Co-written by Heather Wolfe and Bill Sherman
Margins are exciting places, full of possibility. Early modern authors use them to guide readers, emphasize important passages, and add commentary. Early modern readers use them to highlight memorable text and make notes on their reading. Early modern scholars like to hang out in margins in order to witness these interactions, and then draw conclusions about the particular reader(s) or work, or about reading practices in general.
This relationship between author, reader, and scholar works well when we think about marginalia in published works as being primarily about reader guidance (printed marginalia) or reader response (manuscript marginalia). But what happens when early modern margins break the rules, when authors use them in unexpected ways, when the distinction between print and manuscript marginalia is fuzzy at best and when the marginalia threaten to usurp the work itself?
What follows is some early collaborative thinking for a case study on the works of Thomas Milles (c.1550-1626). Milles’s particular form of self-publication poses some interesting puzzles about text and margin, and manuscript and print. (Click on any of the images in this post to enlarge them.) 1
In the library where we both did our graduate research—the Cambridge University Library—early printed books are consulted on the first floor while manuscripts are consulted on the third. If we look at the entries for Milles in the Short Title Catalogue or Dictionary of National Biography, he would seem to sit comfortably on the first floor. In his long career as a customs officer, Milles proved to be a prolific author of printed books. The ESTC lists more than a dozen titles printed between 1599 and 1619, in which Milles outlined his schemes for fiscal and religious reform — becoming England’s first, and fiercest, advocate of the early form of mercantilism known as Bullionism. Milles’s position as the “Customer of Sandwich” in Kent gave him an ideal vantage point to witness and diagnose England’s chronic shortage of precious metals. He made a passionate case for free trade through so-called “staple ports” (or outports) rather than monopolies for London’s merchants as the solution to the struggle for a favorable balance of trade.
All of Milles’s “bullion” books are printed in small folio format. His first two publications were most likely printed by James Roberts, and STC assigns the latter ones to the printer who took over Roberts’ business in ca. 1608, William Jaggard (two of the printers, as it happens, most closely associated with Shakespeare). At first glance, they look like most other printed books from the period. But it quickly becomes clear that Milles disseminated his works in a way that bears more resemblance to scribal circulation than print publication.
In fact, he describes his first printed treatise, The Custumers Apology (STC 17928), as being “not so publikely then printed, as priuately directed” (STC 17935, sig. B2r). It had a print run of fifty, and was evidently distributed by him to members of the Privy Council. All known copies are signed by Milles and dated by hand on the title page. Thomas Egerton’s copy is particularly ornate, with red ruled margins and gold, red, and black manuscript marginalia [Huntington 62639]).
Later works also appear to be “privately directed,” rather than disseminated by a publisher. A copy of The Customers Alphabet (STC 17927) at the Huntington is inscribed by Milles to the Earl of Northampton (Huntington 62634), while a copy of the same work, purchased by the Folger this week, is inscribed on the title page to Sir Thomas Edmondes.
Virtually all of the copies are individually enhanced by Milles for his small circle of readers. He is not so much revising as supplementing, using pen, pencil, and printed slips of paper. These additions perform a wide range of functions, offering second thoughts, glossing key words, supplying details left vague in the text, and guiding readers through its argument. While the use of cancel slips and pen corrections by printer, publisher, or author is not entirely unusual, Milles takes these practices to the extreme.
In a 1961 article in The Library, P. H. Davidson described the method of Milles and his printers as “unusual, possibly even unique,” and he created a handy summary of some copies of his works. 2
Davidson’s list, based on a manuscript marginal note by Milles in An Out-Port-Customers Accompt (STC 17935) and on three additional abridgments at the Bodleian, turns out to be the tip of a bibliographical iceberg. There are modified copies of this and other treatises at the Folger, the Huntington, the Beinecke, Lambeth Palace Library, Columbia University, and elsewhere. And as described at the end of this post, the Folger has two additional treatises not listed by Davidson.
There are countless signs throughout his treatises that the production of a printed text was by no means the final stage in the evolution of Milles’s writing: indeed, it’s not at all clear that Milles ever saw his texts as closed, finishable units. While the majority of copies are supplemented by hand very uniformly, there are occasional, minor differences: the same correction might appear in pencil in one copy and pen in another, and the wording might be slightly different. In some titles there appear to be more significant differences, reflecting his continual tinkering with the text: additions made by hand in one copy can then appear as a printed slip in another copy (and not necessarily in the same place!).
The Lambeth Palace copy of An Out-Port Customers Accompt (STC 17935)—presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury—has the list of works shown in manuscript above as a printed slip (which has then been modified by hand) as well as an apparently unique pair of full-page fold-out extensions bearing both printed and handwritten text. The most elaborate example in the Milles corpus, however, is The Misterie of Iniquitie (STC 17934). All surviving copies of this text are heavily modified with manuscript additions and tipped-in slips of many shapes and sizes that vary from copy to copy. The evolution of sig. K1r is particularly fascinating. There is a half-page printed slip that exists in at least two settings, with an additional note underneath it about the “Conclaues of Lubeck and London” appearing first as a manuscript insertion (in the Beinecke copy) and then as a printed slip (found at the top of the half-page slip in the Quaritch copy and pasted into its proper place in the Huntington copy).
In the Quaritch copy, this large slip covers another text headed “Nil magis” along with four miscellaneous notes not yet cut out and pasted into their appropriate places on four different pages of the book. The “Nil magis” text itself ends up as a sort of free-standing frontispiece in at least two surviving copies (Huntington and Lambeth) and disappears entirely from others—see, for example, Yale’s copy of the book.
This example and others raise many questions, particularly about the printed slips. Is Milles recycling his pasted-on printed marginalia from other previously printed sources? Or is some of his marginalia specifically printed as sheets of marginalia to add to something that is already printed, which may then be modified in manuscript? Why are some of his marginalia printed at the same time as the text, some printed and pasted in later, and some added by hand? What sort of printer would put up with the constant modifications of texts, margins, and the relationship between them—before, during, and after a single print-run? Why did Milles use the printing press at all? Why not just have the texts copied out as manuscript presentation copies? Was it cheaper to do what he did or were there other reasons for doing it? When a printed book is not complete until it has been supplemented with handwriting, doesn’t it start to look like a manuscript? And how much do the sheets that came off the press need to be altered for a book to become a manuscript?
In one final treatise, purchased by the Folger in 2006, Milles pushes the relationship between text and margin and the interplay of print and manuscript to its limits (STC 17932.5; click here for digital images of the entire volume). The volume in which it is bound begins with 13 leaves from de Bry’s Americae pars decima… (1619) and is followed by two previously unknown tracts by Milles, one in print (but not in ESTC) with a long manuscript dedication, and one entirely in manuscript. These tracts appear to be his final words in his bitter retirement, reflecting his disappointment about all the bullion being drained from England’s economy.
Perfectly capturing the untethered nature of some of Milles’s marginalia is the title of the final treatise, written entirely in manuscript and dedicated to Sir George Calvert: “A marginall Note upon the worde (Almost) in the Text of the synopsis touchinge Bullion Myntes and Money at free-Staples.”
Gone is the pretense of relegating marginalia to the margin. The hand is shaky and tired. The whole treatise is one long marginal note to a single word, “almost,” which he highlights with a hopeful marginal manuscript note on the fifth page of the preceding treatise in the volume:
It seems fitting that Milles’s last word is a 27-page manuscript presenting itself as a marginal note on the word “almost” from an 8-page printed treatise.
But perhaps it isn’t his last word—we would love to hear about other examples of Milles’s handiwork, if you come across them!
BILL SHERMAN is Professor of Renaissance/Early Modern Studies at the University of York. He is the author of Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, and is now working on a study of visual marginalia called The Reader’s Eye.
(Please see below the notes for Heather Wolfe’s bio.)
- This case study is for a larger concept-in-progress, “Beyond Marginalia,” which focuses on the hybridity of many surviving early modern codices and on printed works as sources to be mined for manuscript miscellanies and commonplace books. We are grateful to Jeffrey Todd Knight, Stephen Tabor, and David Vander Meulen for their assistance with this post.
- “The Annotations to Copies of Thomas Milles’ Books in the British Museum and Bodleian Libraries,” The Library (1961): 133-139