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The Burley Manuscript$

Peter Redford

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781526104489

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526104489.001.0001

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Conclusion

Conclusion

Chapter:
(p.417) 11 Conclusion
Source:
The Burley Manuscript
Author(s):
Peter Redford
Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9781526104489.003.0011

Abstract and Keywords

This brief chapter attempts to recall to the reader what has gone before, and to convey the ‘excitement, surprise and enjoyment’ that is to be found in the study of the Burley manuscript. At the outset, the author had three tasks whose successful accomplishment was then problematic: an historical and analytical description of the manuscript, an annotated edition of the English private letters, and another of the English verse. The detective work on the collection itself, on the compiler, William Parkhurst, and his fellow-scribes, and on the individual letters and poems has revealed some things that were generally unknown. Among the English verse, although some of the identifiable poems have been found to contribute something to our understanding of the poem, the poet, or the scribe, a great source of joy is the quality of some of the anonymous verse. Similarly with the letters: much excitement lies in what seem to be first-hand copies of the correspondence of Donne, Wotton and Goodere, but much delight, too, from the anonymous or guessed-at authors of the other letters. ..

Keywords:   Letters, Verse, Parkhurst, Donne

‘I promised a jorney’ said John Donne in letter item 446, ‘like godfathers which promise & vow three things for children before they know whether it bee in the childrens destiny to bee able to keepe there vowes or no.’ When I began work on the Burley manuscript, I too undertook three tasks whose successful accomplishment was then problematic: a historical and analytical description of the manuscript, an annotated edition of the English private letters, and another of the English verse. Donne, on that occasion, was prevented from fulfilling his vow; I have been more fortunate, and the outcome appears in this volume.

For me, the journey has been full of excitement, surprise, and enjoyment. The detective work on the collection itself, on the compiler, William Parkhurst, and his fellow-scribes, and on the individual letters and poems has revealed much that was new to me and, indeed, uncovered some things that were generally unknown. It has generated a couple of theories, about the function of memory and about covert surveillance, which – while they cannot be regarded as proven – none the less account rationally for features of the miscellany that are otherwise baffling. I cannot show a note from Parkhurst saying ‘I wrote this from memory’, or one from D1 stating ‘I copied this secretly from Mr Donne’s letter’, but the theories accord with observation like the theories of quantum mechanics: even though no one has seen a quark, the supposition that they are there helps us understand the things we can observe.

Among the English verse, although some of the identifiable poems have been found to contribute something to our understanding of the poem, the poet, or the scribe, the great source of joy to me has been the quality of some of the anonymous verse. Some of this was printed by Grierson, but much of it appears here for the first time and, I think, helps a modern reader understand just how natural an occupation the writing of verse was thought to be four centuries ago. Similarly with the (p.418) letters: much excitement was had from what seem to be first-hand copies of the correspondence of Donne, Wotton and Goodere, but much delight, too, from the anonymous or guessed-at authors of the other letters. Even where the content is trivial, these missives – probably not from notable figures, or ever intended for publication or even survival – offer a picture, often elegantly painted, of the society within which they were written, like Rabelais’s ‘words being spoken in some Country during a hard winter [that] are immediately congeal’d, frozen up and not heard’ and then heard at the next thaw,1 in this case after four hundred years.

‘For the past nine years’, I said in the Preface, ‘I have been enjoying this feast, and it is the work of this book to share it.’ It is a feast never exhausted, ‘a perpetual feast of nectared sweets’, as the Second Brother muses of philosophy in Milton’s Comus,2 and I hope that readers of the present work have partaken of it with delight.

Notes:

(1) See note on p. 193 to letter item 443, line 2.

(2) John Milton, A Maske (1637), l. 479.