Amicable Annotation, Part 3 (Marks of Owning and Recording)

[Image: How Gabriel Harvey marked his Livy. Made available through Annotated Books Online. For details, see below.]

Part 1 is here. Part 2 here. Enjoy Part 3.

My discussion thus far has focused on scholarly annotation as a friendly practice. In order to account for the role of friendship in humanist times, though, we need a broader sense of the variety of ways early moderns marked up their books. Heidi Brayman Hackel’s Reading Material in Early Modern England sorts the period’s handwritten book-marks into three useful types, to which we will add a fourth proposed by Jason Scott-Warren in his article “Reading Graffiti in the Early Modern Book:”

  1. Marks of active reading (deictics, underlining, summaries, cross-references, queries).” These “suggest that the book is to be engaged, digested, re-read.”
  2. Marks of ownership (signatures, shelf marks, proprietary verses).” These “distinguish a book as a physical object, to be protected, catalogued, inventoried, and valued.”
  3. Marks of recording (debts, marriages, births, accounts).” Hackel argues that “these seem to reside somewhere in between” the first two: “like ownership marks, they suggest that the book has physical value; like readers’ marks, they convey that the book is a site of information.”
  4. Graffiti.” In this class, we can gather all the unruly and seemingly irrelevant matter (to the primary text, at least) deposited in early modern books such as “Fragments of verse, lists of clothing, enigmatic phrases, incomplete calculations, […] impish faces peering out from the margin, geometric figures on a flyleaf, a mother and child on a blank sheet, […] pressed flowers, […] the rust outlines of pairs of scissors” (here I quote a bit of Hackel’s book quoted by Scott-Warren).

Hackel concludes: “For each of these three kinds of notes, the book takes on a different role: as intellectual process, as valued object, and as available paper.” On the range of motives for graffiti, meanwhile, Scott-Warren observes: “they assert ownership, flaunt literacy, display obedience, pass judgment, and play games (among other things).”

I propose that we add enact friendship among the “other things” that not only graffiti but the other three classes of marks could do. We have already discussed how “marks of active reading” could serve friendly purposes among the humanists. To Hackel’s argument about the attitude toward the book expressed by such marking (something to be “engaged, digested, re-read”), we can now add the supplemental observation that the “digestion” might be on another reader’s behalf. But what of the other three kinds? How did they serve friendship?

Let’s begin with ownership marks. Here, in fact, we’ve already reviewed a number of examples, albeit in the original “Friendship by the Book” post. For, of course, the remarkable thing that humanists did with this sort of mark was make it a vehicle for the expression of the doctrines of friendship so central to their ethical program. Hackel is right to stress that ownership marks call attention to the book as a “physical object.” Yet if a book could be held (and “protected, catalogued, inventoried,” etc.), so, too, could it be extended–and the act of extension tells us something about the meanings of their books. The “et amicorum” ownership mark indeed asserted the physicality of the book, but it also did more, said more about what books are and do. The inscription also asserted such intangibles as shared values, beginning with friendship itself but also also the common esteem of books and  the reading life, as well as perhaps the values expressed within the book (since the inscriber assumes that friends might wish to read it). “Et amicorum” inscriptions, once again, opened relational dimensions the book’s meaning and the reading experience.

The “et amicorum” inscription was not the only means of employing this paratextual practice for friendly ends. A 1504 Aldine printing of Gregory of Nazianzus’s Carmina owned by Erasmus offers a notable example here. It bears a phrase Erasmus often wrote in his Aldines: Sum Erasmi, nec muto dominum, or “I am Erasmus’s, and I don’t change my master.” Here’s its appearance in another Aldine:

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Erasmus sent the book to Martinus Lipsius in 1518 along with a note describing the book as a “quid pro quo if you like [for a purse that Lipsius had sent him], or a token, however inadequate, of my regard for you.”  In his new volume, Martinus Lipsius wrote the following beneath Erasmus’s formula: Fui Erasmi, et mutavi d[omi]n[u]m, “I was Erasmus’s, and I have changed my master.” At some point, Erasmus was reunited with the book, and took the occasion to reply in turn: Imo no[n] mutavi, cu[m] amicus sit alter ipse, “Indeed I have not changed, for a friend is a second self.” Readers of the earlier post might recall the latter expression, which appeared in the second ancient proverb in Erasmus’s Adagia (1st ed., 1500): Amicitia aequalitas. Amicus alter ipse,Friendship is equality. A friend is another self.” No further comment from Lipsius appears. How could there be? Erasmus has quoted Aristotle (by way, of course, his own book); case closed.

These two astute readers turn the ownership mark into an occasion for a friendly game of linguistic one-upsmanship (which Erasmus wins on principle). As I have suggested previously, even if humanist friendship is sometimes described by its adherents (and by later chronicles) as a high-minded, moral, formal, even stuffy affair, that does not mean that its experience was devoid of warmth and pleasure. Here two friends exercise what Aristotle might call eutrapelia (εὐτραπελία), which is sometimes translated as “wittiness” or “affability.” For Aristotle, it is the virtue of the speaker who makes conversation pleasant thanks to well-timed and well-turned (what the Greek means) phrases. The key for present purposes is that this flash of wit occurs on paper: the book serves as the medium for a special sort of communication (of, moreover, book-learning). To return to Hackel’s taxonomy, this playful ownership debate shades into the other categories: for these remarks certainly hinge on “active reading,” and they also offer a “record” of a friendship’s transactions. Lipsius’s book has grown in value thanks to this repartee.

Let’s continue with marks of recording. Here Hackel lists as examples “debts, marriages, births, accounts”–in other words, notable events or figures in a family line’s or household’s or business’s (or some running together of these) life. Among Hackel’s trio, this is the category that most fully recognizes humans as social beings, creatures situated within webs of hereditary, marital and monetary relations. Hackel does not discuss friendship here, perhaps because friendships were not “entered” in books in the same fashion as familial events or financial figures. Friends are more likely to show up in passing, as accomplices or as gift-givers; we can find them if we look to books’ own accounts of their use.

Consider, for example, the passage featured above from the Elizabethan-Jacobean-era scholar Gabriel Harvey’s famous copy of Livy’s Romanae historiae principis, decades tres, cum dimidia. The note reads (translation by ABO’s editors):

The courtier Philip Sidney and I had privately discussed these three books of Livy, scrutinizing them so far as we could from all points of view, applying a political analysis, just before his embassy to the emperor Rudolf II. He went to offer him congratulations in the queen’s name just after he had been made emperor. Our consideration was chiefly directed at the forms of states, the conditions of persons, and the qualities of actions.We paid little attention to the annotations of Glareanus and others.

For Grafton and Lisa Jardine, in their important article “‘Studied for Action’: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy,” this passage shows how the reading practices of a scholar such as Harvey were understood as “triggers” for action, particularly political action. There’s a “careerist” angle perhaps to this reading: Harvey’s scrutiny of the text is in the service of a courtier with ambitions, and bespeaks Harvey’s own desire to rise politically through his readings. We’ll come back to the question of friendship and public life (and patronage) in later posts. For now, I want to make the more obvious point about this annotation: that Gabriel Harvey used his book not only to study with Philip Sidney but also to chronicle that that study session had taken place. For Harvey, this was a momentous event, one that he and perhaps other readers, contemporary and perhaps much later, would do well to remember. Notice, too, that Harvey and Sidney have done the humanistic thing to the now dated humanist marginalia, cutting down Glareanus just as an earlier generation of humanists had rooted out scholastic commentary. The collaborative sense of the reading act is enhanced by their decision to turn away from others’ annotation.

But Harvey didn’t only record friendly exchanges over such high matters in his books. His other great poet friend, Edmund Spenser, sent the famously melancholy Harvey a pile of jest books in 1578, along with a reading challenge. Harvey noted the terms in an end note to a book titled A Merye Jest of a man called Howleglas:

This Howletglasse, with Skoggin, Skelton, and L[a]zarill, given me at London, of Mr Spensar XX. Decembris 1[5]78, on condition [I] shoold bestowe the reading of them over, before the first of January [imme]diately ensuing : otherwise to forfeit unto him my Lucian in fower volumes. Whereupon I was the rather induced to trifle away so many howers, as were idely overpassed in running thorowgh the [above named] foolish Bookes : wherein methowg[ht] not all fower togither seemed comparable for s[ub]tle & crafty feates with Jon Miller whose witty shiftes, & practices ar reported amongst Skeltons Tales.

Of these words, the great Renaissance scholar (and baseball commissioner) A. Barlett Giamatti observed: “We catch something of the slyness of Spenser who, badly wanting the Lucian, knew what a painful chore he was sending his pedantic friend.” (We should note, though, that Giamatti does not quote the last sentence above, which shows that Harvey was not altogether unfamiliar with or uninterested in the genre.) As with Erasmus’s exchange with Lipsius in their copy of Gregory’s Carmina, Spenser’s gift shows us that books could be objects of play among humanists, even among the serious-minded like Harvey. Taken together, the two examples testify, once again, to the book’s possibility of being both vehicle and chronicle: the site of friendly interaction and its mode of commemoration.


Now on to Part 4.

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