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The Evidence of the Copy

There is a rich potential source of information about the history of Old English scholarship which has hitherto been accorded insufficient attention. In 1982 Eric Stanley made an appeal for "a catalogue of association copies of books relevant to Anglo-Saxon studies, especially of early books" (The Bibliography of Old English, ed. Stanley B. Greenfield, OEN Subsidia 8, p. 5). No scholar has yet taken up the challenge and the production of such a catalogue would indeed be a massive task. There are too many copies, both in libraries and in private collections, with inscriptions and annotations ...
Published on 14 Dec. 2009

By Karen Thomson

There is a rich potential source of information about the history of Old English scholarship which has hitherto been accorded insufficient attention. In 1982 Eric Stanley made an appeal for “a catalogue of association copies of books relevant to Anglo-Saxon studies, especially of early books” (The Bibliography of Old English, ed. Stanley B. Greenfield, OEN Subsidia 8, p. 5). No scholar has yet taken up the challenge and the production of such a catalogue would indeed be a massive task. There are too many copies, both in libraries and in private collections, with inscriptions and annotations.

But books vaguely designated “association copies” vary considerably in their importance to the scholar. The size of the undertaking suggested by Professor Stanley would be considerably reduced, and its value to scholars correspondingly enhanced, by focusing on those association copies that contain significant information. William Stoneman has drawn attention to one way in which manuscript material, including early annotations in printed books, can be of primary importance as a source of information about documents that are now lost (in The Preservation and Transmission of Anglo-Saxon Culture, ed. Paul E. Szarmach and Joel T. Rosenthal [Kalamazoo, 1997], pp. 108-9). But there is an infinite variety of ways in which copies can provide information not found elsewhere.

Many association copies, although treasured by collectors, are of little intrinsic value to the scholar. The sample catalogue that constitutes the body of this essay includes a description of Joseph Bosworth’s heavily annotated copy of Hickes’ Thesaurus, now in a private collection. It must be of primary importance that the existence of this copy should be recorded in a permanent form. But two other association copies of the Thesaurus that have passed through my hands are of much slighter significance. The first bears the inscription: “ff Cherry Ex dono Reverendo Auctoris.” This copy confirms a relationship that we know about from other sources. Thomas Hearne tells us that the nonjuring Hickes spent the summer of 1695 in hiding at Shottesbrook with Francis Cherry, where he “went under the name of Dr. Smith being forced to disguise himself,” and that he “used to take great delight in walking upon Mr. Cherry’s terras and meditating there by himself” (quoted by Douglas, p. 101). Cherry was no Old English scholar, as the few notes in his hand show, but he must have been pleased to have been a recipient of Hickes’ great book. The survival of this copy, however, tells scholars little that they did not already know. Even less significant, I would suggest, is the splendid but unannotated copy owned by John Evelyn, bound for him in full vellum with his arms in gilt on each cover and monogram in each compartment of the spines, which I sold ten years ago to a London bookshop. Book collectors place a high value on such an item, but its existence tells the OE scholar little more than that Hickes’ Thesaurus was regarded as an appropriate ornament for a scholar­-gentleman’s library.

These copies, pleasing and desirable though they may be, are not those to which I wish to draw attention. This essay contains descriptions of eight books, arranged in chronological order of publication, which contain important information that as far as I know is not to be found elsewhere. All have appeared in my catalogues, but the bookseller’s catalogue is an ephemeral medium. The first was comprehensively studied and described by Professor Janet Bately before going into a private Japanese collection. But what of the others, the majority of which are also now in private hands?

Source copy for Joscelyn’s unpublished Anglo-Saxon dictionary

William Lambarde. Archaionomia. London, 1568. Small 4to. STC 15142, Greenfield & Robinson 6281.

Errata leaf removed. Seventeenth-century vellum titled in ink on spine, red sprinkled edges.

This copy of the Archaionomia, the second printed book to contain Old English, has a small number of manuscript corrections to the Latin text in Lambarde’s own hand, together with copious annotation by John Joscelyn and John Parker. Joscelyn, Latin secretary to Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the small group of scholars recruited by the Archbishop to work on Anglo-Saxon texts. He played a significant part in the publication of the first printed book containing passages of Old English, A Testimonie of Antiquitie (1566?), and also undertook at Parker’s request the “composing and publishing of a Saxon dictionary,” in order that “ingenious men might be the more willing to engage the study of this language” (Strype, Life and Acts of Matthew Parker [1711], p. 536). The dictionary was never completed, although manuscript drafts of it are extant. John Parker, the son of the Archbishop, collaborated with Joscelyn on the dictionary.

The annotations by Joscelyn and Parker in this book fall into five categories: corrections of typographical errors (those given in the removed errata leaf, together with some others); critical notes in Latin; insertions and alternative readings, chiefly from a collation of the text with manuscripts of the laws; alterations to the numbering; and the underlining of words and phrases, a number of which correspond to entries in the drafts of the dictionary (which refers throughout to the law texts). There is clear evidence that Joscelyn and John Parker carefully collated this copy of Archaionomia with the manuscript of the laws found in Cotton Nero A. i, which is cross-annotated by them and has similar underlining of words, and that both were extensively used in the compilation of the dictionary. For a detailed study of these annotations see Janet Bately, “John Joscelyn and the Laws of the Anglo-Saxon Kings,” in Words, Texts and Manuscripts: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Culture presented to Helmut Gneuss, ed. Michael Korhammer (Cambridge, 1992).

The book was subsequently owned by the Swedish lexicographer Olaus Verelius and on his death in 1682 passed into the possession of the Old Norse scholar Jacob Reenhielm. The title-page carries the inscriptions of both these scholars, and there are also notes in early Scandinavian hands in the text. It was acquired in the nineteenth century by George Stephens, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Copenhagen, and sold by Sotheby’s at the sale of his books in 1991. None of the three later scholars who owned the book drew attention to the significance of the sixteenth-century annotations and Sotheby’s were unaware of their importance.

Annotated both by Kemble and Thorpe

Francis Junius and Thomas Marshall. Quattuor D.N. Jesu Christi Evangeliorum Versiones perantique duæ, Gothica scil. et Anglo-Saxonica. Amsterdam, 1684. Small 4to.

The first part only: the engraved and printed title-pages, preliminary leaves, and Saint Matthew’s gospel. Brown cloth-backed boards, unlettered.

The upper board bears Kemble’s signature and the front free endpaper the note: “The Collations in the margin of the following pages were made by me from two MSS. The first in the Public Library at Cambridge. Those in Red ink from the MS. in CCC. JMK. The collation between the Lines was made by B. Thorpe. Esqre. from the Bodl. MS. No. 441.”

Kemble had planned an edition of the Anglo-Saxon gospels, but the work was left unfinished at his death, and was taken over by Charles Hardwick. In the Preface to the publication that resulted, 1858, Hardwick writes: “... at the time of Mr. Kemble’s death, in the spring of 1857, the portion of it actually completed did not reach beyond the opening verses of the twenty-fifth chapter of Saint Matthew. Under these circumstances the Sydics of the [Cambridge] University Press, instead of suffering so good a project to fall entirely to the ground, resolved to carry on the printing of the work as far at least as the conclusion of the first gospel. Although the labour this imposed on the new Editor has been comparatively slight, it would have proved less onerous still, if Mr. Kemble had left behind him any notes or memoranda to specify the manuscripts he was consulting both in the construction of his text and in his choice of various readings...” Hardwick clearly had not seen this important document: not only does Kemble here identify at least some of his MS sources, but the annotations and readings continue to the end of the gospel.

As Thorpe makes no reference to collaborative work undertaken with Kemble in his edition of the gospels published in 1842, it seems that the text was first annotated by him and subsequently acquired by Kemble. What happened to the book on Kemble’s death is not known. He notes at the head of the title-page, “Bequeathed to Trinity College Cambridge by J.M. Kemble together with his other Teutonic MSS. and printed books,” but there is no evidence that it ever was in that library. It appeared at an auction sale in London in 1998, with no information as to its provenance.

The dedication copy?

Edmund Gibson. Chronicon Saxonicum. Oxford, 1692. 4to. Wing A3185; Greenfield & Robinson 5973.

Contemporary panelled calf, rubbed, rebacked to match, red sprinkled edges. Folding map by Burghers present in two states. Two late eighteenth-century scholarly annotations and some later notes.

This copy has an unrecorded proof version of the engraved map tipped onto the endpaper, with contemporary hand­coloring; the cartouche contains a dedication to George Hickes. The usual form of the map, uncoloured as usual, is also present. There are a few manuscript corrections in brown ink to the proof copy which are then implemented in the published version. The most significant difference between the two states, however, is the text within the cartouche at the top left-hand corner of the map, and here there is no manuscript correction. In the usual version this reads: “TABULAM hanc, loca memorata in CHRONICO SAXONICO accurate repræsentantem, Literaturæ SAXONICÆ et Antiquitatum ANGLICANARUM Studiosis D.D.C.Q. Edmundus Gibson.” In the proof copy it reads: “TABULAM hanc, loca memorata in CHRONICO SAXONICO accurate repræsentantem GEORGIO HICKESIO, S.T.P. Literaturæ Gothicæ Saxonicæque Instauratori celeberrimo D.D.C.Q. Edmundus Gibson.”

“The difficulties under which [Gibson] laboured were great, but from them he was considerably relieved on the publication of Hickes’s Saxon Grammar” observes Petheram, p. 72. George Hickes, “the great restorer of our Saxon learning,” had published his Institutiones Grammaticæ Anglo-Saxonicæ, et Moeso-Gothicæ in 1689, but was throughout the 1690s in hiding for refusing to take the oath of allegiance. A letter of 1698 from Nicolson to Thwaites gives an indication of the difficulties that beset Hickes’ intellectual adherents. Thwaites had dedicated his edition of the Heptateuch to Hickes. Nicolson writes: “I am sorry for ye trouble which your Dedication has brought upon you: and am especially concern’d at that share wch you tell me Dr. Charlet had in it. I see nothing in your Epistle that can reasonably disgust the most zealous in ye services of the present Government. Dr. H is undoubtedly the great man you represent him to be: and tho I doe as heartily lament the misfortune of his present circumstances as Dr. Ch himself can doe, yet I cannot but be pleas’d to see his incomparable benefaction to our Studies so gracefully acknowledg’d.” (May 7, 1698; quoted in Adams, pp. 124-25).

The twenty-three year old Gibson had been grateful for the publication of Hickes’ grammar, but had less reason than Thwaites to court disfavor with such a dedication, and perhaps thought better of it. The contemporary hand-coloring of a proof, however, is intriguing: could this be the dedication copy of a book of which this was the only copy to have had a dedication?

Two copies identifying Thwaites’s pupils at Queen’s College, Oxford

Edward Thwaites. Heptateuchus, liber Job, et Evangelium Nicodemi; Anglo-Saxonice. Oxford, 1698. Typis Junianis. Small 4to. Wing B2198, Greenfield & Robinson 5229.

Copy A. Contemporary panelled calf, sometime rebacked with the original backstrip laid down, red sprinkled edges. From the library of Christine Fell with her label.

Inscribed “Liber Caroli Williams E Coll. Reg: æ Ex dono Ingeniosissimi Editoris,” and with Williams’s discreet ownership initials attached to the signature letter in the style later adopted by the Anglo-Saxonist (and American president) Thomas Jefferson. In the same hand on the facing blank is the following list:

Somner’s Dictionary

Saxon Laws by Lambard
Saxon Gospells, Wheelock
Bede’s Ecclesiastick History &c
Chronicon Saxonicum, Gibson
Dr. Hickes Saxon Grammar.

Copy B. Contemporary panelled calf, sometime rebacked with morocco label from previous binding preserved, yellow edges. Lacks the engraved frontispiece. Browned, rubbed.

Inscribed “Liber Georgii Hill/ Ex dono authoris/ N.3.18.19/ 2[Q?].15.9/ P.5.13,” and, underneath, “Hunc librum mihi dedit Edwardus Thwaites e Coll: Reg: Oxon. socius Editor Eruditus et Tutor meus Amicissimus. 1699.” The last printed Roman numeral of the date on the title-page is larger than the others, leading some bibliographers, including Michel (p. 92), and Edinburgh University Library in its submission to Wing (B2199), to interpret it not as 1698, but as 1699. The date of the inscription here could be taken to support this conclusion; but the letter quoted above from Nicolson following the publication of the Heptateuch, together with two others contained in the same Bodleian MS. (Rawl. D. 377 folios 102-3, 110-11, and 112-13),1 shows this to be incorrect, and Wing B2199 to be a ghost.

“Queen’s College, Oxford, about this period, was a nest of Saxonists, one of the principal of whom was Edward Thwaites. As early as 1698, he became a preceptor in the Saxon tongue there, and in one of his letters to Humphrey Wanley... observes, “We want Saxon Lexicons. I have fifteen young students in that language, and but one Somner for them all” (Petheram, p. 73). Both Charles Williams and George Hill went on to study law at Lincoln’s Inn.

Bosworth’s copy of Hickes’ Thesaurus

George Hickes and Humphrey Wanley. [Thesaurus.] Antiquae literaturae septentrionalis Libri Duo. Oxford, 1703-5. Folio. Greenfield & Robinson 268.

2 vols. in 3. Contemporary vellum, spines repaired. Occasional oval blindstamp of Wigan Public Library.

Joseph Bosworth’s copy, with numerous annotations. There are notes both to plates and text by Bosworth in ink and pencil, together with a few in another nineteenth-century hand, and underlinings and renumberings in the text by Bosworth. Bound in after the relevant page of Wanley’s Catalogue is a letter to Bosworth from William Stubbs cross-referring to “Todd’s Catalogue”; and a long letter to Bosworth from Thomas Waterhouse Kaye, postmarked 1826, is loosely inserted, chiefly comprising A List of Anglo-Saxon Publications from Rivington’s Catalogue 1824, with notes by Bosworth.

In the margin of the page illustrating Cotton Otho B. x (now lost), the Rune Poem, Bosworth refers to “... my Translation in 1837.” This translation, in a 12-page 8vo. manuscript booklet, stitched, is also loosely inserted, and was apparently never published: Greenfield & Robinson give Grimm’s German translation of 1821 and Kemble’s English version of 1840 as the two earliest, and Kemble prefaces his with the remark, “As I know of no English translation of this, and William Grimm’s is inaccurate in one or two points, I shall give one of my own.”

Identifying the ‘young Lady’ of Elstob’s Preface?

Elizabeth Elstob. The Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue. London, 1715. Small 4to. Greenfield & Robinson 270.

In a handsome contemporary crimson morocco binding, elaborately decorated with gilt panels and ornaments. With the nineteenth-century armorial bookplate of Thos. Jelf Powys and book label of Christine Fell.

There are four contemporary ink marginal notes, in a stylized hand imitating the typography, glossing references in the Preface. The first of these identifies the “young Lady, whose Ingenuity and Love of Learning, is well known and esteem’d, not only in [Canterbury], but by your self [Hickes]: and which so far indear’d itself to me, by her promise that she would learn the Saxon Tongue, and do me the Honour to be my Scholar, as to make me think of composing an English Grammar of that Language for her use” as “Miss Stanhope, Filia Decani Stanhope.” This appears hitherto unknown. The passage is quoted by Maureen Mulvihill in her comprehensive biography of Elstob (Dictionary of British Women Writers, ed. Janet Todd [London, 1989]) and by Richard Morton in “Elizabeth Elstob’s Rudiments of Grammar (1715): Germanic Philology for Women” (Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 20 [1990]: 267-87), but neither identifies the lady. If the annotations are by Elstob herself, and the hand has her characteristic punctilious pointing, the special binding suggests that the book may have been for presentation, although not, presumably, to Hickes himself, for whom this gloss would have been unnecessary, as indeed would have been the others, identifying “Dean Swift,” “Dr: Felton,” and the “Duke of Perth.”

George Stanhope, Dean of Canterbury, had five daughters. The daughter referred to may be Mary, who married William, son of Gilbert Burnet, in 1712. Mrs. Elstob’s mention of her erstwhile pupil concludes: “That Ladies Fortune hath so disposed of her since that time, and hath placed her at so great a distance, as that we have had no Opportunity of treating farther on this Matter, either by Discourse or Correspondence.”

Thorpe’s proof and working copy

Benjamin Thorpe. The Anglo-Saxon poems of Beowulf. The Scôp or Gleeman’s Tale. And the Fight at Finnesburg. With a literal translation, notes, glossary, etc. Oxford, 1855. 12mo. Greenfield & Robinson 1635.

Untrimmed in blue cloth, leather label on spine. Printer’s notes on endpapers, from the library of Christine Fell with her label.

Author’s proof, with numerous corrections and revisions in Thorpe’s hand, incorporated in the published version, including the replacement of the stops in the title-page with commas. Each gathering is neatly initialled by Thorpe in the upper inner corner of the first leaf, and gathering D has the additional note “a revise with a duplicate”. Apparently the revisions were sent back to the printer a gathering at a time; there is evidence of vertical folding. In addition to numerous corrections of printer’s errors (“This should be an a with a small o over it, thus å. If this cannot be [accomplish’d?] it may stand as it is”), Thorpe evidently was also still at work on his edition. There are revisions of the translation: at lines 905-8 (modern numbering 450-1) “Thou wilt not need about my corpse feast longer care” is altered to “Thou needest not about the feeding on my carcase longer care”; at 1509 (752) the translation of “elran” is changed from “another” to “a stranger”; at 1924 ((960) the translation “the uncouth labour” for “eafoð uncuþes” becomes “monster’s warfare”; “on ende” at 4046 (2021) is revised from “at the close” to “in order”; and his translation of “golde berofene” at line 5855 (2931) is corrected from “of gold bereft” to “with gold adorn’d.” He is also still annotating his text, with variant readings inserted at, for example, lines 1392 (694), 1626 (811), and 2945 (1470).


A permanent record of the existence of these books and others like them, some kind of catalogue, must be a desideratum. It would, however, require access to private collections. Annotated books are highly collectible, and the majority of the books I have described in this paper are now in private hands. Many book collectors are themselves scholars, but they tend to keep the two activities in separate compartments. Scholar-collectors do not necessarily turn information contained within their private libraries to scholarly account.

Only two of the copies that I have described are safely lodged in libraries, and both are in America. The 1684 edition of Matthew’s gospel with notes by Kemble and Thorpe is now in the library of the University of Kansas, and the finely-bound copy of Mrs. Elstob’s grammar is at the University of Notre Dame at Indiana. British institutions have limited funds for such purchases. The enthusiasm for the acquisition of Old English books in America has sustained the British book trade since the 1840s, when John Petheram noted at the end of his own annotated copy of his Progress and present state of Anglo-Saxon literature in England that, according to Bosworth, his dictionary “sells much better [on the other side of the Atlantic] than at home, & the subject of Anglo-Saxon has been taken up very warmly by some of the Professors.” This is a final example of an association copy that tells us something about the history of Old English scholarship that we might not otherwise have known.


STC. Short-title Catalogue of Books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books printed abroad 1475-1640. 1976-1991.

Wing, Donald. Short-Title Catalogue of Books... 1641-1700. 1972-1988.

Adams, Eleanor N. Old English Scholarship in England from 1566-1800. New Haven, 1917. Douglas, David C. English Scholars. London, 1939.

Greenfield, Stanley B. & Fred C. Robinson. A Bibliography of Publications on Old English Literature to the end of 1972. Toronto, 1980.

Michel, Francisque. Bibliothèque Anglo-Saxonne. 1837.

Petheram, John. An Historical Sketch of the Progress and Present State of Anglo-Saxon Literature in England (1840). A reprint of the author’s annotated copy with the addition of a bibliographical index. Edinburgh, 2000. £58. ISBN 0-9539822-0-3.

I am very grateful to Steven Tomlinson at the Bodleian Library for sending me transcriptions from two of these letters.

© The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Items may be reproduced for personal or educational purposes provided that (1) the contents are not altered in any way, (2) the work copied is properly attributed to its original author and publisher, and (3) the material is not sold for profit. The article is presented here by permission of the author, Karen Thomson. Thank you very much.

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