University of Virginia Library

It has increasingly been recognised that the forms of literary evidence are more complex than previous textual theories emphasised. Indeed, it is now a commonplace to suggest that the processes of production and reception involve forms of collaboration that are also part of the meaning of the book as a historical document.[1] It is, perhaps, less widely appreciated that every discussion of a literary work (even the most theoretical) is based on inferences about the physical history of the documents that are a testament to its existence. The point is crucial. Almost everything we claim to know about the biographies of Jonson and Donne, for instance, derives from early manuscript or printed evidence. If we make an error in the dating, or in the attribution, of this material, then the narratives we construct, from the context of the meaning of the documents to the social and intellectual history of the people involved, will be mistaken in their assumptions. Despite an impression that has sometimes been given to the contrary, then, the study of the associations and contexts involved in the production, transmission and reception of texts has not obviated the need for analytical bibliography; rather, it has modified the range of physical reference that may be drawn upon from manuscript and print, for a more complex appreciation of the history of the book requires that we now investigate traditional sources of physical information from a fresh perspective, and examine again the assumptions upon which our narratives are based. As Ernest Sullivan observes: 'Textual scholars need to ponder why as well as how a text and its versions were created'.[2]

Donne and Jonson have often been discussed as rival poets working through different social networks and media of publication, but such a view has ignored both their deep and enduring friendship and the manuscript evidence where their work is often found in the same volumes.[3] Though in some ways convenient, the wish to place them in antithesis with one another is not entirely appropriate, for the differences between manuscript and print


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are not necessarily as obvious as superficially we might suppose: the distinction being primarily technical and only incidentally sociological or intellectual. All documents are a record of something more than the text, something antecedent and only imperfectly recoverable: they are a witness to the circumstances of, and the use of the intellect in, the history of their creation.[4]

We need, therefore, to understand the bibliographical and textual history of Donne's and Jonson's manuscripts and printed books as involving more than an analysis of a collection of words, or items connected by the elegant and simplifying lines of textual stemmata. Donne and Jonson are linked by more than a few poems that could have been written by either of them.[5] They are linked not only by their association with certain printers, publishers and scribal copyists, but by their shared interest in the dissemination of their work. For Jonson, in particular, the association between manuscript and print, and the way in which they influence one another, was an issue that he repeatedly explored. Yet Jonson has been treated as an author who circulated material primarily through print.[6] Consequently, the concentration on Jonson and the printed book-trade, reinforced by the authority of (and assumptions informing) the Herford and Simpson edition,[7] has meant that Jonson's surviving manuscript material has not been interrogated for the physical, social and intellectual histories to which it bears witness.

Perhaps we know less about Jonson than we have assumed, mistaking the evidence that survives from the past for the larger history to which it belongs, and discounting other information that might be more significant than we supposed. In the first decade of the seventeenth century, we find Jonson writing three epigrams to, or about, Donne, Donne writing a Latin poem on Volpone, Jonson's gift of Nicholas Hill's Philosophia Epicurea, Democratiana, Theophrastica (Paris, 1601) to Donne, Francis Davison acquiring Donne's poems from Jonson, Donne's close friend George Gerrard sending his 'man' to Jonson for an epitaph on Cecilia Bulstrode, and the gift to Jonson by Edward Herbert of the 1598 edition of Tertullian's Opera.[8] Two other


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close friends of Donne's can also be connected to Jonson. Thus, Jonson (together with George Chapman and William Browne) was one of the contributors of preliminary verse to Christopher Brooke's The Ghost of Richard the Third, and late in his life Rowland Woodward gave Jonson a copy of De Agerribus et Pontibus Hactenus ad Mare Extructis Digestum Nouum (Paris, 1629) by Petrus Bertius.[9] Jonson and Donne are linked not only through their own testimony, their patrons, the book-trade and scribal copying, but also through mutual friends, and it is not surprising that at some point they worked together on a manuscript. The document in question is the Bodleian Manuscript of Biathanatos, given by Donne to Edward Herbert, and prepared initially by Jonson. What follows is the evidence for this statement and an explanation as to how Percy and Evelyn Simpson made an error of judgment that has misled scholars (not least Greg) for much of this century.