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Journal Special Issue: New Directions in Early Modern Correspondence

Those seeking to balance the port and mince pies this holiday season with some state-of-the-art reflections on early modern epistolarity are in luck: the latest issue of Lives & Letters – the free online journal of UCL’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters – is devoted to New Directions in the Study of Early Modern Correspondence.

Guest-edited by James Daybell and Andrew Gordon, and developing out of a conference held at Plymouth University in 2011, the issue features an introduction to the latest developments in the field (in which EMLO gets a name-check); eight case studies of particular correspondents and correspondence networks; and a spectacularly useful select bibliography on the manuscript letter in early modern England. All articles are free for download from the journal website. James also contributed to our 2011 seminar series (here’s the podcast), while his latest book on the material letter has just been reviewed by the IHR.

Journal Special Issue: Shaping the Republic of Letters

The new Journal of Early Modern Studies has launched with a special issue on Shaping the Republic of Letters: Communication, Correspondence, and Networks in Early Modern Europe.

Edited by the Foundations of Modern Thought Research Centre at the University of Bucharest, and featuring our very own Howard Hotson on its Advisory Board, the new publication is billed as a ‘an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal of intellectual history, dedicated to the exploration of the interactions between philosophy, science, and religion in Early Modern Europe’. The epistolary opener features seven contributions (as well as related review essays and book reviews) on particular correspondents and correspondence networks, including an article by Noel Golvers on Sino-European exchanges in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Noel initiated our seminar series in 2010 with a wonderful paper on this topic (listen to the podcast). For full details and to order your copy, visit the journal webpage.

Letters in Focus: Things That Go Bump in the Night

So, the evenings draw in, All Hallows’ Eve is upon us, and I find myself creeping through autumnal mists to the Bodleian’s Special Collections in search of ghosts.

There are many fleeting glimpses of hauntings in EMLO. In 1675, William Fulman asked Anthony Wood to confirm ‘the story of a ghostly funeral procession at night to St Peter le Bailey which terrified some of the Masters who were walking with the Proctor, but two which followed the procession to the Church door found the doors to open of their own accord, and then all to vanish and are since dead’. In 1706, Anne Griggs reported ‘the ghostly interview at Souldern Vicarage between the Vicar Mr Shaw and the apparition of his friend Mr Naylor on July 28… The apparition foretells the death of Mr Shaw…’ (sadly, Mr Naylor was a well-informed ghost; the Clergy of the Church of England Database [Person ID: 20286] reveals that one Geoffrey Shaw, rector of Soulderne, Oxfordshire, died on 17 November 1706, less than four months after this ghoulish encounter).

Bodleian Library, MS Ballard 1, fols 72–73: A seventeenth-century poltergeist. Images reproduced courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries.

One record above all others tempts me out into the damp October fog: on a handwritten index card from the Bodleian card catalogue that gives no year, and describes a John Mompesson writing to a Reverend Doctor (now known to be William Creed, Oxford’s Regius Professor of Divinity) on 6 December (now known to be 1662), are the words ‘supernatural beating of drums’. Calling up the letter, I encounter a spine-chilling tale of a seventeenth-century household terrorized by a poltergeist. Mompesson describes how, following his apprehension of a fraudulent drummer in Ludgershall (Wiltshire) and the confiscation of the latter’s instrument, his family home in nearby Tedworth (now Tidworth) was assailed by nocturnal thumps and noises so extreme that ‘the windows would shake and the beds’. His children were special targets; apart from a brief interlude of three weeks after his wife gave birth, their beds were beaten, and the family had to endure the tune ‘Roundheads and Cuckolds goe digge, goe digge’ (more on this popular early modern ditty here). Whatever ‘it’ was ran ‘under the bed-teeke’ and scratched as if it had ‘iron talons’, tossing the young ones in bed; it left sulphurous smells, it hurled shoes over the heads of adults, pulled the infants by their nightgowns and hair, and even threw a bedstaff at the rector of Tedworth, John Cragge (CCED Person ID: 21834, yet another cleric who died relatively soon after his brush with the supernatural). See the letter images above for the whole terrifying story.

A demonic representation of the Tedworth drummer from Glanvill’s 1681 treatise

Endorsements on the letter, including a cross-reference to a 1663 news book

The Drummer of Tedworth, it turns out, is a celebrated case within the historiography of witchcraft and the early modern occult; it was given a central place in Joseph Glanvill’s 1681 attack on scepticism, the Saducismus Triumphatus, its notoriety continued to grow in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it has even been subject to minor Disneyfication. The incident, its manuscript witnesses, and its complex appropriation and memorialisation by and within different intellectual traditions is analysed in detail in a 2005 article (pdf) by Michael Hunter, which includes a full transcription of this same 6 December letter collated from three known extant versions: a copy in Corpus Christi, Oxford; a now untraceable copy formerly in a private collection in Dorset; and a copy in the hand of Anthony Wood. The document thrown up by our cryptic Bodleian card record is almost certainly not Mompesson’s original letter – there is no seal, and the lines extending to the page edges on both sides of the folio are indicative of copying – but rather adds a fourth scribal copy into the mix, one that, judging by the endorsements in two separate hands, enjoyed a complex afterlife before becoming part of the Ballard collection, most likely via the papers of Arthur Charlett (on the scribal publication and circulation of newsworthy missives in early modern England see chapter seven of James Daybell’s recent monograph on the material letter and his podcast in our 2011 seminar series). Even if this account is second-hand, close the curtains, pull up a chair, and get reading; there’s nothing like a percussive poltergeist to add drama and intrigue to Halloween…

emlo_logo_infrastructureLetters in Focus with Miranda Lewis

Miranda is editing metadata from the Bodleian card catalogue of correspondence for our union catalogue, Early Modern Letters Online. On a regular basis, she brings us hand-picked and contextualised records.

Journal Special Issue: Natural History, Medicine, and New Science

Our pertinacious (we’re running out of adjectives) Martin Lister Research Fellow – and recent inductee of the Linnean Society – Anna Marie Roos has guest-edited a special issue of the prestigious journal Notes and Records of the Royal Society.

The special issue publishes the proceedings of the day conference History Comes to Life: Seventeenth-Century Natural History, Medicine, and the New Science, organized by Anna Marie at The Royal Society in April (with the financial and logistical support of the project, The Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, the John Fell Fund, and the BSHS). It features six fresh and fascinating articles from leading authorities on a wide range of topics at the intersection of seventeenth-century natural history, medicine, and science, including Buffon and animals, Francis Willughby and insects, and Jan Swammerdam’s abiding intellectual infatuation with frogs and toads. You can now enjoy early access to the articles online; the print version of the special issue will be available at the end of November. You can also listen to the podcasts from the conference. Congratulations to Anna Marie and the rest of the contributors!

Correspondence of Joseph Justus Scaliger Published

The Correspendence of Joseph Justus Scaliger (8 volumes) has just been published by Droz. Edited by Paul Botley and Dirk van Miert, with supervision, advice, and coordination from Henk Jan de Jonge, Anthony Grafton, and Jill Kraye, the simultaneous appearance of all eight volumes of this major early modern corpus represents one of the most impressive scholarly achievements of modern times (work on Scaliger’s correspondence only started in earnest in 2004).

The critical edition contains nearly 1,700 letters sent to or by the French polymath, all of which are presented alongside a complete scholarly apparatus as well as English synopses. Scaliger’s correspondents include such luminaries as Dominicus Baudius, Tycho Brahe, Isaac Casaubon, the Dousa and Dupuy families, Daniel Heinsius, Johannes Kepler, Justus Lipsius, Claudius Salmasius, Jacques-Auguste de Thou, Marcus Welser, and Joannes Woverius. The edition was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and (via Anthony Grafton’s Balzan Prize) the Balzan Foundation, with additional contributions from London’s Warburg Institute, the Scaliger Institute of the University of Leiden, and a number of Dutch societies and foundations.

No let-up in the pace: editors at work

The scene is set for the reception

The next generation of edition-makers

Rhodri Lewis and Sarah Rivett

This major publishing event was celebrated at the second of two publisher-sponsored drinks receptions at our latest conference Communities of Knowledge: Epistolary Cultures in the Early Modern World (20-22 September, 2012). Nearly one hundred delegates and guests assembled in the Bodleian Library’s magnificent Divinity School to toast the launch, where they were treated to wine, cocktail snacks, music from professional harpist Stephen Dunstone, ‘The Path to Scaliger: An Intellectual Journey’ (an animated presentation created especially for the occasion by Dirk), and speeches from Anthony Grafton and Max Engammare, Director of Droz. In related news, metadata from the edition is currently being prepared for inclusion in our union catalogue Early Modern Letters Online, while Dirk and Paul can be heard discussing the Scaliger corpus in their joint contribution to our 2010 seminar series.

Jan Loop, Noel Malcolm, and Dirk

Anthony Grafton’s address

Not pictured: four more volumes

Scaliger raises a glass

We congratulate Paul, Dirk, Henk Jan, Anthony, Jill, and Max (and thank them, as well as Wilma Minty and the rest of the Bodleian’s Historic Venues team, for their help with the reception), and wish the edition every success! For more information and to order online – in hard copy or electronic format – please visit the publisher’s website or download the flyer (pdf).

The English Atlantic, Kenelm Digby, and John Evelyn

Our third and final seminar series was rounded out this summer by a triumvirate of superb presentations with a decidedly British twist:

An Index of Modernity: Narratives of Communications in the Late Seventeenth-Century English Atlantic

In his paper on 31 May, Konstantin Dierks (Indiana University) spoke about the shift in the latter half of the seventeenth century from an epistolary culture to a culture of ‘communications’. This conceptual transformation was brought about particularly by the British postal acts of 1657 and 1660 which saw the creation of the role of Postmaster General and a new infrastructure of communication comprised of reliable postal routes and a series of post offices which could be held to public account. Konstantin asserted that this new infrastructure was the result of a commercial rather than imperial vision in the first instance, but that it soon became very much linked to ideologies and discourses of modernity and empire as postal systems were developed in the Americas (Boston, Philadelphia, New York City and Jamaica) which were subject to the regulatory powers of the Postmaster General in London. Konstantin argued that, rather than the intellectuals and scientists of the Republic of Letters, it was the merchants and innovators who most affected government institutions by successfully articulating an ideology around the growing importance of conveying letters and goods. In other words, early modern business and enterprise trumped intellectual enquiry when it came to influencing decisions of state. Plus ça change.

Podcast available on the seminar page!


‘An After-Suppers Work’: Sir Kenelm Digby and Varieties of Correspondence in the 1630s

Kenelm Digby

Joe fields questions

On 7 June, Joe Moshenska (University of Cambridge) spoke about the letters of natural philosopher and courtier Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), focusing especially on the impact his 1636 reconversion to Catholicism had on the nature of his correspondence. Although at the time Digby was viewed as an emblem of frivolity for being swept along in the series of fashionable Roman Catholic conversions of the 1630s, Joe showed, through a close reading of a number of letters, that Digby had actually been engaged in serious theological debate, regularly disputing with other thinkers about the true origins of the church. Digby’s correspondence was also used by Joe as a case study to explore more general questions about early modern letters. For instance, should the courtier’s 100-page work on the early church fathers, which was written in an epistolary fashion, be considered a letter or a treatise? What actually constitutes a letter? Furthermore, did early modern people assume that all letters were public documents unless the writer specifically indicated otherwise? Were explicit epistolary requests for secrecy, as found, for example, in Archbishop Laud’s letter to Digby after the latter’s conversion, genuine or mere rhetorical posturing? These and other questions about the primacy or authority of different letter versions – manuscript copies versus printed editions, for example – aroused productive methodological debate in the question and answer session.

Podcast available on the seminar page!


Editing Evelyn Editing Evelyn

John Evelyn

Discussions continue over dinner

David Galbraith (University of Toronto) brought the seminar series to an edifying close on 14 June with a paper describing the challenges of editing John Evelyn’s letterbook while also situating it within the context of his other, better-known works. Evelyn is an example of an early modern auto-archivist who, after an illness in the 1680s, began the task of reconstructing his papers for posterity in his diary and across four letterbooks. Like editors and archivists today, he used headnotes to identify his correspondents as well as an index, although he evidently had trouble dating some of his earlier communications. According to David, researchers have tended to focus solely on the diary, but it and the letterbooks were in fact parallel projects used by Evelyn as instruments of self fashioning in which he cast himself sometimes as a mediator or cultural broker between different social worlds, and other times as an agent in the transmission of knowledge or as an instructor in morality. David argued that the letters, more so than the diary, reveal a more personal side to Evelyn; he comes across as a funny, witty individual who was adept at self parody and who enjoyed the intimacy afforded by the epistolary genre. Furthermore, the letters, characterized by much stylistic variation, offer details of Evelyn’s life that are simply not found elsewhere in his oeuvre. For instance, John Beale is never mentioned in the diary, yet was Evelyn’s most prolific correspondent on gardens, a topic of enormous importance to the creator of Elysium Britannicum, an encyclopaedic assemblage of horticultural knowledge, practice, and wisdom of the seventeenth century.

Podcast available on the seminar page!

2010 Series and Podcasts

2011 Series and Podcasts

2012 Series and Podcasts

We wish to thank all twenty-six speakers, our hard-working convenors, our many chairs from within and beyond the Project, and our loyal audiences for contributing to the success of our three seminar series since 2010.

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