There is a lot that could be said about Gabriel Harvey and his habits of reading. ((Two places to start are Virginia Stern, Gabriel Harvey: his life, marginalia, and library (Oxford UP, 1979) and Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, “‘Studied for action’: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy” Past and Present 129 (1990): 30-78.)) He was a scholar, a writer, and a prolific reader who heavily annotated his books, about 200 of which survive (the Folger holds seven of his annotated books). ((In addition to Domenichi’s Facetie, which is bound with Lodovico Guicciardini’s Detti et Fatti Piacevoli, the Folger has his annotated copies of Lodovico Dolce’s Medea Tragedia (PQ4621.D3 M4 1566a Cage), George North’s Description of Swedland (STC 18662), Giovanni Francesco Straparola’s Le notti, Pindar’s Olympia, John Harvey’s A discoursive Probleme concerning Prophesies (STC 12908 Copy 2), and Erasmus’s Parabolae.)) Harvey was, as Heather Wolfe puts it in her account of this book in “The Pen’s Excellencie”, an “ambitious and goal-oriented reader” both on his own account and in his work as a professional reader as the secretary for the Earl of Leicester. But in this book, Harvey also seems to engage in some personal reflections, as Heather describes: “Relying on the printed text as a trigger for his own ideas, Harvey used the margins to outline his strategies for self-improvement, to encourage himself in his studies, to make cross-references to other readings, and to comment on a variety of themes. At the end of the volume he appended a list of the books most necessary for civilized elocution.” ((Heather Wolfe, ed. “The Pen’s Excellencie”: Treasures from the Manuscript Collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library (Folger Shakespeare Library, 2002) pp 136-37. Consult her account for a fuller description of this book.))
The layers of annotation we see here—in which Harvey has not only squeezed his thoughts into all available white space, but has used his notes to point outward to other writers and inward to his own thoughts on self-improvement—is akin, I think, to the layered way in which web 2.0 has developed. This isn’t a new thought, but there is a new resource that builds on this invitation to bring annotated books into the digital world, recognizing the layers of interaction and links to networks of communities.
Annotated Books Online is a digital archive of early modern annotated books that allows users to transcribe and translate the annotations. The image above is a screenshot from ABO showing our book with the transcribed passages highlighted. If you click on the image, you’ll be taken to the live page and can see the transcriptions themselves; if you register, you can even add to the project! There are other Harvey books already in ABO (search “readers” for “harvey”); the annotations in Harvey’s Livy have been fully transcribed and translated, while other books are still waiting for collaborators. (The Folger’s copy of this book was only added to ABO in late April 2013, so its transcription is not yet complete, but the ABO team is already at work on it, and the Folger is hoping to add more copies of our books to their interface.)
While it is true that Harvey might not be a typical early modern reader in the intensity of his marginalia, the books he left behind give us a window into how reading practices connect to the circulation of ideas in the period. The traces he left behind of an active mind at work—drawing connections to other works he’s read, revisiting the same passages over a period of time, reading with multiple goals—offer a rich opportunity for scholars today to understand early modern thought.
The entirety of Harvey’s book is available through the Folger’s Digital Image Collection, but I hope you’ll visit it in ABO as well. Annotated Books Online is a wonderful resource—even if you aren’t able to contribute, it’s well worth the voyeuristic trip to peek into some of the remarkable minds engaged with their books.