Harold Love. Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. 379 pp.
Review by,
Margaret Downs-Gamble
Virginia Tech, VA

Downs-Gamble, Margaret. "Review of Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England." Early Modern Literary Studies 1.1 (1995): 10.1-7 <URL:

  1. Harold Love's Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England does what most scholars wish they could and what few actually accomplish. By envisioning manuscript artifacts not as grist for print editions but rather as evidence of past activity, Love opens up a new arena for inquiry. Specifically, I believe that wider use of the strategies he deploys will provide us with "an understanding" that both scribal transmission and "reading" were activities "that w[ere] always communal as well as individual" (230).

  2. Love divides the book into three sections: "Scribal Publication" (chapters 1-3), " Script and Society" (chapters 4-7), and, finally, " Editing Scribally Published Texts" (chapter 8). Part One identifies "The Phenomenon" (chapter 1) of scribal publication by examining "two contributory sub-types of the scribally published text, the manuscript newsletter and the 'separate'" (9). "'Publication' in the scribal medium" (chapter 2) reconceptualizes the scribal medium as neither "inferior" to nor an "incomplete" version of print (35), but simply as a "movement from a private realm of creativity to a public realm of consumption" (36).

  3. The criteria for determining whether a text made the transition from private to public are initially described as two: "both a 'strong' sense, in which the text must be shown to have become publicly available, and a more inclusive 'weak' sense, in which it is enough to show that the text has ceased to be a private possession. A third criterion, or at least a significant condition for consideration of a document as a "scribal publication" is evidence that it is "something more than the chrysalis stage of an intended print publication" (36).

  4. After this careful qualification, chapter three examines the activity of "Scribal production," which is limited to "the paid rather than the amateur scribe"; the conclusions drawn from the artifacts are similarly limited to "entrepreneurial . . . and author publication" in manuscripts (91). Within this discussion, Love provides an important overview of scribal training, hands, "editorial" practices common to particular scribal occasions, scriptoria, and the preparation of ink, quills, and paper. In doing so, he gestures convincingly toward the kinds of information that must be included in materialist studies of manuscript culture.

  5. "Part Two: Script and Society" introduces "Some metaphors for reading," to contextualize the distinguishable epistemologies of oral, chirographic and typographic transmission. The tendency to infuse textual inscription with sexual metaphors, violence, and varying notions of authority does, in part, identify what speech-act theorists call the "'performative' role[s]" that "script and print" (158) play in the "exercise of power" (173). Having identified the position of the manuscript text in "cultural symbologies," Love moves on to what is for me the most compelling aspect of his study: "The social uses of the scribally published text." On the one hand, scribal publication was a method of "acquiring and transmitting information;" on the other hand, it served to bond "groups of like-minded individuals into a community, sect or political faction" (177). Drawing on Habermas's notion of a "public sphere" (203), this elegant examination of the various semi-private and semi-public contexts in which manuscript texts played a social--and socializing--role arrives at the conclusion that the "conditions imposed by the site [of production] would have determined the nature of the collections assembled."

  6. To provide "a detailed case study of the practical workings of scribal publication," chapter six, "Restoration scriptorial satire," focuses on a particular tradition, and traces the scribal process, from initial exchanges of loose sheets through compilation of enormous manuscript anthologies. Love's method of inquiry suggests a paradigm for similar investigation of other kinds of scribal documents, opening an important avenue for continued scholarly inquiry into manuscript culture. Acknowledging "The ambiguous triumph of print," in chapter seven, Love examines the progress of a single writer, Jonathan Swift, from manuscript to print. Therein he convincingly concludes that the "force of Swift's satire . . . can be seen to depend crucially on his involvement in the historical project of translating script values into the medium of print" (308).

  7. "Part Three: Editing Scribally Published Texts" is for me the most revealing part of the book. After 312 pages of exciting, innovative rethinking of the ways we might approach the artifacts of scribal publication as they can be investigated in the context of their social and symbolic occasions, it is quite a surprise to turn again to editing and the more permanent medium of print. For the strength of the argument that editing is "the creation of an argument or a series of arguments embodied in a record of transmissional history" (356 [emphasis mine]) reveals the important transition Love's study has made. His movement--away from the scholarly agenda that seeks to perfect (via printing) the textual icons of manuscript culture--to interrogation of the extant textual witnesses in all their idiosyncratic integrity is one from which we can all learn. For, as we move from a print-dominated epistemology to a digital culture, the transmissional medium may seem less a textual "problem" than a social reality--a digital reality with precedence in scribal culture.
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(RGS, 12 December 1997)