, reminding us of the complex circulation network of texts throughout early Tudor society. Hanson also copied from other manuscripts, reminding us that print was neither an essential end nor an exclusive means of textual communication. Ballads, for example, were literally transported throughout the county, hocked by ballad-mongers and performed by balladeers. Many of Hanson's poems originated in London and were about London life and society, but their presence in his text illustrates the "intersection between local and the national and between popular and elite cultures" (3).
Hanson's text represents the persistence of scribal culture into the early Tudor period, when printed texts were already readily available but oral cultural forces were still viable (35), with oral and written cultures "thoroughly intertwined by the late Middle Ages" (35). The fact that much of the homespun and practical knowledge Hanson records would have originally circulated in oral form further shows that the transition from orality to print was not an abrupt one but rather one that left traces of its change on the sixteenth-century mindset; the life cycle of a ballad, for example, moved from oral performance in the form of song, to a printed text, to a renewed life as a song, with a manuscript transcription happening at any point in the process. The Eland-Beaumont feud ballad, as transcribed by Hanson, bears some evidence of customization with the inclusion of two stanzas that suggest a performance at a venue with the Saville family in attendance. In this sense books were material negotiations between several dichotomies: oral and written, manuscript and text, urban and rural, public and private.
Although each of the sections offers insightful commentary, it is the collective nature that is the most enlightening. For many readers, the book provides an introduction to textual studies, with each section concluding with an overview of variants and sources. While thorough and authoritative, these sections may not be of much use to the casual academic reader, but for readers who pick up this book to explore the historical contexts of the texts and the importance of the various genres, the introductions are invaluably entertaining exegetical and historical studies. But it is the texts themselves that make this book invaluable. Reading the two versions of the Beaumont-Eland feud alongside recipes for making stink bait alongside moral elegies takes us as close as possible to participating in an early Tudor act of reading. The book offers a new way of understanding the life cycle of texts--printed texts were not necessarily the end of a manuscript's life, nor the only possible beginning to its public dissemination. Rather, as Ink, Stink Bait illustrates, a printed text could find renewed life and new readers by being copied out by hand, finding a home in a family household book, read silently or read aloud, by a new audience. This is where the true energy of the book emerges: the juxtaposition of texts and critical approaches recreates the experience of being immersed in a late sixteenth-century provincial community of readers at a time when the idea of the book was still forming in the cultural conscience. Ultimately, Ink, Stink Bait asks us to reconsider what a book is, at least in an historical sense, and likewise serves to expand our assumptions to what a critical text can aspire.
May, Steven W., and Arthur F. Marotti. Ink, Stink Bait, Revenge, and Queen Elizabeth: A Yorkshire Yeoman's Household Book. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2014. Paperback. $24.95
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|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
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