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There is an important group of autograph Jonson manuscripts that were all written in 1609 and which are connected to one another through the physical evidence of handwriting and paper.[10] These are The Masque of Queenes, the epitaph on Cecilia Bulstrode, the epigram to Sir Horace Vere, and the Herbert Manuscript of Biathanatos. Another manuscript, a letter to Sir Robert Cotton, will also be discussed in connection with this material, as the letter was redated by Simpson without comment. The manuscript of Biathanatos (hereafter Herbert) was not included by Simpson in the record of Jonson's manuscript activities, though it was discussed by Evelyn Simpson in her study of The Prose Works of John Donne. The reasons for questioning the Simpsons' treatment of this manuscript material will be developed in the following pages. Before Jonson's manuscript activities in 1609 are discussed, however, it will also be necessary to make some preliminary comments about the corroborative information offered by handwriting and the stocks of paper that Jonson was using at the time the manuscripts were written.


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Handwriting and paper are two quite independent and impartial witnesses to the history of the preparation of a document, for neither is dependent on the other. While one might legitimately hesitate about the variations in the hand of an author, or about the dates between which paper with a certain watermark was used, in combination the evidence of handwriting and paper is stronger than either alone in establishing the origins of a document. When two independent manuscripts yield exactly the same result from both variables, the evidence of their common origin is strongly persuasive. In fact, it was according to these criteria that the holograph manuscript of Donne's Verse Letter to Lady Carew was dated. The poem shared the same watermark as a letter by Donne, probably to Sir Robert More, written on 7 February 1612 from Amiens.[11] Evidence such as this would obviously be further reinforced if further manuscripts could be shown to share the common elements (handwriting and paper) and particularly if a longer text than a single sheet could be shown to share the same idiosyncratic use of paper--for instance, that it had been gathered in folio and cropped, rather than folded in quarto. Such distinctions are the bibliographic equivalent of a fingerprint.

It is precisely the combination of handwriting, paper, and the idiosyncratic choice of format that links the Jonson manuscripts. In 1609, Jonson acquired a stock of Italian paper. It was most probably manufactured in Venice and is of a very fine quality.[12] The watermark consists of a double pennant flag with the initials 'G3'. Paper of this kind, with dozens of variant but broadly similar watermarks, can be traced over a period of about fifty years. As with all watermarks, however, the evidence from a specific mould can be dated more accurately because the weight of the pulp eventually led to distortions in, and the replacement of, both the wire used for the watermark and eventually the mould within a period of six to twelve months.[13] As Stevenson observed, 'the reams made in one week were seldom precisely the same in their markings as those made in another week'.[14]

Compared to paper from northern France, Italian paper was relatively


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uncommon in England during the early seventeenth century as it was of a better quality and, therefore, more expensive.[15] For present purposes a suggestive outline of the variant watermarks will be given, but the results of comparing Jonson's paper with other similar stocks have proved to be consistent. There are four moulds to be found in the paper-stocks that Jonson used in 1609. As watermarks are usually twins, these four moulds represent two pairs.[16] The most obvious difference between the two pairs is that the first has flagpoles 43 and 44mm high, while the other pair has flagpoles 54mm high. All four watermarks are found in Herbert and are reproduced from beta-radiographs (figure 1). As the beta-radiographs show, each mark is distinctive in its detail, with differing widths between the wires as well as in the sizes and shapes for the letters, flagpoles and pennants; each is also different in the way the various elements are sewn on the wires and chains of the underlying mould. Each watermark was also cumulatively affected by pulp movement, cleaning of the tray with a scrubbing brush and minor repair, with one mark (figure 1b) subject to a distinctive process of deterioration in which the lower curve of the 'G' became flattened and the pennant shifted: this paper can also be traced in a letter written by Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, on 8 August 1609.[17]

The paper that Jonson used can be shown to differ from other paper with similar characteristics from the period. For instance, the letters and receipt written by Donne between 2 February and 6 July 1602, following his elopement with Anne More, were all on paper with a watermark of a draped flag with a 'G3' countermark.[18] None of Donne's other manuscripts shares exactly the same watermark, nor does the letter that Christopher Brooke wrote on 25 February 1602, on Donne's behalf (it was written on a sheet of pot). This material, like that used by Jonson seven years later, is linked by a common date, handwriting and paper, and forms a self-contained set within the larger group of Donne's manuscripts. Francis Bacon also used Italian paper: his letters from 1597-98 have a crossbow and 'G3' mark, while another from 1605 has a flag and 'G3' initials within a circle. A similar circled flag and initials is to be found in a letter signed by the Privy Council on 21 November 1602. The paper used for other letters by Bacon includes watermarks with a 43mm flagpole and a circled lamb and flag countermark on 7 February 1611, a 56mm high flagpole on 2 July 1613, a 50mm flagpole on 23 July 1619, and a 58mm


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FIGURE 1. Four beta-radiographs: John Donne, Biathanos. MS. e Musaeo 131. With the permission of the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

[Description: watermark in paper, four examples]


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flagpole with large 18mm initials on 18 September 1623. Yet another variant of the watermark occurs in Donne's letter to Sir Robert More on 10 August 1614, which has a flagpole only 38mm high with the '3' joined to the pennant, while the Dobell Manuscript of Donne's sermons and poems, which may have been prepared around 1620, has a flagpole 54mm high, but in every other respect the watermark differs from that found in Herbert. Another undated miscellany, prepared c.1630, has a flag pole 48mm high, and the letters written by the Earl of Pembroke in 1628 and 1629 (used by Sullivan to date Herbert) have flagpoles 51 and 55mm high within initials 16mm high. Yet another flag watermark is to be found on a scribal copy of Jonson's epigrams on Inigo Jones from the early 1630s with a flagpole 62mm high, a shorter, dropped flag and a countermark on the outer edge of the other side of the sheet.[19] In dating Jonson's manuscripts by the paper, then, we might be wrong by a few months or a year, but not (with care) by decades. Jonson simply used too much paper and is known to have lived and travelled in too many places for him to be consistently using the same stock of paper in 1603, 1609 and, say, 1635.

The first example of the paper Jonson used is taken from the autograph manuscript of The Masque of Queenes (figure 2).[20] It is the most famous and elegant of Jonson's manuscripts and it is probable that Jonson prepared it for Prince Henry within a few months of when the masque was performed in February 1609, as at that time the manuscript would still have had the most resonance as a gift. The paper is Italian and is consistent throughout: the watermarks are of a double pennant flag with the initials 'G3' that conform in every respect (and not otherwise) to the four marks illustrated in figure 1. Physically, perhaps the most distinctive and obvious fact about the manuscript, after the carefulness of the script (it is a work of very fine penmanship), is that despite its size, The Masque of Queenes is not a quarto but a cropped folio gathered in single sheets (the page area is 210 x 170mm). Rebinding in the eighteenth century probably reduced the overall size of the page, but the point is that Jonson both used more paper than was necessary and provided generous margins, surrounding the text with a much larger area of space than was required and emphasising the luxurious nature of the manuscript. It is an important and impressive document that reveals how clearly Jonson thought about the structure of the page down to its finest details. With its carefully positioned sidenotes, it is clearly influenced by the scholarly printed books


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FIGURE 2. Ben Johnson, The Masque of Queenes. Royal MS. 18.A.xlv, f. 2r. With the permission of the British Library, London.

[Description: manuscript page]


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with which Jonson was familiar. The Masque of Queenes is also, in every sense, a manuscript that has been shaped from Jonson's memory, papers and library. From Jonson's reference to such books as Philipp Ludwig Elich's Dæmonomagia (Frankfurt, 1607) and his knowledge of others, such as Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx's Le Balet Comique (Paris, 1582), to his record of the performance and the immaculate layout of the textual elements, the manuscript of The Masque of Queenes is more than a record of an entertainment. As Stephen Orgel observes, it anatomises 'in a way that is all but unique in English, the relation of a Renaissance poet to the sources of his invention'.[21]

The date of the manuscript can also be confirmed by reference to another of Jonson's manuscripts. The Lowell Manuscript of the Epitaph on Cecilia Bulstrode, now in the Houghton Library, can also be shown to share exactly one of the same watermarks as the Masque (1b).[22] This manuscript was written in August 1609 while the servant of one of Donne's closest friends, George Gerrard, was apparently waiting for Jonson to finish writing the poem and the letter that follows it—Jonson excused himself as 'staightned wth time (as yor Man knowes)'. The letter makes quite clear that Jonson was responding to an unexpected request and that he 'was not so much as acquainted' with the matter before the request arrived. Cecilia Bulstrode died on 4 August 1609.

Another manuscript, the epigram to Sir Horace Vere, also suggests that the manuscript for Prince Henry of the Masque was written no later than 1609. The manuscript shares the third watermark to be found in Herbert and The Masque of Queenes (1c).[23] Vere returned to England in 1607, after many years in the Low Countries, before leaving for Europe again as Governor of Brill in October 1609.[24] Jonson would have had less reason to write the poem after Vere's return to Europe when he would have not been able to present it to him, than while Vere was in England and could be approached. On literary and historical grounds, then, a date for the manuscript of between 1607 and 1609 would also seem to be right. The point, however, is that if we accept the dating of the Vere epigram to no later than 1609, we must also admit other evidence that corresponds to such findings. Three autograph manuscripts, all sharing paper with common associations, written by Jonson within a short period of time from one another, are compelling evidence that he was using a


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common supply of paper, or consistently acquiring paper from the same source at that time.