Methodology - Manuscript Features

The Manuscript Verse Miscellanies 1700-1820 database describes each manuscript in terms of certain common features that embody its compiler’s vision for the book. These features help to define the genre’s conventions, suggest the manuscript’s possible uses, and reveal how the book was valued by its creator and users. Features are categorized as person features, organizational features, and decorative features. 

Person-related Features

Person-related features are associated with compilers, authors whose work is included, and owners.

  • hands – the number of compiler hands. Although in principle all miscellanies included in the database are the work of a single creator, there may be occasional entries by other hands, or completion of the book by a later hand(s).
  • original poetry – defined as verse written by the compiler or by members of their literary circle which has not been found in print prior to the date of compilation of the volume.
  • author attribution – frequency of attribution is described as regular (approx. 75% or more items are attributed); frequent (approx. 50%–75%); occasional (25% or more, but less than one-half); rare (there are some attributions, but for fewer than one-quarter of the poems); or never (there are no attributions). An item is considered attributed not only when an author is fully named, but also when part names, initials, or an aristocratic title are given. However, pseudonyms and generic attributions (eg. “by a lady,” or “by a gentleman of Oxford”) are not considered to be attributions. Whether the attribution is correct or verifiable does not matter. 
  • binding – the material and style of the book’s binding are described briefly, often from the library catalogue description. If possible, there is an indication of whether the book appears to have been created from a prebound blank book (also called a paperbook) or bound after compilation, with a brief note on the evidence used to draw this conclusion, such as sections of blank leaves and handwriting skewed by gutters in the former case, or handwriting partly obscured in the gutters or trimmed from page edges in the latter. 
  • ownership marks – evidence from signatures or contemporary bookplates is recorded, whether indicating the compiler or a subsequent owner from the 1700-1820 period.
  • indications of use – while many features suggest something about the purpose and audience imagined for the volume, a note is made of any particular indications of a book’s use, including keys to certain poems, annotations, organization of riddles and solutions to facilitate their use, bookmarks, stains suggesting spills onto pages, or the later insertion of letters or other materials.

Organizational Features

Features designed to manage a book’s navigation and readability. 

  • title page – provides a title for the manuscript, but often also an epigraph, compiler name, date, etc. May also be decorative.
  • table of contents – defined as a list of some or all of the book’s contents. For most miscellanies, items are listed in order of appearance rather than alphabetically, even though the list is often titled “Index.”
  • organization – includes prefatory and concluding devices such as mottos, addresses to the reader, or the term “finis” at the end. Unusual filling patterns – for example, using only the recto side of each leaf, or ambigraph filling (with one end of the volume filled from the beginning, and the other end flipped and filled similarly, forming a book that meets in the middle) are noted, as well as any other division into parts. 
  • catchwords – words in the bottom righthand corners of pages indicating the first word of the page to come.
  • page layout – regular features such as margin rules and generous use of white space. Pagination is noted when present, indicating if the numbering appears to have been done simultaneously with compilation or subsequent to it; only contemporary pagination, as opposed to that supplied by later cataloguers, is recorded. 
  • item formatting – standardized presentation of titles and author attributions; use of a uniform sign or flourish to mark the ends of items.

Decorative Features

Features supplementing a book’s contents, especially to enhance its appearance. 

  • decorations – hand-drawn – features such as birds, flowers, fleurons, or sketches; also calligraphic lettering
  • decorations – printed – paste-ins of printed engravings, printers’ marks, or other sorts of illustrations.
  • printed items – printed copies of poems or other items that are tipped or pasted into the book.