Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Throughout this project I have had in my mind at least, if not actually on the record player, a soundtrack of Elizabethan music. It is heavy on the Dowland even though his First Book of Songs was not published until 1597, because I find his music endlessly fascinating. I have also been delving into the consort songs of William Byrd and it has become the joke in our house that we are the "Come to me Grief Forever" all the time channel.

I wanted to share some of the recordings I've been listening to in an ongoing series of posts called Soundtrack. The first album is L'Oiseau-Lyre 443 187-2, a reissue of a 1981 recording with Anthony Rooley and the Consort of Musicke, called William Byrd: Psalmes, Sonets & Songs. The collection has selections from Byrd's 1588, Psalmes, Sonets and songs of sadnes and pietie, made into Musicke of five parts. The book contained at the end the two funeral elegies for Sir Philip Sidney, the aforementioned "Come to me Grief Forever," and the ravishingly beautiful, "O that Most Rare Breast." The poetry of the latter at least having been penned by Sidney's dear friend Sir Edward Dyer. The CD ends with those two numbers as well and is well worth seeking out. It is out of print but copies do turn up on Amazon.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Writing Tables

Wednesday viij. February 1586/87. "...out to the stationer to have some notebooks made and then to Mr. Adams to have two sets of writing tables made, one with an almanac and the other without, both to have leather covers, and the covers to be made so they might keep out the damp better than that I did have of him last year..."

In this passage from his journal, Luke goes to the stationer and orders up some additional notebooks for his journal, accounts and other notes. He then goes to Franke Adams, one of several manufacturers in London in this period, and has him make some “writing tables.” He is not buying furniture, rather he is buying what was at the time (1587) fairly new technology for writing. The “tables” were coated paper/card stock that might be written on with ink, black lead (graphite) or silverpoint and then cleaned off and used again and again. Luke might write his journal entries directly into a notebook, but more often he would use the tables as a temporary scratch pad and then make a fair copy later in his notebooks.

Peter Stallybrass has written an excellent article on the subject which appeared in the Shakespeare Quarterly. The writing tables were quite small, about the size of a deck of cards, like the example at Houghton Library of Harvard University. They were bound with a multi-year almanac, perfect for the businessman on the go, and made up of paper/card stock coated with gesso and shellac. I would expect that the stock itself would need to be substantial because gesso is by its nature very prone to cracking and flaking on a flexible surface, but that might not be the case. I expect also it would want to have quite a high glue content to really bind it all together. The tables came with erasing instructions in some of the earlier editions and the owner is warned not to allow the just cleaned tables to rest against each other when they are wet, suggesting a tendency towards stickiness.

I plan to conduct some experiments to determine the composition of the coating and I will be writing to Professor Stallybrass for any advice he might have on their construction. I will also need to get over to Houghton and take a look at the example there. Then I will have to make some and see how they actually work.

Stallybrass, Peter; Chartier, Roger; Mowery, j. Franklin; Wolfe, Heather. “Hamlets Tables and the Technology of Writing in Renaissance England,” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 2004), pp. 379-419.

What is this anyway?

Artifacts of a Life is an exercise in the creation of the objects of daily life of a fictional person from the past. In this case they are the possessions of an Elizabethan captain of cavalry, Luke Knowlton. It is part of a greater persona development meta-project that I have been working on for several years in the Society for Creative Anachronism as part of the A&S 50 Challenge. As part of this intensive study, I have created a journal of Luke's daily life which may be read at: journal.lukehistory.com. This blog will detail the research and construction of various objects mentioned in the journal.