Hello! We’re Izzy and Jenny, both MA students at the University of Manchester taking the History of the Book course this semester. The course is run jointly by the University and John Rylands Library, so we’ve had all our seminars this term in the inspiring Christie Room, as well as making a trip to the medieval library at Chetham’s School of Music. As part of our course we’re both completing projects on individual manuscripts: Izzy is working on a 15th century medical manuscript, Jenny a 17th century miscellany. Both are very unusual; written in many hands, with some pages missing or even upside down.
To help us find out more about our manuscripts, particularly the binding and other physical features, Collection Care Manager Caroline Checkley-Scott and Collection and Research Support Manager John Hodgson kindly met with us last week in the Rylands Conservation Lab. The session was extremely useful in illuminating some of the significant issues of our manuscripts, as well as offering us some answers to the queries and questions we’d been forming in our research. We had the chance to look at our texts under the lab’s high-tech equipment, while Caroline was able to show us a demonstration of different informal bindings. We were definitely glad to have made a visit to the lab this semester, even if we were interrupted by a rogue fire alarm! Our research has certainly benefited as a result.
During her work Jenny unearthed a testament to a child’s Christmas in the 16th century; we thought it would be nice to share it with you as the festive season draws in.
‘A Lawyor is like a Chrismas box who ovor looses ho gifts’ writes a child in English MS 410, celebrating the Christmas season with a touch of festive mirth. In this unpretentious octavo volume, a child has been given a page to tell jokes and has written out a selection of his favourites in his best handwriting. This single page is perhaps evidence how a family miscellany was built; a process of gathering together a community’s favourite witticisms, jokes and sayings to create a notebook that commemorates a group of people reading and writing together. This child’s Christmas joke, written in neat if childish script, is typical of a manuscript full of people’s “best work” and serves to add a personal touch to what is, unfortunately, an anonymous text. To read this light-hearted entry alongside to some of the more sophisticated, serious quotations, is to remember that reading and writing was a communal activity in this period, and to shed light on the more popular, jocular tastes of readers living in the age of Jonson, Shakespeare and Donne. Even if the punchlines have lost some of their force since 17th century (or perhaps I just don’t have a Renaissance sense of humour), this page allows us a peak at childhood joys that have remained the same over the centuries: jokes, and the excitement of Christmas.