Maxims, Songs & Poems: Miscellaneous Notes in Renaissance Books - Queens' Old Library

Maxims, Songs & Poems: Miscellaneous Notes in Renaissance Books

he prohibitive cost of paper in the Renaissance era rendered blank space on the printed page or inside the cover of a book ideal as the location for personal notes of reflection and self-expression. Queens’ Library books provide ample evidence of this in the many precious markings, notes and scribbles left by their early modern readers and former owners. Whilst some of these signs of use record readers’ reactions to published ideas, the books in this case suggest some of the many other motivations shared by early modern readers and former owners. Whilst some of these signs of use record readers’ reactions to published ideas, the books in this case suggest some of the many other motivations shared by early modern readers for writing in books. In addition to idle doodling that offers us insights into the private moments of a long-forgotten reader’s life, we see in such interventions an ambition to flaunt ideas, vent opinions, and stake ownership in a manner likened in recent scholarship to that of the modern-day graffiti artist.

Among the many recent discoveries made in Queens’ books can be included bawdy songs, names of former owners, evidence of financial transactions and private poems, as well as acts of calculated vandalism. The presence, for example, of a mischievous anti-clerical song scribbled onto a magnificent medieval Bible offers material evidence of a lost oral tradition that promoted religious dissent through satire and humour. In addition, such apparent violence to an object of beauty also affords us a telling glimpse into the mind of an otherwise unknown reader.

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