The Last Word

Last word, ink still wet.  I’m kind of sad now to have finished it, but the binding and leaf-laying are still to go.  Still, perfecting my pretty faux Anglicana was fun and I enjoyed how much effort it took to scratch out the words.


The Final Push

“And for as moche as in the wrytyng of the same [book] my penne is worn / myn hande wery & not stedfast myn eyen dimmed with ouermoche lokyng on the whit paper / and my corage not so prone and redy to laboure as hit hath ben.”

From Caxton’s Epilogue to Book III of The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye.

 I first came across this quote while writing on Caxton for my master’s dissertation at Oxford and as I struggled through the final days of writing that, these sentiments remained uppermost in my mind.  They’ve come back to me again as I make the final push towards completing my scrivening of this project ahead of my meeting with my bookmaking instructor Tuesday, when I will finally makes the cover boards for the codex and sew the binding.

One Sheet Down, Eighteen To Go

My first finished full page.  Writing is a lot harder than I first thought it would be.  Even with the sizing, the fibres in my paper tend to catch on the nib of my pen and there are several black blotches where the ink filled in the space behind the fibre.  Still, as slow as the going is, I am enjoying it very much.

In manuscript studies, we use stemma to illustrate the “lineage” of a text.  Starting from the authorial original, new variants to the text are created by changes made (intentionally or not) by scribes.  There are many different ways scribes alter the text, but one of them is errors of omission where a scribe accidentally leaves out a word or a line.  Having worked on my manuscript for just a bit, I can completely understand how manuscripts get “corrupted” in this way.  I’ve already made a couple of “homeoarchy” errors, but I’m getting more careful as I go and I hope I won’t make many more.

For those interested in the palaeography of my manuscript, the basis for my script is the British Library Additional MS 59678, better know as the Winchester Malory.

There are a few reasons for this: first, it is my very favourite manuscript hand.  I’m not sure why.  There are many more elaborate and formal, or easier to copy, but the Winchester scribes’ hands are, to me, the perfect choice for this project.  Second, there are a great number of excellent digital images of the Winchester available from both The British Library’s Treasures In Full page and from the Malory Project.  This gave me a complete spectrum of letter forms (something difficult to find in the scattered few pages of other potential models available to me through Google) with which to work and the images were high-enough resolution that I could print them out and carry them around with me as needed.

The Ruling Problem: Solved

In the interest of time, I’ve settled on a very un-medieval method for getting my lines straight: I’m using a lightbox and a sheet of clear plastic that I ruled with a permanent marker.

It is working wonders!  My lines are beautifully straight and leave no marks.

More Roadblocks: Leaf-laying and Ruling

I took one of my first pages and experimented with gold leaf and ruling.

On one of my initial mock-up pages I tried out ruling with a stylus — this is a method by which you “prick” a manuscript with a knife or sharp point and then “rule” it with a stylus to create the impression of lines that can be written along.  Apparently I am fundamentally unable to to do this without completely messing it up.  My initial mock-up ruled lines were all over the place and in order to make them visible I had to push them so hard that they were visible on the other side.  Normally this wouldn’t be so bad, except my lines don’t need to be the same on each side and that would mess me up later.

My next experiment was with pencil ruling, but this provided some obvious problems: first, the lines were far too dark and obvious for my liking, and second, erasing the lines at all completely ruined the paper by pulling the fibres and destroying the texture.

So, neither of those are a go, and I guess I will have to devise a new method or practice more with the stylus.

The gold leaf turned out much better, but there were a couple of problems with THAT, too.

For one thing, the leaf lays on the page with a much higher profile than I expected.  It’s quite prominent, which is not what I expected considering the medieval pages I’ve seen with leaf on them.  The leaf also stuck to the opposite page when I folded it, which will cause problems for me later.

So, although it looks gorgeous on the red squares and will be awesome when finished, right now it is causing me some headaches.


Cutting Quills: Harder Than It Looks

Especially when you aren’t using real feathers.  For one thing, these fake ones I’m using are very difficult to cut fine enough for my liking.  Typically I use the finest point ballpoint pens available to man, because my handwriting is famously miniscule.  One professor at UTSA resorted to getting a magnifying glass out whenever I brought him things to read, and it wasn’t entirely in jest.  Trying to cut these fake feathers is both scary (I’m using a thick exacto knife blade) and… I can’t think of a word other than icky.  The feeling of trying to scrape down this plastic or whatever it is is like running your nails over a chalkboard.  Needless to say, I’m not exactly keen to spend a lot of time doing this.  I hope real feathers have a different texture and are easier to cut.

I believe I am going to write these attempts off and use a modern calligraphy pen for this project.  I hope some day to get REAL feathers, and try again, but for now I think I have to admit defeat.