keeping up with the de Joneses

A post at Languagehat put me in mind of something Eamon Duffy said on Sunday: he’s working on the manuscript annotations in late mediaeval prayer books. These were surprisingly common, especially after the invention of printing. People wrote all sorts of things in the margins of their books: often little calendrical notes, but sometimes whole love poems or diary entries. How much were they, I asked: was buying one like owning a television, or owning a car? It was like owning a car, really; and there was, as with cars today, a thriving second-hand market. Printed books were obviously less desirable than hand-written ones. So the early printed ones were designed to look as much as possible like calligraphy; and one of the ways in which this was done was to illustrate them with line drawings. These looked OK in black and white. But an ambitious owner could then hot-rod his breviary by colouring them in as if they had been illuminated by real monks.

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