This week when I was paging some manuscripts, I got distracted and made a discovery. I didn’t remember ever having looked at the materials on the shelf where the one manuscript to lives and stopped to peek into a few of the archive boxes on either side of it..
One of them was a eighteenth-century copybook that had been filled in between January and August 1733 by Jan Haverman, who lived in Amersfoort, a Dutch city on the river Een in Utrecht.
Cotsen has quite a few American and British copybooks, but I didn’t know there were Dutch ones as well. Opening the marbled paper wrappers, I noticed that the pages were not ruled with carefully spaced lines that are supposed to make it easy for the student to write the practice text across the page. The odd-numbered pages, I discovered, had margins decorated with highly stylized decorations composed of swirling lines. Whoever calligraphed these beautiful figures was something of an artist.
Jan Haverman signed the bottom of every page he copied out, but did he have the control of the pen to have drawn the figures in the margins as well?
Could Jan’s writing master been the creator of the fantastic people and creatures? Scholars who study the history of writing instruction often distinguish the parts in an exercise executed by the student and those the instructor corrected. But why would the master have done the drawings in the margins? Or is the hand that drew the illustrations that of Jan?