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Margaret P. Hannay, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth (Ashgate, 2010)

Margaret P. Hannay, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth. Farnham: Ashgate 2010. ISBN: 9780754660538. Xxxviii + 363 pp., 28 b/w ill.  Hbk.  £ 60

Reviewed by Katherine R. Larson

[1]  In his Defence of Poesie, Sir Philip Sidney exalts the creativity of poets by differentiating their ‘golden’ world from the more factual realm of the historian, who ‘sayth…what men haue done.’ The task of the early modern biographer – to interweave often sparse primary evidence and animate the moments that make up a life – lies somewhere between these interpretive poles. The biographical project is particularly fascinating in the case of Lady Mary Wroth (1587-1651), a writer who relied on storytelling to capture the emotional trajectory of her own life and whose extant works – two versions of a sonnet sequence, a pastoral tragicomedy, and a prose romance – obsessively probe the boundaries between fact and fiction.This is the first full-length biography of Wroth, and it is a remarkable achievement: masterful in scope, meticulous in detail, and elegant in execution. Margaret P. Hannay, biographer and editor of Wroth’s aunt, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and editor also of the letters of Wroth’s parents, brilliantly charts Wroth’s development as a writer within her family circle and courtly context and uncovers new evidence that dramatically alters our understanding of Wroth’s adult life.  Scholars have tended to see Wroth as an isolated figure, a woman who defied sociocultural expectations in writing and circulating her works and who, after a brief period in Queen Anne’s inner circle and an unhappy marriage, fell into disfavour as a result of her affair with her cousin, William Herbert, the scandalous publication of her romance Urania, and the birth of her illegitimate children. Hannay’s work offers an important corrective to this long-standing critical narrative.

[2]  From her earliest years, Wroth was situated within a sustaining and close-knit network of family and friends. One of the many delights of this biography is the detailed picture it provides of Wroth’s childhood. The extant letters of Wroth’s father, Sir Robert Sidney, to his wife Barbara, as well as the correspondence between Sidney and his agent Rowland Whyte, provide astonishingly rich insight into “Mall’s” upbringing and education, her close relationship with her parents that was to continue into her adult life, her exposure to international politics – and likely also literature – through her childhood visits to Flushing, and her early encounters with Queen Elizabeth. Drawing on these letters and on visual representations of the Sidney family, Hannay presents the young Wroth as a precocious, witty, beautiful, and beloved daughter who displayed a passion for reading and a talent for music, for dancing, and especially for writing. Wroth’s literary interests would have been nurtured within her family circle, by her companionship with other budding writers like her cousin Elizabeth Sidney and the young Anne Clifford, and especially by the model of her godmother and aunt, Mary Sidney Herbert. ‘[I]t is certain,’ Hannay concludes, ‘that [Mall] grew up with the idea that a woman could be a writer’ (56).

[3]  The motif of forced marriage that recurs throughout Wroth’s writings has provided much of the basis for scholarly claims about Wroth’s unhappy adulthood. It is clear that her marriage to Robert Wroth in 1604 was an arrangement that was concluded somewhat against her will, possibly in part due to a pre-existing de praesenti contract with William Herbert. Hannay demonstrates, however, that Wroth’s marriage offered her continued support for her writing and, over time, a certain degree of affection, as evidenced by the bequests of her husband’s will. Compared to many of her female contemporaries, Wroth was fortunate in her marriage partner.  Nor did her union with Robert Wroth isolate her from court. Wroth’s husband has frequently been vilified by critics as a “country bumpkin” (119) who preferred hunting to the dazzle of court life, his misfit status parodied through the figure of Rustic in Love’s Victory. Hannay offers a persuasive rereading of Robert Wroth (and, by extension, of Love’s Victory’s avatar structure), reminding readers of the centrality of hunting to Jacobean court life and underscoring the proximity to the King that Wroth’s role as forester ensured: “Robert Worth apparently rarely traveled, but the court came to him” (141). The Wroth estates of Durance and Loughton Hall were an easy journey from London, and Mall and her husband were celebrated for their hospitality there; Mall also sojourned regularly at Baynards Castle in London.  In actuality, it was Wroth’s younger sister Katherine, who moved to Wales after her marriage, who was cut off from family and court life to a much greater extent than Wroth.

[4]  Wroth’s husband died in 1614; her young son James followed two years later.  Wroth coped with these devastating losses – two of the many she sustained within her familial network – by immersing herself in the management of her finances, the renovation of Loughton Hall, and her writing. Over the next ten years, she would produce ‘all the final versions of the works for which she is known today’ (181). Once again, however, Hannay stresses that Wroth was far from isolated during this period. The publication of Urania in 1621 certainly provoked an outcry at court – most famously documented in the poetic “duel” (237) between Lord Edward Denny and Wroth – and after its appearance Wroth lost a degree of access to inner court circles. Yet fallout from Urania was likely not the sole factor contributing to these change. After Queen Anne’s death, her household was dissolved, and Wroth’s father lost his court position. Wroth’s mother Barbara Sidney also died in 1621, marking the end of the correspondence that so richly records the ‘little events that make up [Wroth’s] life’ (227). Critical assumptions concerning Wroth’s change in fortunes have stemmed in large part from this sudden silence.  We should “picture her in these years,” Hannay writes, not as an exilic figure, but rather as a writer actively engaged in her community, “circulating her poems by reading or singing them, or having them sung by professional musicians, among a coterie at Baynards Castle” (182) that included her relatives and friends, as well as other prominent writers, patrons, and musicians.

[5]   It was during her widowhood that Wroth rekindled her affair with her cousin. If Robert Wroth emerges in this biography as a much more sympathetic figure than scholars have tended to assume, Wroth’s beloved, the handsome, charismatic, and witty William Herbert, loses a bit of his shine. Theirs was an unequal relationship. While Herbert cut a dashing figure at court, Hannay points out that Wroth may have been attracted just as much to the powerful ‘world that he represented’ (194). Unlike the older and wealthier Herbert, Wroth “risked nearly everything” (251) in entering into a relationship with him. In its emphasis on the power imbalance between the cousins, Hannay’s reading colours Wroth’s fervent devotion to Herbert, encapsulated by the constancy of her avatar Pamphilia, in much more vulnerable and one-sided terms: ‘Pembroke’s various affairs, with Wroth and others, may have been for him little more than pleasant diversions from more pressing matters of state.  For Wroth that affair defined her life’ (193).

[6]  A significant contribution of this biography is the new light that it sheds on the lives of Wroth’s twins by Herbert. Wroth’s reputation was clearly impacted by the illegitimate birth of her children, but Hannay shows that ‘she was not completely ostracized by her family’ (253). William Herbert did not provide for his children in the years before his death in 1630, devoting himself instead to a new affair with the Countess of Devonshire. Yet William and Katherine were both known by their father’s surname, which indicates a certain measure of privilege and acceptance.  Moreover, Philip Herbert, William’s younger brother, generously helped to provide for them. Hannay documents the beginnings of William’s military career, concluding that he was likely a casualty of the Civil Wars. Katherine, in turn, married well – not an easy feat in the early 1640s – further underscoring Wroth’s success ‘in launching her children into positions suitable to her rank and beyond her fortune, even though they had no legal status as Herberts’ (283).

[7]  Hannay’s meticulous research has unearthed important new information regarding Katherine’s marital trajectory. Katherine’s first marriage was to the prosperous and well-established John Lovet, not, as previously assumed, John Lovel.  The correction of this longstanding error – ‘The eye sees what it expects to see’ (293) – has led in turn to the discovery that she married again after the death of her first husband.  Her union to James Parry, which was likely also arranged with the help of Philip Herbert, produced two children: James and Philip.  Mary Wroth, as it turns out, was a grandmother.

[8]  Hannay’s analysis of the lives of William and Katherine Herbert provides rich insight into Wroth’s experience of the Civil Wars, a conflict that split the Sidney and Herbert families. Within this context, Wroth likely continued to be based at Loughton and was a respected member of her community. It was ‘not a bad life’ for wartime: ‘No troops were quartered in her home …; Loughton hall was not under siege, nor was it plundered’ (306). She continued to host gatherings with neighbours, relatives, and friends. And undoubtedly she continued to write. As Hannay eloquently puts it, ‘One might argue that her love for William Herbert inspired her work and therefore she stopped after his death in 1630, but other women have loved unfaithful men without writing a sonnet sequence, a drama, and some 1,000 pages of prose romance. Surely she loved to write as much as she loved her cousin’ (306). Indeed, by the end of her life Wroth was recognized and celebrated by many of her contemporaries above all as a writer.

[9]  Wroth’s writings document much of the ’emotional truth’ (224) of her experiences, and Hannay provides important reconsiderations of her extant texts. She devotes close attention to the important differences between the Folger manuscript and 1621 print versions of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, drawing on Ilona Bell’s recent work to consider how ‘manuscript and print circulation could be designed for different ends’ (183). She also posits a new date for Love’s Victory, arguing that the tragicomedy may have been composed for the marriage of Wroth’s younger sister Barbara in 1619.  The play’s emphasis on forced marriage and ‘impediments to love’ might seem at first glance a strange choice of topic for a wedding, but Hannay rightly notes that ‘the drama, with its family references, has the feel of an occasional piece,’ and the work certainly ‘ends with joy for most of the characters’ (221). Equally fascinating is Hannay’s exploration of the unfinished second part of Urania, in which Wroth challenges romance conventions by exploring her characters’ marriages, parental experiences, and aging processes.  In her attention to the ‘wrinkles’ and ‘the loss of love’ that she associates with age (267), Wroth “seems to be struggling toward a kind of verisimilitude that we today associate with the novel” (266).

[10]  Given the tragic loss of Wroth’s surviving papers in the nineteenth-century conflagration at Loughton Hall, we don’t know how her later writing evolved. We do, however, get a glimpse of the geographical trajectory of her surviving writings. Hannay brilliantly traces the manuscript continuation of the Urania, now held at the Newberry Library, to Tredegar Park, Wales, a short distance from Katherine Herbert Parry’s home. After Wroth’s death, which Hannay carefully dates to March 1651, Katherine would have ‘likely carried her mother’s most prized possessions – a few jewels, perhaps, maybe some family portraits, and almost certainly her manuscripts’ (312). These would have then been passed on to Wroth’s grandchildren. It is deeply moving to know that Wroth’s writings were preserved by her daughter, and equally exciting to realize that there might well be further extant Wroth manuscripts in Wales.

[11]  Wroth’s writings have too often been taken as a straightforward reflection of her life.  Hannay dexterously confronts the ‘kaleidoscope’ (xii) of Wroth’s avatars, capturing the emotional richness that she channeled into her texts while also drawing on an astonishing range of sources to establish a compelling picture of Wroth as the confident creator of those characters. In so doing, she reshapes the landscape of Wroth scholarship by reconnecting this important writer to the familial, literary, and courtly networks that nurtured and inspired her throughout her life and that appear, refracted, in her texts. The fire at Loughton Hall and the subsequent demolition of St. Nicholas Church, which was adjacent to Loughton Hall and served as the chapel for the Wroths, undoubtedly erased considerable evidence of Wroth’s later life and writings. In the absence of a tomb or a plaque, her ‘true monument’ (311), Hannay concludes, is her extant works. This biography, however, deserves to be read in related terms. Itself a testament to the artful integration of biographical fact and creative vision, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth stands as a fitting tribute to an innovative storyteller.

University of Toronto, June 2011

Keith M. Botelho, Renaissance Earwitnesses: Rumor and Early Modern Masculinity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

Keith M. Botelho, Renaissance Earwitnesses: Rumor and Early Modern Masculinity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-230-61941-8. Xiv + 199 pp., Hbk.  $85

Reviewed by Viviana Comensoli

[1]  Keith Botelho’s Renaissance Earwitnesses: Rumor and Early Modern Masculinity is an important contribution to the growing scholarship on early modern drama’s engagement with aural and acoustic traditions and practices. The book explores dramatic representations of ‘earwitnessing,’ the ‘sifting and distilling of information that comes to the ear,’ in the context of early modern constructions of masculinity and the attendant anxiety surrounding the production and reception of information in an age beset by rumour (2). In the book’s prefatory section, ‘Listening in an Age of Truthnapping,’ Botelho provides a brief excursion into our own information-hungry age, in which myriad sources – newspapers, podcasts, websites, tweets, talk-radio programs, and news broadcasts – assault our eyes and ears with spin, which ‘aligns more with entertainment than news,’ and whose success depends upon the audience’s failure to engage the content with discerning eyes and ears (xiii). Tracing the awareness of the potential dangers of spin to the fifteenth-century phrase, ‘to spin a yarn,’ or, to tell a story’ (xiv), Botelho demonstrates that in early modern England the preoccupation with the pervasiveness of rumour underwrites the access to information that was made possible by ‘the burgeoning news business, initiated by inventions of moveable type and the printing press,’ inventions that not only made communication increasingly fragile and unstable, but also created anxiety surrounding its authorization (xii-xiii).

[2]  The book provides a valuable intervention in the scholarly debate about the early modern gendering of the dissemination and reception of information, bringing important new insights into the role of masculinity in the widespread cultural anxiety about rumour (a form of male loose talk that contains elements of both truth and falsehood), and the theatre’s insistence on the need for prudent listening on the part of both men and women. In the Introduction, ‘Buzz, Buzz: Rumor in Early Modern England,’ Botelho illustrates that in a variety of early modern discourses (religious, philosophical, and scientific), the ear is described as the ‘defense mechanism against rumor’; the ear must always ‘be open, on the alert,’ ready to evaluate ambiguous information (2). The dissemination of information (via the tongue) and its reception (via the ear) thus involved “a mutually constitutive relationship between speaking rumors and earwitnessing,” a relationship expressed in the traditional depiction of Rumour or Fama as ‘an ambiguously gendered figure’ whose body was often portrayed as covered with tongues and ears (3). The figure has traditionally been viewed as portraying the threatening female tongue, with little attention having been paid to the figure’s representation of male rumour and its effects on listeners. Botelho reinterprets the figure as inscribing a ‘paradox’ at the heart of early modern culture, namely that at the same time as “male tongues were necessary for broadcasting male fame and reputation,” the failure of male speech to suppress rumour threatened the traditional definition of masculinity as dependent upon a model of authority based on the ‘Humanist insistence on caution and discernment’ (5-6). Although royal seals were employed to authenticate documents and to prevent forgery, it was often difficult to locate the origins and sources of news and information. As certitude and truth were frequently undermined by rumour, so too were the inherited notions of male authority, which ‘posited men as superior authors of information,’ creating a disruption of any “stable notion of male informational authority” (13). The theatre, argues Botelho, was an important cultural site that provided both men and women with alternative ways of guarding against rumour and other forms of oral corruption through judicious use of the ear.

[3]  The theatre itself functioned as an early modern version of the House of Fame or Rumour, to which masses of people ‘would flock to see and be seen but, more importantly, to hear news and information’ about home and abroad. A site ‘of aurality…inscribed by rumor,’ the theatre highlighted ‘the slipperiness of received information, the necessity of earwitnessing, and the resulting consequences for male and female identities’ (8). The threat of gossiping women and of female unruly speech that one finds in numerous discourses of the period, including marriage manuals and other domestic-conduct books, is displaced in a number of plays by the more dangerous threat of male rumour mongering. Male characters destabilize their own informational power by speaking loosely, an activity deemed the province of women, in effect creating ‘their own anxieties about hearing’ (5). In numerous plays, the failure of various male characters to earwitness is juxtaposed with the prudent listening not only of wiser males but also of female characters whose ability to listen with discernment disrupts male claims to informational authority. Early modern England’s ‘paradigmatic earwitness,’ argues Botelho, is Elizabeth I, ‘the all-hearing authority of information’ who was highly aware of the political underpinning of rumour as the result of her extensive experience with loose talk, to which she was subjected throughout her reign (23, 15). Elizabeth ‘casts a significant shadow’ over the drama’s own grappling with the issues attending loose speech, listening, and authority (14).

[4]  In well-documented and lucidly written chapters on Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, and a brief concluding section on Elizabeth Cary, Botelho corrects the longstanding critical assumption that in the early modern period female transgressive speech is represented as the main threat to male authority and social stability. Although the drama highlights the anxiety that talking like women will undermine masculinity, and often maligns ‘the female tongue as the unruly bodily member,’ female characters ultimately function as scapegoats for male loose talk, which poses a greater threat than gossip to informational authority because of its broader social and political ramifications (75). In chapter one, ‘Table Talk: Marlowe’s Mouthy Men,’ Botelho begins by exploring the Humanist tradition of aural discernment and its displacement by ‘the loose scholarly tongues at Cambridge University in the sixteenth century,’ and by Marlowe’s own life, which was repeatedly the subject of rumour (23). The rest of the chapter examines the relation between rumour and masculinity in Dido, Queen of Carthage, The Massacre at Paris, and Edward II. Although the portrayal of Dido relies on the stereotype of the garrulous woman who ‘attempts to destroy a man’s fame,’ and whose ‘raving’ leads her to suicide, in all three plays rumour, lies, and false oaths are associated with male transgressive speech, which is more dangerous to masculine authority and the political order (39). Aeneas, Guise, Mortimer, and Edward II all fail to discern the dangerous potential of both male and female loose talk, a failure that destabilizes masculine and political sovereignty. In The Massacre at Paris, Marlowe demonstrates that men’s lies, blasphemies, and rumours underscore the precariousness of truth and report, and therefore ‘pose the greatest threat to other men’ (39). In Dido, Aeneas is able to discriminate between male toxic speech and truth only with the help of the gods and Achates, whose earwitnessing helps Aeneas regain his warrior status and reinstate his male authority. In Edward II, Edward’s ‘loose tongue and corrupted ear’ (47) precipitate his tragic fall. His failures are contrasted with the political acumen of his young heir, Edward III, who reveals a profound understanding about the importance of listening to counsel and of discerning loose speech “from the mouths of men” (24).

[5]  Chapter 2, ‘Bruits and Britons: Rumor, Counsel, and the Henriad,’ investigates Shakespeare’s emphasis in the second tetralogy on the necessity for earwitnessing, in the context of the counselling of monarchs found in the pervasive war treatises of the sixteenth century and Sackville and Norton’s play Gorboduc (1562). Botelho persuasively argues that just as the war treatises persistently advise monarchs about the need for discernment as the foundation of effective rulership, Shakespeare’s Henriad, like Gorboduc, demonstrates that a king’s refusal to hear and to discriminate between all types of counsel (including counsel based on rumour) and ‘to discern lies and dissimulation’ is a failure that ‘results in civil war’ (57). Another important issue staged in Gorboduc is the prevalent distrust among male characters, including the King, of information and news reported by women, and the attendant anxiety about female authority, in contrast to ‘the blind trust and authority granted to male report’ (59). In Richard II, Shakespeare contrasts male effective listening, as practised by the new King, Henry IV, in his listening to the Duchess of York’s logical reasons for soliciting Henry to spare the life of her son, with Richard’s failure to listen to wise counsel ‘as he falls prey to flattering tongues’ (61). In 1 Henry IV, Prince Hal is trained in earwitnessing in the tavern world, where he learns to respond to Falstaff’s rumours and unrestrained tongue. Hal’s abilities as ‘a scrutinizing listener’ contrast with Hotspur’s disdain ‘for both verbal and written counsel, coupled with his elevation of talking over listening’ (65). Hotspur’s disregard of counsel leads to rebellion, while Hal’s earwitnessing sustains both his and England’s ‘fame’ (73).

[6]  In Chapter 3, ‘”I heard a bustling rumour”: Shakespeare’s Aural Insurgents,’ Botelho discusses Titus Andronicus, King Lear, Measure for Measure, Othello, The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, and All’s Well that Ends Well in terms of women’s participation in ‘dissident auditory communities’ and their ability to earwitness, which “have the potential to undermine masculine authority” (24). Especially engaging is Botelho’s analysis of Lavinia’s coercion into speechlessness in Titus. As in Shakespeare’s representation of female silence in a number of other plays, including King Lear and Measure for Measure, Lavinia succeeds in inscribing herself, through her earwitnessing, ‘within a domain of masculine authority without [her] tongue’ (81). In All’s Well that Ends Well, as men’s loose talk disrupts traditional social stratification in terms of gender distinctions, ‘the female ear emerges as that insurgent bodily member’ whose role is to protect society ‘against the tongues of men’ (94).

[7]  In Chapter 4, ‘”Nothing but the truth”: Ben Jonson’s Comedy of Rumors,’ Botelho contends that Jonson’s obsession with the act of listening in his plays complements his broader interest in the relation between masculinity, authorized information, and rumour. ‘Jonson’s comedy of rumor plays’ – Epicoene, Bartholomew Fair, The Staple of News, The New Inn, and The Magnetic Lady – foreground the ‘aural failures and successes’ of male characters at the same time as they assert Jonson’s ‘own authority’ as playwright to oversee ‘the news and the printing of his plays’ and to cater for discerning spectators, ‘who will “understand” his authorized words’ (24-25). In the brief, concluding chapter, ‘“Contrary to truth”: Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedy of Rumor,’ Botelho discusses Cary’s Tragedy of Mariam, which, by virtue of its generic status as a closet drama, ’emphasizes not the visual but the aural,’ and the tragic social and political consequences of failing to decipher ‘information that comes to the ear’ (128, 130). In the book’s final paragraph, Botelho touches on Cary’s The History of the Life, Reign, and Death of Edward II as a play in which she ‘returns to the story of a failed royal earwitness’ (130).

[8]  I was, however, left wondering why the discussion of Elizabeth Cary, the only female dramatist whose work the book engages, was sidelined to the conclusion, when Cary’s articulation of the radical potential of female silence in The Tragedy of Mariam corroborates so well Botelho’s analyses of the representation, in plays authored by men, of the widespread anxiety in early modern England attending informational authority. A fuller comparison between Cary’s Edward II and Marlowe’s dramatization of Edward’s reign a number of years earlier would also have been useful. Given Botelho’s emphasis on the role of the printing press in fostering concern about male informational authority, I would also have liked to see more attention paid to the influence of news pamphlets on dramatic and other early modern cultural representations of rumour and the instability of male speech and report. Overall, however, the book enhances in significant ways our understanding of the role of gender in the authorization, production, and reception of information in early modern England.

Wilfrid Laurier University, June 2011

Jamie Reid-Baxter (ed.), Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (Solsequium, 2010)

Jamie Reid-Baxter (ed.), Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross. Edinburgh: Solsequium, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9566033-0-2, 131 pp. £11.99

Reviewed by Sarah C. E. Ross

[1]  Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, is one of the most exciting ‘finds’ in Scottish Renaissance literature in the last decade or so, even though she has long been known as a published poet. Ane Godlie Dreame, her 480-line dream vision poem first printed in 1603, was well-loved through the seventeenth century, in Scotland and in England, and its reputation has been sufficient to gain her a place in discussions of early Scottish Presbyterianism, and in the emergent canon of early modern women’s writing. Jamie Reid-Baxter, however, has radically expanded our understanding of Melville and her poetics, uncovering in 2002 nearly 3500 lines of verse in a manuscript of Robert Bruce sermons in New College Library, Edinburgh. Reid-Baxter has convincingly attributed these poems—along with others scattered in several other manuscripts—to Melville, identifying a substantial oeuvre of Melville’s poetry in manuscript.[1] Reid-Baxter’s Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross presents for the first time a selection of these poems from manuscript sources, along with a full reprint of Ane Godlie Dreame, and two brief lyrics that appeared with it in print.

[2]  The volume opens with one of Melville’s most striking lyrics, gleaned from an eighteenth-century Boswell manuscript at the Beinecke Library, Yale University. ‘A Call to Come to Christ’ takes Christopher Marlowe’s much-imitated ‘Come Live With Me and Be My Love’, and engages in a sacred parody of it: the speaking voice is Christ, calling the soul of the believer to ‘loath this life and live with me’. It is a moving lyric and an intricate one and, as Reid-Baxter explains in his thorough and informative Afterword, it exemplifies several characteristics of Melville’s poetic practice as the newly-recovered manuscript texts reveal it. Contrafactum or sacred parody was widely practiced in Renaissance Scotland, from the Wedderburn brothers’ Gude and Godlie Ballatis onwards. Melville’s extensive use of the technique—involving the adaptation and rewriting of secular lyrics into new, sacred ones—is also represented in the volume by a sacred parody of Alexander Montgomerie’s erotic lyric ‘Solsequium’, rendered as an extended vision of God’s love, ‘Ane Thanksgiving to God For His Benefits’. This longer sacred parody also reveals the extent to which Elizabeth Melville’s manuscript lyrics are embedded in a lively culture of Renaissance Scottish verse. As Reid-Baxter’s notes set out, the poet-pastor James Melville composed a version of Psalm 23 to the same Montgomerie tune; and Montgomerie (who himself practised contrafactum) has previously been credited with another Elizabeth Melville lyric reprinted in the volume, “A Comfortabill Song”. Reid-Baxter’s selections, and his illuminating endnotes, introduce a poet whose work is interwoven with that of the other major poetic figures defining Scottish devotional poetics during the reign of James VI and I.

[3]  Reid-Baxter’s selection of lyrics from manuscript for inclusion in this volume is extremely sound. He presents here the Melville lyrics that are most engaging for the lay reader (such as “A Call to Come to Christ”, which is likely to become much-anthologised), as well as those that promise to have the greatest impact on our understanding of Melville’s poetics. Melville’s three devotional sonnet sequences (two of three sonnets and one of seven) are printed in full, allowing the reader to appreciate Melville’s innovative use of the Petrarchan sonnet sequence to express the fluctuating confidence of faith. The contrast between the fluid subjectivity of Melville’s seven-sonnet sequence and the stasis of a sonnet by Lady Margaret Cunningham reprinted in Reid-Baxter’s Afterword is revealing, and serves only to underscore the quality of Melville’s verse. Reid-Baxter also republishes the sonnet to John Welsh on his imprisonment at Blackness in 1605, which has been anthologised in collections of women’s writing—and in doing so, he corrects at last the mis-transcription of the final couplet that mars the text in recent anthologies. He also publishes the texts of two hitherto unknown sonnets to the Presbyterian leader Andrew Melville which, like that to Welsh, are ‘sonnets of comfort in persecution’. Melville addresses both men through acrostics and anagrams, techniques that also mark the opening two poems from Melville’s Bruce manuscript poetry. Reid-Baxter’s printing of these poems allows the reader for the first time to gain an extended sense of Melville’s fondness for word-play, intricacies of poetic form, and for distinctively Scottish alliteration and internal rhymes.

[4]  The greatest joy in this volume is the full texts of the poems from manuscript, transcribed accurately and cleanly, and presented with extensive endnotes. Reid-Baxter is deeply knowledgeable of his subject, and his notes and Afterword provide a thorough introduction to the poet, her faith, and her world. He is right to have included here poems from diverse manuscripts, rather than drawing only on the compendious Bruce manuscript collection; this choice allows us to sample the full range of Melville’s style and tone, and to sense the extent of her poetry’s coterie circulation. I would have liked to read more from the Bruce manuscript, perhaps at the expense of a reprinting of Ane Godlie Dreame—but Reid-Baxter is right to assume that the general reader will not have access to that important poem, as it has not been reprinted in full since the nineteenth century. Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross presents poetry and a poet for the general reader rather than for an academic audience, and Reid-Baxter is explicit about this: the extensive apparatus is presented at the end of the volume, leaving the poems’ texts clear, and the annotations refer to Reid-Baxter’s scholarly edition in progress, Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross: Complete Writings.

[5]  For an academic reader, the present volume thus serves to whet the appetite for Reid-Baxter’s complete scholarly edition. Melville’s manuscript verse remains largely unacknowledged in academic discussion of early Scottish poetry, despite its quality, and its interrelationship with the work of Montgomerie, James Melville, Alexander Hume and others. For example, her verse receives no mention in Crawford Gribben and David George Mullan’s recent Literature and the Scottish Reformation (Ashgate, 2009) even though it exemplifies exactly the lively literary culture of the Scottish Reformation which that volume seeks to reveal. Some excellent scholarly work on Melville has been completed, by Sarah Dunnigan, Deanna Delmar Evans, and by Reid-Baxter himself, and Reid-Baxter draws attention to this in a list of further reading included at the end of the volume. What this volume does not do is engage explicitly in this emergent scholarly discussion—but that is not Reid-Baxter’s purpose in this volume, which seeks rather to bring the poetry of Renaissance Scotland to a public audience. For that audience and for the scholarly community alike, Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross is a timely beginning to the process of making Elizabeth Melville’s work accessible, and enormous pleasure—and insight—is to be found in its pages. Dr Reid-Baxter’s texts and the apparatus which he so ably provides promise good things of his full scholarly edition, and I hope we will have the pleasure of reading that before too long.

Massey University, June 2011


[1] See, in particular, J. Reid-Baxter (2004) ‘Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross: 3500 New Lines of Verse’ in S. M. Dunnigan, C. M. Harker and E. S. Newman (eds), Women and the Feminine in Medieval and Early Modern Scottish Writing (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), 195-200.[back to text]

Ian Maclean, Learning and the Market Place: Essays in the History of the Early Modern Book (Brill, 2009)

Ian Maclean, Learning and the Market Place: Essays in the History of the Early Modern Book. Leiden: Brill 2009. ISBN 978-90-04-17550-1. Xi + 458 pp., 9 b/w ill. Hbk. €126

Reviewed by Christopher Burlinson

[1]  Learning and the Market Place, a collection of fourteen essays by Ian Maclean (including three new articles and two others forthcoming at the time of the collection’s publication), is a magnificent and comprehensive account of Maclean’s scholarly work, conducted over the last twenty-five years or so, upon the early modern publication of, and trade in, learned books. It pays tribute to the scope and variety of Maclean’s work at the intersections between intellectual history (particularly the history of scholarship, and, as this collection makes clear, the history of scholarly classification) and that of the international book-trade (its licensers and financers, as well as purchasers and readers).

[2]  The gathered essays focus upon the years between approximately 1560 (especially the early years of the Frankfurt book fair) and the 1630s, mapping out and analysing a surge, and then a downturn, in the European market for scholarly books. In every single essay here, Maclean displays a quite extraordinary weight of scholarship. He traces the workings of the continental book market in the late Renaissance (with a special focus on Germany, but also on France, with two reprinted articles late in the collection on the Lyon book trade, on Portugal, and England), in particular through the labours of the bibliographers and cataloguers of the day: it is one of this book’s most satisfying features that as well as providing models of historical enquiry into catalogues, inventories and finding aids, Maclean has himself assembled a formidable array of appendices, bibliographies and book-lists of his own. This is a book with much to say to scholars in bibliography, in economic history, in historical geography – but it also provides a complex and nuanced account of the international world (and language) of scholarship in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, the post-humanist world of letters and learning and England’s place in it.

[3]  As well as providing new material, then, Learning and the Market Place allows its readers to see, in retrospect, a number of points around which Maclean’s work has cohered. One of these is the structure and the workings of the European book trade in the late Renaissance, and more particularly, the way in which this market acted not just as a medium for scholarship and scholarly publication, but also as a force that shaped it, and shaped the way in which it was received and classified. The first essay in the collection, ‘The Market for Scholarly Books and Conceptions of Genre’, traces some of the ways in which the generic classification of scholarly texts functioned not just as a scholarly tool, or even as a means of establishing legal protection, but also as a means of marketing – a means, moreover, of generating and stimulating the book market. ‘Genre,’ Maclean writes, became during this period ‘no longer an ideal category belonging to a closed and sufficient system of categories; rather it was, at best, a crude reflection of the contemporary state of knowledge in relation to existing academic institutions, at worst a means by which potential purchasers could be attracted to the parts of a sale catalogue most susceptible to be of interest to them’ (23-24). The essay that follows, ‘The Readership of Philosophical Fictions in France in the Sixteenth Century’, complements this first piece by considering the ways in which the category of ‘philosophy’ was shaped by a book market that catered partly for the institutional and partly for the more amateur scholar.

[4]  A second point around which these essays collect is the Frankfurt book fair. Maclean analyses the fair as a focus for networks of information exchange, book production and correspondence, and Learning and the Market Place reprints essays on the diffusion of books on medicine; on the texts of Melanchthon at the fair in the late sixteenth century; and on André Wechel, and his capacity to place himself within the expanding market of the first decades of the seventeenth century. Maclean writes with prodigious detail and prodigious data, and this work allows him to open up a third area of interest (on which he presents considerable new work here), namely the involvement of English books in the European book market and book fairs. An essay, published in this collection for the first time, on Alberico Gentili and ‘the Vagaries of the Book Trade between England and Germany, 1580-1614’, concludes by noting that the market for English-language books “remained purely local until the eighteenth century” (322), but as Maclean also points out, in another previously unpublished essay (‘English Books on the Continent, 1570-1630’), many Latin writings by English authors were sold and read on the continent: we should see English book-production in the early seventeenth-century, Maclean claims, not just as a vernacular enterprise, but as he puts it earlier in the book, a ‘full bilingual culture’ (183). This claim for the persistence of Latin, as not just the scholarly language of the seventeenth century but the cosmopolitan language of the book trade, is complemented by Maclean’s work on Wechel, the ‘French refugee’ who was, ‘by the time of his death, subsumed into the international Latinate publisher Andreas Wechselus’ (183). As in a further new essay on ‘Lusitani Periti’ and the bibliographical identifications made by Portuguese writers of their national identity, Maclean shows that the publication of scholarly books in Latin provided a means for writers from the geographical peripheries of Europe to contribute to a shared learned culture, and a shared market. This work has great implications for the shape of scholarly bibliography and book history: Maclean wonders at one point whether “’he STC itself could eventually be extended’ to accommodate Latin publications by English authors (351). It is a book that all scholars of early modern history and intellectual thought will want to read.

University of Cambridge, June 2011