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tessa whitehouse and n.h. keeble eds., Textual Transformations: Purposing and Repurposing Books from Richard Baxter to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Essays in Honour of Isabel Rivers

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. xv +260 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-880881-7
Thomas Munck
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WHITEHOUSE, TESSA and KEEBLE, N.H. eds. Textual Transformations: Purposing and Repurposing Books from Richard Baxter to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Essays in Honour of Isabel Rivers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. xv +260 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-880881-7

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1The history of print has in recent years transformed our understanding not only of the production and marketing of new texts, but also the reprinting, adaptation and creative responses to existing works. This volume contains twelve studies of textual transformation, ranging from the later seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. The transformations all relate to works in English, but two chapters also address cultural transmission to and from other European languages, and so reach out towards the broader comparative context which is so important in understanding the transnational interests of Enlightenment readers.

2As the editors make clear from the start, the technical aspects of printing (paper supplies, movable type, proof-reading and production) are not what this volume of essays is about. Instead, it focuses on authorial intentions and subsequent editorial interventions. It also provides many insights into the often overlapping roles of sponsor, printer and publisher. In the opening chapter, James Raven discusses the career and influence of a hugely successful, shrewd and enterprising publisher in London, John Nourse. Active for fifty years until his death in 1780, Nourse not only dealt with a wide range of English books, but also promoted texts in French and in translation (notably Montaigne's Essays and some of Voltaire's works). His international reputation was such that his name was even used as a cover for books that were in reality produced illegally on the continent by publishers trying to evade French censors.

3The long-life success of some texts was impressive. Thus Henry Maundrell's description of A journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, first published in 1703, became what Mark Burden describes as an unexpected steady-seller in a number of European languages, no doubt because of the 'sacred geography' that it described so persuasively. Some authors recognised new methods of engaging their readers from the start: thus Thomas Keymer shows how Richardson, as a novelist and printer, effectively exploited the overlap between manuscript and print, both in thematic terms and in the use of misaligned type to represent the handwriting of a person in an alarming state of mind (for example in Clarissa). By such means, Richardson not only encouraged his readers to consider different kinds of text, but also fostered an active dialogue with readers that led to revisions and enhancements of his own.

4Readers were of course always very important, but we can rarely be sure who they really were. A chapter by Christopher Reid gives a detailed account of the politics of setting up and maintaining a subscription library in Bury St Edmunds in the 1790s. Intensive feuding between the most influential subscribers soon resulted in a split into two competing libraries. These co-existed uncomfortably for some time, demonstrating the irreconcilable differences between conservative and slightly more liberal readers. Reid also notes that both libraries were often described as 'public' - reminding us that, in eighteenth-century usage, a subscription library was clearly not 'private', but neither would it match more recent criteria of 'public' ownership.

5The proliferation of print ensured a growing awareness of the potential for sustained dialogue with readers, as well as self-projection. The two authors mentioned in the title are themselves interesting examples of this. N.H. Keeble discusses Baxter's troubled career as a dissenting preacher and theologian trying constructively to transform public narratives of non-conformism, while seeking to avoid the more serious accusations of sedition that might silence him. By contrast, in the last chapter in this volume, James Vigus examines how Coleridge wavered in his evaluation of his own efforts to rewrite Schiller's Wallenstein plays into what he intended to be a Shakespearian mould - an extraordinary attempt self-consciously to reach across both time and language-barriers, while also creating something new.

6Eighteenth-century London became well known for commercial innovations in textual presentation. Several chapters deal with new genres, noting the role of poetic miscellanies, abridgements and serials aimed at more popular markets. As Rosemary Dixon makes clear in respect of John Tillotson's sermons, traditional devotional texts could be made to appear timeless, simply by means of visually modernised reprintings. Devotional texts and personal accounts might be adapted to suit changing contexts, but not always easily: Tessa Whitehouse notes the difficulties surrounding the revision and publication of nonconformist memorial texts when too many people were involved.

7As will be clear, this volume has much to offer readers with interests in English literary studies or early modern cultural history. Less clear is whether the volume as a whole maps out the broader questions of how we identify, research and interpret 'textual transformation' and the malleable durability of some texts. The short (10-page) editorial Introduction rightly warns us against treating early modern texts as static: the context in which texts were written and published, the reception they had amongst readers, and (for successful publications) their subsequent dynamic revisions, adaptations, re-purposing, imitations, rebuttals and sometimes attempted revocation are all an essential part of understanding how some texts acquired a life of their own, often totally outside the control of the original author, sometimes continuing for generations. But we are offered no general observations regarding how far textual transformation might also apply in other fields (for example history or philosophy); whether the kinds of transformation described here were unusually common in English-language texts (or even just those published in London); and whether/why it was so much more significant from 1660 into the early nineteenth century. All the chapters have something interesting to say about case studies; but how, and how far, we might use 'textual transformation' as a key to wider research is not yet clear.

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Thomas Munck, « tessa whitehouse and n.h. keeble eds., Textual Transformations: Purposing and Repurposing Books from Richard Baxter to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Essays in Honour of Isabel Rivers »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 78 | 2021, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2021, consulté le 31 janvier 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Thomas Munck

University of Glasgow

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