Happy belated New Year to our readers!
This week we’re going to look at one of the most heavily annotated books we’ve come across so far during the course of the Provenance Project here at MSU Special Collections: a collection of poems by 17th century English Poet Laureate John Dryden. This 1688 anthology, entitled Dryden’s Poems, is a collection of eight individual pamphlets of Dryden’s poetry (ranging in date from 1681 to 1688), bound together in contemporary calfskin. What’s particularly interesting about this volume is that bound into the work are over 100 additional leaves of late 17th century paper, approximately 30 of which contain manuscript notes, poems, and letters identified as being “by Dryden and others” (see the MSU online catalog entry for this item).
The manuscript additions begin on the earliest pages of the volume, before any printed material. The first few pages are devoted to a poetic quotation, attributed to Milton, by an unknown annotator. The first page of this quote is included here.
Directly following this is a manuscript copy of “A Pathetic Farewell” from Richard Glover’s 1737 epic poem Leonidas, seemingly in the same handwriting. It should be noted that Dryden died in 1700, ruling out the possibility that these annotations are his.
Throughout the collection of poetry are a number of other provenance markers, including many more inserted manuscript pages. Also of interest are the notes written in the margins of Dryden’s allegorical “Absalom and Achitophel,” a poem couching references to political events in contemporary England in language ostensibly about a biblical story.
These marginal notes reveal the true identities behind most of the allegorical names in the poem. David is revealed to symbolize King Charles (Charles II), Absalom to be James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, Israel to be England, Jerusalem or Sion [Zion] to be London, and so on. It is not clear who is responsible for these illuminating marginalia, but they seem to more or less reflect scholarly consensus on the poem’s allegories. The notes appear to be more or less contemporary with the printing of the volume.
Directly following the Absalom marginalia is another inserted manuscript sheet, this one a series of excerpts from a published series of sermons (originally given by Samuel Clarke in 1704-1705) awkwardly titled A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation. The abridged quotation begins: “Atheism arises from stupid ignorance, gross corruption of manners or false philosophy…” The recto page is shown here.
Do you see any similarities between the handwriting on this page and that on the previous manuscript pages? It’s difficult to tell whether a majority of the passages were written by the same hand, but that remains a distinct possibility. As with the excerpt from Leonidas above, the date of the quoted material excludes Dryden as the possible annotator.
The next major addition to the printed book comes in the section containing Dryden’s poem The Hind and the Panther. It appears that the first four printed pages of this particular copy of the poem were lost, and someone has replaced the missing pages with meticulous handwritten text. The unnamed annotator even went as far as replicating the appearance of the page numbers and title. Compare the handwritten title page of Part I of the poem (on the left) to the printed title page of Part II (on the right):
The final twelve printed pages of this poem were also apparently damaged or lost, and manuscript substitutions for those pages were also bound into the volume in their proper place. Below you can see where the manuscript copy picks up again, as well as the final (handwritten) page of the poem. Note that aside from the faux print look of the manuscript title page, the handwriting on these pages is again similar to the earlier annotations in this book. Perhaps they all belong to the same author?
The final few manuscript pages are where things start to get really interesting. In the nearly 100 pages added to the back of the volume, there are a number of excerpted poems, transcribed letters, and other annotations, in what appear to be at least four different hands. The first of these is a passage from Lucretius, signed J. Dryden. Could it actually be from the Poet Laureate? The handwriting does appear to differ from that in the beginning of the book, in those annotations we have already shown cannot be from Dryden. Does the handwriting look similar to that in the marginal notes on “Absalom and Achitophel” or in “The Hind and the Panther”?
Following this passage from Lucretius is a manuscript copy of a poem addressed to Dryden by Wentworth Dillon, the 4th Earl of Roscomon, on the former’s “Religio Laici” (a poem also included in this collection). The handwriting is nearly identical to that in the Lucretius excerpt, making it possible that this poetic commentary on Dryden’s work could have been written into the back of this volume by Dryden himself. The first page of this poem is shown on the right. Can you see the similarity in the handwriting between this page and the previous two?
This has only been a sample of the many manuscript pages bound into this collection of Dryden’s poems. Most of the images included in this post only represent the first page or two of their respective manuscript sections, and there are additional essays, letters, and other handwritten pages bound into this volume – too many to realistically include in this singular content update. The selection given above, however, is representative of the general form taken by these manuscript additions, and also includes the most unique or interesting instances.
Quite a few of the rare books here in MSU Special Collections have at least some markers of provenance, but only a handful have such a depth of supplementary material that it takes nearly an entire day or more to read and catalog it all. Understanding the origin of many of the annotations in Dryden’s Poems is an ongoing process, and the provenance of these passages is still being investigated. At times it can seem like the work of a provenance detective is never done! We’ll post an update if we uncover anything else interesting in the manuscript additions to MSU’s copy of Dryden’s Poems.
Hope to see you back soon!