Sunday, 19 February 2023

John Donne, Biathanatos (1647): An Early Marked Up Copy

Joseph Black (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

This copy of the undated (but 1647) first issue of Donne’s Biathanatos, currently in a private collection, features some intriguing early manuscript marks and corrections. Most likely, these manuscript additions are the work of an idiosyncratic reader who liked to revise spellings, correct pagination, retrace faint type for clarity, and format line-centring as if preparing the printed text for use as copy for resetting. While I am not aware of other examples of early readers leaving the kinds of format markings on display here, we should never underestimate the range of apparently odd ways readers engage with books.

It is tempting to speculate that these manuscript additions had something to do with a printshop. Could they represent copy marked up for use in reprinting? This copy is dated 1648 in manuscript, but it was not the basis for the second issue of Biathanatos, dated 1648. The second issue of Biathanatos differs from the first issue only in its cancel title-page, and that title-page does not include all the revised spellings made on the title-page of this copy, nor does it reflect the line formatting suggested by this copy’s manuscript mark up. This copy was also not the basis for the second edition of Biathanatos (1700), which employed a new mise-en-page throughout. This copy furthermore lacks the authority of the seven recurring manuscript corrections by John Donne Jr (see Ernest W. Sullivan II, “Manuscript Materials in the First Edition of Donne’s Biathanatos,” Studies in Bibliography 31 (1978), 210-21). While one of those seven fixes is made here (the addition of a dropped hyphen in “al most” on ¶3v l.16), that is the one correction of the seven most obvious to a reader looking for errors to fix. Given the effort Donne Jr put into making these corrections, it seems safe to assume that if he had decided to authorize a reprint he would have had the printshop use a corrected copy. Could this copy then have been prepared for a reprint not authorized by John Donne Jr that was subsequently dropped or possibly pre-empted by the appearance of the 1648 second issue? Again, a tempting thought: but the manuscript additions here lack the look and comprehensiveness of the markings expected if created for professional use in a printshop.

With the exception of corrected page numbers, the manuscript corrections in this copy are restricted to the paratextual materials, leaving the text of Biathanatos itself untouched—an absence that makes little sense if this copy were intended as copy for resetting, even a page-for-page reprint. On the title-page, line centring is marked up in brown ink; spelling is updated, with the terminal ‘e’ or ‘ne’ blotted in “PARADOXE,” “Selfe,” “Sinne,” “LAWES,” “seeme,” and “Deane”; a faint terminal ‘e’ in “otherwise” is retraced in ink for clarity; and the date “1648” is added. The same format markings (for indents and centring) appear on the final page of the dedicatory epistle (¶4v) and the opening pages of the contents (πA1r), preface (C1r), and list of authors cited (*1r); in this copy, the list of authors cited is bound at the end of the text, after 2E2. The truncated “Io: Donne” at the conclusion of the dedicatory epistle is expanded to “Iohn Donne” (¶4v). Other spelling updates include “author” or “authors” to “authour” or “authours” (C1r, *2v), “tentations” to “temptations” (C1v, C2r), and “Booke” to “Book” (*1r): these all appear in the preface or the list of authors cited. Lightly inked or missing characters are retraced for clarity or provided in words (e.g. “distinguishing,” “Bagges,” “objects,” and “them” on C3v) and page numbers (e.g. 40, 67, 75, 88, 102, 105, 109, 112, 121, 126, 129, 136, 150, 160, 193). Page numbers are corrected on 59, 102, 105, 193, and 194-220 and added (as 221-224) to the list of authors cited.

The copy has been recently rebound, with new endpapers and flyleaves, so any evidence of provenance that might have been present in the original binding is lost. The tattered title-page suggests that the copy may in fact have spent considerable time in a disbound state before its recent rebinding. In addition to the various “typographic” corrections, the copy features only two conventional reader markings. One is a manuscript comment in what appears to be a post-seventeenth-century hand at the conclusion of the preface, evidently prompted by the quotation by Ennodius beginning “That it is the nature of stiffe wickednesse, to think that of others, which themselves deserve”: “Truth – it is ever ‘truth’” the reader adds in agreement (C4v). The other comprises two vertical marginal lines noting passages (O2r-v), one alongside the middle of the concluding paragraph of part 2, distinction 4, section 6, the other alongside the opening lines of part 2, distinction 4, section 7. The marginal lines are difficult to date, though the ink is brown and so potentially early. In short, this copy on the whole appears to represent engagement by an early reader or readers highly attentive to the appearance of Biathanatos on the page, at least in its paratextual apparatus, if less attuned to the text of Biathanatos itself.

See full set of images here

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Donne Digitally: a webinar 22 April 2022 @2:00 EST

We are very please to announce an event focused on the JDS's Digital Prose project. This webinar will be an update on the project and a formative (rather than merely informative) conversation about further development of digital tools for the study of Donne. This is a community-driven project, so we really need to hear from you! This initiative is also part of a new project on “Prototyping the Social Literary Archive” that is in turn part of the INKE: Implementing New Knowledge Environments ( project (more on that to come). This Webinar will take place on Friday 22nd April 2022, at 7 pm to 9 pm GMT, 2 pm to 4 pm EST, and 11 am to 1 pm PST. To attend, sign up beforehand via the John Donne Society Webpage here. We look forward to this conversation and work together as we plan our next phase of development.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Digital Features and Futures at the Annual Conference of the John Donne Society

This year's annual conference of the John Donne Society featured a special digital theme. We started the program with a keynote address by Ray Siemens (University of Victoria) on “Donne in the Open: Renaissance Studies and the Renewed Promise of Digital Scholarship”; and we ended the program with a panel discussion on “Digital Pedagogy,” featuring Brooke Conti (Cleveland State University) on “Teaching Donne’s Sermons with Digital Resources,” Elizabeth N. Bobo (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) on “Digital Sound in the Lyrics of Dylan and Donne,” and Kirsten Stirling (University of Lausanne) on “Teaching Early Modern Print Culture in the Digital Age.”

In the evening our our first day, we featured a session on “Digital Futures.” We began the evening with a recorded interview with Gary Stringer, talking about the role digital technologies and methods have played in the Donne Variorum project, focusing particularly on the development of the Digital Donne site. With this legacy in mind, a series of posters and five-minute lightning talks presented several digital projects related to Donne studies. The presenters have graciously allowed us to share their posters. (Access the full program here).

Prose Style in Donne’s Sermons: A Corpus Linguistics Approach

Hugh Adlington, with Michaela Mahlberg, Lorenzo Mastropierro, and Paul Thompson (University of Birmingham)



The Dalhousie Manuscripts Project: Navigating the Ethics of Digital Editing

Sarah Banschbach Valles and Sarah J. Sprouse (Texas Tech University)



Stylometry and Donne's Sermons

Kyle Dase (University of Saskatchewan)



GEMMS: Gateway to Early Modern Manuscript Sermons”

Anne James and Jeanne Shami (University of Regina)



Ignatius his Conclave and the Power of Word Cluster Searches

Sean H. McDowell (Seattle University)



The John Donne Society’s Digital Prose Project: A Report

Brent Nelson (University of Saskatchewan)




John R. Roberts Online John Donne Bibliography

Matthew Sherman (University of Bridgeport) and Jesse Sharpe (LeTourneau University)


Monday, 5 February 2018

New Donne Manuscript Discovery: The Hand of WA2

By Daniel Starza Smith (King's College London) and Matthew Payne (Westminster Abbey Library)

This blog post offers further information about the discovery at Westminster Abbey of a manuscript of Donne’s satirical library catalogue, known in English as The Courtier’s Library – see "Rediscovering John Donne’s Catalogus librorum satiricus," Review of English Studies ( As well as publishing full images of the manuscript, we note here some of its most distinctive palaeographical features. We welcome any suggestions about the scribe’s identity.

The hand is fluent and may show evidence of professional training. The text has been left- and right-aligned, and hyphens are used in both margins to signal word-breaks. The scribe often employs tittles over double-s, and his ampersand looks as if it is tilted slightly to the left.


B and D are formed in a similar fashion, beginning with a stroke down and to the left, then a sharp movement to the right; the rest of the letter is formed with a separate application of the pen, starting with a flourish to the left. I/J is formed with four strokes, including quite a heavy central cross. After a simple initial downward movement, the second and third strokes of N are more elaborate. M is notably dissimilar to N, consisting of three simple minims; the final one finishes with a short spur to the right. Majuscule P rests on a long horizontal foot, which begins with an upward flourish on the left; a vertical spur is also usually visible at the top of the letter, above the bowl. A spur can often be found to the upper-right of majuscule S, while V and W both feature a distinctive ‘kink’ in their initial down-stroke (also visible on the minuscule forms).


The scribe uses a mixture of Greek and secretary minuscule e. The ascender of d often bends far to the left before curling back under and to the right, sometimes but not always crossing through itself. The descender of g is rather distinctive: from the lower centre of the bowl, it travels briefly down and to the left, before bending sharply to the right and circling down and left, then passing upwards through itself to join to the next letter. (Descenders on minuscule y do not take this form.) The letter p is notable for starting with a sharp diagonal upwards flourish; the descender rises above the bowl, resulting in a short vertical line.


The word "sesqui=barbarus" (l. 140) has been altered.

A deleted first letter was a majuscule, or had an ascender, or both, although we cannot see another letter in the manuscript starting with a similar motion. The first s may not have been the scribe’s original intention. The double-hyphen has been written over a now-illegible letter which seems to have two minims, and might therefore be n or u. The i may have been altered from r, and although it is clearly dotted, there is also what looks like a grave accent above the letter, perhaps indicating some indecision or confusion on the scribe’s behalf. We can say, then, that "squ" and "barbarus," have both been written confidently, but that the scribe was uncertain about some other letters. The word "sesqui-barbarus," despite valiant attempts to English it, is not good Latin.1 It is notable that the other known surviving contemporary copy, CT2 (Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B. 14. 22 (James 307), or DnJ 4065 in CELM) features "St. quintarbarbarus," at this point. This nonsensical reading can now be explained as deriving from a defect in a common source.

1 Brown renders it as ‘The More-than-Half Uncivilized’; Simpson gives ‘A Foreigner-and-a-Half’.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

John Donne Jeopardy

John Donne made an appearance on Jeopardy! on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 (Show #7457). Here are the questions. The contestants were Doug Baker (a sustainability specialist from Tecumseh, Michigan), Ben Smolen (a writer from Los Angeles, California), and Lisa Schlitt (a microbiologist from Berwyn, Pennsylvania). How much would you have earned?

1) A Donne sonnet says this, "Be not proud" for "one short sleep past, we wake eternally, and" this "shall be no more" ($400)
Ben got this one. 

2) On this day, 1613, while traveling to Wales, Donne wrote a poem imagining the crucified Christ on the cross ($800)
Doug got this one.

3) In 1610 Donne criticized his former Catholic faith in "Pseudo-Martyr", which was dedicated to this king (DD: $600)
Doug missed this one. It was a daily double. Not sure what that means. Arguably, this was as much a monarchy question as a Donne question.

4) The first biography of Donne was by this "Compleat Angler" author & appeared as a preface to Donne's "LXXX Sermons" ($1,600)
Apparently, this was a “triple stumper,” meaning none of them got it.

5) The "No man is an island" passage continues, "Never send to know" this, later a book title ($2,000)
Another triple stumper

Interestingly, three of the five were about Donne's prose works, and none of them was answered correctly. Sigh. The answers are available at J!Archive.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Not a Poem

Readers of Donne have probably noticed more than once a reference to Donne's poem "No man is an Island." It happens a lot. Problem is, it is not a poem. It is not even a work of literature entire of itself. It belongs to a main: his prose work, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. It is a poetical piece of prose to be sure. And perhaps this is one positive reason to remark on this cultural phenomenon: it presents a ready opportunity in the classroom for a discussion about form and mode. Why don't we consider this poetry? So, for next time such a teachable moment is desired, here is a good starting point: this is the passage from Devotions, identified as "Poem #1" in a worksheet by Mensa for kids:

So, beyond posing a possible teachable moment, why else might we even remark on this regrettable instance of misinformation? Well, some of these Mensa kids might grow up to be literary editors and journalists. In a "Poetry Round Table" feature in the New York Times Sunday Book Review section published online on 22 December 2015, the question was posed to a collection of literary and media luminaries, "What's Your Favourite Poem?" One respondent (a television producer and president of HBO films) offered that her "favorite poem is John Donne, 'Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: No Man Is an Island'." Perhaps this respondent was trying to make a point by naming this work of prose a "poem" (and giving it a new subtitle). Probably not. She refers to it a second time as a "poem," and without comment. And, perhaps more significantly (and alarmingly), the editor of the Sunday Book Review seemed not to notice. Lest we blame the Internet for degrading public literacy, it should be noted this feature was also published in print on 27 December 2015. So, to save this romp from becoming a rant, how about a proposal? A game sorts (worthy of Sisyphus perhaps) to clean up the Internet. Let's unmask these masquerading poems as not-poems with #notapoem. Follow us on Twitter @DonneProse to participate.

Monday, 20 June 2016

CFP: Space, Place and Image in Early Modern English Literature

The project on "Space, Place and Image in the Poetry and Prose of John Donne" at Université de Lausanne is hosting a conference, 11-13 May 2017, expanding their scope to include Early Modern English Literature (c. 1500-1700) more broadly. Confirmed keynote speakers are Dr. Mary Morrissey (University of Reading) and Professor Andrew McRae (University of Exeter). The conference will take place on the beautiful campus of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. For full details, see the full call for papers here.