‘Shakespeare’s encyclopedia’

As Julius Glanville’s interest suggests, the story and the journey of ‘Properties’ does not end with the Tudor era. As far as we know, no editions of the Latin text were printed in England, and there is no evidence that scribes made new manuscript copies of the Latin ‘Properties’ or of Properties in that country after the end of the fifteenth century. For this reason it is usually claimed that Bartholomew disappeared from the English literary scene after 1582. Later evidence shows, however, that the printed edition of 1582 is not followed by the tidy demise that the literature suggests. Manuscripts of Properties used and abused by people unknown to us over recent centuries, further published adaptations of the work, and specific references to it by known readers testify to the work’s prestige and commodification as a historical curiosity.[114] In the eighteenth century, England’s ancient buildings, historical documents and national heroes again came to be valued as an important legacy from the nation’s past. Thomas Hearne (1678–1735), one antiquary who expressed concern at the loss of England’s medieval manuscripts, pleaded for the re-establishment of an Antiquarian Society of scholars working together to preserve them, such as that founded by Archbishop Parker in 1572.[115] From the seventeenth and into the nineteenth centuries, antiquarians in England and on the continent included Bartholomew among noteworthy authors.[116] English readers continued to make adaptations of it, and claims for it, up to the time of Robert Steele in the 1880s. The belief that Bartholomew was a member of an English aristocratic family may have contributed to the attempts by early Shakespeare scholars — Douce, Anders and Furnivall, followed by Steele, Matrod and Se Boyar — to sustain the view that Bartholomew was a genuine source for Shakespeare, to the extent that the English could not understand Shakespeare without the medieval work as a guide.[117]

Individuals left the mark of their ownership or patronage of ‘Properties’ on individual copies. One of these is a copy of the 1535 printed edition of Properties (see Figure 7). This has the forged signature of Shakespeare at the top right-hand corner of the title page — ‘William Shakspeare his Booke 1597’ — and the library stamp of Joseph Banks in the centre. The forgery dates from the late eighteenth century; the imprimatur of Joseph Banks from a few decades later. The use of Properties as a site for the forgery helps to illumine the role ‘Properties’ could play in  an era when the production of counterfeit  medieval  texts,  such as

Figure 7: Title-page and part of Table of Contents, Bartholomeus De Proprietatibus Rerum. Printed by Thomas Berthelet, 1535. Copy BL 456.a.1 formerly owned by Joseph Banks.Figure 7: Title-page and part of Table of Contents, Bartholomeus De Proprietatibus Rerum. Printed by Thomas Berthelet, 1535. Copy BL 456.a.1 formerly owned by Joseph Banks.

MacPherson’s ‘Ossian’, and Thomas Chatterton’s ‘Rowley’ poems, exploited and reflected a fashion for the medieval gothic.[118] It was also a time of fashionable interest in Shakespeare as a ‘primitive’ English genius who, it was assumed, must have had access to Batman’s edition. As Se Boyar points out, Douce had praised Bartholomew as ‘our English Pliny’ and used the compilation to elucidate passages in Shakespeare’s plays. William-Henry Ireland and his family capitalised on the fashion for Shakespeare by buying up sixteenth-century books and papers to put together a ‘library’ of works containing the forged signature of Shakespeare.[119] The copy of Berthelet’s edition of ‘Properties’ shown here is among these works.[120]

The title-page illustrated in Figure 7 includes not only the signature of Shakespeare forged by Ireland, but also the genuine stamp of the travelling botanist Joseph Banks (as do the title-pages of other copies of the printed editions in his collection, including that of 1495, bequeathed by him to the library of the British Museum). This emphasises the question of Bartholomew’s continuing authority for educated gentry. We do not think of Banks as ‘medieval’ in his world-view but, rather, as a modern European open to the novelty of the antipodes; yet he had more than one copy of Bartholomaeus in his scientific library. Banks was a voyager and enquirer into the world who lived at a turning point in the way scientific knowledge was conceptualised and systematised — a position comparable to that of Columbus, who knew of Ptolemy but took D’Ailly’s Imago Mundi on his westward voyage. For Banks, Bartholomew could still be worth owning as ‘our English Pliny’, the transmitter of knowledge from esteemed scholars of the early and medieval Christian era, and the promulgator of a once-enduring Christian image of the world.

We can conclude that, although Bartholomew’s position in the early-modern hall of fame was partly founded on error and prejudice, there are some important continuities in the English reception of ‘Properties’ that help to explain its passage across daunting cultural barriers. The printed editions of 1495 and 1535, in the current English dialects of the London region, each carried Bartholomew’s authority and reputation into another cultural context and readership. As a financial venture, the printing of Properties could succeed through the cooperation of a close network of investors and other interested parties. There is evidence that during Henry VIII’s reign, the king, government and church were keen to build a basis for English autonomy not only in religion but also in language, history and legend, landscape and cultural achievements. By claiming Bartholomew as a native-born Englishman and writer, antiquaries and churchmen such as John Leland and John Bale were able to construct an identity for him and his work that supported such nationalistic efforts. ‘Properties’ as a printed book survived increasing scrutiny of the press in Henry VIII’s time partly because, though a Catholic work, its practical utility answered a need of the times. Moral interpretations implied in the glosses were no longer attached to the text and thus the text did not need to be associated only with the preaching of Catholic priests and friars; its scope and content could still cast a flattering mantle of omniscience over those who patronised it. Solomonic wisdom was still an ideal connected with nobility, and existing knowledge derived from antiquity underwent a process of accommodation rather than rejection. We might consider the likelihood that Stephen Batman, like patrons of ‘Properties’ in the fourteenth century, was endowing his patron, Lord Hunsdon, with a flattering mantle of wisdom appropriate for one of England’s chief noblemen.

In Batman uppon Bartholome we see Bartholomew’s representation of the world on the one hand held out to yet another generation of readers as an authoritative text, by a churchman and scholar; and on the other hand partially retracted or modified by him to bring it into line with the new array of printed knowledge circulating in his own day. Batman’s additions and marginal comments constitute a display of his own intellectual property — and perspicacity. Whereas Bartholomew had been compiling his work for a growing brotherhood of homeless preachers involved in a new kind of Christian outreach, Stephen Batman’s many comments on local objects and topical matters sharply reflect his own domestic life, work and professional interests.

In Batman’s as in Bartholomew’s day, readers’ mental horizons were created by assumptions about the finite nature of the world and its physical extent. Sponsors — whether Pope Alexander IV, King Henry VII or Queen Elizabeth I — sent out travellers for reasons that were political and commercial as well as religious, in both eras. The passion for tangible evidence of other places existing beyond known limits, and the wonder they evoked, suggests an extension of mental boundaries comparable to that of the early Franciscans and Dominicans as they pushed beyond the borders of Christendom.




[114] For example, in 1607 and 1608 Edmund Topsell adapted the work of Gesner, who had drawn heavily on ‘Properties’, to produce The historie of foure footed beastes, and The historie of serpents.

[115] Brockhurst, 1947, p.421.

[116] Wadding, Annales minorum (1625) vol.iii, p.238 records ‘B.Glainvillus’, author of DPR 1367; Wadding, Scriptores Ordinis minorum (1650), pp.49–50; Quétif & Echard, Scriptores Ordinis Predicatorum (1721) vol.i, pp.49–50; Fabricius, Bibl. Lat. Mediae et Infimae Aetatis (1746) vol.i, pp.479–80; Thomas Hearne, A Collection of Curious Discourses (1720); Thomas Warton, History of English Poetry (1781) vol.ii, p.128, vol.iii, p.393; J. H. Sbaralea (OFM) Supplementum … ad Scriptores Trium Ordinum S. Francisci (1806), pp.120–1; A. Jourdain, Recherches Critiques sur l’Age et sur l’Origine des Traductions Latines d’Aristote (1819), pp.35, 398–400: all these citations are gratefully borrowed from Brockhurst, 1952, p.18.

[117] Douce, Francis, Illustrations of Shakspeare, and Ancient Manners, London: Burt Franklin, 1839 (1968); Anders, H. R. D., Shakespeare's Books, 1904; Furnivall, R., “On Puck's 'Swifter than the moon's sphere' and Shakspere's astronomy”, New Shakspere Transactions 1, no.7 (1879): 431–50; Steele, 1893; Matrod, 1912; Se Boyar, 1920; see Chapter 2 above.

[118] Drabble, pp.604, 187–8.

[119] The Ireland family worked together on the project to fabricate a collection of personal papers, library, and amplified canon of plays, allegedly Shakespeare’s, for commercial gain. The forgeries were exposed by the Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone (1741–1812) after an exchange of published statements that included an explanation by Ireland that was also largely fabricated. Ireland does not, it appears, value the works he buys for themselves, but for their usefulness in his project: Ireland, William-Henry, The Confessions of William-Henry Ireland, containing the Particulars of his Fabrication of the Shakspeare Manuscripts, London: 1805, pp.99–103; see also Ingleby, C. Marsfield, The Shakspeare Fabrications, London: 1859, pp.194–201.

[120] BL shelfmark 456.b.15.