Archive of ancient British "filofaxes" goes online

Fri May 14, 2010 12:53pm EDT
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By Paul Casciato

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A remarkable archive of antique manuscripts which opens a window on to the experiences, hopes, fears and interests of people who lived during the 15th to 18th centuries has been put online.

The University of Cambridge Scriptorium Project, which can be found online at features thousands of pages taken from 20 different handwritten "miscellanies," some of which date back as far as the Wars of the Roses.

Project team leader Richard Beadle said miscellanies of this sort have not always received the treatment or attention that they deserve.

"But as Scriptorium shows, they in fact give us a fascinating view of early modern life and open up a whole new side of the period's literature and culture for people to explore," Beadle said in a statement.

Likened by some to filofaxes or personal organizers, the books were used to record snippets of information that people had read, been told, or overheard, at a time when paper was a scarce and expensive commodity.

The collection includes a notebook in which Edward VI wrote down various Biblical passages and a miscellany kept by William Rawley, chaplain to Francis Bacon, in which he recorded Bacon's sayings and a number of his (rather bad) jokes.

Perhaps more significantly, however, it features copious amounts of material reflecting the day-to-day lives of other people. Recipes, accounts, sonnets, quotations, prayers, sermons, legal tips and medical instructions were all added to the compendia as they were passed down through the generations.

Over a period of decades, their owners recorded everything from poems by Shakespeare and Milton to plague remedies, laundry lists, or in one case, the contents of their fish pond.   Continued...