Today sees the second instalment of the Lost Manuscripts pilot project made publicly available. The project takes as its focus the manuscript fragments to be found in the bindings of books once owned by Samuel Harsnett, Archbishop of York (1561-1631). He bequeathed his library to his hometown of Colchester, for the edification of the local clergy. In the twenty-first century, they are used by other seekers after knowledge as they are now housed at the University of Essex in the new extension to the Albert Sloman Library.
This latest instalment involves just over a score of fragments, eight new lost manuscripts and three highlight pages. The items include ones which remind us that the process of dismantling old manuscripts did not have to wait to the Reformation to begin, and others which reveal to us some of the different practices among binders, with some more concerned to use pristine parchment and so cut the margins off the text, recycle those margins and discard the text itself. The batch also includes the first example of a fragment in the English language, and adds to the small number of fragments with musical notation.
If you have any questions or information about these fragments, do drop us a line.
It was not only manuscripts that were cut up and used in bindings for new books in the sixteenth and seventeenth century: printed texts could suffer the same fate. There are about fifty examples of this in the collection of Samuel Harsnett, Archbishop of York (d. 1631), now held in the library of the University of Essex. They include several interesting specimens, for instance:
- an English text printed by Wynkyn de Worde which, as Francesca Galligan has shown, may represent an unnoticed printing of Rycharde cuer de lyon
- two partial copies of a royal proclamation to butchers of 1535, in a binding localisable to London and datable to before 1537
- a mid-seventeenth century advertisement for a school being set up by one Andrew Minet on Lime Street, London
- a folio from Erasmus’s De copia (Basel, 1534) re-used in Cambridge in the late 1570s or early 1580s as a flyleaf in a binding for a copy of the Italian émigré Protestant reformer, Peter Martyr Vermigli – an interesting hint at changing priorities within a half century
For various reasons, these printed pieces are not the focus of the present project to catalogue and put on-line the fragments in the Harsnett collection – but it would be a shame not to make them publicly available in some form. So, the Centre has set up an album on Flickr with some images already uploaded there. This news comes with a request: taking our lead from places like the Harry Ransom Center and initiatives like the Sion College Library Provenance Project, run by Lambeth Palace Library, we want you to invite you to engage with these images and add to our knowledge of them. So, friends in the republic of letters, do let us know if you have information about them we don’t have – and we will make sure you are acknowledged.