Until you get the hang of it, Henry Oxinden’s secretary hand is just plain difficult. Take a stab at this passage from p. 469 of his Miscellany (ca. 1642-1670), Folger MS V.b.110, extracted from a sermon delivered by Charles Herle at Winwick, Lancashire, in 1654. It is typical of the entire manuscript.
What does it say? Our crack team of advanced paleographers transcribed Oxinden’s messy and abbreviated secretary hand as follows:
Certainly if there bee any thing glorious in the world it is
a minde that contemnes that glory. Diogenes had more
of the two, more of it by his contempt, then Alexander
by his command of it, even then when he commanded himselfe
to bee made a God. p.21.
When perusing early modern English manuscripts, it is tempting to skip the words that don’t make sense and focus on the ones that do. In the presence of copious content that is legible and interesting, why get stuck on a few words that probably aren’t that important anyway?
But what if they are important? We are facing many of these mystery words and graphs as part of the EMMO project, and are determined to figure out what they mean. And so we sit with them, mull them over, consult the Oxford English Dictionary, close our eyes, ask other transcribers to look at them, pronounce them out loud, search EEBO-TCP for other instances, continue transcribing in the hopes of finding a more legible version of the letter combination or word, search for contextual clues, and think on them some more until the letters fall into a shape that has meaning. It is worth the effort, as these are often the words that take us down unexplored paths and broaden our early modern vocabularies.
That’s happened more than a few times in the past week, during a one week advanced paleography workshop at the Folger. The 17 participants from all over the US and from as far away as Dublin and Oxford spent five and a half hours a day for five days transcribing and encoding some of the Folger’s most notoriously difficult hands, and then vetting each other’s transcriptions. 1 In a week’s time, they transcribed over 200 pages of Folger manuscripts, and proofread and approved over half of the pages that were transcribed. Below are a few of the hands, words, and phrases, that gave us pause. Clicking on the images and the call numbers will lead you to the full page view in Luna and the Hamnet record.
Two phrases from Folger MS V.a.103, a poetical miscellany and commonplace book (ca. 1620-65), illustrate a typical paleographical situation: the individual letters are fairly clear but we are still confused.
Gods-oukes your eies are out
You will not bird I trow;
Alas goe home or else I thinke
The birds will laugh att you.
The OED lists the earliest usage of Godzooks as 1673 and Gadzooks as 1694, so we’ve found an earlier usage!
We also had fun with a caption to a poem, which seemed to read “Tytere tu boyes.”
After saying it over and over, trying to cajole the nonsensical phrase into something meaningful, Josh Eckhardt discovered that it was a reference to a marauding gang of drunken young gentlemen in the 1620s, who identified each other by wearing black bugles. 2
Folger MS X.d.177 is a small miscellany of jests and poems (ca. 1595), some of them very crude. Much discussion ensued over the third-to-last word in the second line of fol. 3v:
We settled on “hoogs,” even though we wanted it to be “legs.” Hoogs as in hocks or houghs, which are sort of like legs?
A drunkard in a dark night liing in the durti way
not being able to stand on his hoogs one comes
by chaunce that way thinking it hadd been
theeues and bidd him stand why sayth the other
let him stand that can for I cannot
We’ll leave you with a final mystery. The heading to the first leaf of X.d.177 is the one word that we never did figure out. Suggestions?
- Class participants were Claire Bourne, Julie Bowman, Sarah Case, Joshua Eckhardt, Daeyeong Kim, Victor Lenthe, Erika Lin, Ivan Lupic, Brid McGrath, Dianne Mitchell, Marcy North, Sarah Powell, Gerit Quealy, Emily Rendek, Dylan Ruediger, Callum Seddon, and Amy Tigner.
- Tityre tu are the first words of Virgil’s first Eclogue.