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Skeat conjectured, somewhat perfunctorily, that Thynne's source text might have consisted of ten quires of 8, laid out in what he calls, without further specification, "the usual way," and that the displaced portion of Book III represented one quire of 8 plus one of 2, both refolded, the latter cut along the spine and the whole resorted in a complex pattern that is difficult to understand, still less reconstruct. Working in two directions simultaneously—from the dimensions of the displaced segments as identified by Skeat, and from the beginning of the work to the first point of disruption—I sought to derive a page and quiring format that could account for Thynne's erroneous ordering of text, and the point at which it occurred—to determine, in other words, what "the usual way" of formatting and quiring a vernacular prose work in manuscript was for Skeat.[10] An adequate account of Thynne's manuscript


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should be able to propose a rearrangement of the discontinuous blocs of text that would not only yield continuous sense (as in broad terms Skeat's reconstruction did), but also lend itself to systematic bibliographical description of the entire lost volume. It would, that is, be able to explain how the continuous preceding manuscript text was both laid out on the page and disposed into quires so as to put the first interruption—if not at the end of a quire, at least at the end of a leaf—at a point 76.5 of Thynne's printed lines into Book III, chapter iv.[11]

In attempting to determine a size module for a page, and hence for a quire, in the manuscript used by Thynne, I used the number of lines of Thynne's text as a basis for description and comparison, as a unit of measurement to describe chapter-lengths; I call these units Th-lines. (Appendix A lists these.) I did not, of course, assume that Thynne's lines of print each corresponded directly to a line of manuscript; rather, the Th-line simply represented a regularity of amplitude which would have a counterpart in the product of regular scribal hand or hands in the manuscript. Scribal abbreviations, even if not replicated in Thynne, would, I presumed, nevertheless have been used consistently over the long course of the scribe's work, and therefore themselves exhibit a regularity that would warrant the use of line-counts of Thynne's text to serve as a basis for division and comparison of textual units.[12] For this purpose, I took Skeat's reconstructed division and sequence of chapters in the disordered portion of Thynne's text as provisionally correct (since it makes superficially good syntactical and logical


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sense of Book III), until it could be shown otherwise. In the event, I was able to confirm Bressie's and Jellech's revision of Skeat's reconstruction, but to somewhat different ends than the recovery of continuous expository sense. In the interim, however, Skeat's error proved to be heuristic felix culpa, forcing into view the quiring scheme of the lost manuscript.

My only other initial hypothesis concerned the initial letters of chapters that bore the petitionary acrostic. I conjectured that Thynne's source must also have had some visual formula and ornamental program for featuring the acrostic chapter-initials—the only element of Thynne's mise-en-page that enabled the recovery of the acrostic.[13] Thynne does not number the chapter divisions within the three Books of the work, as Skeat does in his edition; it is therefore highly unlikely that his source had numbered chapters, for such unambiguous indication of sequence would very likely have prevented the massive disordering of text in Book III, as well as the printer's failure to identify the correct chapter divisions at II.x and III.iv. Although the printer marks the three-book division of Usk's work by many signals, using headings and closings (e.g. "Thus endeth the seconde booke, and here after foloweth the thirde boke") and running page heads, and a disposition of text such that each of the three Books begins at the head of a column on a recto page, he identifies the Testament's chapters as such only by large feature initials, in nearly all cases (except of course where they come at the head of a column, as they do with remarkable frequency, especially early in the work) also preceded by an interval of space, equivalent in vertical dimension to a line or two of type.[14]

Because Thynne scarcely ever further subdivides Usk's prose into paragraphs by indenting—as he does, for instance, with Chaucer's Parson's Tale—these acrostic initials are virtually the only visual indicator of textual segmentation below the level of book-division.[15] It therefore seemed reasonable to


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infer that in these respects—the use of feature initials, and the comparative lack of other internal segmentation within chapters—Thynne's textual disposition was somehow guided by that of his source.[16] A subordinate conjecture, therefore, was that the initial capital of each Book in the manuscript text might have been especially large and prominent: Thynne awards these three book-initials far more elaborate woodblock capitals than he gives to other chapter-initials—or indeed, as we shall see, to any other unit- initials anywhere in his huge folio volume. I hypothesized, and resolved to test the hypothesis in my reconstruction, that these acrostic initials might also have fallen at the heads of pages, for maximum visual impact, drawing the reader's attention to the acrostic as a diacritical ornament of the work as well as an adornment of the physical page.[17]


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As Skeat discovered, Thynne erred in Book II in identifying some of the acrostic-bearing chapter capitals; while Skeat corrected these in his edition, he himself erred, as I shall show, in reconstructing not only the sequence but also the division of chapters in Book III.[18] Yet each of these errors, both Thynne's and Skeat's, enabled unsought and finer-grained conjectures, not only for confirming earlier scholars' corrections of Skeat's reconstruction, but—more important for my purposes—facilitating the recovery of what counted for Thynne as the chief bibliographical codes that influenced not only his formatting but possibly even his selection of Usk's text as an important piece of Chauceriana. These inadvertences offered unexpected access to a virtual, if not actual, bibliographical "reading"—quire by quire, page by page, if not word by word—of a manuscript book that no longer exists, and to the world of discursive codes that defined its legibility and expressive form to its intended primary users.