This post was written by Andrew S. Keener, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Santa Clara University. A recipient of the Katharine F. Pantzer Jr. Fellowship in Descriptive Bibliography, Keener was a 2016–2017 Houghton Library Visiting Fellow.
The sixteenth-century scholar Gabriel Harvey has fascinated researchers of early modern reading and handwriting for decades, but an investigation of several of his books at three libraries offers a fresh picture of his vernacular language study, and how it involved drama. Caroline Bourland published an essay on this topic in 1940, identifying a number of language manuals that once belonged to Harvey and which he annotated copiously with an array of marks and his characteristic autograph. Held today at the Huntington Library, these printed guides to French, Spanish, and Italian have received recent attention in interesting essays by Joyce Boro and Warren Boutcher, and alongside Harvey’s copy of John Florio’s Firste Fruites, too.
However, one of these language-learning publications, a translated Italian grammar printed in 1575 by the French Huguenot refugee Thomas Vautrollier, is distinct in that Harvey grouped it with several Continental dramatic publications. If we imaginatively reassemble this sammelband (a volume of multiple, bound-together titles), as András Kiséry has, it attests not only to this very particular reader’s interest in exemplary conversation, but also to a project in language learning.
The octavo format of the Italian grammar sets it apart from the other Huntington books, which are all quartos. Also, unlike the others, it has not been numbered by Harvey, possibly suggesting it served a different, if related, purpose. An inscription on the Italian grammar’s title page reads “Axiophili prima ars Linguae Italicae. Grammatica. Comoediae. Tragoediae,” meaning “Axiophilus’s [Harvey’s nickname for himself] first technique for the Italian language. Grammar. Comedies. Tragedies.” An English inscription at the end of the book adds: “No finer, or pithier Exa[m]ples, then in ye Excellent Comedies, & Tragedies following: full of sweet, & wise Discourse.” These inscriptions led Bourland to speculate that when Harvey owned the book, “some Italian plays were bound with the grammar” (94).
During a period of research supported by the Katharine F. Pantzer Jr. Fellowship in Descriptive Bibliography, I found this to be demonstrably true, and that Houghton Library shares the remainder of the grammar-drama sammelband with the Folger Shakespeare Library. These books have received much less scholarly attention than Harvey’s Huntington language manuals, but the evidence suggests they constituted a key part of his lessons in—or, considerations of—foreign vernaculars.
According to the above entry in the 1834 Richard Heber library auction catalogue (*65JC-156), Harvey’s Italian Grammer was once joined to several Continental plays in octavo, some in Italian, and some in Latin. I have not yet reconstructed the sammelband’s entire provenance history, but the texts appeared here “in 1 vol,” each marked with the annotator’s telltale script. They are: Lodovico Dolce’s Italian renditions of Medea and Thieste (Venice, 1566); Erasmus’s Latin translations of Euripides’s Hecuba and Iphigenia, printed by Aldus Manutius (Venice, 1507); and, though apparently separated before the Heber auction, an Italian edition of Terence’s comedies (Venice, 1549). Today, the Dolce book portion (*H.a.2) is at the Folger Shakespeare Library (see online cover-to-cover here), and the Euripides (*EC.H2623.Zz507e) and Terence (*EC.H2623.Zz546t) segments belong to Houghton. Though long obscure, this binding arrangement attests to Harvey’s “prima ars,” or first technique, of vernacular instruction extending through schoolbooks (in translation) into the published drama of Dolce, Euripides, and Terence (also in translation).
To confirm what I found in the Heber catalogue, I took measurements of three faint, reddish-colored crayon marks appearing at roughly two-centimeter intervals on the fore-edges of the dramatic octavos at the Houghton (see image above). Then, I compared these measurements to what I saw in Harvey’s playbooks at the Folger. It was a match! Unfortunately, any supporting evidence that the Huntington copy’s paper might supply was obliterated when the leaves were gilded over, but the marginalia leave little doubt that this is the book in question. “Ut de hac Terentij tralatione sentirem honorificentius; fecit Aldi exquisita Editio,” Harvey wrote on the Italian grammar’s final leaf, referring to the copy of Terence once appended, and now at Houghton. Additionally, reddish-brown markings appear throughout the book’s text, matching the marks on the Folger and Houghton volumes.
The extensive handwriting in this sammelband appears in English, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, and bridges from language practice into a broader appreciation of contemporary Continental drama, suggesting the language study was working, or at least that it was reinforcing previous skills. For example, in the image above, Harvey praises the Italian comedies of Pietro Aretino, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Ludovico Ariosto in his copy of Euripides. Altogether, Harvey’s choice to join an Italian grammar to Italian plays offers an illustration of how language instruction and drama could overlap and intersect in the print and manuscript cultures of early modern England.