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The Collation

Re-Framing the Copy

Our language around the concept of copying often carries a negative connotation. For academics, there is no greater professional shame than the horror of being labeled derivative, a copycat, a plagiarizer, or an intellectual thief. However, in the early modern period copying did not carry the same implications; imitation was considered a function of invention, which was necessary for becoming a master of any discipline (and here I will cite some of the many scholars who work on pre-modern imitation, or imitatio, to assuage my deeply ingrained academic fears).1 Given the many primary and secondary sources detailing the importance of copying in early modern artistic practice, it is odd that many historians and bibliographers deride the reuse and copying of illustrations in English books as cheap or uninspired proof that Tudor England was a printing backwater. My work attempts to re-frame the copying and reuse of illustrations in English books by not exclusively seeing it as a corner cutting practice, but rather as an understudied technique that allows greater insight into early modern book, memory, and visual cultures.

For my virtual Folger fellowship, I have been exploring the work of prolific copier Thomas Trevelyon (aka: Trevelyan or Trevilian). Between 1603-1616, Trevelyon mined printed sources for visual and textual content he copied by hand onto blank pages. One of his three surviving books is fully digitized on the Folger’s Digital Image Collection, and the identification of another, now held in the University College London Special Collections, was announced on this blog by the Folger’s Curator of Manuscripts Heather Wolfe.2 In my wider work, I plot the reuse and copying of relief-printed images to reveal vast intertextual networks of connected material and personal connections between bookmakers. I termed this analytical framework “Visual Commonplacing” because the process of selecting and atomizing books into discrete units to be used in another context resembles the practice of commonplacing (a reading and bookmaking method where readers compiled useful quotes from diverse sources into a blank book). Like textual commonplacing, the copying of an image does not simply involve quoting a fixed expression into a new format but can introduce new meanings, contexts, and modifications via substantive or accidental alterations. In Trevelyon’s books, he creatively combines text and images from diverse sources, building on their original contexts to make new meanings. His resulting works are impressive calligraphic and pictorial compendiums of local and national history, moralizing messages, Bible stories, knotted patterns, and lush flora—or in other words, visual commonplace books.

Several columns of numbers with a column of text with an image of a flower blooming beneath it.
A portrait of a man with a crown and sword surrounded by an elaborate gold border and topped with a short biography. The page is labeled Edward the Sixt.
An illustration of a man in flowing red robes leaning each arm on a large tablet of text. Beneath the man is a block of text.
A portrait of a woman in a red dress with a high ruff. A large block of text sits below the portrait.
An elaborate decorative floral pattern.
An illustration showing two mazes, one circular on top and one square on the bottom of the page.
A severed hand in chainmail holds a sword aloft, which has a boar's head skewered on it.
The alphabet in neat copperplate-like handwriting in five rows.

Figure 1: Selections from Folger Shakespeare Library: V.b.232, fols.18r, 117r, 140r, 185v, 266v, 259v, 279r, & 289v.

Studying copying introduces several challenges, primarily when it comes to defining scope. While my focus is Tudor devotional relief images, a deep dive into any one composition can reveal its medieval heritage, appropriation by Victorians, and new life in digital repositories and on contemporary fashion runways. Even within the early modern period, a woodcut printed in a prayer book can often be found in new mediums, such as tapestries, plasterwork ceilings, paintings, and embroidered bindings. This is why a peculiar figure like Trevelyon is so captivating. While we know little about his life beyond what his three manuscripts tell us, his books let us see early modern culture through his eyes. His works draw visual connections between distinct sources such as fine continental prints, cheap domestic broadsides, Bibles, and embroidery patterns. Ultimately, Trevelyon blurs the distinctions between printed, drawn, and wrought lines.

Trevelyon’s work also challenges the rigid categorization we use to describe a book’s visual content. He copies frontispieces, illustrations, ornaments, and borders alike. One of the title-page borders Trevelyon copies with his pen is an architectural woodcut border first used by John Day in his 1551 The Byble (see figure 2).3 There is little doubt that Day commissioned this woodcut to be made for his workshop. At the foot of the border, there is a small strapwork frame surrounding a depiction of a sleeping man being nudged awake by another figure, as the sun rises in the background. In Day’s 1551 Bible, on either side of this scene is the xylographic phrase ‘ARISE FOR IT IS DAY’, clearly alluding to the printer’s name. In the 1608 commonplace book, Trevelyon simplifies this frame, leaving off the festooned flowers, rising sun, and the coat of arms. Wolfe and others have noted that Trevelyon also copied most of the rude awakening featured at the base, but left off the pun on the printer’s name.4

A hand-drawn illustration showing an elaborately decorated columned building surrounded by text.
Figure 2: Folger Shakespeare Library:V.b.232, fol. 20r.
A printed illustration of an elaborately decorated and columned building.
STC 2088, sig. *1r. Accessed through EEBO.

Like many woodcut borders, Day’s title-page border was used by many printers in numerous books over decades, if not centuries. We know of at least 31 editions that use this border, published by eight printers.5 When the famously Protestant printer’s presses were halted during the years of Catholic Queen Mary I’s reign, the border was used by Gulielmi Riddel, Richard Tathyll, and John Wayland. Here is one of the thousands of examples of how tracing the material history of a block’s use can highlight the very human stories of displacement in a time of upheaval and exile. By the reign of Queen Elizbeth, the block was back in Day’s hands, and he used it in a 1560 printing of Certaine Notes to be Song at the Morning Communion.6 What has escaped the attention of Trevelyon researchers is that this border exists in two states. Between 1573 and 1574, Day’s xylographic pun was chiseled out of the frame, leaving room for him to insert ‘MVNDVS TRANSIT’ in type, a more fitting epigraph for Ypodigma Neustri. vel Normanni.7 The next surviving use of the border is for a book of psalms two years later, for which Day plugged his pun back in, this time in letterpress type.8 Of the fourteen editions that use the second state of this border before Trevelyon copied it into his 1608 commonplace book, eight have left this space blank, all of which are editions of The Whole Book of Psalmes printed by John Windet under the assignes of Day’s son, Richard Day.9 While it is certainly possible that Trevelyon simply omitted the pun, it is more likely that he sourced this border from one of Richard Day’s psalters. By exploring the way this woodcut moved and changed over 50 years, we are not only afforded deeper insight into Trevelyon’s influences, but also learn more about the reception history of Tudor psalters.

Trevelyon used the psalter border to reframe moral verses quoted from Thomas Tusser’s bestseller, A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandry. These verses include themes about being a good housewife and mother, giving alms at Christmas, and the stages of a man’s life.10 Trevelyon’s creative composition shows how he valued these prescriptive words, literally framing them in a devotional setting, and the intertextual connection he found between two of the most reprinted books in early modern England. In Trevelyon’s later book, now held in Wormsley Library, he again copies this woodcut border, but omits the depiction of the waking figures and uses the space to write the date, 1616, in large numbers.11

Fascinatingly, Trevelyon is not the only reader who used this woodcut in his own creative endeavors. A marginal note left by eighteenth-century antiquarian Thomas Martin in a 1542 British Library copy of The Workes of Geffray Chaucer explains how the book was lacking a title page and was given a new one by “Rev. Mr. Nathan Coddington Rector of West Wretham in Norfolk”, who held that title from 1711-1737 (see figure 3). Coddington did not copy the border with his pen but used scissors and paste to fashion a new title-page (on the verso, he also pasted a woodcut from an eighteenth-century ballad). Unlike Trevelyon, Coddington sourced his title-page design from an impression from before Day’s motto was cut out of the block, therefore a book printed between 1551-1573.12 From the eighteenth century, it must have seemed that this mid-sixteenth-century woodcut was an appropriate choice for the 1542 book. Exploring Coddington’s process (which seems like an early form of grangerization), we see layered interactions between a poem from the 1380s, printed in 1542 with incunabular woodcut illustrations, and annotated and amended with sixteenth- and eighteenth-century woodcuts, much of which we know about because an eighteenth-century antiquarian thought to share it with us and the generations of owners and librarians who preserved its material form.

An illustrated title page with an elaborately decorated and columned building. The name CHAVCER is in the building.
Figure 3: Title-page of STC 5070, British Library: C.57.g.6.

Although this single title-page border is just one of the hundreds of images copied by Trevelyon, its story is complex, materially diverse, and spans centuries. In this short blog, we see how plotting the transmission of images uncovers an expansive network of intertextual material and how copying was not thoughtless plagiarism, but a creative and considered choice. Studying early modern copying reveals nebulous identities where a reader is also a creator as well as a book culture that is not a neatly outlined communication between printers and booksellers, but a cacophony of ideas that echo and reverberate throughout various media.

  1. Harold Odgen White, Plagiarism and Imitation during the English Renaissance (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), chs. 1-2; ‘Idols in the Frontispiece? Illustrating Religious Books in the Age of Iconoclasm’, in Illustrated Religious Texts in the North of Europe, 1500-1800, ed. by Feike Dietz, Adam Morton, Lien Roggen, Els Stronks, and Marc Van Vaeck (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014) p. 24; Richard Waswo, Language and Meaning in the Renaissance (Princeton, Princeton University Press 1987), ch. 1; G. W. Pigman III, ‘Versions of Imitation in the Renaissance’ in Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 1 (1980), pp. 1-32; Mason Tung, ‘Alciato’s Practices of Imitation: A New Approach to Studying his Emblems’ in Emblematica, vol. 19 (2012), pp.153-258; Earle Havens, ‘“Of Common Places, Or Memorial Books”: An Anonymous Manuscript on Commonplace Books and the Art of Memory in Seventeenth-century England’ in The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 76, no. ¾ (2002), p.137. Stephen Orgel, ‘Textual Icons: Reading Early Modern Illustrations’ in Jonathan Sawday and Neil Rhodes (eds.) The Renaissance Computer Knowledge Technology in the First Age of Print (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 61. Nandra Perry, ‘Imitatio and Identity: Thomas Rogers, Philip Sidney, and the Protestant Self’ in English Literary Renaissance, vol 35, no. 3 (2005), pp.365-406. For an early modern source, see Roger Ascham’s The Schoolmaster, where he devoted most of his book on writing on imitatio. STC 832, sig. D4r.
  2. Trevelyon’s three known books are Folger Shakespeare Library: MS V.b.232, University College London: MS Ogden 24, and the so-call Great Book held in Wormsley Library.
  3. STC 2088. R.B. McKerrow, and F.S. Ferguson, Title-Page Borders Used in England & Scotland, 1485-1640 (Oxford: Bibliographical society at the Oxford University Press, 1932), p. 79, no. 76.
  4. Heather Wolfe, The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608: A Facsimile of Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.b.232 (Washington DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 2007). p.10.
  5. McKerrow and Ferguson, Title-page Borders, pp. 79-82.
  6. STC 6418.
  7. STC 25005.
  8. STC 2446.
  9. STC 2480.
  10. STC 24372- 24392
  11. Nicolas Barker. The Great Book of Thomas Trevilian: A Facsimile of the Manuscript in the Wormsley Library (London: Roxburghe Club, 2000). p. 646.
  12. McKerrow and Ferguson. Title-page Borders. p. 79-82.