Last Friday I got to touch the Cardigan manuscript of the Canterbury Tales. You can see pores in the vellum, and on one of the last pages, somebody long ago drew a faint outline of a woman in the wide margin of a right-hand leaf. If I recall correctly, she’s wearing a saucy hat.
I also looked at the 1818 Frankenstein: on the inside cover of each volume, the owner wrote, 6 days. I assume that’s how long it took her to read? (I’m guessing gender based on handwriting.) And, while less exciting from a my-god-that’s-old point of view, I looked through a Norton facsimile of the First Folio. I’d never sat down and read the Epistle to the great variety of readers before, but it’s really wonderful. Here’s the beginning:
To the great Variety of Readers. From the most able, to him that can but spell : There you are number’d. We had rather you were weighd. Especially, when the fate of all Bookes depends upon your capacities : and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well ! It is now publique, & you wil stand for your priviledges wee know : to read, and censure. Do so, but buy it first.
I’m taking a bibliography class that requires lots of hours in the HRC, ogling books, so you’ll probably get to hear about all the lovely things I look at this semester. This week it’s a series of Joyce manuscripts, which I imagine I’ll be less enthused about; but who knows? Books can be so charming in their physical selves.