Marks in Books 10: Sibling Stand-off in a Copybook?

Cotsen in process 7014153.

Cotsen in process 701453.

Don’t judge this copybook by its spotted vellum boards.  It looks anything but promising, but it is noteworthy on several counts.   Elizabeth Harris, who may have lived in South Molton, Devonshire, filled it full of exercises for learning commercial arithmetic, not for practicising handwriting.  Her signature with the date 1750 can barely be read on the front board.  It is actually a little easier to spot in the photograph than on the book.Elizabeth did not sign and date the pages in her copybook like David Kingsley, but  the fish headpiece on the lesson above has the year 1749 written in its stomach  She must have been studying arithmetic between 1749 and 1750, but there is no telling how many months in each year she was copying out lessons..  She worked through the basic operations of arithmetic, troy and apothecaries wrights, dry, liquid, and cloth measures, the rule of three, etc.  Someone must have felt it was important for Elizabeth to be well versed in arithmetic, probably so she would be capable of managing the family accounts when a married womaThe title page, the only leaf oriented landscape-wise, is the only other one decorated with figures of pen flourishes.  The text inside the bird is not laid out perfectly.  You can see that she had a little trouble squeezing in her name, the completion date, and the ownership rhyme which children frequently copied into their books, “Learning is better than House and Land, / For when House and Land are gone and spent, / Then Learning is most excellent.”

Cotsen in process 7014153.

Elizabeth didn’t fill up all the pages, leaving a short section of blanks at the end of the book.  At some point, someone–perhaps a brother–claimed possession of it.  Was she there to defend her property? Did she let him have it because she had no further use for it?  Was he much younger than she and simply helped himself?  There is no evidence that establishes when exactly this amusing page was written and who could resist imagining a scenario in which one child takes another child’s book?  The object then becomes a silent witness of  childhood experiences in the past. Assuming that the second owner was a boy is not, on the other hand, pure supposition.  Owner number two did not fill up the pages with lessons, but with transcriptions of a love song and a ballad and the latter is the same tale type about a cross-dressing heroine as the one in David Kingsley’s copybook.  The ballad copied out here stars a noble-born damsel from the Isle of Wight who traveled to France dressed as a man to find the lover her father sent away.

Cotsen 7146.

Cotsen 7146.

One child apparently appropriating a book from another owner (often with the same surname) is hardly unusual, so interpreting the scribbles as a manifestation of sibling rivalry rings true to one’s own childhood experience, with stories in children’s books, and constructs of gender.  But children may also mark up books to establish territory by calling attention to their presence in a world which doesn’t pay them enough attention. The boy who hijacked Elizabeth Harris’s copybook had something in common with the greatest exhibitionist in the Cotsen collection, Thomas Webb of Pulham, Norfolk, England, Europe, World (a traditional ownership formula).  He literally inserted himself in the story by putting his initials over all the pictures of its protagonist, Tommy Newton.   Subversion or self-assertion?

 

Marks in Books 9: Daydreaming Boys Draw in Their Schoolbooks

Cotsen 1638.

Many copybooks do not look especially interesting, until you go through them carefully page by page.  This one is tacked into a raggedly limp leather wrapper is a case in point.   It was made by a David Kingsley of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts between 1797 and 1799.  Much of the contents consist of proverbs, precepts, and sets of words copied out doggedly line after line after line after line.  David signed every single page, one, two, three, or four times, usually in different places, perhaps at his teacher’s bidding.  An undated signature “Mary S.” was written in a different hand was  in the upper right hand corner.  Perhaps she was responsible for the great looping scribbles on top of David’s writing…

Cotsen 1638.

David’s copy book looks like a textbook demonstration of how rote instruction deadens children’s souls and stifles their curiosity except for the page he filled with an illustration of a two-story building with two doors and six windows.  Snaking down the left-hand margin is “David Kingsley made this house.”  David’s source of inspiration came from somewhere other than the facing text on the  comparisons of measures and a practice word problem.  Nor does the copy below it have anything about houses: “Wonce more the year is now begun David Kingsley This Second day of January 1799 the Shool Book of David Kinglsey of Rehoboth February 11 day 1799.” . Perhaps it was supposed to be the home of the “gallant female sailor” the subject of the ballad written on the back of the leaf…    David’s drawing is undated so we cannot know when or where he drew it. At school, when he should have been concentrating on finishing his lesson?   Or somewhere else when he was free to design a house in which he would like to live when a man grown.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Seventeenth-century school master Edward Young’s The Compleat English Scholar in Spelling, Reading, and Writing (1726) was in  a fifty-second edition by 1752.  Cotsen has the only copy of the twenty-seventh edition of 1726 and it belonged to a Lumley Tannat, who may be the child baptized on the eleventh of July 1726 in Saint Dunstan’s in Stepney, London.  He wrote his name multiple times on the book’s preliminary pages but without a date, a  common but annoying habit of children centuries ago.   Of course they had no idea that people nearly three hundred years later would want to be able to calculate their age when they used the book.   On the final blank page Lumley put his name and doodles.

The sketches of boats seem to be preparatory drawings for his masterpiece on the rear board, which even with the book in hand is quite difficult to see unless the light is just right.  Lumley’s ship has one mast, carved figurehead on the bow, gunports for the artillery, two flags.  Was he intensely bored by the lessons, which were mostly drawn from Scripture?  Would he have rather been reading Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719)?Was he dreaming of going to sea in defiance of his father’s wishes to find his a place with a merchant?

Not all of the marks pupils put on bindings are legible, by the way, and they are far more common than drawings of ships of the line or houses. The front board on this book appears to have been poked decoratively with a pen knife, an essential part of a pupil’s academic tool kit in the days of quill pens. How exactly this binding got in this state I cannot guess, but scenarios with small boys, a handy sharp object, and a book bound in leather are easy to dream up.  But then again maybe this is a girl’s handiwork.

Cotsen 362.

Cotsen 362.

Children should not always be blamed for the marks on bindings. Booksellers’ marks can be distinguished easily enough from those children make.  It’s not at all unusual for prices to be written at the head of the paper wrappers on pamphlets.  It’s less common to find such marks on books bound in boards.  The back board of Cotsen’s copy of the 1791 twentieth edition of James Greenwood’s London Vocabulary  has both a paper label identifying it as a copy of the “London Vocabulary with Pictures” and note in ink on the canvas  that it is in two languages.