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.
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