Marking Up Stow’s Survey of London
When I first began working with John Stow’s Survey of London sometime in the summer of 2012, I had no clue what I was getting into. I’m not sure I had even heard of Stow before being assigned the task of performing TEI markup on his text. Only a few short weeks later, though, I was so immersed in Stow’s London that I actually began to dream about it.
What I discovered while working with Stow’s text was that marking it up was not always obvious. The Survey introduced many new considerations regarding MoEML’s encoding practices that our Library’s shorter texts had not. So I was grateful when Nathan Phillips joined our team in the fall of 2012 and became as absorbed in Stow’s text as I was. We discussed every encoding decision, deliberating about how to present the information to future readers.
The following summer, in July 2013, I had the opportunity to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library and examine a 1598 copy of Stow’s Survey in person. The copy I pulled up was STC 23341 copy 2, which Janelle had previously examined briefly. She had noticed substantial manuscript marginal notes in that copy, including drawings of various churches and other buildings named in the text, and wanted to know more.
After a year of working with a digital copy of Stow’s text, finally holding the physical object in my hands was an interesting experience. The quarto volume was smaller than I had imagined. I held it for several moments, absorbing every new detail about this text: the smell, the texture and thickness of the pages, the four hundred years of history that this book had survived. Turning the pages was simultaneously familiar and disorienting. I had stared at a screen containing that blackletter text for a year by then; I knew it well. I knew where to find lists, long pages of Latin, Greek text, misnumbered pages. Yet this experience was incredibly different from clicking through pages on EEBO, or scrutinizing thumbnails in search of a particular page.
The most remarkable thing about this particular copy is the marginal notes. Roughly seventy-five percent of the 500 pages are marked up. My task at the Folger was to photograph every note in the book. Although we’d initially budgeted a day for this, the sheer volume of notes meant that it took me almost three whole days to work through the text. My daily emails back to MoEML were filled with astonishment over the amount and the detail of the marginal inscriptions.
I identified two separate hands responsible for these marginal notes. The first hand (Hand A) made only minor comments through the text; the second (Hand B), who names himself as John Gibbon, interacts extensively with the text. Gibbon draws manicules (pointing hands) to significant passages, the most common type of manuscript marginalia in early modern books. Unusually, however, he develops a system of symbols and drawings that he uses throughout. Mentions in the original text of coats of arms are marked by a simple drawing of a coat of arms. Stow’s lists of the dead buried in churches are highlighted by a drawing of a tomb. Likewise, drawings of bells accompany any mention of them. Most impressively, many of the buildings named by Stow are decorated by marginal drawings of these buildings. Although some of the buildings are generic (a tower or an almshouse always has a similar drawing), others suggest greater thought behind the drawing.
We are still trying to determine the significance of these distinctive drawings of buildings. They may not necessarily be eyewitness drawings, but determining exactly what they mean will require more research. Chances are that Gibbon was reading through Stow after the Great Fire of London, so perhaps his comments and drawings are meant to update the Survey. Besides adding the drawings, Gibbon also corrects Stow on certain details (even his grammatical errors), or provides updated information. He inserts leaves into the text to fill in anything he believes is missing. He even responds to or corrects information written by Hand A.
As I turned through the pages and photographed those notes and drawings, I began to form an image of the person who meticulously marked up this text. I emailed Nathan to let him know what I was finding and how astounded I was by the detail of these marginal notes. Nathan pointed out that we had been reading through Stow with the same level of meticulousness.
My trip to the Folger began to answer some of the research questions we had been forming, and, like any good research trip, produced many more new questions to consider. As we go through the hundreds of photographs I brought home, we are looking forward to tackling these questions, finding out more about our two marginators. A quick search of the ODNB for
Johan Gybbonor variants on that name led me to John Gibbon, a London-born herald who lived from 1629-1718. I corroborated his identity by cross-referencing details of his biography with the details provided in the marginal notes. According to the ODNB, Gibbon was baptised and buried in St. Mary Aldermary. Hand Two notes that this church is where his parents are buried, and close to where he himself was born. I have no doubt that more careful examination of the marginal notes in this Stow text will reveal further information about its marginators.
However, what strikes me most about my experience working with this physical edition of the text is what Nathan said to me. John Gibbon and I read Stow’s text in very similar ways. We comb through it marking it up, identifying errors, cross-referencing, and asking questions. So while I spent a year staring at two computer screens—one with a scan, and the other with XML text—and John Gibbon worked with a particular copy of the 1598 edition of the Survey of London, and while we may have different goals and audiences, our interaction with Stow’s text has been remarkably similar. Perhaps John Gibbon even had dreams about Stow too.
- Early English Books Online (EEBO). Proquest LLC. Subscription.
- ODNB. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Web. [The ODNB is a subscription database. Most university and college institutions in North America and Europe will have a subscription.]
- Stow, John. A SVRVAY OF LONDON. Contayning the Originall, Antiquity, Increase, Moderne estate, and description of that Citie, written in the yeare 1598. by Iohn Stow Citizen of London. Also an Apologie (or defence) against the opinion of some men, concerning that Citie, the greatnesse thereof. With an Appendix, containing in Latine, Libellum de situ &nobilitate Londini: written by William Fitzstephen, in the raigne of Henry the second. London: John Windet for John Wolfe, 1598. STC 23341. Huntington Library copy. Reprint. EEBO. Web.
Last modification: 2016-06-06 15:39:18 -0700 (Mon, 06 Jun 2016) (mholmes)