The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?” July 2015

Another month, another Crocodile mystery! What’s going on in this image?

Daniel Waters manuscript

Submit your comments below, and we’ll provide a full explanation next week (yes, that’s right, we’ve begun our summer schedule, which is weekly, rather than twice-weekly, to give our Contributors a much-needed respite).


  • It seems that a reader in 1872 is calculating the years since the original was written, which s/he has dated to 1698 (whether by guess or from internal evidence). Since the Folger cataloguing dates the ms. to 1696-1701, the reader seems to be pretty much on the mark.

  • the text is a poem of Sir matthew Hale : “Let him that will, ascend the tottering Seat.”

    My guess is : a XIXth century reader in 1872 , calculates how old is the manuscript written in 1698 > that is 174 years.

  • Dates are 1872 and 1698, I believe. This means the reader (from 1872) is trying to calculate the original dating of the poem. A quick Google tells me the poem is by Matthew Hale, so the date of 1698 would make sense. Why this was important to the reader remains a mystery…

    • Many people are fascinated by counting things (cataloguers among them, for the most part), and counting years in this way is not uncommon. I’ve encountered probably a couple of dozen similar examples of date calculations in books over the years.

  • Thanks for your posts. The Crocodile concerns the numbers on top of the writing (but it is always good to identify the writing as well), and they are indeed an example of book age calculations! More on them next week.

  • Seneca’s Thyestes seems to have become prominent for English versifiers from Wyatt onwards, for its attitudes toward court ambitions, and some literature has developed on the topic. It certainly struck both Marvell and Cowley before Matthew Hale. Is there any special 19th-century relevance in that Hale’s version also crops up among Wordsworth biographical material with another ascription to an obscure clerical contemporary of his? Erroneous of course, but that may have caused some private comment.

  • I should have said that that was John Forest curate at Loweswater from 1708. His quotation may have been taken as proof of authorship

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