Nelleke Moser

Exchanging texts, changing texts

Exchanging texts, changing texts. The making of literary collections in manuscript and print in the Netherlands, 1520-1660

My contribution will combine the findings of British and American studies on early modern manuscript culture with Dutch sources from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will contain the first results from my current research project entitled The dynamics of poetics. Socio-cultural dimensions of early modern manuscript miscellanies and printed anthologies in the Netherlands at the Free University of Amsterdam. This research project aims at writing an alternative account of the developments in Dutch literature in the decades around 1600; it questions the concepts of the supremacy of print, individual authorship, authorized copies and literary innovation in early modern Dutch literature. 

In my paper I will focus on the distribution and reception of early modern Dutch literary texts in handwritten and printed collections, comparing a selection of Dutch manuscript miscellanies and printed anthologies that were created between 1520 and 1660. Three periods of increased production deserve extra attention: 1520-1530, 1580-1620 an 1640-1660.

Scholars of early modern English literature have been emphasizing the importance of studying both manuscript miscellanies and printed anthologies for some time now. According to some of these studies, manuscript miscellanies are mostly created within the aristocracy, they contain social poetry on subjects and persons that are known by an audience of intimates and they are the object of coterie reading. The printed anthologies that appear from 1550 onwards would enable a larger public to read the texts that before had only been available to a privileged audience. Others question the assumption that a printed anthology would attract a completely different audience. Dutch manuscript miscellanies and printed anthologies might offer evidence that can contribute to the discussions about the public of private character of text collections, about the distribution and reception of literary texts in manuscript and print and about the impact of the presentation of the texts in different sources.

The selected collections reflect the habit of writing, publishing, reading and collecting verse as a social event. Participants in this event not only are the acknowledged writers, but also printers, editors, readers and collectors. Each one of them can influence the appearance of a text according to the circumstances in which a text is to function. It is obvious that there are many interrelations between manuscript and print and that the boundaries between both types of sources are rather fluid. There is no one-way traffic from manuscript to print. Readers may collect and copy texts from printed sources, printers may collect and publish handwritten texts. There is no clear division between manuscript and print collections either. There are different ways in which manuscript and print may be united: printed texts are bound together with manuscript copies; handwritten texts are inscribed in a printed collection; handwritten texts are engraved and printed as a model for early modern calligraphy.

I will focus on the interaction between manuscript collections and print collections, and between their makers and users, rather than separate the two. T he following questions will be discussed in my paper:

  • What information do the lay out and content of the selected sources provide about their intended readers and about their actual readers? Is it possible to distinguish a ‘private’ from a ‘public’ audience? Indications may be: a table of contents, an index, handwritten additions, statements ‘to the reader’ by the copiist or printer.

  • What happens to the presentation of a text when it is transferred from manuscript to print or when it is transferred from print to manuscript? How do copiists and printers deal with (the lack of) information that went without saying for the author and original audiences? Indications may be: the mentioning of names of authors, references to the original circumstances, additional information or corrections to the text, changes in lettering.

  • Are readers/copiists and printers/editors aware of their role as intermediaries? Do they express their concerns for the texts they provide to the reader? Indications may be: apologies for mistakes in the transcription or for typographical errors; encouragement to the users to handle the texts properly; specifications of the sources that were used.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.