Tenison’s Library began on strong footing. Founded in 1684 by Thomas Tenison, then vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and later Archbishop of Canterbury, it was one of the first public libraries in England: a collection open not just to select members of a university or society, but to any parishioner who wished to consult it. Christopher Wren designed the building on what is now the site of the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. He had for help John Evelyn, who had taken an interest in the role of libraries in public life since translating the French librarian Gabriel Naudé’s Instructions Concerning Erecting of a Library in 1661. When the new building was completed, Tenison himself furnished it with over four thousand printed books and manuscripts, many from his personal collection. These were, according to one contemporary, “the best Modern Books in the most Faculties, the best of its kind in England.”1
Yet, as we saw in the last chapter, libraries are not static entities. For a truly great and useful collection to stay great and useful, it must keep growing. Sadly, Tenison’s library did not; and so, after his death in 1715, stasis turned to decay, until, as one nineteenth-century observer put it, “the gap between those shelves and the readers who should frequent them gradually widen[ed] into a chasm,” and “a state of suspended animation gradually resulted.”2 By 1851, the situation was so dire that the collection’s curator, Philip Hale, published A Plea for Archbishop Tenison’s Library, requesting help to maintain the building and secure the institution’s future. But it was perhaps already too late to save many of the books from destruction. According to a possibly facetious footnote in an 1861 issue of The Book-Worm, the caretaker, a boatman on the Thames by day, was rumored to sport a pair of suspenders that his daughter had pasted with illuminations cut from the collection’s medieval manuscripts—an ironic metonym for the library’s state of waste.3
The collection was auctioned off in parcels in 1861, and with it two curious books: Fragmenta manuscripta and Fragmenta varia, large folios pasted with pieces of manuscripts and early print. The former, now held at the University of Missouri, contains over two hundred mostly medieval specimens dating from the eighth through seventeenth centuries, including bits of music, calendars, and annotated religious texts, even a volvelle that has come loose from its page. Some pieces appear to have been culled from the binding waste of printed books; others are entire leaves or bifolia rescued from old volumes. Toward the end is a smattering of later ownership marks and pen trials extracted from flyleaves. Fragmenta varia, now at Cambridge University, picks up historically where the Missouri volume leaves off with specimens of early printing, such as woodcut initials, title pages, and more ownership marks. According to Milton Gatch, the bibliographer who has done the most to illuminate the history of these remarkable books, their chronological ordering and division are most likely the product of their rebinding in the early 1850s, as part of Hale’s project to repair the Tenison Library.4 The collection of fragments itself, though, dates to the end of the seventeenth century. It is the work of John Bagford, a Londoner born in 1650.
While Bagford began life as a shoemaker, he turned in the 1680s to dealing books and manuscripts secondhand, becoming what T. A. Birrell has described as a “library agent and a book runner.”5 He rescued scraps of waste and compiled them into large volumes to sell to wealthy patrons, found unusual books for clients, and saved fragments for his own large library. Bagford was indiscriminate in his collecting, gathering anything that might illuminate the past, which is in truth everything; and so his collections mushroomed with portfolios of old bindings and armorial stamps, printer’s marks and handwriting from around the world, entire scrapbooks largely devoted to samples of different kinds of paper: marbled, rice, white, colored, wallpaper, pasteboard. At least two of these scrapbooks, Fragmenta manuscripta and Fragmenta varia, were on public display at the Tenison Library during the first decade of the eighteenth century, where they served as an advertisement for Bagford’s larger project: a complete history of the book, told through exemplary specimens of early text technologies.
As with Edward Benlowes, Bagford and his work were not always understood by later scholars. In the nineteenth century, Thomas Frognall Dibdin includes him in the first edition of The Bibliomania; or Book Madness (1809), where a long footnote makes evident his classist disdain for the former shoemaker’s unlearned methods:
It has been my fortune (whether good or bad remains to be proved) not only to transcribe the slender memorial of Printing in the Philosophical Transactions, drawn up by Wanley for Bagford, but to wade through forty-two folio volumes in which Bagford’s materials for a History of Printing are incorporated, in the British Museum: and from these, I think I have furnished myself with a pretty fair idea of the said Bagford. He was the most hungry and rapacious of all book and print collectors; and, in his ravages, spared neither the most delicate nor costly [s]pecimens. His eyes and his mouth seem to have always been open to express his astonishment at, sometimes, the most common and contemptible productions; and his paper in the Philosophical Transactions, betrays such simplicity and ignorance, that one is astonished how my Lord Oxford and the learned Bishop of Ely could have employed so credulous a bibliographical forager.6
Dibdin paints Bagford as an open-mouthed yokel, childish in his unfettered, unlettered enthusiasm for bookish scraps. “His hand writing is scarcely legible,” he adds, “and his orthography is still more wretched.”7 More, the figure of the scrap itself is tinged with horror for those nineteenth-century collectors and “bibliomaniacs” who valued the whole book. “A modern collector and lover of perfect copies,” he continues, “will witness, with shuddering, among Bagford’s immense collection of Title Pages, in the Museum, the frontispieces of the Complutensian Polyglot, and Chauncy’s History of Hertfordshire, torn out to illustrate an History of Printing.”8 Despite Bagford’s evident bibliographic malpractice, Dibdin cannot help but admire his “enthusiasm,” which he admits must have “carried him through a great deal of laborious toil” in his research. Dibdin even admits to relying upon Bagford’s copious collections in his own work, especially his plan to produce a new addition of Joseph Ames’s Typographical Antiquities, and in the second and much-expanded version of his Bibliomania, released in 1811, he appends a note begging leave to “say something more, and less declamatory, of so extraordinary a character.”9 Several long fragments of text from Bagford’s contemporary Thomas Hearne extolling his prowess as a bibliographer, as well as a letter from Bagford to Hans Sloane, follow. Such is the fate of Bagford from the nineteenth century on: to be at once despised as blunderingly ignorant and grudgingly commended for the breadth of his collections and his foresight in gathering such a wide array of materials.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the classist undercurrent of Dibdin’s footnote had been subsumed by a more general hatred for Bagford as an irredeemable destroyer of books. This portrait of a “rapacious” Bagford is most fully limned in The Enemies of Books (1880), a popular book by the printer and collector William Blades. Chapter by chapter, Blades outlines with scornful humor the various threats to the conservation of physical books, from fire, water, dust, and neglect to servants, children, bookbinders, “the bookworm,” and “other vermin.” Bagford heads a chapter on “Collectors” in which Blades heaps disdain on this “wicked old biblioclast” for “tearing away title pages from rare books of all sizes.” His attack is vicious, and worth quoting at length for its insights into the nineteenth-century bibliophile’s mindset:
After all, two-legged depredators, who ought to have known better, have perhaps done as much real damage in libraries as any other enemy. I do not refer to thieves, who, if they injure the owners, do no harm to the books themselves by merely transferring them from one set of bookshelves to another. Nor do I refer to certain readers who frequent our public libraries, and, to save themselves the trouble of copying, will cut out whole articles from magazines or encyclopaedias. Such depredations are not frequent, and only occur with books easily replaced, and do not therefore call for more than a passing mention; but it is a serious matter when Nature produces such a wicked old biblioclast as John Bagford, one of the founders of the Society of Antiquaries, who, in the beginning of the last century, went about the country, from library to library, tearing away title pages from rare books of all sizes. These he sorted out into nationalities and towns, and so, with a lot of hand-bills, manuscript notes, and miscellaneous collections of all kinds, formed over a hundred folio volumes, now preserved in the British Museum. That they are of service as materials in compiling a general history of printing cannot be denied, but the destruction of many rare books was the result, and more than counter-balanced any benefit bibliographers will ever receive from them. When here and there throughout those volumes you meet with titles of books now either unknown entirely, or of the greatest rarity; when you find the Colophon from the end, or the “insigne typographi” from the first leaf of a rare “fifteener,” pasted down with dozens of others, varying in value, you cannot bless the memory of the antiquarian shoemaker, John Bagford.10
Among the crimes that Blades lays at Bagford’s feet is that he inspired other readers to take up scissors and cut apart books in service of forming unwieldy collections of fragments: “Every season there crop up for public sale one or two such collections, formed by bibliomaniacs, who, although calling themselves bibliophiles, ought really to be ranked among the worst enemies of books.” He then copies and annotates an 1880 trade catalogue advertising several selections of mounted fragments, while blasting the early-nineteenth-century “mania” for cutting out illuminated initials from medieval manuscripts and arranging them into scrapbooks. Thus Blades draws a direct line of descent from Bagford’s late-seventeenth-century practices to the boatman’s daughter who ostensibly cut letters from the Tenison Library’s treasures to adorn her father’s suspenders.
A. W. Pollard, a key figure in modern bibliography, indeed one of the founders of the New Bibliography, carried forward Blades’s ire for Bagford in his Last Words on the History of the Title-Page (1891), which opens with a sketch of the by-then famous lover of fragments. At first, Pollard is generous to Bagford. “He served his patrons honestly and well,” he writes, and “his most embittered biographers do justice to the untiring zeal which made him take walking tours through Holland and Germany in search of bargains,” despite what little financial gain it brought him.11 Like Dibdin, Pollard relies heavily on Bagford’s scraps when writing his history of the title page and, recognizing this debt, searches for a reason to excuse his seemingly biblioclastic behavior. He even briefly toys with the possibility of Bagford as a heroic figure in the history of bibliography:
It is pleasant for a moment to indulge the hope that the books from which Bagford made his collection were themselves mere fragments, from which he rescued the best leaves. If this were really the case his conduct might appear even commendable. In the absence of photographic facsimiles such a collection was really almost a necessary foundation to a history of printing, if this were to be written as the work of a single man; and if the collection were made without damage to any perfect book, surely Bagford did well rather than ill.12
However, just as Pollard opens the door to redemption, he quickly closes it, thunderously concluding:
But unfortunately for this theory there is one damning piece of evidence against Bagford’s moral character, which must be held quite decisive. He cut the margins of the leaves he preserved, often close round the edge of the text; and the man who would do this, would do anything.13
If the limitations of Bagford’s media milieu might have excused his collecting habits, what he did with his collections condemned him in Pollard’s eyes; for, in seeming to carefully curate his title pages, Bagford saved some evidence but may have mutilated other parts of it, violating what were to Pollard the basic principles of the New Bibliography. Thus, he concludes, Bagford’s “memory has ever since been execrated; and the justice of the execration, whatever pleas in mitigation may be put forward, is on the whole indisputable,” since he is ultimately a “Biblioclast, and in that mysterious expression lies the secret of his misdoing.”14 By the century’s end, he had become “the scourge of the book-world,” as Charles Isaac Elton and Mary August Elton would call him in The Great Book-Collectors (1893). There, the Eltons lump him in with the Ferrars at Little Gidding and “their barbarous mode of embellishment” as a “literary monster” and proclaim that the use of scissors and paste to compose collections of fragments, widespread in the seventeenth century, is “in our own time . . . rightly condemned as a malpractice.”15
As we shall see, Dibdin, Blades, Pollard, and those who follow them are mistaken. What evidence is available suggests that Bagford did not intentionally destroy books to build his collections, but tended to gather fragments from trash bins and broken bindings, combing the detritus of shops. Margaret Nickson draws our attention to a passage in a draft of his “Essay” for Philosophical Transactions, where Bagford describes his process of collecting waste:
I have hat grate oportunities not onley in ye large Auctiones & libreary[es] Ihave be[en] concerned In but by ye franch Libertes Mr Christiopher Beatman [Bateman] Booksell[er] geves me in ye turning over the Librearyes which he so often byes and for his time hath hat most good Booke[s] pased throw his hands then anyon Bookseller in Europe: this his kind[n]es in geving me leave at all tims to take out of ye Wast fragments of ould writinges ye blank <wast> leave title pages Grate Letters devis[e]s headpeces &c . . . mane thousandes of them which never before was collected by any one.16
This characterization echoes another account found by Gatch in one of Bagford’s draft essays on printers’ ink, where he also describes how the bookseller Christopher Bateman
at all times hath given me the liberty of looking over when he hath bought any parcels, & for his time he hath had more good and valuable books pass through his hands than all the Booksellers in England. Besides he always gave me notice when he had any waste books to sell, & freely gave me Liberty to take out of them what I thought fit, as the blank leaves at the beginning of them, old pieces of MSS, Titles, Frontispieces, borders, Printers’ devises, & by this civility hath very much added to my collection.17
To “test [Bagford’s] own account of the source of his manuscript materials against the opinion of Blades and Dibdin,” Gatch compares fifteen medieval manuscript fragments from his collections to other membra disjecta from the same or similar manuscripts. He finds that, almost without exception, Bagford gathered waste from bookbindings and in doing so “preserved fragments and leaves that would otherwise almost certainly have been lost.”18 In my own count of MS Sloane 1086, a collection of 130 medieval manuscript fragments made by Bagford, sixty-seven (52 percent) are clearly binding waste; another seventeen (13 percent) are likely binding waste, while the source of the remaining forty-six (about one third) is uncertain. William Y. Fletcher, who worked closely with Bagford’s materials as assistant keeper at the British Museum, goes so far as to speculate that Bagford may also have salvaged many fragments from the Great Fire of 1666, “when we know immense quantities of books were burnt or damaged.”19
Nor is it clear that, once Bagford had these fragments in hand, he trimmed them, as Pollard supposed. As we will see, when Bagford’s specimens arrived at the newly founded British Museum in the 1750s, some were already pasted into books. Among these, it is not uncommon to find pieces that fold out or are pasted only along one edge, so as not to obscure the reverse of the leaf, suggesting that Bagford did not tend to, or at least did not always, cut fragments to fit the page, as did contemporaneous collectors like Samuel Pepys. Other of Bagford’s specimens arrived in “Porte-Folios,” according to a 1759 catalogue, probably tucked loosely into folders or pasted onto large sheets.20 Only later were many of these portfolios bound into large volumes as part of the British Museum’s efforts to preserve them, as we will see throughout this chapter, suggesting that the fragments that Pollard assumes Bagford trimmed may also have been altered by a later librarian. Far from a “wicked old biblioclast,” then, Bagford largely saved what otherwise would have been lost, and did so with an eye to maintaining these fragments for posterity. In the process, he assembled materials that form the foundations of modern Anglophone bibliography.
While these glimpses of Bagford’s methods have helped redeem his reputation, we cannot appreciate the full scope and creativity of his bookwork until we historicize these collecting practices within his late-seventeenth-century media environment, as this chapter attempts to do. To begin, we might return to and better unpack the justification that Pollard briefly floats: “In the absence of photographic facsimiles such a collection [of specimens] was really almost a necessary foundation to a history of printing.”21 Baked into Pollard’s comment is a sense that—to adapt a famous phrase from Friedrich Kittler—media determine Bagford’s situation. That is, working before modern reprography, before email and cloud computing, before digital images or databases, Bagford needed a means of recording, collating, and sharing evidence from dispersed libraries in order to write a comprehensive history of the book, as he envisioned. Fragments of waste, ephemera, or membra disjecta offered one solution. Small and plentiful, they were easily stored in folders or shared through the post and thus facilitated the rapid dissemination of knowledge across global networks of amateur media historians. They were also cheap, even free; and although each individual piece might be worth little, in the aggregate these fragments accrued financial and, more importantly, historical value, as Arthur Freeman has shown in a series of essays on early fragment collecting.22 Scraps became especially useful when gathered into expository groups, as in Bagford’s books of specimens, or paired with excerpts from rare source texts and enumerative bibliographies, as in his mass of notes.
That eighteenth-century scholars and collectors did in fact prize his collections is evident in the fact that there was competition to acquire them after his death. “I should be glad to get Mr. Bagford’s things,” Robert Harley wrote his librarian, Humfrey Wanley, adding anxiously, “is there anyone else about them[?]”23 After Wanley had successfully purchased them for his patron, Hearne would complain that “had the Papers come to me, I would have methodiz’d them, & published a Book from them, for the Service of the Publick, & the Honour of Mr. Bagford.”24 Such intentions illuminate the great benefit and utility that collections of fragments had for eighteenth-century historians, who, as Anna Reynolds and Adam Smyth have shown, were working within a culture where waste circulated and signified differently.25 Rather than dismissing Bagford’s methods as needlessly destructive, Hearne and his contemporaries likely saw them in the same way that we might see a resource like Early English Books Online today: as the fertile grounds from which new knowledge and new histories might spring.
Even as this chapter aims to historicize and thus appreciate Bagford’s collecting practices, it can do so only piecemeal from the fragile evidence left of his original handiwork. As with the harmonies of Little Gidding and Benlowes’s Theophila, many hands have touched Bagford’s scattered volumes—librarians, collectors, curators, bibliographers—with each owner or institution giving new shape to his miscellaneous assemblages. The result is a collective constellation that bears witness to the shifting categories by which bibliography has narrowly carved up the history of the book in the wake of Bagford’s more capacious and imaginative vision for the field. Triangulating evidence from library catalogues, digital reconstructions, and the volumes themselves, this chapter disentangles this long history in the service of, first, recovering the inventive and argumentative nature of Bagford’s bookwork. It is clear from his printed proposals, letters, and the essay in Philosophical Transactions that Bagford, toward the end of his life, did intend to produce a printed history of the book along the lines of the other massive Royal Society volumes being brought out and bought by curious antiquarians after the Restoration. At the same time, in examining the remnants of his drafts, notes, commonplace books, and portfolios of waste with the hindsight of history, the impossibility of producing such a project in print becomes obvious and Bagford’s actual creative labor comes into relief. That is, he was producing a richly interlinked network of found fragments and texts that, at their most designed, form vibrant, materialist essays. Halfway between private collections and scientific publications, made for display in spaces like Tenison’s Library, these bespoke albums and portfolios are not the half-finished preface to his history of text technologies, but precisely its substance, generating meaning and narrative through the frictive juxtaposition of material “speciments,” as Bagford consistently called his scraps.
However, unlike the women of Little Gidding or Benlowes and his collaborators, Bagford does not assemble his specimens with an eye to repairing a fractured religious or literary culture, nor does he aim to absorb these fragments of the past into his contemporary moment. Rather, working during the Restoration from within the new antiquarian cultures of collecting, he cuts, copies, and pastes with a new sense of history. Thus a second thread in this chapter tracks the changing ontology of the fragment at the end of the seventeenth century as it comes to be seen (through the work of Bagford and his colleagues) as the underlying evidentiary substance of philology and historical scholarship. Ironically, it was this shift that led to the development of the very taxonomic categories and classes, dividing print from manuscript, that the British Museum used to pillage and plunder Bagford’s own diverse albums. By dwelling with Bagford at this moment of transition, then, we witness both the origins of the thinking that drives book history today and, in his published assemblages of specimens, its more radical expression. This is bibliography not just as it was, but—as we reassess the legacy of Pollard and the New Bibliographers in light of digital technologies—as it could be again.
A New Historical Consciousness
Sometime in the 1660s, Robert Hooke began examining books under a microscope. He viewed periods printed with movable type and handwritten in ink, lines engraved on copperplates and pressed onto pages. He read biblical verses in microscopic writing and then inspected the underlying paper. What presented as perfectly round or straight to the naked eye looked, when magnified, like “smutty daubings on a matt or uneven floor with a blunt extinguisht brand or stick’s end,” and the writing, while legible, appeared as “pitifull bungling Scribbles and Scrawls.”26 He adds, drawing on a metaphor that speaks to the European expansionism driving the new scientific inquiry, “Arabian and China characters [were] almost as well shap’d.”27 The paper, too, looked surprisingly rough, “no smother [sic] then a very coarse piece of shag’d cloth.”28 On the red sheepskin covers of a small book, he was amazed to discover “pretty bodies” of mold sprouting, long transparent stalks with knobs on top like a mushroom, easily destroyed with a pin but resistant to flame.29 These observations worked their way into his landmark treatise for the Royal Society, Micrographia (1665), the first book to depict a wide array of objects as seen under a microscope; and while much has been made of Hooke’s images of insects, especially the large foldout plate of a flea, it is the magnified messiness of these humble, human-made artifacts that provides the crucial backdrop for his investigations into nature. That is, to highlight the comparatively perfect structure of living bodies, Hooke had first to turn useful tools and technologies into brute things, into mundane material stuff. Using the microscope, he had to “read” books and texts and papers differently and devise a new language of signification to describe them: the period as “a great splatch of London dirt,” or paper as coarse cloth. In short, he must become something of a bibliographer, making fabricated media objects and their biological worlds communicate materially.
Yet, by reproducing the strangely magnified world of print in a printed engraving, tucked into a printed book, Hooke turns his reader into something of a bibliographer too. The desire to see a period magnified in print makes her hold the book more closely, feeling the texture of the paper or the ridges of ink left by the rolling press, just as reading about the imperfections of manufactured type prods her to reflect critically on the integrity of the text before her. Or as Matthew Hunter puts it, “by exemplifying printed form (the period) and then depicting its deterioration under only a modest degree of magnification,” Hooke’s book “enjoins the beholder to take a critical relation to the very printed impressions through which these microscopic disclosures have been delivered.”30 What is being called to account in Hooke’s engravings, then, is not just the surprisingly warped nature of human-made artifacts in comparison with natural bodies, but what Adrian Johns has described as the “epistemic problems of print,” its trustworthiness as a technology of reproduction to mediate knowledge accurately and reliably.31 Hooke concerned himself with this topic throughout his career. For instance, in an essay advocating for the use of a camera obscura to precisely reproduce coastlines, he complained that too many landscapes were made by “some Picture-drawer, graver, here at Home, who knows no more the Truth of the Things to be represented, than any other Person, that can read the Story, could fancy of himself, without that Help.”32 Theodor de Bry’s engravings of the East and West Indies, the images accompanying the text of Thomas Herbert’s travels through Africa and Asia, and John Ogilby’s images of Asia, Africa, and America come under particular scrutiny as the product of “nothing but Mr. Engraver’s Fancy: So that instead of giving us a true Idea, they misguide our Imagination, and lead us into Error, by obtruding upon us the Imaginations of a Person, possibly, more ignorant then our selves.”33 If several decades earlier Benlowes had reveled in the imaginative capacity of engravings to transport the reader to new places near and far, fantastical and true, here and in Micrographia Hooke cautions the would-be experimental philosopher against just such literary flights of fancy. Readers must not spin from engravings their own interpretive riffs, as Benlowes encourages in Theophila, but should instead approach images, or at least scientific images, with the level of skepticism engendered by the splotchiness of his magnified period.
Hooke’s turn away from a poetics of a codex and growing awareness of print’s materiality epitomizes the late seventeenth century’s changing relationship to fragments, collecting, and the book trade. Earlier in the century, the household at Little Gidding and Edward Benlowes had cut, copied, and pasted a pathway through the thicket of printed materials crowding the marketplace from abroad. In the process, they had forged new relations between, for instance, baroque emblem books or Flemish religious prints and uniquely English literary genres and modes of devotion, especially those practiced in elite royalist circles. As we have seen, though, the English civil wars brought an end to their synthetic bookwork, dismantling their carefully wrought harmonies, and as in Benlowes’s Theophila, these older materials began to seem like the orphaned remnants of a distant past in need of memorialization. At the same time, the deregulation of printing in the 1640s unleashed a flood of entirely new texts and genres into the marketplace, leading to a dramatic rise in the reading and circulation of printed materials from a wider range of perspectives. From within this whirlpool of old fragments and new texts, a robust market in secondhand books and “rare” printed materials began to take shape, becoming, as James Raven puts it, “increasingly active and well organized.”34 As he estimates, “the number of London booksellers who dealt in ‘old libraries’ increased three-fold by the end of the seventeenth century,” while auctions of old books and manuscripts, “which appear to have been uncommon before about 1650, also rapidly increased in size and frequency.”35 The Restoration and the return of a Stuart monarch to the throne spurred on this market’s growth, as readers and collectors of all sorts reconsidered the place of Caroline or Laudian projects like Little Gidding or the translation of the King James Bible within the long history of English literary culture. In short, the poetics of the codex evident in earlier decades was transforming into a sense for the material text itself as an object of antiquarian study.
This new historical consciousness took shape alongside several other shifts in the media environment. The first was the emergence of the coffeehouse as a driving force in the collecting and consumption of texts, both new and old. Whereas readers in the first half of the century mostly acquired new titles directly from printers or increasingly from booksellers and publishers like Humphrey Moseley, who maintained shops and stalls in London, after the Restoration partnerships developed between the producers of printed materials and the new purveyors of exotic drinks like coffee and chocolate. At any one of the thousands of coffeehouses that began cropping up across London, readers might pore over broadsides, newspapers, and journals, as men smoked, drank, and chatted over a table littered with paper ephemera, both print and manuscript. Some shops also set up displays of recently released books, which readers could buy on the premises. Beginning in the 1660s, phrases like “To be had at Powell’s Coffee-House” and “Printed and to be sold at the Latine Coffee House near the Stocks” began appearing on imprints, especially on those books connected to the new culture of the virtuoso: a cosmopolitan intellectual, typically male, marked by his curiosity for natural history, trades, useful inventions, and the new experimental philosophy.36 In a diary entry from May 1663, the collector Samuel Pepys records visiting a coffeehouse in Exchange Alley, a series of narrow streets opposite the Royal Exchange, where he bought a copy of Balthazar Gerbier’s Counsel and Advice to All Builders, a book newly printed by Thomas Mabb in “St. Paul’s-Wharff neer the Thames,” about a ten-minute walk southwest.37 As he notes, with a touch of Pepysian sarcasm, “it is dedicated almost to all the men of any great condition in England, so that the epistles are more then the book itself”; but “both it and them” are “not worth a turd,” and “I am ashamed that I bought it.”38 Still other coffeehouses developed as ad hoc public libraries. In a diary entry for 1668, Anthony Wood records that, shortly before Christmas, a group of “yong men” from Christ’s Church College, Oxford, “set a library in Short’s coffee hous in the study ther,” including books of “Rabelais, poems, plaies, etc.” It may have been a chain library, to prevent the books from wandering off, since “one scholar gave a booke of 1s and chain 10d.”39 Whereas the elite readers of an earlier generation like Benlowes or the Ferrars shared knowledge by hosting curious friends at their private estates or sending books published at their domestic workshops, after the Restoration such textual exchanges increasingly took place in diversely homosocial and semipublic spaces like taverns and coffeehouses, where London’s working tradesman discussed the news alongside scholars perusing pamphlets on the latest scientific discoveries.
In addition to displaying new titles, coffeehouses hosted auctions of old libraries and other collections of “rarities,” thereby feeding the growth of the secondhand market and the desire for rare books and manuscripts, as David McKitterick has shown.40 In 1676, when the bookseller William Cooper announced his auction of the deceased clergyman Lazarus Seaman’s library, such events were so unusual (perhaps even unprecedented) that he was compelled to preface the catalogue of books with a note to readers explaining the process. “READER,” he writes,
It hath not been usual here in England to make Sale of BOOKS by way of Auction, or who will give most for them: But it having been practised in other Countreys to the Advantage of both Buyers and Sellers; It was therefore conceived (for the Encouragement of Learning,) to publish the Sale of these Books this manner of way; and it is hoped that this will not be unacceptable to Schollers; and therefore we thought it convenient to give an Advertisement concerning the manner of proceeding therein.41
What had seemed unusual to Cooper’s potential customers in 1676 was becoming common practice by the century’s turn. As Brian Cowan reports, of the auctions advertised in the periodical press in the last four decades of the seventeenth century, 92 percent took place in London, and 88 percent “were sales of books or artworks.”42 In these early years, before the development of the independent auction house, the vast majority of these sales took place at coffeehouses or taverns. While the sample is admittedly skewed, this growth in both book auctions and the importance of the coffeehouse to the trade is evident in an enumerative bibliography of the sales catalogues held by the British Library, compiled by Harold Mattingly, I. A. K. Burnett, and Pollard in the years before its publication in 1915.43 Cooper’s catalogue of Seaman’s library is the only item from 1676; there are two catalogues for 1677, both of libraries, and six for 1678, at least one of which took place at a coffeehouse. Five years later, the bibliography lists twenty-one catalogues, fourteen advertising auctions taking place at London coffeehouses, and some began renaming themselves “auction houses.”44 Even when the sale of an old library did not take place in a coffeehouse, the auctioneer might distribute its catalogue for free there. For instance, Edward Millington circulated his list of Henry Parker’s law books in 1681 and John Parsons’s in 1682 at coffeehouses across London, including the Rainbow Coffeehouse, Richards Coffeehouse in Fleet Street near Temple-Bar, John’s Coffeehouse in Fullers Rents near Grays Inn, the Coffeehouse against Lincoln’s Inn in Chancery Lane, and Bridges Coffeehouse in Pope’s Head Alley, among other locations. These catalogues of entire libraries for sale, strewn across a table alongside newspapers and broadsides, had the effect of making old books and manuscripts visible in public as metadata—titles and formats, sometimes with notes on binding, condition, or price—even when they were not physically present. Thus began to emerge the idea of the secondhand book as a commodity bought and sold in a socially constituted marketplace at a price scale different from those texts sold by printers or publishers.
For Bagford, London’s coffeehouses and taverns were not just public reading rooms or auction houses, but his shops.45 Clients like Walter Clavell, an administrator for the East India Company, often left notes for Bagford at the Swan Tavern asking him to track down certain titles.46 He attended book sales at coffeehouses for wealthy clients like Pepys, who wrote him in 1697 asking him to attend the bookseller Robert Littlebury’s auction on his behalf. Pepys sought an edition of Stobaei sententiae and hoped Bagford could secure it for him “upon the easiest terms you can: letting me know, in the meantime, by a line or two, as soon as you may, whether I may expect to be supplied herewith from thence or no, that I may be at liberty to look out for it elsewhere.”47 He also facilitated auctions for sellers like John Owens by distributing and selling their catalogues from Tom’s Coffeehouse against Ludgate, his preferred place of business once he became established. After perusing a book catalogue over a dish of coffee at Tom’s, a potential buyer could then, according to the catalogue’s instructions, “direct their Commissions” to Bagford there, “and he will take care to have them faithfully Executed.”48 Tom’s also served as a distribution center for Bagford, who regularly dispatched packets of books to curious collectors outside London, along with drafts of his latest writings on text technologies and, in early 1707, copies of his proposal for a complete history of printing.49 His interlocutors responded in kind, sending back to Tom’s, the Swan Tavern, or his chambers in Charterhouse letters to Bagford stuffed with lists of books in private libraries, specimens, and transcriptions of imprints.50
In evidence of Bagford’s reputation as a clearinghouse for anything related to the history of printing, a man named John Beaver sent him a letter from Lisbon in 1712 enclosed with something “given me for a Curiosity,” with hopes that the bibliophile would “pardon a young Virtuoso” if it turned out not to be very special. He ended the letter congenially, “Mr Wanley has a hogshead of the best wine in Portugal coming for England pray remember your friend ouer a bottle of it.”51 Thomas Tanner, too, once folded a loose printed leaf into a letter and sent it to Bagford at Tom’s Coffeehouse. It was a listing of Norwich preachers and their dates, likely some kind of handbill given out or posted at the cathedral, and it was, as the imprint proudly proclaims, printed and sold in Norwich. “I send this to put among your other Collection of Printer[s],” Tanner wrote directly on the leaf; “it is the first thing that was euer printed here.”52 He appends a listing of bound books he wishes Bagford to acquire for him, with his well wishes to Bagford’s partners Christopher Bateman and John Bullord.
With the rise of the coffeehouse as a public reading room and auction house came a corresponding expansion in the role of libraries, both private and institutional. In the last chapter, we saw how the growth of print forced university and college libraries to reassess the physical design of their space and the function of their collections, eventually leading to a notion of the scholarly library as a virtual storehouse of knowledge. By the middle of the century, the loosening of radical new ideas about the commons, public education, and experimental philosophy, along with a rise in literacy rates, had seeded a desire to make these repositories available not just to university men, but as laboratories of learning for the public. A harbinger of this change is The Reformed Librarie-Keeper (1650), a small tract by the Scottish minister John Dury. A member of Samuel Hartlib’s influential network, Dury wrote it in the form of two letters “concerning the Place and Office of a Librarie-Keeper,” or who we would now call a “librarian” (a word that did not come into common usage until the eighteenth century), and published it in a sammelband-style printed book with three other texts on educational reform: his Supplement to the Reformed School (first published in 1649); An Idea of Mathematics, written as a letter from John Pell to Hartlib; and a Latin description of the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. As Catherine Minter argues, taken as a whole, this compilation of tracts supports the Baconian idea of the library “as a kind of information and employment bureau” and librarians as “agents for the advancement of universal learning”—much as John Bagford acted at Tom’s Coffeehouse or Bateman’s bookshop.53 As Dury writes, the library keepers “in most Universities that I know; nay indeed in all, their places are but Mercenarie, and their emploiment of little or no use further, then to look to the Books committed to their custodie, that they may not bee lost; or embezeled by those that use them: and this is all.”54 Yet what if keepers were not only custodians but curators, responsible for nurturing a dynamic archive of knowledge? Although the library is “in effect . . . no more then a dead Bodie as now it is constituted,” he writes (with echoes of Benlowes’s bookplate), imagine “what it might bee, if it were animated with a publick Spirit to keep and use it, and ordered as it might bee for publick service.”55
A decade later, Evelyn’s translation of Naudé’s Instructions Concerning Erecting of a Library (1661) tackled similar questions about how a collection of texts might best be put to “publick use.”56 Naudé asks how a storehouse of knowledge should be organized: by size, by author, by subject? What kinds of books should it contain? What kind of physical environment should they be kept in? In short, he outlines the material constitution of a virtual collection in an age of print and bibliographic plenty, when curators had the privilege of shaping its purpose and function. Although Dury and Naudé’s translator Evelyn came from opposite ends of the political and social spectrum, their shared vision for managing the accumulation of older materials, as well as the influx of new knowledge in print, registered a broader change in thinking about libraries as institutions and librarians as their curators, and we might fruitfully read them alongside a manifesto like Jeffrey Schnapp’s and Matthew Battles’s The Library Beyond the Book, which reenvisions the role of libraries after the digital turn.57 For Dury and Naudé, these new spaces were organized and managed differently from those built at colleges at the beginning of the seventeenth century, differently even from private collections like the Cotton Library, which had dutifully served the politicians, scholars, and antiquaries of London: these were the makerspaces at Little Gidding or Brent Hall turned toward the public good, much like library collaboratories today.58
Nascent in Naudé’s tract in particular is a concern that would come to define the new cultures of collecting: a sense of the descriptive value of ephemeral, used, and fragmentary texts as historical evidence. In the early seventeenth century, Thomas Bodley had instructed his keeper to exclude from the Bodleian Library “such Books, as Almanacks, Plays, and an infinite Number, that are daily Printed of very unworthy matters,” fearing the “Scandal” that it would “bring upon the Library, when it shall be given out, that we stuff’d it full of Baggage Books.”59 Bodley’s command would become notorious amongst literary critics as evidence of the fraught cultural status of playbooks in the early seventeenth century; yet setting aside what it says about the perceived value of any genre, we might, with Alexandra Halasz and Joshua Fisher, also read in Bodley’s instruction a more general desire to keep the collection free of ephemeral, culturally mobile, or “used” materials.60 Scholarly libraries are for singular texts of monumental import, according to Bodley, not free-floating, of-the-moment scraps.
Several decades later, Naudé’s instructions show him beginning to imagine a place for just such “baggage” in a public collection. Early in the tract, he models and then corrects his readers’ potential disgust for this ephemeral waste in an anecdote about a bookseller whom he watched
buy Books so old, ill bound, and wretchedly printed, that I could not chuse, but smile and wonder together, till that he being afterwards pleas’d to tell me the cause and the circumstances for which he purchas’d them; his reasons seemed to be so pertinent, that I shall never otherwise think, but that he is a person the best versed in the knowledge of Books, and discourses of them with more experience and judgment, than any man whatsoever, not only in France, but in all the world besides.61
Having thus elevated a love for “baggage” books to an intellectual art, Naudé instructs library keepers on how to collect and maintain these fragments, pamphlets, and other scraps. First, he might obtain these books by learning how “to rummage and often to revisite the shops of frippery Booksellers, and the old Stores and Magazines as well of Books bound up, as those which have so long remained in waste sheets.”62 Do not, he advises, neglect small or ephemeral items like “Libels, Placarts, Theses, Fragments, Proofs, and the like.”63 While “we despise these little Books,” he adds, “which appear onely as meane baubles, and pieces of no consideration, we happen to lose a world of rare collections, and such as are sometimes the most curious piece of the whole Library.”64 Once obtained, these smaller pieces should not always be bound together, as was common earlier in the century (as we saw in the last chapter), but should be kept separate so that they could more easily be studied; or if they must be bound together, they should “be joyned onely with such as treat upon the like or very same subject.”65 In this way, Naudé—made available to English readers in Evelyn’s 1661 translation—began to theorize a place for the scrap within the new historical consciousness. Libraries should collect not just texts but material texts whose very nature as waste paper narrates a history of literary taste and values.
This new appreciation for fragments is evident in the private collections of the mid- to late-seventeenth century. In the 1640s, just as Benlowes was beginning to gather and repurpose old prints and woodblocks, the bookseller George Thomason began collecting the many books, pamphlets, and political tracts that were flying off the presses after the breakdown of censorship and licensing. By his death in 1666, Thomason had gathered over twenty-three thousand items, or an estimated 80 percent of all the materials published during this time, many of them ephemeral broadsides and newsbooks.66 It was a completely different kind of collection from the more discriminating personal libraries of earlier in the century. As such, it would prove to be a harbinger of what Julian Roberts describes as a “radical change in English collecting and librarianship,” marked by the “systematic accumulation of relatively ephemeral material in English, and its careful preservation.”67
By the second half of the century, most serious collectors would follow Thomason’s lead. For instance, Pepys amassed not only books but also ballads, which he carefully cut, organized, and pasted into five scrapbooks categorized by topics like “Love Unfortunate” or “State & Times.”68 He acquired his ballads by buying a portion of the scholar John Selden’s earlier collection and adding to it through an agreement with the “Ballad Partners,” three printers who supplied him and the city with cheap, popular prints.69 As John Hirsh points out, Pepys “plainly intended to represent something at least of the ballad’s history” through the organization of his collection, “and expected his readers to understand that the ballads in the numbered and separated sections that followed had been nourished by a tradition older than what they themselves represented.”70 To lend further weight to his collection, he prefaced the first scrapbook with a quote from Selden’s Table Talk, posthumously published in 1689. In it, Pepys (ventriloquizing Selden) theorizes the value of collecting ephemeral scraps:
Seldenia. Titles and Libells. Though some make slight of Libells; yet you may see by them, how the Wind sits. As take a Straw, and throw it up in the Air; you shall see by that, which way the Wind is; in which you shall not do, by casting up a Stone. More solid things do not shew the complexion of the Times, so well as Ballads and Libells.71
While Pepys’s library is one of the best known, his collecting habits track with those of his less-studied contemporaries, including Anthony Wood, William Clarke, Richard Smith, and Narcissus Luttrell, all of whose libraries testify to the burgeoning appeal of ephemera, fragments, and scraps in the later seventeenth century.72 Bagford, too, recognized the value of newspapers, broadsides, and ballads as popular literature and gathered contemporaneous examples, which he used to write draft essays to include in his history of printing.73 He also maintained a collection of newspapers from roughly 1707 to 1712 that, while not complete, offers a fairly broad and indiscriminate snapshot of titles that might be found in London’s taverns at that time.74 Whereas earlier in the century the women of Little Gidding cut and pasted prints and books synthetically, with the aim of harmonizing the relations between materials, by the century’s end collection had become an end in itself, and such manual labor was put toward historically ordering exhaustive, diverse libraries.
If Naudé and his followers helped flame the intellectual desire for “baggage books” among collectors like Pepys, the growing antiquarian book trade helped supply the fuel. One effect of the rise of auctions, discussed earlier, was to help accrue significance to items that might once have been considered outdated in their content and, therefore, not worth saving or acquiring. Thus books whose value as texts was nil could become, through the secondhand marketplace, “libris exquisiissimis rarissimisque” (“books most exquisite and rare”), as one of the coffeehouse auction catalogues sold by Bagford advertised its contents. This slight adjustment in thinking about printed books and manuscripts as physical repositories of historical or cultural evidence can be seen in the way that they begin to join the ranks of curious objects that were then crowding the collector gentleman’s cabinets, as Majorie Swann has shown.75 At Don Saltero’s famous London coffeehouse-cum-curiosity shop, for example, tucked among the skeleton of a young frog, small scissors, and a pair of garters from South Carolina, a visitor circa 1715 might find an almanac for a blind man, paper made of nettles, letters in the Malebar language, a book written in Chinese characters, and a Turkish almanac. Certainly these items were not consulted, as the texts would have been unreadable to all but a select few in London, but they were instead marveled at as exotic artifacts or the spoils of colonialism.76
Sloane, too, made little real distinction between his library of books and his collection of curiosities. Written in languages and scripts illegible to Sloane himself, many of his most precious books were handled as exquisite objects for visitors to gaze at, as one would a beautiful painting. Thus, when the composer Georg Frideric Handel mindlessly placed a buttered muffin on one of Sloane’s prized manuscripts during a teatime visit, it was to Sloane an unpardonable mistake, since it marred its physical beauty.77 Other codices in Sloane’s library themselves served as miniature cabinets to display artifacts in his collection, like the plant specimens in his famous herbarium, compiled in part during his trip to Jamaica, or the papers from around the world held in two large volumes (possibly an acquisition from Bagford).78 And when Sloane bequeathed his collections to the nation in 1753, both his rare books and his curious artifacts were combined with the Cotton and Harley libraries to become the British Museum; it was not until 1973, after books had come to be understood primarily as transmitting content, that the British Library would become a separate institution. In this shift, we can see textual and audiovisual media coming into being as “unique and complicated historical subjects” that both “represent and delimit representing,” to return to Lisa Gitelman’s point, quoted in the introduction of the present volume.79 Just as Hooke’s microscope had turned periods into something other than a semantic mark, then, auctions and the new cultures of collecting fomented an interest in texts of all sorts as curious artifacts that evince other cultures, a unique provenance, or a history of ideas. These “libris exquisiissimis rarissimisque” were not just scraps to read, but material evidence to be collected and offered to the public in service of a broader project of curation and knowledge production.
The antiquarian trade helped accrue value to previously insignificant items in a second way: through the waste it generated. By the end of the seventeenth century, printing in England was two centuries old, and many of the earliest books were showing their age. To protect them, as well as to promote a uniformity of appearance across their libraries, collectors began rebinding their items en masse, often in matching and more permanent leather covers. For example, Harley had many of his items rebound in a distinctive gold-tooled red morocco, now known as a Harleian binding. Pepys, too, had his entire collection rebound in matching leather, transforming a motley assemblage into a visually cohesive library of texts. Even Pepys’s ephemeral materials were renovated for the new century. As Patricia Fumerton has pointed out, his broadsides and ballads were cut apart and pasted into large folio volumes, since (it would seem) he considered their conformity to a standard format more important than preserving them in their original, occasionally irregular forms.80
This destructive process of updating the book’s hardware unleashed a flurry of new scraps and ephemera into the marketplace. First, there was the discarded binding itself, sometimes vellum or parchment cut from a medieval manuscript. Then there were the fragments of paper cut from the margins of pages or ends of books in the process of rebinding, as well as the flyleaves and sometimes title pages that were too tattered to keep with the text-block. These might contain datable watermarks and imprints that could be catalogued. And there were the fragments of printers’ waste that spilled forth from the headbands of old books as they were disbound. In the wake of Naudé’s treatise and the rising interest in collecting “baggage books,” such scraps became newly visible as historically valuable. Wanley, a self-taught paleographer, went so far as to submit a proposal to the vice chancellor and curators at the Bodleian to pluck the medieval manuscript paste-downs from the bindings of the library’s collection of early printed books and save them in a scrapbook of handwriting specimens, to be consulted by patrons of the library. In the books, these fragments have “noe relation to ye Subject or Matter of ye Books they belong to Nor Contributing in ye least to their value: Nor hauing euer been thought worth ye takeing notice of in any Cattalogue whatsoeuer Nor being of any manner of use in ye Library to any man as they now Lie hid dispersed and unknowne”; they remain “useless.” But if pulled out “without Damage to the books,” then “Each fragment” is “Capable of becoming in some sorte usefull to him in a Collection tho itt be worthles when Single.”81 Thus the secondhand-book trade, along with the changes in the aim of both private and public libraries, provided collectors with ample opportunity to put Naudé’s principles into practice, sweeping up waste and fragments in hopes of discovering some invaluable rarity.
No one understood the potential value of these fragments, scraps, and ephemera so keenly or collected and constellated them as voraciously as Bagford. Nothing relating to the history of text technologies was outside his purview. While Wanley’s plan languished, Bagford managed to amass thousands of medieval manuscript fragments from binders and waste bins. Some of these assembled scraps he sold to clients; for instance, two volumes at the Bodleian formerly owned by Hearne have the appearance of Bagford collections.82 Sloane also purchased or was gifted fragment collections by Bagford.83 Others he kept scattered throughout his own portfolios as examples of handwriting, parchment, visual design, music notation, or illumination. As mentioned, he collected samples of paper—marbled paper, colored papers, wallpapers, embroidery designs, tracing paper, tissue paper, brown paper, rice paper, pasteboard—as well as ephemera related to paper, including ream wrappers and tracings of watermarks. He collected specimens of writing from around the world. His interest in scripts extended to copy books, which he kept lists of throughout his notes. He collected maps, ballads, and newspapers. He collected pieces of bookbindings as evidence of different stamp designs, as well as pieces of horn and a full, uncut sheet of the printed text that would go behind it in a hornbook. He collected type ornaments, decorative initials, borders, and printers’ marks of all sorts, sometimes pasting them onto portfolios in elaborate constellations designed to reveal resonance and dissonance between items. He was also interested in title pages and frontispieces. When he could not acquire a title page that interested him, he maintained a copy of the imprint transcribed in a semidiplomatic facsimile on a small slip of paper, which he kept with his notes on the history of printing. He also copied out wills of printers, notes from the Stationers’ Register, patents, petitions, and decrees related to printing. Many of these slips are not in his handwriting, as he had friends send them to him from other libraries across Europe and England’s colonized territories. All told, his collections at the British Library alone account for over a hundred volumes.
Throughout his writing Bagford names these items as “specimens,” or in his idiosyncratic spelling, “speciments,” as if they are halfway between specimen and experiment. It is term buzzing with overtones in late-seventeenth-century London and its thriving cultures of collecting and curiosity. Among the new experimental philosophers, “specimen” often denotes a model of an observed thing, typically in distinction from the thing itself, as Francisc Szekely argues in a discussion of early modern microscopy.84 For instance, Hooke frequently describes his engravings in Micrographia as “specimens,” in his words, “of what the inquisitive observers are likely to find among the rest.”85 In the later eighteenth century, the naturalist Georges Cuvier’s paper museum of fossil bones, made by tracing their size and shape in the field, reduces these large, heavy artifacts into what Bruno Latour has, in a generative phrase, called “immutable mobiles,” visualizations that might more easily circulate among scientific collaborators.86 In both cases, these specimens (from the Latin specere, “to look”) helpfully but imperfectly reproduce the artifact being observed, just as printed textile patterns reduce the complexity of needlework designs to models. In seventeenth-century literature, and especially in controversialist literature, “specimen” also refers to an example representing the whole, and we might hear in this usage an echo of Little Gidding’s earlier desire to serve as a “pattern for an adge [sic] that needs patterns,” with the family’s harmonies as specimens that sample its broader lifestyle.87
Drawing energy from and applying these definitions to the fragments of text technologies he was gathering, Bagford conceptualizes his own “speciments” as experimental engines for generating new historical knowledge. They are pieces culled from a larger whole that, through their design and materials, pattern the character of a particular moment in time, or more precisely perform it. The medieval manuscript scrap found as binding waste bears witness to the style of handwriting of a certain decade; printers’ ornaments evince trends in woodcut designs. In this sense, the specimen is still, for Bagford, a model or type for a larger abstraction, namely the history it manifests. However, it is critical to his method that the specimen is original and not a facsimile or copy, for in its materiality, in the quality of the ink or the fibrous structure of paper, it experimentally stages evidence used to deduce the ways earlier craftspeople made texts, the machines and processes they used. Taken together, a gathering of exemplary specimens may adopt an argumentative stance toward its subject by visually and materially narrating the transitions between media, forms, and fashions. Thus bridging spaces like the Royal Society’s Gresham College and Tenison’s public library or Sloane’s private museum of rare books and artifacts, Bagford adapts the understanding of specimens being nurtured in the natural sciences to fit a changing sense of the past and its evidence among curators and collectors.88
Just as the new tools of experimental philosophy required new ways of looking at natural phenomena, as several decades of scholarship on Restoration science has shown, the evidence of individual fragments and their aggregation demanded new methods of reading these scraps.89 Bagford makes this clear in a short description of how Wanley taught him to examine scraped parchment and scribal inscriptions using his own large collection of manuscript fragments:
His Curious speculations and obseruation vpon Antient MSS: that haue ben Craped ye ould writing out for want of velom to write one mater vpon he be ye helpe of a Curious Eye hath discouered ye ould Letters: that haue ben first wrot and Indede when he hath showne them me I haue playnly desened ye duble writing which outher wise I should neuer haue taken notes off and this I take to be a new discouery not taken notes off by any before So cures is he in his penitrating of any thing he layes his hand on and fexen of his Eyes on yt he hath discouered to me on ye botom of a paper of an Antient MSS Booke he hath ponted to me ye Name of Nune which shee had wrot with a stile which whe showne might be esoley deserued althou wrot about if I mestake not sixe hundred yeares sence90
Like Hooke peering at periods and book covers through his microscope, Wanley and Bagford use “ye helpe of a Curious Eye” to “penitrat[e]” and “fexen” their gaze on the evidence to be “discovered” (a word repeated in the passage) on the surface of the parchment. In the process, they identify a palimpsest and the scratched name of the nun who wrote it, recovering a history both of reuse and of women’s work. Today, this art of investigatory noticing—looking at books as material objects that perform evidence—is routinely taught through analytic bibliography and codicology, and we have become accustomed to the philological mode of historical scholarship, where our understanding of the past pieces together from the evidence discovered therein. For Bagford and his contemporaries, though, such methods were novel, even unnamed, and we see in his admiration for and collaboration with Wanley the embryonic beginnings of an entirely new way of viewing and imagining the experimental value of antiquarian curiosities. Through attentive curiosity to waste, a new sense of history was taking shape in the laboratories of libraries and collections.
Constellations of “Speciments”
Pasted onto a stub in one of many bound volumes of Bagford’s notes is a medieval specimen. It is a lovely fragment of a “Te igitur” page of a missal, probably late eleventh-century Anglo-Norman, illuminated with interlocking letterforms.91 Many of the notes that cluster around it seem unrelated, being either imprints copied out of early printed books or miscellaneous lists related to the history of books. However, one nearby scrap of paper seems to offer a tenuous link. It is a long excerpt that Bagford has copied from a footnote in John Leland’s Itineraries, edited by Hearne and published in multiple volumes from 1710 to 1712. Leland was a Tudor antiquary who traveled the countryside after the dissolution of the monasteries searching for books and other artifacts of local interest. Hearne, as a cataloguer, scholar, editor, and friend of Bagford’s, produced the first major print edition of Leland’s notes, annotated with his own copious commentary; no doubt Bagford would have read it with interest. In the footnote that Bagford copies, Hearne discusses a “venerable ould MSS belonging to ye Abbey Church of Shirburne,” probably the early-fifteenth-century Sherborne missal, before digressing into a comment that seems almost written directly to his friend Bagford:
But not only the Book it self, but the Covers of it are very remarkable, and worthy the Observation of such as shall concern themselves in describing the way of binding Books in that Age. This will be a Topick fit for him that shall write about the beginning of Printing. It will become him to trace the Original of several Letters made use of by different Printers from old MSS. ’Tis certain the first Printers follow’d the very Form and Make of the Letters they found in MSS. Nor did their immediate Successors act otherwise. Hence we may account for the black and white Letter. And withal we may from hence, in some degree, give a judgment of the age of those MSS. From whence the first Books were printed. The first Binders also of printed Books imitated the Bindings observ’d in ancient written Books; tho’ new Methods came up in time. The occasion of the imitation was that the printed Books might look like MSS. And, by that means, bring in the greater Gain. But ’tis not my Business to enter into this curious Subject.92
About fifty leaves later in the same book of Bagford’s notes is a draft of his treatise “Of Booke Binding: Antient,” in which, as Hearne suggests someone do, he considers the relationship between medieval binding styles and the transition to print.93 To be clear, there is no direct link between this treatise, the eleventh-century fragment, and Bagford’s copy of Hearne’s digression (nested within a footnote in an eighteenth-century print edition of sixteenth-century manuscript notes on medieval books). For instance, the fragment does not immediately illustrate Hearne’s point or the treatise, nor is it a sample cut from the missal that Leland discusses. However, the collision between this singular scrap of hand-illuminated letterforms and Hearne’s discursive commentary, now drawn into proximity, opens new pathways for Bagford’s curiosity to meander down, as it clearly does in his drafted treatise. In other words, the material rubbing-together of these pieces sparks new historical understanding. Such are the nebulous threads of connection that must be woven between specimens, copied passages, the scholarly apparatus of eighteenth-century antiquarianism, and Bagford’s original writings to begin to make sense of the shape and scope of Bagford’s bookwork.
A specimen such as this medieval fragment stands out because it is today an unusual sighting among Bagford’s manuscript notes, which have been heavily manipulated over the years. When this particular set of papers was absorbed into the British Museum at its founding in 1753 as part of the Harley manuscripts, it was described in the first catalogue of 1759 as “Several Paste-board Covers with loose Papers.”94 These pasteboards are probably the thick brown sheets, labeled in Bagford’s handwriting with different topics, that punctuate what are now four bound volumes of material known as Harley 5910.i–iv.95 During his lifetime, long before the museum bound some of his papers, Bagford used these folders to divide various materials: specimens such as this medieval fragment; loose leaves containing lists of books and catalogues; slips of paper written by him and other collaborators with imprints, to be digested into the booklists; unbound gatherings of draft writings; letters to him or occasionally copies of letters he sent; and notes on texts that he was reading. His usual note-taking method was to transcribe the title and imprint of a book at the top of the page, then build an index of topics with page numbers listed to the left. Some time between 1759 and the next catalogue of 1808, the “loose papers” in these pasteboard covers were “bound together in 4 volumes,” as the entry now describes Harley 5910, with many of the pieces pasted onto stubs and foliated in pencil. Then, about a century later, twenty-seven printed fragments were removed from the bound volumes of manuscript notes and glued into a separate book as part of a broader push to purify Bagford’s collections according to late-nineteenth-century media categories, as we will see. That this curious “Te igitur” specimen escaped extraction is due entirely to the fact that it is, technically, a manuscript; its status as an eleventh-century illumination, completely different in kind from the other contemporaneous notes in this volume, mattered not at all to the strict logic of division that the British Museum librarians applied to this and the other Bagford manuscripts.
Yet, as a “speciment,” it is different. In its presence, we might find a vestige of Bagford’s original bookwork, especially his use of fragments. Add to this lone specimen the evidence of other such remnants excavated from his shuffled heap of surviving notes, and we can begin to piece together a fuller understanding of his methods. For instance, in a small quarto notebook containing Bagford’s own commentaries on printing and other topics, there are many slips of paper now pasted onto stubs. It seems likely that, during his lifetime, Bagford stuffed these fragments into the bound book, treating the codex form itself as a portfolio to contain and fluidly organize his swelling materials. Only at some later point did a librarian more permanently fix these loose pieces onto stubs, as we can surmise from the foliation.96 Among the fragments now glued into the book are several pieces of repurposed waste paper, including some lines of a psalm set to music and several letters that young schoolboys have copied onto carefully ruled paper as handwriting practice.97 It seems probable that these scraps were discarded and gathered by Bagford at the London Charterhouse, an almshouse and school where he had a room in his later years. Written in another hand on the back of one of the practice letters are three recipes from a household miscellany instructing the reader on how “To Cleane a Pictures [sic]” with an onion and how “To Make Ball to Clene your Shooes,” with an abortive attempt at copying the second in between. Below these recipes, Bagford has written a list that may record the contents of the miscellany from which this page was taken, concluding with a note that “thise Booke might be Collected out of Leland.” Thus Bagford turns twice-discarded trash back into treasure, twisting his roiling mass of waste paper, notes, and commentary into forking branches and trails of connection that he may pick up or leave at any other point in his miscellanea. Like the “Te igitur” scrap, each of these handwritten fragments escaped extraction from this notebook at the end of the nineteenth century and now might be read as residual traces of Bagford’s voracious collecting habits, as well as his approach to composing history. Stored, stuffed, and pasted into this manuscript, they literally take their place in a ramifying network of papers that, all together, materially perform Bagford’s knowledge of how text technologies developed over time. In this way, his specimens are not the separate exemplars that illustrate his narrative histories, but instead integral to his process of materially making sense of the past.
While Bagford’s collecting habits took shape against the backdrop of an emergent modernity, drawing from the methods of experimental philosophy and changes in the role of libraries, his method of compiling and publishing his findings does not anticipate the Enlightenment project of categorizing knowledge. Rather, his bookwork operates by way of distinctly amodern swerves and drifts. The style of his thinking is especially visible in those moments when he steps back to take stock of a collection by writing a table of contents or index for it. Sometimes messily sketched on scrap paper and functioning almost like to-do lists, these tables (surprisingly abundant throughout his notes) are confident expressions of what Bagford hoped to complete in his writing projects, and thus suggest his desire to form order from the chaos of colliding fragments, notes, and jottings. Yet, like his throng of materials, the tables themselves resist taxonomic order. Headings of unrelated categories and type veer into one another, a history set alongside an extended citation.
A good example of this might be seen in what appears to be a presentation manuscript that Bagford prepared for a client, possibly Hans Sloane.98 It is a miscellaneous collection of drafts, notes, and lists, neatly and continuously copied by a scribe. The effort put into devising the book is unusual amongst extant Bagfordiana and suggests its design was planned; however, any reader expecting one of Bagford’s more visibly polished manuscripts to adhere to a coherent agenda or modern organizational strategy will be disappointed. The table of contents (copied in Bagford’s hand and extant in at least one other copy in a separate manuscript) reveals a freeform assortment of materials, each topic trickling fluidly into another.99 It begins with texts on the origins of writing and of paper, followed by a catalogue of copy books and copperplates from various other countries, and then a list of authors who have written on short writing, a text on the ancient language of the Britons, a catalogue of authors who have written about Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and a catalogue of English historians. Notes from John Stow and Holinshed’s Chronicle follow, with more on John Bale, the Bible, and then John Dee, engravers, books against the church, heraldry books, “my Collection relating to ye Load stone,” London maps, and the history of the Book of Common Prayer with a catalogue of known impressions. Each link in the chain makes some sense, as one can see, for instance, in how the origins of writing and paper might lead to copy books or the ancient language of the Britons to books on Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and of course any one of these topics might be of general interest to an antiquary. But the working logic is not holistic or hierarchical so much as it shows Bagford negotiating his flexible divigations within the relatively fixed structure of a presentation manuscript. In this sense, his bookwork is closer to what I described in the previous chapter as the queer togetherness of early modern miscellaneity and must not be read as diverging from earlier seventeenth-century practices of assemblage, but rather as emerging out of them.
By piecing together these examples from his much-manipulated manuscript notes, we begin to understand how Bagford digests specimens into his writing and organizes his materials conceptually. In other words, we can perceive his creativity as an author, composer, and publisher of bespoke books. Equipped with this knowledge, we are better prepared to appreciate a second type of Bagford volume at the British Library: his many scrapbooks of specimens. These are large books that contain no notes, but only fragments arranged in argumentative sequences and pairings, with some albums showing more structure than others. One particularly composed volume, still relatively intact, is Harley 5927 (plate 6). Here, the same kind of small-scale collisions and large-scale swerves that we find interspersed throughout Bagford’s notes chain together to form a long visual essay on the history of early English printers, told through fragments of imprints and title pages. Because this volume suffers relatively few later extractions—only twelve prints have been removed, and no manuscript fragments—it offers a particularly rare glimpse into Bagford’s bookwork. It also presents much material of interest to book and media historians; and so, with this in mind, I have built a networked digital edition of Harley 5927 to accompany this chapter, with help from Penny Bee and Lauren Kim. In it, readers can get a sense for the unique layout and thesis-driven structure of Bagford’s specimen books, where fragments bump against each other to reveal similarities, contrast, and slow changes in design over time. They can do so by browsing the metadata of Bagford’s pasted title pages, attached to the digital facsimile of Harley 5927. They can also download the related dataset, much as in my editions of the Little Gidding harmonies or Susanna Collet’s commonplace book. This dataset augments and updates Melvin Wolf’s 1974 humanities computing project, “A Computer-Generated Index to the Title-Pages of English Printed Books Preserved in the British Museum’s Bagford Collections,” discussed more below and on the site. In building this resource, we have hewed close to Bagford’s own bibliographic methods, grounded in the sense that, even though Bagford did not himself have access to photographic facsimiles (as Pollard points out), digital tools and technologies can help us realize his original goal: to use the platform of the codex to assemble, and so make sense of, the remnants of the past as they wash into our own moment. While it is not necessary to view this site before proceeding, readers who do so will find it easier to follow my description-heavy account of other specimen books below, especially those not available in digital facsimile, since Bagford’s bookwork must be seen to be fully comprehended.
While, as can be see in the digital edition, Harley 5927 focuses narrowly on the early history of English printing and publishing, Bagford curates other scrapbooks of specimens as more speculative exhibits on design, media, and materiality. Here, Harley 5949 is exemplary. An enormous volume, nearly twice the length of 5927, it broadly takes on the history of manuscript technologies, from the earliest days of the codex to Bagford’s own present. The first portion of the book braids together scenes of writing and reading, especially as inflected through religious works like the Bible. It begins with two borders that appear to be from title pages or frontispieces (Figure 31). Visually, they have little in common. The first is a heavily shaded engraving with the center cut out, the second is a woodcut composed of delicate lines. A third arrangement of sixteenth-century woodcuts draws out the connection between them: each fragment depicts one of the four evangelists writing the Gospels (Figure 32). These include a set cut from Myles Coverdale’s Bible of 1535, the first complete printed translation into English, as well as two tattered page borders first used as a title page to a 1522 New Testament printed in Basel but later appearing in a copy of Ptolemy’s Geographia universalis, printed in the same city around 1545 (Figure 33).100 After this page, different sets of evangelists also in the midst of writing follow, progressing from the sixteenth into the seventeenth centuries and from woodcuts to engravings as Bagford tracks both the development of visual styles and changing depictions of scriptural composition.
Among them is at least one fragment with great significance in the history of bibliography. It is a woodcut of Matthew dipping his pen into an inkpot held by an angel, and it originally appeared in the only surviving fragment of Tyndale’s first edition of the English New Testament, published in Cologne in 1525.101 Printing was in progress when authorities discovered the project and attempted to suppress it, forcing Tyndale to flee up the Rhine with the sheets of his incomplete book. One of Tyndale’s modern biographers, J. F. Mozley, has used the Matthew woodcut in this single extant and incomplete copy to argue that Peter Quentell printed the aborted 1525 edition, since the same image, slightly reduced, appears in several other books associated with his press around the same time, although others have since painted a more nuanced picture of the project’s major actors.102 Bagford’s woodcut is trimmed, and thus must come from a book other than the Tyndale New Testament, perhaps Birckman’s 1526 edition of Rupert of Deutz’s commentaries, where the pared-down version of the image appears on the title page.
After the many evangelists come two engraved copies of the Letter of Lentulus. The letter, a probable forgery that circulated throughout the early modern period, claims to be written by a Roman official who describes how Jesus looks, and it exerted some influence on depictions of Jesus at the time. Its absorption here, at this early point in the volume, aligns with Bagford’s interest in both the media of religious communication and illustrations of spiritual figures. Images of Jerome writing, much like the evangelists, draw the assembled fragments back to the theme of text technologies, as demonstrated in one particularly rich engraving.103 Originally it prefaced the second volume of Jean-Jacques Boissard’s and Theodor de Bry’s Icones virorum illustrium, containing many engravings and descriptions of illustrious individuals, and it shows Jerome sitting at a desk amidst a proliferation of writing tools (Figure 34). He is with a lion, also the symbol of the evangelist Mark, and the pairing of a man writing next to the beast resonates with the string of earlier woodcuts. To his right is a shelf stacked messily with books, their fore-edges facing down. Above him is a ribbon holding loose bits of paper to the wall, while another cord pinned to front of his desk holds scissors, a pen knife, and what appears to be a horn or girdle book. A closed book is in the foreground; he writes furiously in an open book at the center; and behind him are a clock and hourglass. A rosary and a crucifix have been carefully cut from the print, in the same way that the women of Little Gidding manipulated religious imagery; perhaps it was from a source that was trying to render the image less Catholic.
After this print are more scenes not of writing but of scriptural comparison: for instance, Mark and his lion, again echoing Jerome and his lion, actively collate two open books on the verso of one opening, while the church fathers hold open books for copying in a woodcut on the recto.104 This page opening transitions the collection away from scenes of writing and into a riff on scenes of reading. In large prints, the sibyls pick up books and follow the text with their fingers; the seven wise men of Greece fall asleep over large folio volumes or squint into tiny texts; Grammatica teaches young boys to read using tablets.105 There are depictions of individuals reading aloud, alone at desks, or together in groups. In one small woodcut, a donkey is found perusing an open book. Rather than following chronology or strictly grouping prints according to their subject, Bagford picks up visual themes and spins from them his next thread, sometimes interlacing multiple topics, his main aim being to gather as diverse a range of depictions of reading and writing as possible while maintaining some order in the scrapbook’s arrangement.
Scenes of reading are often inflected with pedagogy, and thus a new theme develops out of this sequence: specimens that both depict learning and enable it. There are tables of numbers in different languages and prints to help with counting,106 printed alphabets, and an entire page opening of hands holding a quill pen, followed by pages from copybooks displaying various scripts.107 The scripts lead to an interest in other letterforms, including a set of grotesque human letters after those used by Benlowes in his poem “To My Fancie Upon Theophila.”108 There is also every page from a hornbook with prints of animals teaching “young Childeren that can but speake in one hower to know” letters in English, Roman, Italian, and secretary hands, as well as the Syriac, Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek characters.109 This flurry of scripts leads to elaborate specimens of calligraphy and calligraphic drawings, then a series of books on accounting and reckoning, instructions for keeping ledgers, and the title pages of various compendia and pocket companions for doing sums. Later in the volume, a sequence on tachygraphy and shortwriting takes shape amongst a collection of specimens of shorthand and micrography, or very small writing. Thus Bagford moves from illustrations of humans writing, collating, and reading to the specimens that demonstrate the work that early modern books do to teach and support the activities of writing, collating, and learning.
Because Bagford includes didactic specimens amongst those that are more illustrative—actual instructions on how to hold a pen and write certain letterforms, for instance, alongside specimens of calligraphy—the volume assumes an instructional quality in this second part, as if teaching its viewer how to read, write, and reckon even as it self-reflexively documents how reading, writing, and reckoning have been taught over time. For instance, in one fragment pulled from a copybook made for colonists in Virginia, the Summer Islands, and New England, readers are instructed on how to go over the letterforms with a dry pen, marking well “where to weigh light with the edge, & where to weigh somewhat heauy with the full of the pen”; however, the author warns, “Your Childe or Seruant (if he be careless) will quickly spoile this booke with going ouer the letters” and so are encouraged to use a hornbook.110 This leaf forms one small piece of a longer and larger history of how writing has been taught, and to whom (boys and servants), but it is also didactic in itself, and one imagines using its advice to trace the specimen just beside it, a bit of engraved handwriting instructing readers on how to use a dry pen. Similarly, cut-up advertisements from 1655 and 1658 (according to manuscript annotations that seem to be in Bagford’s hand) announce the availability of “Skins, either in Parchment or Velum fairly Texted, flourished, and written for Letters Patents, Fines, Recoveries,” and so on, as well as court hand written by the famous scrivener Edward Cocker, “by which alone you may both perfectly learn to read antient Records, and write the same hand exactly.”111 The specimen advertised, a large engraving of court-hand letters, is the next item in the volume. Several leaves later, some of which include other specimens by Cocker, is a ballad titled “Cocker’s Farewell to Brandy,” dated 1675, the year of Cocker’s untimely death, which was due, if one believes the ballad, to an overindulgence in brandy.112 Thus through a miscellaneous assemblage of fragments, Bagford simultaneously tracks a history of scripts, a history of human scriveners, and perhaps most interestingly, a history of how historical consciousness emerged around the topic. Put another way, if the first part illustrates a variety of reading and writing habits, the second shows how those habits have been inculcated and practiced in the media environment of mid- to late-seventeenth-century London.
The final portion of Harley 5949 offers up a snapshot of Bagford’s own moment as one of media hybridity, increasing consumerism, and technological advancement. Included amongst the specimens are many examples of engraved blank forms in different hands: a form for the probate of a will, promissory notes, a form letter from a lobbyist requesting subscriptions, a bill of sale with spaces for filling in purchased goods, and a blank receipt for the makers of hollow sword blades. There is also an advertisement for bonds, writs, warrants, licenses, “and other usefull Blanks” and stationery wares that might be had from Christopher Coningsby at the Golden Turke’s Head against St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleet Street.113 One imagines Bagford finding these ephemeral receipts and advertisements in the streets of London or asking different tradesmen for copies to gather up as examples of various handwritings. In the aggregate, though, they also narrate a secondary history of how printing technologies buttressed both consumer capitalism and post-Restoration governance by making the increased bureaucracy and paperwork more manageable. As Bagford seems to recognize and relate in this volume, print (especially engraved handwriting) was beginning to mediate cultures of petitioning and usury that had until then largely been conducted in manuscript.
Such changes in writing cultures demanded new tools, and a sequence of advertisements for new inks and ink powders comes at the end of this section. In one advertisement, Thomas Harbin, stationer, promises the potential buyer shining “Japan Ink,” which, like varnish, hardens into “the best Ink for Records, Deeds, and all other Writing, which are for long Continuance, that hath ever yet been made.” It can, he suggests, be mixed with water, small beer, or white wine, but “its shining Quality will then be lost.” Interested readers can find it sold at the bookshop of Dorman Newman, who also sells “Bateman’s Spirit of Scurvy-Grass, Plan and Golden. Spirit of Salt. Daffy’s Elixir Salutis. Anderson’s Scotch Pills. Extract of Liquor as for Colds. Fletcher’s Powder. Mathew’s Pill,” and “the QUEEN’s Cephalick Water, or Liquid Snuff for all distempers of the Head, of a most odoriferous Scent.” Thus the stationer and his ink are aligned with alchemical treatments and quackery, a topic taken up in another Bagford volume containing advertisements for various miracle medicines.114 At the same time, other inks, like a cake ink advertised in another specimen, could be bought not only at the shops of various booksellers, but also at “Mrs. Vernon’s Coffee-House in Bartholomew Lane.”115 Such goods were sold alongside displays of curiosities and rarities, like a piece of micrography containing the entire Old and New Testament on a two-by-two-foot bit of vellum that might be viewed at the Jerusalem Coffee-House near Charing Cross.116 Thus the consumer shop of the stationer and the social space of the coffeehouse were becoming continuous with one another in the same way that print was bolstering manuscript, with new cultures of curiosity, virtuosity, and collecting defining both. By displaying grouped specimens of this material culture, the last part of Bagford’s volume offers up an epitome of his moment of media in transition, a semantic web of relations between engraved handwriting and manuscript in the country’s commercial center.
Taken together, then, what may seem at first glance a motley assemblage of fragments loosely related to reading and writing turns out, like Harley 5927, to be a volume with structure, sequence, and thematic development. It begins with specimens illustrating a wide array of tools and techniques for writing and reading throughout time; it transitions into specimens that teach how to use these tools and practice these techniques, especially in the early modern period; and it concludes with how text technologies are changing in Bagford’s own moment as the relations between media shift. While this volume does not relate history in the way that, for instance, an academic monograph does today, with some sense of chronological unfolding and scholarly narration, neither is it simply an unordered pile of loosely related specimens. At the same time, while Bagford’s collection has order and sequence, it is not structured according to taxonomic subject headings, as it might have been were it pasted together today. That is, these items are not grouped according to principles like subject, creator, or type of print. Rather Bagford’s concatenated specimens exhibit the kind of miscellaneity of the Cambridge octavos or Benlowes’s Theophila, as explored in the last chapter, where rhapsodically linked sequences of texts chain together; and in this chaining, in groups of fragments rubbing up against each other, meaning accrues. Thus Bagford is picking up nodes of connection of all types and using them to build not a linear argument, but semantic webs of relation. In this, his bookwork continues in the same vein as the synthetic Little Gidding harmonies, except that where the women of Little Gidding cut and paste prints in service of patterning religious devotion, by the end of the century, these emblematic or symbolic fragments had been made thoroughly material, bibliographic stuff imbued with a new sense of their own history.
I have been describing the book as if Bagford exerted authorial agency in its design, and since not all scholars agree on this point, it is worth pausing to adduce my reasons for believing that this, like many of Bagford’s other scrapbooks of specimens, was in fact one of the manuscripts he compiled himself. First, there is the paper stock itself. Since the book is in poor condition and the paste-downs occlude the paper, watermarks are readily visible on only a few blank leaves; but among them, there is a “COMPANY” countermark, as well as a lily over an “E.” The countermark is very similar to that found on two samples in the E. Williams Watermark Collection at the Folger Shakespeare Library, dated 1694 and 1699, and indicates that the leaf was produced by the Company of White-Paper-Makers.117 First granted a patent in 1686, the Company flourished until around 1697, holding a monopoly on white paper production in England for most of that period, which was also the height of Bagford’s collecting.118 It seems more likely that Bagford compiled the book in the 1690s or slightly later, rather than that, as the alternative explanations have it, Wanley pasted the fragments on decades-old paper stock after acquiring Bagford’s collections for Harley in 1715 or that a British Museum librarian did after 1753. Second, the accumulation of pressmarks on an early leaf, present on many of Bagford’s scrapbooks of specimens, indicate that the book came to Harley’s library as a bound volume with the rest of Bagford’s materials in 1715. The first mark, “151.A.1,” accords with the numbering of Harley’s manuscripts before their transfer to the British Museum in 1753, and the book is recorded in the ninth volume of the manuscript catalogue of the Harley library, begun by Wanley in 1708 and completed by a series of library keepers after his death in 1726.119 It is likely that “151.A.1” and “5949” were written on this leaf at the same time, since they are in the same hand and ink; but this would only confirm that the book had a pressmark before the manuscripts were resequenced and recatalogued, since whoever labeled the volume wished to retain a link between the old and new number. Another pressmark in pencil accords with similar marks on Harley manuscripts acquired early, including Harley 5927. Third, in addition to writing these pressmarks, the British Museum commonly stamped its acquisitions, both books and prints, and there is found in the volume a square “MVSEVM BRITTANICVM” in use from 1753 to 1836.120 It is red, which usually indicates a purchased item, but when paired with the square design, it may indicate that the book was part of the Edwards bequest, a collection that came with the Cotton Library when the Museum was founded.121 While the meaning of the stamp’s color here is uncertain, the meaning of its placement is clear: in the middle of a hole cut out of the center of the first print, it must have been pressed on the book after the print was glued to the page. Thus, the fragments must have been arranged within the book at the time it came to the British Museum.122 That it is sometimes assumed that Bagford is not responsible for the aesthetic ordering of his specimens may have more to do with lingering classist assumptions about his capacity as a bibliographer than the evidence layered on the book itself. On this and many similar volumes, the watermarks, pressmarks, and stamps suggest he not only gathered but also ordered and intentionally arranged the fragments much as we see them today.
However, the fact that Bagford is responsible for pasting together many of his albums of fragments does not mean they have not been picked apart over the years, like all of Bagford’s manuscripts at the British Library. As the British Museum grew in the nineteenth century, various librarians in newly formed departments pillaged Bagford’s materials for specimens to stock their own collections. The first phase of removals happened in 1814, when a chunk of prints were peeled off and sent to the Print Room. Only remnants of glue and the occasional leftover piece show where these fragments used to be. A list of the extracted images was compiled, but specimens were not foliated at this time, and the vague descriptions of the prints taken in a single extant manuscript record make it almost impossible to link items now in the Print Room with any given Bagford volume.123 For instance, forty-five prints were taken from Harley 5949 on November 29, 1814, as is recorded on the flyleaf with the pressmarks. However, the titles listed in a manuscript serving as a catalogue of these removed prints, like “St. Mark” or “An unknown Head, a Drawing,” give only the slightest clue as to what each print is or where it might have been placed in the volume.124 In 1850, nineteen more prints were extracted from several other volumes and delivered to the print department by Frederick Madden.125 Some time after these removals, the volumes compiling Bagford’s fragments were foliated in pencil, with each specimen given a number in the order of appearance. The librarian responsible for this also marked most spots where fragments had been extracted as blank, indicating the former place of a print, although these blanks were not included in the foliation. Thus, even as an array of specimens converge in rich patterns into a single codex, Bagford’s scrapbooks also form an archive of loss, dispersal, and changing standards, as these blank spaces constantly remind the reader today.
The second main phase of removals happened in 1891, when the volumes were again divided. The transfers were initiated in 1890, when Richard Garnett, the keeper of Printed Books, traded E. J. L. Scott, the keeper of Manuscripts, fifty-nine Bagford volumes of primarily printed materials in the Harley manuscripts for the Grenville manuscripts, effectively moving a large chunk of Bagford’s collections to Printed Books.126 This exchange, as documented in a series of leaves inserted in the open-shelf copies of the 1808 Harley catalogue at the British Library, led to a flurry of further division across the two departments.127 Some folios that remained in the Department of Manuscripts contained printed fragments that were extracted into separate volumes for the Department of Printed Books. Those Bagford volumes that were mostly printed specimens were sent to the Department of Printed Books as part of the exchange, with their handwritten bits extracted for compilations now held in Manuscripts. This was the case with Harley 5949 when, on January 13, 1891, Garnett and Fletcher peeled six pasted-down fragments from the volume and deposited them in the Department of Manuscripts. Bagford had originally placed these fragments in locations in the volume that make sense, given the media histories he was twining together. For instance, a handwritten French letter dated 1659 had been pasted next to engraved specimens of French handwriting.128 Likewise, a letter written in a serifed roman script that mimics print had been placed next to engravings that mimic calligraphic designs and handwriting; and a handwritten petition and letters promising repayment had been included amongst the printed form petitions and receipts.129 Finally, there is a handwritten newsletter titled The Advice Packet-Boat with an engraved logo printed at the top of the sheet that had been pasted next to another newsletter, Dawk’s Letter, which looks handwritten but is printed from a copperplate. Delicately threaded with printed facsimiles of handwriting, these manuscript fragments help Bagford reveal the hybridity of his own moment and the utter impossibility of doing exactly what the nineteenth-century curators aimed to do, disentangle print from manuscript. They also show how printing had expanded genres that formally circulated primarily in manuscript, like the newsletter, to broader audiences. When these fragments were extracted and placed in a composite volume with manuscript specimens from seven other Bagford folios, though, where they have been refoliated to match their new order, the ties linking print and manuscript were severed, and their sequence now makes little sense. Once an integral part of Bagford’s visual narrative, these scraps and pieces have become a seemingly random assortment, connected only by their all having been handwritten, an organizing category that seems almost unthinkable to Bagford. Thus, like copies of Theophila made up for nineteenth-century collectors, the volume in its current divided state bears witness to two competing values: Bagford’s own late-seventeenth-century antiquarian desire to conjoin and synthesize specimens across various technologies of reproduction, finding moments of identity across difference; and the impulses of late nineteenth-century librarians to split them up using the exact same metric. By imposing an arbitrary division between print and manuscript, the British Museum of the nineteenth century cleaved Bagford’s collections along precisely the lines he was stitching them together.
The process undertaken in this second phase of removals was, it must be emphasized, whimsically incomplete. In other volumes, it is not uncommon to find handwritten pieces still bound in a volume held in Printed Books. Moreover, some hybrid pieces fit both categories, like Thomas Tanner’s letter written on a specimen of Norwich printing. This is especially evident in Harley 5910.i, the now-bound book of Bagford’s manuscript notes that incorporates the medieval specimen mentioned at the beginning of this section. It once included, as part of its notes toward Bagford’s history of printing, several fragments related to his proposal for the book, as well as a pamphlet on patents for printing books of law and a note on the prices of bookbinding. In 1891, at the same time Harley 5949 was having its handwritten fragments removed and sent to the Department of Manuscripts, these printed pieces were removed from Harley 5910.i and sent to a composite volume that is now in the Department of Printed Books. While the proofs are, strictly speaking, printed (hence the justification for their extraction) they are in fact one stage of the obsessive drafting on display throughout the volume as a whole, as we have seen. By removing these page proofs from their place alongside Bagford’s manuscript drafts and notes, these earlier curators have effectively made Bagford’s writing process appear more inconsistent or haphazard than in fact it was. A third and final phase of removals occurred in 1900, when more German prints were extracted for the Print Room.130 Because the volumes had by then been foliated, it is easier to identify where these prints were removed, even if it remains difficult to locate the actual prints themselves. Thus any given Bagford volume in the British Library today, especially his visual essays of specimens, may be dispersed across at least three different departments, with two still using the same Harley number given it after the absorption of his materials into the British Museum in the 1750s.
Unraveling this convoluted history of departmental shuffling lays a foundation for understanding a third kind of Bagford book at the British Library: manuscript notes paired with specimens pasted and arranged rather than loose. Much rarer than manuscript notebooks or scrapbooks of specimens, these books are almost certainly the product of later hands attempting to piece together what they assumed had been scattered. Exemplary of this type of book is Harley 5943.131 The first British Museum catalogue of the Harley manuscripts, published in 1759, identifies this item as “A Porte-folio, with variety of Stamps impressed on Book Covers.”132 This entry probably refers to the thick, blue sheets of paper onto which Bagford has pasted fragments of stamped leather bookbindings, functioning much like Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas. By the 1808 catalogue, this item had become “A book, with variety of Stamps impressed on Book Covers, with a written account of Bookbinding prefixed.”133 Thus, some time around the end of the eighteenth century, the blue sheets were probably bound and prefixed with Bagford’s handwritten notes titled “of Booke binding Modourne,” along with two separate lists: a small piece of paper with random phrases related to bookbinding in Bagford’s hand (“primer Binders: / ther Kniues,” “Clasping,” “Glewing,” “Grauing Knifes,” “No beating”), with some other items on the verso crossed off; and a bifolium with a list of the inscriptions on twenty-three of the stamped bindings.134 While the placement of “of Booke binding Modourne” before the assembled specimens implies it is a complete treatise emerging from Bagford’s careful examination of the binding fragments, in fact these are typically Bagfordian notes that swerve, shift, and stray down forking trails of thought. For instance, the first leaf addresses the method of bookbinding in his day, from collating and folding (“commonly don by woomen”) to washing, ruling, beating, and stitching the book. The next two pages list cursorily, with little critical commentary, different styles of covers, as well as the tassels and ribbons used as bookmarks. A comment on the style of bindings in Turkey and Russia follows. Then Bagford veers into a list of contemporary bookbinders in London and Cambridge. From there, the text devolves into rough notes. There is also a paragraph copied from Richard Head’s satirical 1679 book The Art of Wheedling, in which the author sarcastically blames the invention of printing for the contemporary laziness of bookbinders, who have become fat with too much work. Head’s text offers no historical evidence of bookbinding, but Bagford includes it here with his typical capacious embrace of anything vaguely related to a topic, fictional or otherwise. The final leaf of what began as a treatise on bookbinding covers hornbooks, how children use them to read and how they are bound, with a note that bookbinders are not actually responsible for producing them, since it requires different tools. Bagford makes one final attempt to return to the topic at hand on the last page, but the text peters out, the last written header being “ye psalter & Testement binder” without any further writing. Thus, while the togetherness of scrapbook and text implies to the modern reader that the former illustrates or is the evidentiary grounding of the latter, in the world of Bagfordiana, they function more like two separate explorations of bookbinding with loose points of imbrication emerging naturally from Bagford’s meandering methods of composition. It is likely that only the interventions of a later librarian brought them into proximity.
Then, in January 1891, Garnett and Fletcher extracted eight printed fragments that had been bound up and foliated with the stamped covers and placed them in a separate volume within the Department of Printed Books. If the scrapbook’s specimens did not, prior to this dissection, comprehensively illustrate the text, they were even less relevant after it; for, despite being printed, these fragments form several loose threads of connection between the scrapbook and the straying line of Bagford’s commentary, as well as the broader web of notes stitched throughout his manuscripts. For instance, the first printed fragment is a drawing of the cover of a medieval manuscript with the Virgin Mary along the bottom edge. It reproduces the cover of a medieval manuscript at Sherborne Abbey, and it is taken from the same footnote on this manuscript in Hearne’s edition of Leland’s Itineraries that Bagford copies on a scrap in Harley 5910.i, as mentioned above.135 The second fragment is the bottom bit of an early woodcut title page showing two figures embedded in an arch.136 When the album was first made, these three printed fragments were placed just after a page with two sixteenth-century stamped bindings that also have figures in arches. Thus together, Hearne’s drawing of a medieval book cover, the woodcut frontispiece, and the sixteenth-century binding show through comparison a link, first, between earlier and more contemporary binding styles (in much the way that Hearne recommends someone do in his footnote) and, second, between the design of early frontispieces and the stamping on bookbindings. That is, by incorporating these printed fragments into his scrapbook of binding waste, Bagford was tracking a decorative motif through detail across time and media, much as he does in Harley 5927 or 5949. That the first printed fragment comes from the same footnote that Bagford quotes in another collection, which also contains his treatise on ancient bookbinding, shows how his seemingly aimless archive actually forms a densely interrelated network of readings of and responses to his contemporaries and his media culture.
When returned to their place in the folios, most of the printed fragments do similar work, sometimes quite imaginatively. Among the specimens in the book there is both the title page to a 1571 edition of Melanchthon’s Corpus doctrinae christianae printed in Leipzig and a sixteenth-century German stamp of Melancthon’s portrait in gold.137 Clearly, Bagford was not interested in just the history of bookbindings, but in how the imagery used on the covers of books circulated within a broader economy of printed texts. There is also a fragment of very early printing showing marginal text set around a main text; it was once pasted near two sixteenth-century Netherlandish stamps showing text surrounding a central image, forming a riff on square designs.138
Finally, Bagford returns to the theme of hornbooks toward the end of the scrapbook. Originally, a small printed alphabet taken from behind the horn was set next to a small bit of sheepskin stamped with the figure of St. George on horseback, once the back of a hornbook (plate 7).139 Perhaps Bagford pulled apart this technology to display for his viewers its constituent parts. He had also interleaved at this point a full uncut sheet of printed alphabets destined for hornbooks—a rare, valuable bit of ephemera today—as if to show how printers produced the various parts of this mechanism.140 These three specimens in turn pair well with the last section of his appended treatise, “of Booke binding Modourne,” where Bagford discusses the pedagogical use of hornbooks and notes that they are put together using tools different from those for typical bookbindings. As mentioned above, this treatise was perhaps not originally paired with the scrapbook but was instead part of the thick network of notes that Bagford’s specimens occasionally plug into. By first adding this treatise and then peeling away these printed specimens, nineteenth-century librarians destroyed the delicate connections between Bagford’s notes and the jostling juxtapositions that make up the portfolio, rendering both less sensible and, in the process, making Bagford himself seem more thoughtless than he really was in his curatorial habits. Modern bibliographers like Cyril Davenport, writing not long after these removals, have followed suit by mining this scrapbook as evidence of early stamped bindings, as if Bagford organized it according to the categories we might use today. When patched back together, though, the album dilates to expose Bagford’s more imaginative, expansive history of text technologies, as visual, physical links spawn materially constructed microhistories. In his original practices, from his methods of taking notes to how he arranged his specimens, we can see the contours of his bookwork: the work his books do.
Toward a History of the Book
Bound with a mass of unrelated papers at the Bodleian Library are several sheets printed with large, elaborate letterforms. There are bodies twisted into an A and a B, ribbons spun into a C and a D; a person holding open a dragon’s mouth forms an h (Figure 35). “These are Specimens of odd Letters wch I had from Mr Bagford,” Hearne has written on the back of one sheet; “I haue an Account of them from his Mouth in one of my Diary Books.”141 Then, after writing this note, Hearne has crossed out “Specimens” and written above it, “ffigures” (Figure 36). The emendation is suggestive, for these are not, in fact, the usual bits of scrap that Bagford gathered, but are in fact facsimiles of them. After the copies of letterforms is another facsimile made to look like an early woodcut, this one reproduced from a page of Canticum canticorum, a block book (books with each page cut from a single woodblock) printed in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century. Together, these reproductions illustrate the transition from hand-illuminated manuscript initials and imagery to reproducible relief blocks—the first step, according to Bagford, toward the invention of movable type.
The presence of these facsimile specimens amongst Hearne’s papers points to a scheme that, from about 1705 on, would take over Bagford’s life and work: his plan to write a complete history of printing, typography, and chalcography: a complete history of the book. This plan took shape directly from Bagford’s collecting practices. As the fragments piled up, generating new collisions, not just themes but distinct historical narratives about the development of printing as a technology began to emerge. Visual homologies especially assumed a certain suggestiveness for Bagford, who, as we have seen, was attracted to hybrid moments of media in transition. For instance, the similarities and differences between medieval illuminated initials and woodcut ornaments gestured, in his mind, toward the distinct, diverging affordances of print and manuscript reproduction. Similarly, early movable typefaces imitating fifteenth-century writing styles pointed to the development of typography from scribal traditions. The relationship between playing cards and block books also fascinated him, since both could be printed without specialized machinery; thus they must, he presumed, predate the invention of the printing press. Beyond visual design and layout, Bagford began comparing inks and imposition. The earliest block books were often printed with a brownish and watery manuscript ink, rather than the thicker, more viscous printing ink that developed later, and the sheets were not printed on both sides, but instead were glued together at their backs to create a single page. Bagford and contemporaries like Wanley saw these differences as evidence of printing’s progressive development from more primitive methods of reproduction. Specimens that illustrate various technological processes, like the manufacture of parchment or paper, also began to take on a special significance, as those that could be dated and located might help antiquarians pinpoint when certain tools and techniques came into widespread use. In short, the simple amassment of fragments in single collections began to take on historical significance.
For a hands-on antiquarian and former shoemaker like Bagford, the questions raised by the specimens encouraged more direct investigations into the mechanics of printing, papermaking, and bookbinding, and he began to take field trips with his friends and collaborators. In the summer of 1704, Bagford brought Hans Sloane to Bunhill Fields in London to visit a shop where playing cards were made, so that Sloane might “se ye maner of printing & Colloring of Cardes.”142 Playing cards were not printed with a press, but rather by rubbing blank sheets of paper on inked woodblocks, just as Bagford imagined the earliest block books of the fifteenth century had been; thus he “thought [the excursion] might geue [Sloane] the best Idea of ye maner of ye printing of ye Antientes.”143 Trips like these helped fill out knowledge of the playing-card specimens that he gathered, like the wrappers now in Harley 5995 and the two full uncut sheets of cards now in a collection of paper samples that may have been one of Sloane’s acquisitions from Bagford.144
Like many of his contemporaries, Bagford also became consumed by the question of whether printing was first invented at Mainz by Peter Schoeffer and Johann Fust or at Haarlem by Laurens Janszoon Coster, and he took two trips to the Low Countries in search of evidence.145 On the second, recounted in detail in his essay in Philosophical Transactions, he and Walter Clavell went to Leiden to see a statue of Coster over “the Door of a Glazier’s House.”146 They then went on from Amsterdam to Haarlem in a wagon with John Bullord and John Murray to collate an early block book titled De Spiegel onser Behondenise, or The Mirror of our Salvation, with notes on the copy of a block book held at Oxford. “This will enable me to oblig the Curious with a Specimen of the Harlem Book,” Bagford would write in his proposal, “as well as those of Oxford and Cambridge,” the latter of which he had already had “cut for my History of Printing.” This is probably the facsimile of the Canticum canticorum amongst Hearne’s papers. Thus specimens begat bibliographical trips that begat facsimile specimens that then were folded back into the mass of fragments and notes, feeding an endless cycle of collecting, constellating, sharing, and reproducing knowledge materially.
Two manuscripts illustrate how this whirlpool of fragments, notes, and drafts were beginning to coalesce into his imagined history of printing. The first is a collection of specimens now known as Harley 5934. Like many of Bagford’s albums, this one has been dismembered and divided between three different departments: in 1814, thirty-six prints were removed for the Print Room; in 1891, a further eight manuscript fragments were taken out and added to a composite volume that also includes Harley 5949; and in 1900, a further seven prints were removed.147 However, even though the collection was picked and pulled apart over the course of the nineteenth century, it is possible to draw some of these fragments back together digitally and, in so doing, gain a sense of the shape and design of Bagford’s volume as it was in the eighteenth century, as can be seen in the attached digital resource. It is not known exactly where the prints pulled in 1814 might have originally been placed in this scrapbook. Nevertheless, as becomes evident when the fragments are rejoined digitally, this volume formed one of Bagford’s visual essays walking through the origins and innovations of print as it evolved, in his eyes, from manuscript traditions. As we will see, it also shows the limitations of his method when it comes to scaling up his labors to print publication in order to reach a wider community of scholars. Here, we begin to see the limits of his bookwork, as well as those of his media environment, as Pollard would point out nearly two hundred years after this scrapbook’s assembly.
Zooming in on a few page openings make this clear. For instance, on the first page spread are pasted seven fragments, mostly examples of early printing; two items have been removed and placed in a composite manuscript volume. Without the extracted manuscript fragments, there is little conceptually that holds this page together. Return the third fragment to its original place, though, and a link becomes clear: the late fifteenth-century manuscript psalter leaf on the verso is illuminated with the same style of delicate floral border as the printed incunable fragment across the gutter (plate 8). In the juxtaposition of the late-medieval manuscript and the hand-decorated leaf of early printing, Bagford demonstrates the continuation of manuscript traditions in the early days of movable type. A few pages later, a lavishly gilded Q with penwork coloring, neatly cut from a twelfth-century copy of Jerome’s commentaries, was once set next to a woodcut initial P (Figure 37).148 Whereas the Q is adorned with delicately curved scrollwork, the P is set squarely in front of a small image of a man writing by candlelight: two decorative initials, reproduced using two different media technologies capable of very different styles. Following this pairing is a sheet of human and animal bodies contorted into large letter-forms—the same facsimile figures that Bagford gave to Hearne—then a small image of a workman casting movable type from a matrix.149 Across from the image of typecasting was, before its extraction, another medieval manuscript leaf from a missal with historiated initials. The initials are worn to reveal their outline, and thus something of the process by which they would have been drawn.150 Another facsimile set of decorative initials composed of ribbons concludes the sequence. Thus, through a series of interrelated fragments, Bagford tracks both divergent designs of various letter-forms and draws into relief the ways technology influences their construction, as they are cut, cast, and illuminated using different tools and techniques, including the facsimile techniques that Bagford himself was experimenting with. A small digression into the early-sixteenth-century devices of John Schoeffer, son of Peter Schoeffer, sprouts from the initial H, which has a portion of the same device within it.151
Other thematic riffs on early printing punctuate the rest of the volume. For instance, Bagford shows an interest in how printers’ devices with trees relate to prints of trees, and there are two pieces of Aldus Manutius’s anchor device.152 There is also a sequence on substrates: first, a specimen of fine white vellum and harder parchment on a single page, opposite an illustration of making parchment; then two specimens illustrating the process of making paper, followed by a printed collection of watermark tracings.153 These specimens raise again the question of mediation, since the texture and color of the pieces of vellum or parchment cannot be illustrated in facsimile, even as the watermarks are easily copied. Yet another page follows a thematic sequence of designs. At the top is a horizontal engraving of books on a shelf; this leads to another horizontal engraving of an eagle sitting on a book, which includes floral patterns; these floral patterns introduce an ornamental border, ending, finally with a decorative initial A marked by similar designs as the border.154 While, on the whole, Harley 5934 demonstrates less order and composition than Harley 5949, these interlocking sequences attest to his hypertextual writing method. He authors a history of early printing by shuffling and reshuffling his fragments, finding harmony and discord, identity and difference, then arranges them in ways that narrate the innovations of early printing.
Even as the volume pieces together an early history of printing, it also shows that Bagford was beginning to imagine these specimens as part of a much bigger written, and printed, project. These intentions are most evident in the many facsimile copies of specimens scattered throughout the originals, mostly of early blockbooks or the same letter-forms sent to Hearne as exemplars of what would be included in his history of printing. Sometimes Bagford pairs originals and facsimiles, as when he pastes two small fragments of a block book printed in brownish writing ink near facsimile pages of the Canticum canticorum and the Biblia pauperum printed in black on more contemporary paper.155 Other specimens are present only as reproductions, such as the printed watermark tracings. Yet other fragments are more ambiguous. For instance, the book once included an attempt to copy court hand on a lightly ruled piece of paper, now in the collection of manuscript fragments.156 Wanley made pen-and-ink facsimiles of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts to include in a planned “book of specimens,” a kind of paleographic tool kit to help librarians and collectors more accurately identify their manuscripts.157 It is possible that this fragment is one of his or another scribe’s replicas, produced as a sample page for an engraver, but in typical Bagford fashion, his plans to mediate these specimens for print appear most pointedly in the trash that gets recycled and repurposed in this volume. First, there is a black waxy sheet of paper that he may have used to trace engravings or etchings; another sheet in Harley 5949, for instance, is made of a similar substance and has been etched with a calligraphic inscription on the art of writing. Second, a specimen of a grotesque letter Z has been pricked in order to trace the design on paper.158 We know this letter was actually copied because later in the volume the same Z, as well as several other letters in the same series, are reproduced in ink, clearly having been transferred from the pricked specimen.159 These inked copies were used to produce facsimile woodcuts, which Bagford then had printed on whole sheets and stitched in at the end of the volume, thus completing the cycle of replication. Bagford probably included some of these facsimile proofs with copies of his proposal when he sent it to interested clients and collaborators like Hearne, Tanner, Sloane, or the several “Benifactores to My Booke” listed in Bagford’s own hand in another specimen. Both the waxy black sheet and the pricked Z would probably have been considered trash, part of the byproducts of reproducing images with early eighteenth-century technologies, were it not for Bagford’s voracious collecting, through which even waste becomes evidence of a technical process or history. In one final move, the blank pages pasted with fragments at the beginning of the volume give way to entire bound sheets of facsimiles at the end, thus modeling the transition from Bagford’s scrapbooks of specimens to a history mediated in print.160
The inclusion of these copies and, more to the point, tools for copying show Bagford beginning to grapple with the problem of mediating his bespoke bookwork for print publication. At stake in the processes of aggregation and reproduction that were churning at the surface of this volume is a question: how can a collection of unique, exemplary specimens, or the kinds of narrative collages pasted together in this scrapbook, be reproduced at scale for wider distribution? What medium best translates Bagford’s intellectual labor, with its delicate webs of relation, to the fixity of print? In short, how might these singular specimens become a printed history of the book? Bagford’s collections of fragments or visual essays may serve clients like Sloane, who wished to have them as part of their libraries or collections of curiosities, or they could be placed in Tenison’s Library as “paper museums” for potential subscribers to peruse. If Bagford wanted his history to join the ranks of the other massive antiquarian and Royal Society volumes appearing in bookshops, though, like Hooke’s Micrographia or Sloane’s history of Jamaica, he had to turn the fragments into written text and figures. Yet absorption into the representational economy of print is exactly what Bagford’s “speciments” resist. This is particularly evident in the stark material difference between the original fragments of a block book and the copied pages, since the texture of the specimens—the brownish writing ink, as well as the quality of the paper—serve as important evidence for Bagford of the process of printing. More, the different thickness and smell of white paper fragments or the feel of the hair and flesh side on a specimen of parchment do not render in an engraving. Nor, in fact, do they in a digital facsimile, as is evident in the resources that accompany this chapter, and much might be learned about the limitations of our own media environment by examining Bagford’s failure to produce his proposed history. By flattening the material performativity of the specimens into visual reproductions, facsimiles signify differently, disrupting the original intent and threads of connection in Bagford’s albums. Like Benlowes’s Theophila or the Little Gidding harmonies, these gatherings of fragments thus remain bespoke, almost private publications, iterable with differences, but not exactly reproducible.
A second manuscript, Harley 5906 B, shows Bagford actually attempting to mediate his visual essay into the shape of a printed book and, again, reveals the difficulty of this task, even in writing. Serving as a counterpoint to Harley 5934, Harley 5906 B is not primarily a collection of specimens, but a manuscript miscellany of drafts, notes, booklists, indices, imprints, and other written sketches, all relating to the topics proposed for his complete history of printing. Among its many notes are some playing cards, the headings of a library catalogue, a list of English authors that have discussed the invention of printing, an outline for an essay on illuminators, and a list of “Old Books printed & partly wrote by Hand,” in someone else’s handwriting. Here, Bagford’s digressive mind is on full display. His draft toward a chapter on the history of playing cards leads into a discussion of chess, for instance, a topic not strictly relevant to his history of printing but part of an ancillary history of games in which playing cards also take part.
The volume also includes original and copied letters from some of his collaborators, attesting to the networks of informants by which Bagford acquired and collated information about early printing. For instance, it contains a letter from John Hudson, then the librarian at the Bodleian, sent to Bateman’s bookshop. It is a manuscript leaf he had acquired with copy on the “Originall & growth of Printing,” seemingly in the hand of the antiquarian William Dugdale. Hudson appended a note for Bagford explaining that “meeting with this paper by chance I thought myself oblig’d” to send it to him, “in hopes yt it may be serviceable to you in your Excellt design.”161 Hearne also sent him a citation from Livy on the origins of paper, along with some gossip on recently released antiquarian books.162 Bullord wrote Bagford from Amsterdam, too, on the earliest books printed there in an important letter that Bagford copies and cites several times.
Then, amongst these manuscript notes toward drafts of his various chapters, Bagford included several printed pieces, since removed from the volume: an illustration of writing and printing; a small fragment from an incunable; printed proofs of his proposal in two different states, each appended with a two-page life of William Caxton and a catalogue of books printed by him as a sample of the kind of material that would be included in the final book; and, finally, several leaves of a dictionary entry on printing extracted from John Harris’s Lexicon Technicum (1710). While the removal of these printed pieces has obscured their link with the manuscript, these items are clearly aligned with the volume’s aim of assembling a history of printing, and unlike later librarians, Bagford saw no clear rift between the manuscript notes or written drafts and the printed proposals that summarized this work for potential benefactors. Indeed, the proofs contain errors, and one of the proposals is layered with corrections in his own hand.163 Stitched back together, Harley 5906 B demonstrates the hypertextual writing method by which Bagford was beginning to expand his essay in Philosophical Transactions and his collections of specimens into a plan for a printed history.
The proofs of his printed proposal and the dictionary pages have advanced the most toward realizing this plan, and thus show how Bagford was negotiating the relationship amongst his imagined printed history, his notes, and his specimens. The printed proposals are present in two different states. The first is shorter and more vague in its description, suggesting it was the earlier of the two. From the beginning, this state of the proposal focuses on the debate about the origins of printing, whether at Haarlem with Coster or Mainz with Shoeffer and Gutenberg. It begins:
PRINTING an HISTORICAL ACCOUNT, of that most Universally Celebrated, as well as Useful Art of Typography; from its first Invention at Harlem (according to Junius and Hornius) by Coster, with Moulds or Blocks of Wood.
Or the Invention of Single Types, at Mentz, by John Faust and Peter Scheffer, of Gernsheim.164
Bagford proceeds to promise a “Discourse on Calcography,” a “Historical Relation of the Antiquity of Paper made with Rags,” and a “Catalogue of Books first Printed, from the Year 1450, to 1500,” along with the chronological progress of printing as it spread through Europe. He concludes by ensuring the subscriber that the whole will be “intermix’d with many Curious and Critical Remarks” on topics like illumination, inks, presses, the manner of binding books “both by the Ancients and Moderns,” and various printers’ devices. Any “Gentlemen that are Lovers and Incouragers of Critical Learning” are invited to share “Curious Observations, on the aforementioned Heads” with him for inclusion in his history (“with all due Acknowledgment”), and subscribers are promised a folio book in about two hundred sheets, to be delivered (in Bagford’s ambitious estimation) by next Easter term. While it is not clear when this proposal was in circulation—although it likely predates his 1707 “Essay” in Philosophical Transactions—at least one manuscript copy in a neat scribal hand, written as if a broadside or bill for posting, exists. This copy was once part of a specimen collection of Chinese printing and writing with many paper samples from around the world made with different materials, suggesting again the rich cross-fertilization between the fragments and his planned history of printing.165
If this first proposal is vague and focuses on the popular debate regarding the origins of printing, the second proof of his proposal shows Bagford beginning to think about his project more in terms of the technological progression from manuscript to print. Compare, for instance, his earlier opening lines with this revised beginning:
PRINTING an HISTORICAL ACCOUNT of that most Universally Celebrated, as well as Useful Art of Typography; from its first Invention by the Illuminators, with the Steps and Degrees of the Improvement of the Art of Printing, from its first Original, as Chance may lay Claim to the Invention, as by the several Specimens I shall exhibit in the Course of the History, with Molds or Blocks of Wood: First, the Arms of CHRIST, a CRUCIFIX, &c. the ABC; and several Books of Pictures, which were the Laymens Books; first practised at Mentz by John Faust, and Peter Scheffer his Servant: And they for several Years made use of the former Molds in or for their Book-making, which they improved to the making of whole Pages, and some time after invented single Types first Cut in Wood, and after some Trials brought to Perfection in Metal; with the Testimony of Erasinas [sic], in a Preface to a Livii, Printed at Mentz 1518, by John Scheffer, the Son of Peter above-mentioned.166
Sidelining the question of whether printing was invented at Haarlem by Coster or at Mainz by Shoeffer, Bagford focuses here on the chronological movement from illumination to early block books and eventually movable type in wood and then metal. That is, he emphasizes not the heroic origin story that obsessed many of his contemporaries and still defines how we narrate early printing today, but the material transformations that slowly gave rise to metal typography and thus the printed book as he knew it.
Importantly, this change in approach emerges directly out of his close engagement with specimens, as he underscores in this opening paragraph. He will not just tell the reader how printing evolved, but show it through “the several Specimens [he] shall exhibit in the Course of the History.” This deepened commitment to the role of his fragments is evident in his new insistence on the authorities he will quote, which themselves almost take on the character of a specimen. For instance, he promises to include writing from Naudé “of the State of Learning in the Reign of Lewis XI. his Critical Remarks an old MSS and Printed Books; with a History of Jo. Faust, and of his Printing the Bible in Latin, 1462,” and in fact this translation is included in another manuscript of Bagford essays neatly copied in a scribe’s hand, probably a draft toward his book.167 His commitment to the specimens also appears in the design of the printed proposal itself. Replacing the simple factotum P of the first draft is a decorative initial with an image of a man writing (Figure 40). It is the same woodcut P that, as we have already seen, appears twice in Harley 5934: first, next to a lavish manuscript Q and having no writing on the back (Figure 37); then later as the last specimen of the collection, this time with printing on the back that indicates this fragment was cut from Bagford’s printed proposal (Figure 41).168 Perhaps the first P was a specimen that Bagford gathered and then had copied to make the second P; or perhaps it is a proof of a decorative initial that he designed himself. Either way, its traversal from specimen to printed proposal then back to the same album of fragments shows how Bagford’s scraps were not, or not only, historical evidence but were crucially and critically folded into his project’s very design as a printed document. That is, they were literally part of his writing process, the materiality of which then became more fodder for his collecting, more waste from which to gather exemplary specimens. In the recycling of material between Harley 5934 and Harley 5906 B, Bagford’s cut-and-paste interweaving of fragments and history becomes clear, as does the impossibility of this textured narrative ever translating to print.169
Bagford in Print
On May 6, 1707, Bagford’s friend Humfrey Wanley wrote his patron Hans Sloane in commendation of Bagford’s growing collections of specimens. “I remember that some time ago I have heard you & several other Gentlemen speak of Mr Bagfords Design of giving the World a new History of Printing, vizt. of the Progress of it throughout Europe, &c.,” Wanley wrote. “Since then I have seen Mr Bagfords Collection, of which I thought an Account would not be unacceptable to you.”170 The rest of the letter is a descriptive catalogue of Bagford’s albums and scraps, which “consists chiefly of Title-Pages & other Fragments put together into Books, many of them in some sort of Order and Method, and others not.” This first sentence is important: Wanley’s mentioning that the fragments are “put together into Books” is a good clue that Bagford did arrange some of his materials and that the constellations seen in many volumes today have his touch. Wanley goes on to describe volumes with specimens of letters; fragments of almanacs and bibles; title pages and printers’ devices from across Europe; cuts of monuments, habits, and trades; book proposals; book catalogues; incunables; epitaphs; patents; German cards; and “many other Volumes of Collections of the Kinds above-mentioned, tho’ not so well sorted.”171 Some of the books are still recognizable in this list today, including the book now known as Harley 5949, which is further evidence that Bagford assembled this book himself.172 Wanley ends with a brief justification of the utility of Bagford’s fragments as specimens—that is, as original material evidence:
And these Title Pages of Books are really useful, upon many Accounts, vizt. as being Authentic & exact, when as in most Catalogues, the Titles are abbreviated & otherways imperfect. Besides, these Titles informed me of many Books I had never heard of before; and from them I have been enabled to enquire for several Books, some of which I have since procured to my great Satisfaction. And it is my Opinion, that there are but few Curious men, but upon the View of this Collection, will own they have mett with many pisces in their several ways, which they knew not of Before.173
Precisely because the specimens are not mediated as metadata, as they would be in a booklist or catalogue, they help generate more accurate bibliographical investigations. More, it is important to Wanley that the fragments are not just singular scraps, but brought together in a collection, the whole generating more meaning than the sum of individual parts. He continues, in an echo of his proposal to take binding waste from books at the Bodleian:
And thus we see, that a single Leaf of Paper, tho’ not valuable in its self, when come to be part of a Collection may be of good use many ways; as either in respect of the Matter it Treats’ of, in respect of the Mark of the Paper, of the Date, Printers Name, Countrey, Title, Faculty, &c.
Bagford himself expressed some worry that scholars would not take his fragments seriously unless they were drawn up into a written historical narrative, and he promised Wanley “that tho’ his Collection is not putt into exact Order, that nevertheless his Book or History of Printing shall be drawn up with that Regularity, as shall answer any Gentlemans Desire & Expectation.” Yet, Bagford’s anxiety aside, his friend Wanley here builds a case for the value of his materials not just as unsorted matter, fodder for future historians, but as bookwork, as books that do work through their designer’s unique vision and creativity.
Wanley had convinced Sloane of the need to make Bagford’s collections more widely known, and as secretary of the Royal Society, he agreed to print an excerpt or summary of Bagford’s findings in its journal Philosophical Transactions. There it appeared in 1707 under the title “An Essay on the Invention of Printing, by Mr. John Bagford; with an Account of his Collections for the same, by Mr. Humfrey Wanley, F.R.S.” As the title suggests, Wanley’s descriptive catalogue of specimens was appended to the end of the essay as additional advertisement for Bagford’s proposed history of printing. The only writing to appear in print under Bagford’s own name, the “Essay” exists as a fragment broken away from the broader vision splayed across his specimens and notes. It emerged from this morass, pieced together from writings extant among Bagford’s papers; but as two manuscript drafts of the “Essay” in Bagford’s own hand attest, the gap between Bagford’s editorially polished prose in print and the conceptual chains and swerves of his motley assemblages of fragments and texts is wide. Like the facsimiles in Harley 5934, the friction generated in translation points to the difficulty of mediating Bagford’s work into print, indeed the impossibility. It also helps make visible the extraordinarily creative labor of his cut-and-paste scrapbooks, distorted as they are in the move to the printed codex. By comparing Bagford’s drafts and the printed essay, we might find not a failure to produce the final book as promised (the assumed teleology of his collections) but another means of appreciating and valuing his work as it is.
The earliest versions of Bagford’s “Essay” exist as two similar draft letters written to Sloane. With his usual digressiveness, Bagford ranges over a variety of topics in these letters, interweaving descriptions of specimens, accounts of his field trips, and remarks on the relations between different trades. However, he continually returns to the evidence offered by his investigations and especially the specimens he has seen. The first letter begins with Bagford rejecting the idea that the Europeans received printing from China, since “at that time of day we had lettle or no Knowledg of those Counteryes.”174 Instead, he believes that the idea for printing came from examining Roman objects in relief like medals, seals, and stamped pots. After this comes a lengthy account of his second field trip to Holland, where he went to collate a block book and visit a statue of Coster. The book at Haarlem was important for Bagford: if it looked much like the other block books he had seen at Oxford and Cambridge, then it proved the earliest printed books were made by cutting each page in wood and rubbing paper against the inked blocks, as one would to make playing cards. Upon concluding an account of his voyage, Bagford lists several important scholarly books and specimens he has seen or wishes to see, with some variations in descriptions between the two drafts. His history of printing’s development after block books, from single wood types to metal type, materializes around his discussion of the fragments, as do brief forays into related topics, like the history of paper made from rags, bookbinding styles, and engravings. Thus, rambling as they may appear to a modern reader, the letters are internally motivated by Bagford’s core method of drawing conclusions directly from the evidence of his specimens.
When these drafts came to print, their editor (Sloane, or possibly Wanley) extracted from Bagford’s digressions a much clearer four-step narrative of the progress of the invention of printing, which forms the introductory part of the essay published in Philosophical Transactions. Bagford’s account of his trip to Haarlem follows this introduction; it is reprinted with minimal changes. Then the essay concludes with the same descriptions of specimens and books with a hazy reiteration of the progress of printing. This last section has been tightened up in the printed version, with some of Bagford’s class politics removed. For example, in the letters Bagford describes how the first printers of wooden types, at least “som of ye meaner Workemen,” cleverly capitalized upon their discovery:
At first deuelpen and descriering of this Misterey of singel tipes som of ye meaner Workemen traueled from place to place Noble mens Houses &c: whare they ware intertaned with much recept & well rewarded for showing of ye performance of this art in printing of Ballates: songes ^ & the Names of ye persons Epitapes Epigrammes &c and of these the printd but of one side and these Letters with thei outher vtenceles they Cared in a Letter bag at ther backs from place to place and by thes meanes got a considerable Livlehood so fond ware most peopl of all degres of seing ye performance of printing175
In the much-edited version in print, the description of these printers as “Workemen” has been removed, as has the idea of printing as democratically accessible to “peopl of all degres.” Instead, this new technology is placed at the service of noble families only:
The third way of Printing was with single Types made of Wood, but to whom the Honour of the Invention is due, is not very evident; it was then esteemed so great a Rarity that the Printers carry’d their Letters in Bags at their Backs, and got Money at Great Mens Houses by Printing the Names of the Family, Epitaphs, Songs, and other small Pamphlets.176
Digressions into other trades have also been removed from the printed essay, as when Bagford describes how these printers had no press, just like the card markers in Moor Fields, the printers of paper for trunks and boxes, and so on.177 Perhaps Sloane imagined readers of the Royal Society’s journal to be less tolerant of these interludes. Altogether, these edits have the effect of turning Bagford’s hypertextual web of writing, patched together from fragments and field trips and intuited links, into a progressionist history of printing’s development, and one that is in many ways more incoherent than Bagford’s own, since it disentangles the narration of this history from the descriptions of the specimens, with the account of his journey into Haarlem awkwardly sandwiched between. In other words, deprived of the operating principles and internal logic of his bookwork, the thread of Bagford’s argument frays. Ironically, translating Bagford’s manuscript drafts into the Philosophical Transactions essay thus makes clear the impossibility of ever rendering the histories narrated in his bespoke albums of fragments into print, since without the grounding of his specimens, many of Bagford’s claims fail to crystallize.
Shortly after Bagford’s essay appeared, the poet William King mocked his proposal in an extended satire on what he perceived as the absurd obsessions of antiquaries. It appeared in King’s own journal Useful Transactions in Philosophy, a parody of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions. To Bagford’s “An Essay on the Invention of Printing, by Mr. John Bagford; with an Account of his Collections for the same, by Mr. Humfrey Wanley, F.R.S.,” King wrote “An Essay on the Invention of Samplers; communicated by Mrs. Judith Bagford: with an Account of her Collections for the same. By Mrs. Arabella Manly, School-mistress at Hackney.”178 King mercilessly pillaged Bagford’s prose to mock his interest in the history of printing as trivial and feminine. “The Antiquity of Samplers has not been treated of by so many Authors, as such a Subject may seem to deserve,” it begins, in an almost word-for-word satire on Bagford’s “Essay.” “I shall now only give a short Account of the Observations I have made so many Years from old Pieces of Linen of such several Sorts and Kinds as I could find in Long-lane, Thieving-lane, Monmouth-street, and other Repositories of valuable Rarities.”179 The imaginary Judith Bagford interweaves myth and hearsay as if they were history, citing Admetus and Hercules branding their cattle and Arachne’s weaving as the origins of samplers; she punctuates her essay with digressive confessions on how much she wishes to learn a language, “loves” to collect samplers, and “could be content to have enough to be every Day tir’d with looking on their several Inscriptions.”180 At one point, she meets an antiquary who shows her a “Piggen”—essentially, a kind of milking pail or wooden drinking vessel—marked with letters like “X. S.” and “D. O. G.,” which he convinces her stand for Xanthippe Socrates and the philosopher Diogenes, being once owned by them.181 When she asks why he has not washed a bloody handkerchief marked “N. E. R.” (for Nero), he objects. “Oh, fie! says he, that is not like an Antiquary; It is the Dirt makes them valuable.”182
What King mocks, of course, is the way in which an antiquary’s enthusiasm and seemingly unnatural affection for old things, paired with a more general ignorance of the past, so easily occludes her judgment; and her impaired judgment leads to false histories and factual errors. In this, King was one of a cadre of poets and intellectuals who, at the end of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, lampooned the Royal Society and collectors like Sloane, from Jonathan Swift in the Academy of Lagado episode of Gulliver’s Travels and Samuel Butler’s The Elephant in the Moon to Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World and Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso. However, King takes the particular tack of feminizing Bagford’s devotion to scraps of old books. To write a history of text technologies gleaned from pieces of binding waste and torn-out title pages is, he imagines, akin to authoring a history of women’s textile labor from samplers, a form of needlework that, like Bagford’s fragments, conveys no meaningful content, has no household utility, and serves no decorative function. Such a history is not only methodologically unsound, but irrelevant and “mean,” interesting only to silly and lower-class women, like “Mrs. Arabella Manly, School-mistress at Hackney,” a dig at Wanley, who was himself, like Bagford, a former tradesman. Nearly a century after the women of Little Gidding exploited gendered attachments to textiles to authorize their cut-and-paste printing with fragmented texts, King turns this argument on its head, using Bagford’s “womanish” devotion to scraps to undermine his proposed history of printing.
Yet, as we saw with the harmonies made by the women of Little Gidding, an ideological attachment to other forms of creative labor can also be used to authorize certain unique modes of bookwork. Bagford was, recall, a former shoemaker: he knew how to punch leather with an awl and sew it with cords like a bookbinder. The verb “cobble,” as in Bagford’s cobbling together of scraps in his albums, comes from the ancillary trade of cobbling, or shoe repair. His roots and training in a trade critically shaped how he saw and perhaps even configured the waste he encountered. It made him capable of finding value in leather-burned manuscript strips used to pack bindings or the ream wrappers discarded at a stationers’ shop, fragments otherwise ignored by gentleman collectors like Pepys. It also made him appreciate and attend to the craft of printing, to its processes and techniques, at a level different from his contemporaries or even the later bibliographers who would disparage him.
The range and breadth of his curiosity is evident in the drafts of his “Essay,” which remain more firmly grounded in his “speciments” and his excursions to visit actual books and printers. It is true that this style and method of writing were simply unsuited to authoring the kind of singular, monumental history of printing that he so often imagined himself eventually producing. He aggregated, arranged, and mediated the stuff that he so omnivorously gathered but rarely reduced this material into information; and his constant determination to provide the reader with these exemplary specimens, repeated frequently in his draft letters, his proposal, and his essay in Philosophical Transactions, would have rendered his book impracticably expensive to produce and print, especially in the time promised in his proposal. In short, Bagford did not live in a media environment suited to the type of project that his contemporaries hoped he might produce. However, if we set aside our own expectation that the printed version is the final or best expression of an author’s idea—an expectation behind some of King’s classist criticism, and still at the root of much modern editorial theory and bibliography—and return to his papers and portfolios, we can see more clearly his intellectual commitments and the value they add to our study of text technologies. In his enthusiasm for assembling “silly,” mean, and ostensibly worthless fragments into bespoke albums, Bagford gifted us a vast archive of early modern life, one that remains largely untapped by book historians today.
Digital Book History
In the May 1967 issue of Computers and Humanities, the fifth issue of this new journal, a young assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts named Melvin Wolf advertised what we would today describe as a digital humanities project. Titled “A Computer-Generated Index to the Title-Pages of English Printed Books Preserved in the British Museum’s Bagford Collections,” it aimed to catalogue all the fragments in Bagford’s vast collection of albums in the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum (now Library), storing the data in machine-readable format. The main focus was Bagford’s title pages, which would be transcribed and linked to their appropriate Short Title Catalogue (STC)183 or related numbers. Work began that year in London, where Professor Wolf and Helen Hope, a librarian at the British Museum, painstakingly transferred the metadata on each title page onto index cards by hand, using nine categories per fragment: author, title, title-page ornamentation, printers or booksellers, cities of publication, dates of publication, STC reference, and sales and term catalogues. The last miscellaneous category was used to note “items other than title-pages which are of interest to bibliographers and scholars” (basically, all of Bagford’s other fragments besides title pages).184 Together, they generated 17,559 separate card entries that were then sent back to the United States, where Gale Sakaris and Katheryn Smyth punched each line onto a machine-readable Hollerith card. Wolf fed these cards into an IBM System/360 Model 67 computer, on which he was granted a certain amount of time as faculty at the university, and manipulated the data in the programming language FORTRAN IV, using a library SORT routine to organize the catalogue. Once the catalogue was in order, Wolf collaborated with the Computation Centers at Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, to print it out. The printed sheets were sent back to the British Museum, which produced printable relief plates, possibly through some kind of photopolymer process whereby the computer printout was cut onto sheets with page numbers and a running title, and photographed. The result is the Catalogue and Indexes to the Title-Pages of English Printed Books Preserved in the British Library’s Bagford Collection, “compiled, edited and programmed” by Wolf and published by the British Library Board in 1974. A thick square volume bound in red cloth, its circa-1970s computer typography showing the vestiges of its digital origins, it is still the best catalogue available for anyone wishing to locate particular kinds of specimens in Bagford’s unwieldy collections.185
It is no surprise to find Bagford here, at the origins of the field now known as digital humanities. He was, as the open-access book Digital_Humanities puts our own situation, living in “an era in which the humanities,” emerging as it was at the end of the seventeenth century, “ha[d] the potential to play a vastly expanded creative role in public life.”186 We saw this in Naudé’s treatise and the public collections developed thereafter, like Tenison’s Library. Bagford and his contemporaries were also, like us, confronting “the migration of cultural material into networked environments” as the book trade expanded and changed, along with a spate of new “questions regarding the production, availability, validity, and stewardship of these materials.”187 That is, they faced a familiar question: in an age awash with media and increased access to information, who will save and make available the stuff of the past for scholars of the future? How do we nurture and curate a sense of history?188 While some of Bagford’s contemporaries, like King, responded with a conservative elitism, Bagford entered the media ecology of Restoration London with what would be described today as a “conspicuously collaborative and generative” attitude toward this task. Led by his bottomless curiosity, he spent his career indiscriminately aggregating and interlinking specimens and extracts and drafts into extraordinary visual essays that ingeniously deploy the codex as both platform and exhibition space. Turning this work into a printed book, as he imagined toward the end of his life, would turn out to be impossible, given his hypertextual writing methods. But in his failure, we might find a model for the kind of speculative, creative-critical design and bespoke digital humanities publishing that Tara McPherson and Anne Burdick call for today, a model rooted in the inseparability of archive and argument.189
Yet, if Bagford serves as a guide for digital humanities today, there remains something incongruous between the early computing project that remediated his work and his actual archive of materials. By targeting Bagford’s title pages and linking them to each book’s STC number, Wolf uses computational methods to plug Bagford’s digressive work into the pre-existing apparatus of literary history and scholarship. That is, the catalogue identifies points of contact between Bagford’s wandering and wondrous configurations of text technologies and the more ordered and taxonomic indices of the New Bibliographers while leaving his myriad other fragments opaque, relegated to a miscellaneous category; and in doing so, it extracts a constellation of data relevant primarily to the institutions of English and bibliography, to their more staid and conservative twentieth-century questions and concerns. Such an assemblage is, no doubt, enormously useful. Through Wolf and Hope’s meticulous work, we know of over eight hundred potential editions lost except for their title pages, which book historians today might use to more accurately calculate rates of loss for printed texts and more generally understand the early modern print trade. However, Bagford’s utility to literary studies as it presently exists is inversely proportional to the transformative potential of his work. By attending carefully to the creative labor of Bagford’s bespoke bookwork, this chapter has aimed to carve out a different path: one that does not simply mine Bagford’s collections for useful nuggets, but attempts to understand it and its history on its own terms. In doing so, we discover a model for not only what book history was, but what it could be.