Amicable Annotation, Part 4 (Graffiti)

[Image: “Glareanus,” pen-illustration attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger in Oswald Myconius’s copy of the 1515 edition of Erasmus’s Moriae Encomium. More on this picture below.]

Part 1 is here. Part 2 here. Part 3. Enjoy Part 4.

Finally, we come to graffiti. Or maybe we’ve already been looking at it? Scott-Warren invites us to see nearly all book-markings that “do not qualify as annotations” as graffiti. With such markings, we catch “the ‘real’ reader” not in the act of reading “but doing something else entirely, something that appears to lead nowhere.” For Scott-Warren, graffiti foreground the book’s materiality, particularly its status as property through which the self can mark its presence. S-W is particularly concerned with seemingly redundant signatures, whether among the front matter or far beyond. One John Finet, Scott-Warren writes, “may appear to have been taking possession of his tiny Latin prayer book when he wrote his name on the title page and flyleaf.” But then he “felt the need to write his name or initials nearly fifty times throughout the volume.” Why? Such markings, S-W contends, were an early modern way of inhabiting one’s book–of saying, and here S-W consciously draws on modern graffitese, I was here.

But Scott-Warren’s evidence demonstrates that graffiti could also offer a way of saying, I wasn’t alone. He repeatedly discusses the sociable aspect of early modern “tagging,” addressing friendship most directly in remarks on the use of the ownership formula “me tenet teste” (X holds me, as witnessed by Y). He writes:

Although this kind of appropriation might seem to stand at the opposite pole from the humanistic practice of signing one’s-book “x et amicorum”—as did Barnard Hampton, clerk of the Council to Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I, offering to share his copy of Robert Recorde’s 1543 Ground of Arts—it does at the very least mean inviting one’s “friends” into the copy of a book, making the owning of it a communal ritual like the drawing up of a will or any other legal document requiring the presence of witnesses.

He then turns back to John Finet’s prayer book, noting the presence among his signatures in the body of the text of “one rather beautiful little design” in which Finet’s “name is encircled by the words ‘me tenet teste edwarde bell.'” This prompts a bit of historical speculation: “here, one imagines, a classmate is being allowed to join in the graffiti-ing of Finet’s book, in a sociable as well as possessive spirit.” A Cicero now held at the Bodlein bears the related inscription: Franciscus Dodingtonus me tenet teste Thomas Hammonde multisque aliis in hac schola, which again opens to us a little picture of schoolfellows in this case in the early seventeenth-century marking book-property by the friend. Perhaps Harvey, whom S-W dubs “that most memorable of early modern graffiti artists,” can be characterized as “inviting his friends into the copies of his books,” too, and both in their active study and in the records they contain.

Although Scott-Warren doesn’t discuss it at length, he suggests, once again, that “graffiti” is a useful category in which to store the artwork that one occasionally discovers in the midst of flipping through early modern books–those “impish faces peering out from the margin, geometric figures on a flyleaf, a mother and child on a blank sheet” noted above. (This seems to me at least part of the “graffitistic” nature of Edward Bell’s witness statement: it’s not just in the wrong place–at least from our perspective; it’s also inserted according to a pleasing and unconventional design. It calls attention to itself and thus to its maker.) To conclude part 1 of “Amicable Annotation,” let’s file the illustration featured at the beginning of this post under this most flexible–and diverting–category.

As the caption above suggests, the image appears in the margin of a copy of the 1515 edition of Erasmus’s Moriae Encomium (In Praise of Folly) published by the great Basel printer Johann Froben (a.k.a. Johannes Frobenius), with whom Erasmus was staying at the time. That edition is notable for a project on friendship in many respects (and we may see it again in subsequent posts), not least because it contained far more than the work by which it tends to be titled. It is perhaps better understood as a small anthology of documents from members of the Erasmus-Froben circle, including Seneca’s satire Ludus de morte Claudii Casearis printed with Beatus Rhenanus’s (member of the sodalitas Basiliensis) commentary alongside; Gerardus Listrius’s (another friend and satellite of the sodalitas Basiliensis) commentary on Moriae Encomium; Erasmus’s prefatory letter to Thomas More; and Erasmus’s epistolary defense of the work to the theologian Martinius Dorpius (who would later change his mind about the work and befriend its writer). (Perhaps we can view this edition as the early modern equivalent of a Norton Critical edition.) The preparation of a commentary for a modern text was, of course, unusual–a sign of not only Erasmus’s stature but also Moriae Encomium‘s instant popularity after its initial publication in Paris in 1511. As Erasmus later confessed to Martin Bucer, he had a hand (if not two) in its composition because of Listrius’s procrastination. The edition was, in short, very friendly to Erasmus.

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[Title page of the 1517 Froben edition; border first used for Glareanus’s Isagoge in musicen…multo labore elaborata. Notice whose name gets top billing.]

The particular copy in question was owned by Oswald Myconius, a schoolteacher who had made Erasmus’s acquaintance through his old university buddy the aforementioned Glareanus, whom we should now note had been elected poet laureate by Emperor Maximilian I in 1512. At an earlier point, Myconius may have hired an enterprising young artist named Hans Holbein, whom Myconius may have taught to read and write, to paint a signboard for his school. In any case, we can be confident that Myconius hired Holbein to add illustrations to his copy, which he had apparently already annotated. Holbein would do so, with some help from his brother Ambrosius and perhaps another unnamed illustrator. As you can see (albeit without the vividness of the paper and ink colors) here, most of the images correlate well to the characters or episodes at hand in the text. Only three contemporary figures are explicitly named: the Emperor, Erasmus, and Glareanus. The illustration of Glareanus again:


Glareanus has been purposefully deposited beside the thematic signpost “Poetae,” a seemingly appropriate, even admiring, gesture. It would appear to venerate the Swiss poet’s standing as laureate. And yet, looking to the text to the right, perhaps we can acknowledge at least a minor wrinkle in that straightforwardly adulatory reading of the illustration’s placement. Here’s what Erasmus writes of the poets (a slightly amended version of the translated text found here):

The Poets, I must confess, are not altogether beholden unto me, though it is agreed that they are of my party too; because they are a free kind of people, not restrained or limited to any thing, and all their studies aim at nothing more than to tickle the ears of fools with mere trifles and ridiculous fables. And yet they are so bold upon it, that you’ll scarce believe how they not only assure themselves of immortality and a life like the Gods, but promise it to others too. And to this order, before all others, Philautia (Greek: self-love) and Kolakeia (Greek: flattery) are their particular attendants; nor am I worshiped by any sort of men with more plainness or greater constancy.

Hmm… How are we to understand the relationship between text and illustration? Did Myconius mean to have it positioned here as a little joke on Glareanus? Or did it not occur to the owner or artist that any such jest would be suggested? We can’t know for sure, as the only anecdote that survives about the illustrated copy’s reception concerns Erasmus’s approval when Myconius presented it for his review (leading to Holbein’s career-boosting recognition by Erasmus). Glareanus appears in a second spot in Myconius’s copy, a note on Erasmus’s castigation of “pettifogging lawyers.” Myconius observes that he remembers “hearing lawyers who in their own estimation were far from undistinguished say that no man could become a thoroughly competent lawyer who did not have a perfect command of the philosophy of the sophists in all its details.” He then recalls “the occasion when a Bachelor of Theology held a public disputation in Basel on the value of the Parva Logicalia,” and Glareanus showed up on a horse. The early twentieth-century art historian Heinrich Alfred Schmid explains the event:

Because [Glareanus] considered that the place assigned him at the public disputations was not worthy of a poet laureate he arrived at the next meeting riding a horse to the hall of the Superior College of Preceptors, in order to have a suitable seat. But this created such an uproar that the session had to be abandoned.

Myconius’s comment would seem to be invoking Glareanus’s equine caper as support for demonstrating the folly of lawyers. But doesn’t the incident also recall the pride of Glareanus?

You are, of course, welcome to reach your own conclusions about Glareanus’s treatment in Myconius’s copy. I want to propose that we need not choose between a “sincere” and a “satirical” reading of the illustration (and perhaps earlier marginal comment). The very fact that Glareanus is the only humanist other than Erasmus depicted here is a sign of his great importance to the illustration-commissioner Myconius. And, indeed, the example of Erasmus is instructive as even the greatest humanist comes in for mild ridicule. The male figure bears his likeness in a street scene depicting a man who is distracted by a beautiful woman and consequently steps on an egg-seller’s wares (Plate III on the link above). In other words, why go to all the trouble to have a picture made of Glareanus only to mock him? Better, or so it seems to me, to read this illustration as a serious application of the practice of friendly remembrance that we have seen running through our humanist artifacts, leavened by the playfulness that we have noted in this post in the cases of Erasmus and Lipsius, Spenser and Harvey, and perhaps John Finet and Edward Bell.

In her superb Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (about which I will have much to say in the upcoming second part of this study of annotation), H. J. Jackson observes that annotated books stretch our standard bibliographical vocabulary. These objects aren’t just books in the standard modern sense of bound reading material. One needs (and quickly becomes frustrated with) terms like “fetish, icon, talisman, scrapbook, and shrine.” Perhaps, she argues, “we need a new word altogether.” She first suggests “bibliofile.” That seems like an apt term for the kinds of markings that we’ve been tracing in this post, doesn’t it? For many of these artifacts contain more than just notes on individual (or successive) readings; they are relational corpora, records of friendly exchange in and over books. Through the act of markings their books, early modern readers remembered, jested, instructed, communed with their friends. While not forgotten altogether now, this practice has certainly diminished in importance in our discussion about what books are, what they can do for and to us. Jackson, finally, suggests “BEPU–Book Enhanced for Personal Use.” BEPU is useful; it gives a strong valuation to the enhancement that a book receives through its readers’ marks, ownership claims (and witness statements), local records, accidental and carefully concocted graffiti. But we also need (and we’ll see that Jackson herself supplies lots of evidence here) to recognize the BEIU–Book Enhanced by and for INTERpersonal Use. Or, better still, the BEAU, in which “A” is for “amicable.”


Part 5 is here.

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