Week 25: A Chapter Down

We are currently in week 25.  I used to organise my desk journal and the other paraphernalia of scheduling by weeks of term or semester, but that’s now been supplanted by the overarching countdown of the book manuscript and, by that highly specific calendar, we are twenty-five weeks away from hand-off to OUP.

I’m now four weeks in to the completion schedule I set myself at the beginning of this year and am feeling, on the whole, pleased with its progress.  Teaching has been happening for a little while now, but I’m still managing to balance it and administrative responsibilities with ongoing book work.  Indeed, as I write I have one more chapter in the bag than I did when I began all of this in January.

So, how did that happen?  Last spring I wrote about generative writing and the ways in which I’ve used it during the present book project.  This chapter was no different.  I outlined at progressively detailed levels until I had a paragraph-by-paragraph skeleton of the chapter I wanted to produce (about 3,000 words), then over a couple of days I fleshed that out into a ~9,000 word very rough first draft.  In the subsequent week I added footnotes and tidied the style until it’s now sitting at about 12,000 words and is in a pretty decent state save that I need to check a few sources when I’m next in St Andrews.

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John Cockburn’s Bibliotheca Universalis (Edinburgh, 1688), one of the case studies in Scottish intellectual culture discussed in the chapter I’ve just finished.

That probably makes it all sound easy enough, but I’ve actually found this chapter quite hard.  It’s chapter one – I’m writing the book out of order – and contains about half of my attempt to intervene in Enlightenment historiography (the other half will be in the introduction).  I find that sort of heavily referential, positioning activity to be heavy work and am by no means convinced that the current draft does a sufficient job of explaining both where I sit amongst the various Israelite, Robertsonian, Pocockian, etc. interpretations of Enlightenment and how what I’m doing is different.  Mercifully, I’m now turning to chapter four (again, out of order) and what I’ve been calling the “Ancient Monarchy Debate” – the long-running critique of Scotland’s supposedly 2,000-year-old royal dynasty – which is much more comfortably antiquarian ground.

If all goes well, I should be writing another blog post, recording the successful completion of chapter four, somewhere in the last days of February or first days of March . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Scheduling the Book

I survive in academia with the help of calendars and schedules: the paper diary that used to be enough to keep me organised when I was a student has expanded into a Google calendar, an increasingly complicated desk journal, and multiple tables and Gantt charts, but the principle remains the same.  My latest schedule, though, is particularly terrifying: the schedule of finishing the book.

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This is the part of my 2018 schedule I’m really looking forward to . . . .

 

On the surface of it, finishing The Book doesn’t seem too daunting.  My submission date is 31 July, I already have most of it written, and a relatively light teaching semester ahead of me.  But once you begin to break down the twenty-eight weeks between now and the end of July, things start looking tighter.  To stay on schedule I’ll need – for example – to finish the chapter I’m currently working on by 9 February and knock off the next one (which, mercifully, already exists in a partial draft) by 2 March and while four weeks seems like quite a lot, I’ll also be juggling teaching, the press, and all the other administrative and quotidian responsibilities of being a lecturer (not to mention those interfering non-scholarly activities, like buying a house).

So I’m steeling myself for a busy few months.  Packed as they’ll be, I think I’ve worked out a manageable timeline for completion and I’m looking forward, after a semester devoted almost wholly to teaching, to return to this project and see it through its final stages.  Step one: draw up a detailed plan of the chapter I’m about to write.  This is chapter one (because I’m writing out of order), an overview of Scottish intellectual culture at the end of the seventeenth century, and I’m currently putting flesh on the bones of a fairly general outline I made before Christmas.  Once I’ve worked out what I want to say, paragraph by paragraph, then I’ll turn to generative writing to produce a first draft.  Before I can do that, though, I want to reread and refresh my memory of a couple of key texts (the seminal works by Clare Jackson and Hugh Ouston on this period) and review my notes towards the chapter, some of which were taken three or four years ago and almost certainly contain material which has long since escaped my mind.

Evernote and my increasingly well-worn copy of Restoration Scotland beckon . . . .

 

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Origins of Scottish Copperplate Engraving (Musical and Otherwise)

A guest post I wrote for the wonderful “Claimed from Stationer’s Hall” project. If you don’t already know about Karen McAulay’s fantastic work, take a look at: https://claimedfromstationershall.wordpress.com/ .

Claimed From Stationers' Hall

It is with great pleasure that we share our second guest blogpost, this time by Dr Kelsey Jackson Williams, Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at the University of Stirling, and Printer, The Pathfoot Press.  If you’ve ever wondered what the process of music engraving actually entails, then your questions are about to be answered here.

One of the vast treasure trove of musical scores which falls within the remit of the Claimed from Stationers’ Hall project is the imposingly named A Collection of the Ancient Martial Music of Caledonia, called Piobaireachd as performed on the Great Highland Bagpipe. Now also adapted to the Piano Forte Violin and Violoncello. With a few old Highland lilts purposely set for the above modern instruments. To which is prefixed a complete tutor for attaining a thorough knowledge of the pipe music, compiled by the Skye native and prominent bagpipe-maker Dòmhnall MacDhòmhnaill (1766/7-1840) and published in…

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A Stray Letter and a Unique Book

At a recent workshop in Edinburgh I was comparing notes with two colleagues about which bibliographies of Scottish printing we owned (such are the exciting lives of academics).  In the course of the conversation both related their pleasure at having obtained copies of that magnum opus of Scottish book history, the Bibliographia Aberdonensis, a systematic account of every writer from Aberdeenshire and the surrounding area during the early modern period.  This, in turn, led me to think of my own well-thumbed copies of the two volumes of the Bibliographia, the result of a fortunate eBay purchase some years before.

I’d been using my copy for some weeks before a small sheet of paper fell out from between its pages onto my office floor:

Baxter letter

An unexpected discovery.

The letter, for so it proved to be, read:

THE DEANERY, YORK.

Nov. 11 35

 

My dear Professor Baxter

            I have looked with very great interest at the volume containing “Hayi Oratio”, & greatly hope that when the occasion arises the relevant part of it will be photographically reproduced.  I am sure that the Dean & Chapter will readily give the needful consent.

            I am handing over the copy of the St. Andrews music MS. To our Librarian, & a proper acknowledgment of the kind gift will be duly sent.

Ever yours sincerely

H. N. Bate

 

The sender of this letter was Herbert Newell Bate (1871-1941), then Dean of York, and its recipient, James Houston Baxter (1894-1973), Professor of Ecclesiastical History in my own sometime academic home, the University of St Andrews.   The copy of the “St. Andrews music MS.” which Bate was handing over to the chapter librarian was evidently Baxter’s facsimile edition of Cod. Helmst. 628, published as An Old St Andrews Music Book (London, 1931).

What really piqued my interest, though, was the reference to “Hayi Oratio”, for this was surely none other than  M. G. Hayi oratio habita in gymnasio Aberdonensi 2 Iulij. 1569 (Edinburgh: Robert Lekprevik, 1571), Aldis 101.6, ESTC S92888, USTC 507327.  George Hay’s Ciceronian browbeating of the still-all-too-Catholic scholars of Aberdeen has been long since been discussed and analysed by John Durkan, but both Durkan and the bibliographies cited above were aware only of the (supposedly) unique copy in the National Library of Scotland.

What then of the York sammelband which Bate reported in 1935?  I have yet to find it in any catalogue, but I remain hopeful that somewhere in the north of England this copy survives.  If it could be located, the eighty-two year-old letter which I came across so fortuitously could result in the discovery of a genuinely important, at-present lost, fragment of Scottish Reformation history.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Demography, Statistics, and the Cultural Historian

These days if I’m forced to put myself in a sub-disciplinary box, I usually say that I’m a cultural historian.  This is less because I’m an adherent of the Burkean New Cultural History (or any other theoretical agenda, for that matter) than because it seems to offer a comfortable basket into which I can fit my interests in intellectual history, material culture, literature, and the history of scholarship.  It also nicely serves to distinguish the kind of qualitative, example-driven work I do from the more quantitative, statistical work that one might (in an oversimplifying sort of way) associate with an economic or social historian.

Needless to say, I now find myself deep within the territory of economic and social history, doing my best to say something useful and not be too much of an idiot while doing so.  Over the past year I’ve been working on the readership of early Enlightenment Scottish texts (you can see an example here and some commentary on the data-crunching underlying this work here).  This part of my book project has now reached a point where I have a sprawling, unwieldy spreadsheet recording the names, residences, and occupations of 3,575 subscribers to historical works published in Scotland between 1707 and 1744.

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A sample few lines from the database: some Stirling-based subscribers.

Now comes the challenge of deriving meaning from all of this data.  Historical demography is not a field I’ve ever explored in any depth, but I’m now finding it absolutely imperative to understand if I’m going to do anything useful with my spreadsheet of readers.  Take the basic question: what percentage of the population subscribed to these books?  The population of Scotland in the early eighteenth century was probably somewhere in the ballpark of one million, which would seem to suggest that my subscribers represent only a tiny fraction, something on the order of 0.35% of the total population.  But what if you consider them as a fraction of the adult population?  Of the literate population?  On a more fine-grained level, what can I say about the relative percentages of subscribers from different parts of the country?  Or the presence or absence of different professions and social classes?

Some of these questions will probably be insoluble, but others will, with effort, be resolved.  It’s a sobering reminder, though, that different corners of the field use very different forms of scholarship to produce their results and that we should be wary of trespassing without understanding in our interdisciplinary travels.  I for one will certainly be asking friends more familiar with demography and statistics to comment on the resulting chapter when it eventually takes shape.  In the mean time, I’ll be trying to make sense of historical demography and thinking hard about what that can teach me about the shape of the Scottish Enlightenment . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Kayaking and Epigraphy: A Match Made in Heaven?

A few months ago, the Historian and I were on holiday in Mull, bouncing along sheep-strewn single-track roads in our aging but faithful Honda Jazz in search of whatever antiquities we could find.  We found plenty, including a possibly unrecorded boat graveyard, dozens of pre-Clearance settlements, and a Victorian country house with a particularly delectable vegetable garden, but the most exciting discoveries weren’t on the mainland of Mull itself but in the waters to the west.

The island of Inch Kenneth (Innis Choinnich) lies at the end of Loch na Keal, off the west coat of Ulva, where the loch meets the open sea.  Visited by Johnson and Boswell, it was later the home of Unity Mitford, whose utterly disgusting mansion continues to survive on the island’s south side, and is now home more or less entirely to sheep.  It’s also the site of a medieval church and that was the goal of our visit.  We kayaked over from the sound of Ulva – a slightly nerve-wracking experience, even in reasonably good seas – and spent the better part of the morning exploring the island and its antiquities.

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And such antiquities!  There were beautifully carved funeral monuments dating from the late middle ages to the nineteenth century, a sample of which you can see in the photo above.  In this post, though, I want to talk about three heavily worn but spectacular carved stones which currently lie in the midst of the Victorian graveyard and which have not, I think, been written on before.  Their inscriptions are enigmatic at best, entirely non-existent for two out of the three.  How do we interpret these stones?

The answer is through heraldry.  Each stone contains weathered but still discernible coats of arms and it is these which allow us to make some educated guesses as to their period and subjects.  Hebridean heraldry is rather unusual compared to most western European heraldic traditions but its oddity helps in this case.

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To begin with the first, and easiest, above.  We have the partially damaged initials and date (“HML”, “1676”) as well as a quartered shield of which quarters two, three, and four are a tower, a birlinn, and a hand holding a cross, respectively.  These arms match those of the Macleans of Lochbuie as recorded in 1672, but the date makes me suspect that instead it belongs to a cousin of the Lochbuie family, Hector Ruadh Maclean of Coll who died in that year.

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The second stone presents more of a challenge.  Once again, we’re presented with the characteristic quartered shield of Hebridean heraldry, but only the first quarter (two towers) is immediately recognisable.  Had that been all, it would have been impossible to identify this tomb, but we’re fortunate to have notes on Inchkenneth made by Duncan Macleod of Salen, Mull, in 1897 which gives us the remaining quarters (a triskele, second; a deer’s head, third; and a repeat of the two towers, fourth) as well as the now obliterated date “1758”.  The presence of the Macleod triskele may suggest that this stone belonged to a later Hector Maclean of Coll who died in 1754 and whose mother was a Macleod.

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The arms are better preserved on the final stone in this sequence and appears to show a fess chequy in the first and fourth quarters, a triskele in the second, and a heart in the third.  The combination of the fess chequy of the Stewarts with the triskele common to the Macleods in a Mull context may suggest that this stone belonged to a child of Robert Stewart, 8th of Appin (died by 1739) and Isabel Macleod.  Robert’s mother was a Maclean of Coll, one of Hector Ruadh’s daughters, providing a connection to the Inch Kenneth burial ground.

What initially appeared to be three disparate stones turn out to be linked by familial ties and to represent a larger pattern of burials on the part of the Maclean family of Coll.  In turn this encourages us, I think, to consider the remarkable richness of these stones’ carvings as evidence of an island visual culture which is all too often neglected.  In 1897 Duncan Macleod saw several more stones in the vicinity which are now vanished or buried and commented on the presence of others which even then were “so worn as to render them wholly illegible”.  Instead of surprising outliers, these monuments are the fragmentary relics of an largely lost Baroque material culture of commemoration common to the gentry families of the Inner Hebrides.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Research Days

The autumn semester has begun in Stirling and while I continue to work on the book project, it’s now being juggled alongside teaching, admin, organising a research seminar, coordinating my division’s presence at university open days, printing, and all of the other duties that go to make up a semester’s workload.  Stirling, to do it justice, encourages us to keep our research and writing on track during the semester by setting aside one day a week as a “research day” in which we stay away from the office and try to achieve something other than writing lectures or marking papers.  That’s easier said than done and in the process I’ve found myself thinking more about the nature of the time we spend on individual research and writing.

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Stock photos are inherently funny and odd, but I particularly like the grim melodrama of this one, found while idly searching on the keyword “research” at pexels.com.

There’s no doubt that I work more efficiently when my time is limited.  Even though I think I became more diligent and organised about managing myself between the doctorate and post-doc, the wide open landscapes of the latter still meant that I didn’t need to feel too guilty about checking my e-mail or going out for a coffee or any of the other procrastinations that can fill up one’s time.  Now that research rubs shoulders with so many other responsibilities, though, the temptation to have that sort of leisurely progression through a working day is much less.  I was reminded of this on Friday – my first “research day” of the new term – when I realised I’d been working almost without break all day on a single project; I was so caught up in the pleasure of actually having the time to think that I’d hardly noticed the hours go by.

But there’s also a problem with assuming we can turn this sort of work on and off like a light-switch.  One of the biggest difficulties I find in keeping up with research during the semester is not so much keeping the time protected (though that’s a challenge in itself) as it is picking up the threads where I left off the previous week.  There’s a flow you can get into when you’re working day after day on a single project and it’s that flow and the consequent feeling of having all the ideas and sources and quotes you need ready and waiting at your fingertips that I miss on coming back to a piece of work that’s sat cold on my desk since the previous week.

Still, some research is better than no research, especially when a major submission deadline is looming just over the horizon (I’ve promised to get my final manuscript to OUP by the spring of next year).  So I’ll take what I can get and keep plugging away at chapter nine in the hopes of having it and maybe also the introduction finished by Christmas.  It remains to be seen if my eleven or so remaining research days this semester are enough time and mental space to make that happen . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Pathfoot Press: Six Months In

When I came to my job interview at Stirling, I was full of big ideas, not all of them very practical.  One particularly far-fetched scheme I had was to propose developing a bibliography course at postgraduate level and equipping a print room for use by the students.  I laid this out in my job talk, emphasising the expense and long-term nature of the project, while also saying that I thought it had the potential to be a tremendous asset.  In the questions that followed someone – I can no longer remember who – piped up and said, “you know, I think we might have one of these hand press things somewhere”.  Twenty minutes later, thoroughly convinced I hadn’t gotten the job, one of the senior administrators was showing me into an out-of-the-way computer lab.  There, squeezed into the far end of the room, was a Columbian Press, an absolute beauty, surrounded by type cases, cabinets, ink stones, and even an Adana 8×5 to boot.

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Our Columbian Press (watercolour by Kenneth Williams).

And so one thing led to another.  I got the job (most surprising of all), I met Sarah Bromage – one of the curators of Stirling’s fantastic art collection – who also had plans for the press, we had a workshop or two, I pulled together what I could remember of my letterpress printing skills, and in March 2017 the newly-founded Pathfoot Press produced its first work: a large bifolium of Scots poetry celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the university.

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Our first pamphlet locked up and ready to roll, March 2017.

To find myself suddenly the head printer and designer of a university hand press was unexpected enough.  What I couldn’t have expected even six months ago, though, was just how much and how quickly the press and its activities would snowball.  As the only folk involved with the press who had prior letterpress experience, The Historian and I led the way on the publication front, squeezing in odd hours, evenings, and weekends to produce five broadsides and pamphlets to date, but we were hardly alone.  Together, the two of us and Sarah have given printing displays and practical sessions to the public, been filmed for university promotional purposes, printed limited edition broadsides of poetry written by Stirling’s Charles Wallace Fellow, been commissioned to do a series of typographical facsimiles by Innerpeffray Library, and even found ourselves with our very own intern busy cataloguing and organising our chaotic printshop.

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A seventeenth-century encomium on writing, June 2017.  Copies of this broadside can be purchased from the Innerpeffray Library!

What I had originally imagined as a tool for training future bibliographers has taken on a life of its own, sweeping me along with it, and I have to say that I’m tremendously pleased by everything that’s happened.  As a new and busy semester looms its head (our teaching starts on Monday), it’s proving difficult to give as much time as I’d like to the press, but we already have plans in place to continue growing its staff, its productions, and its reach.  If you haven’t come across the Pathfoot Press as yet, visitors are always very welcome or you can follow us on Twitter @PathfootPress.  At this rate, who can say what we’ll be printing and designing in another six month’s time?

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Poet in the Print Shop

A couple of years ago I was reading the account book of Robert Freebairn’s print shop in Edinburgh (because what could be more thrilling?) and came across some unusual entries.  In amongst the regular business of the shop – “for a new barr-shaft to the press”, “for ten fathom of cords for hanging books”, “for carrying paper”, “for Drink & Bread this Week to encourage [the apprentices] to work” – were several entries relating to the physician, heterodox thinker, and poet Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713).

On 28 March 1713, Thomas Ruddiman – who moonlighted as Freebairn’s clerk when he wasn’t busy being librarian to the Faculty of Advocates – noted “Poem for Dr Pitcairn” and immediately below it, “press thrice wrought”.  On 16 May he recorded a “Poem of Dr Pitcairn’s on my Lord Drummond’s Son 4 times wrought” and on 3 October two more “Poem[s] of Dr Pitcairn”.  Pitcairne is known for his habit of publishing poems as single broadside sheets, but I was intrigued by this suggestion that they had gone through the press multiple times (a suggestion confirmed by the relatively high costs of these impressions, 1s. 6d. for the printing of the 28 March poem and 2s. for that of 16 May, compared, say, to the 3s. weekly wage of Freebairn’s journeymen).  Why was Freebairn taking so much trouble over these jobs?

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Pitcairne’s final job at Freebairn’s press before his death later in October 1713 (NLS MS 763, fol. 47v).

The answer may lie with the state of Edinburgh printing at the beginning of the eighteenth century.  That state was pretty poor.  The average was bare competence and many printers couldn’t manage even that.  Freebairn was, on the whole, one of the more accomplished pressmen of his generation, but even his work tends to have only a workmanlike mise-en-page combined with frequent uneven inking, overprinting, crooked pages, etc.  The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if Pitcairne was himself overseeing the printing of his poems and demanding a higher standard of quality than was usually brought to the Edinburgh print trade?

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An example of Edinburgh printing from this period.  Not exactly the Doves Press.

Those of Pitcairne’s broadsides which survive seem to confirm this idea.  While their quality varies, overall they strike me as being both artistically and typographically superior to the ordinary printing of their day.  Some, in particular, aim for a very pleasing epigraphic effect, a bit like John Sparrow’s Lapidaria series in the twentieth century.

So far I’ve only consulted digitised copies of the broadsides – which are notoriously useless for saying much about the letterpress behind a text – but I’m planning an expedition to the National Library to look at several in more detail and I hope that will be able to tell me a bit more about Pitcairne’s “thrice wrought” poems.  It may be that we’re looking at a forgotten moment in the history of printing-as-art and will need to adjust our understandings of Pitcairne in light of it.

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A slight overprint and some inking problems on the ‘B’ in ‘Britannam’, but possibly something new on the Edinburgh stage?

I should also say – just to blow a small blast on my own trumpet – that I’ll be talking in more detail about Pitcairne, his broadsides, and the printers behind them at the “Using Letterpress” workshop being held in Dublin’s National Print Museum on 17 November.  It’ll be a blast, at least, that is, if you like bibliographical minutiae!

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams