Steven W. May and Arthur F. Marotti, eds. Ink, Stink Bait, Revenge, and Queen Elizabeth: A Yorkshire Yeoman’s Household Book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014. xii, 272p., ill. ISBN 9780801456565. £16.47 / US $24.95 (paperback).
The focus of this book is the manuscript household miscellany of a literate Yorkshire gentleman, recently uncovered in the British Library (Add. MS 82370). The text features several hands, but was predominantly compiled by one John Hanson of Rastrick, Yorkshire (1517–1599), most likely in the early 1590s, and highlights a broad range of interests from local feuds over land, poems about events of national and international significance (like the Spanish Armada), and recipes for common household goods such as ink, fish bait and sealing wax. The book provides a thorough contextual analysis of Hanson’s miscellany, in a somewhat unusual structure, analysing each thematic section of the manuscript as a distinct topic, rather than simply recreating chronological accounts or the entire manuscript verbatim.
After a detailed introduction, the themes of the miscellany are presented in five distinct chapters: firstly, a detailed description of a mid-fourteenth-century feud between two local families, the Eland and the Beaumont families, which takes up approximately a third of the manuscript (26). The feud is analysed using two contemporary pieces of writing transcribed by Hanson (a prose narrative and a long ballad), which give different versions of events. Secondly, a similar discussion follows of two ballads about the defeat of the Armada, also transcribed by Hanson, both of which now only survive in this and one other Stanhope family manuscript (107). Two subsequent chapters follow on “other” texts transcribed and used by Hanson. The third chapter focuses on printed sources that appear in his miscellany, drawn from at least five other printed sources, only one of which was owned by Hanson (146). The fourth chapter focuses on manuscript sources utilised by Hanson, including some which are proved to have been widely circulated, and others which now only survive in his miscellany. The book is finished off with a brief section on the aforementioned recipes and other utilitarian items, including rare recipes for coloured ink, the “stink bait” which gives this work part of its title, and other items which draw attention to Hanson’s work as a professional scribe and legal clerk for residents of his village. A detailed conclusion that draws together the many threads and different uses of this book is also included.
May and Marotti’s work has much to commend it. As the authors themselves point out, to draw attention to Hanson’s household miscellany is to highlight a valuable (and often overlooked) part of early modern life—that for the vast majority of those who were literate, it was still an inherently scribal culture (239). The household miscellany book at the centre of the analysis is a rare survivor, particularly as it is the work of a literate yeoman of the emerging middle class, who was not based in London, who was not a member of the gentry or the aristocracy, and who was writing for his own small household and surrounding community in rural North England. Despite this, Hanson’s miscellany demonstrates how well connected the average literate householder was to events of both local and national, and in some cases international, significance. Although Hanson never set foot outside of Yorkshire, his household book highlights a keen awareness of the politics of his day, and the authors make a convincing case for moving away from the London-centric view of this era that has previously dominated our understanding of scribal culture.
One thing that would have benefited the analysis is a more detailed discussion of the religious influences behind the miscellany, which would have surely been an important factor in the day-to-day lives of Hanson and his family. The authors briefly discuss the question of religious allegiance and the religious politics of the time, dismissing the possibility that Hanson had any Catholic leanings (19-20), concluding that by putting a pro-Armada poem into his own collection “Hanson in effect signalled his religio-political loyalty to the crown” (183). However, the presence of other works, such as the poems of Lord Vaux (170-72), the epitaph of the earl of Pembroke (d.1570) (163-69) and an awareness of key figures of the lay Catholic network such as the Talbots (175) hint that, at the very least, Hanson had a more nuanced awareness of the religious politics of his time than he has perhaps been credited with, and that there may be more to be discovered here.
The transcription of the wide range of ballads and other sources in the volume is particularly valuable, offering a rare glimpse of a predominantly oral culture, as well as casting valuable light on the importance of circulated material amongst literate householders in the early modern period. The transcribed rare printed material accounts for about a quarter of the contents of the miscellany, and lays significant ground and scope for future research. Overall, the book is a detailed, interesting and valuable contribution to our understanding of early modern scribal culture, both locally and nationally, and will be of interest to a wide range of early modern scholars, both literary and historical.