Early Modern Studies exhibition

Display case 2: Cultures of Knowledge

The University of Reading’s collections contain some striking examples of the ways in which the expansion of the market for printed books facilitated the dissemination of knowledge.

The Natura Brevium (a medieval collection on writs) is here printed with other standard works on the law (such as Littleton’s Tenures) that would be of use to landed gentlemen in a litigious age. This copy of 1534 was clearly put to practical uses, but it was also valued as an object and has painted and gilded headings and capitals.

William Lawson’s The Country House-wives Garden (London, 1618; 1653) was the first horticultural publication addressed to women. This edition of Lawson’s work is printed with pamphlets by Gervase Markham (a prolific writer of ‘self-help’ manuals), which was common: presumably they were sold separately or as a collection.

Another ‘library’ of useful information is The Compleat Herbal, a translation of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort’s (1656-1708) Institutiones Rei Herbaria. As the title-page makes clear, this was published serially (between 1716 and 1730). It has fine illustrations, but is otherwise a humble quarto that makes maximum use of the available space.

Francis Wise’s (1695-1767) A letter to Dr Mead concerning some antiquities in Berkshire (1738) was concerned with the recovery of England’s Anglo-Saxon past, arguing that the still-enigmatic White Horse of Uffington was made in A.D. 871. His methods (such as recording local folklore on ‘Wayland’s Smithy’) were innovative, but they were mocked by the author of The Impertinence and Imposture of Modern Antiquaries Display'd (1739, also in this volume), who argued that such ‘hunting after antiquities’ was a kind of covert popery.

List of exhibits

Natura breuium : the old tenures. Lyttylton tenures. The new talys. The articles upon the new talys. Diversyte of courtes. Justyce of peace. The chartuary. Court baron. Court of hundrede. Returna breuium. The ordynaunce for takyng of fee in the escheker. And fyrste a table to all these vii bokes. [London : prentyd by W. Rastell, 1534]. RESERVE--347.9-FIT

The country house-wives garden, containing rules for herbs, and seeds, of common use, with their times and seasons when to set and sow them : together with the husbandry of bees, published with secrets very necessary for every housewife, as also divers new knots for gardens ... London : E. Brewster, 1653. MERL LIBRARY RESERVE--3514-AGR

The compleat herbal : or, The botanical institutions of Mr Tournefort, chief botanist to the late French King. Carefully translated from the original Latin. With large additions from Ray, Gerard, Parkinson, and others, the most celebrated moderns … [London] : Printed by John Nutt, and sold by J. Morphew ..., 1716-1717. RESERVE--581.634-TOU

A letter to Dr Mead concerning some antiquities in Berkshire ; particularly shewing that the White Horse, which gives name to the Vale, is a monument of the West-Saxons, made in memory of a great victory obtained over the Danes A.D. 871. By Francis Wise. Oxford : Printed for Thomas Wood, 1738. RESERVE--913.4229-WIS

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