Interpreting Error: A Stationers' Company Conference

  • Venue: Court Room, Stationers' Hall, Ave Maria Lane, London EC4M 7DD
  • Start: Fri, 29 Jul 2022 09:00:00 BST
  • End: Fri, 29 Jul 2022 19:00:00 BST


Keynote: Helen Smith (York) 


9-10.45am Ruth Frendo (Stationers’ Company)

The Stationers’ Company Archive

This talk and workshop session introduces the archive of the Stationers’ Company, outlines and interprets its records. Some of its key documents and records will be on display for attendees to inspect and read.

10.45-11.15 Coffee Break

11.15-11.45 Panel 1

Jennifer Richards (Newcastle)

Accidental Nashe 

This paper will explore Nashe's attitude to error in the printing house: his attentiveness to (and satirical exploitation of) error in the work of Gabriel Harvey, and to the unintended errors in his own work. I want to share the kind of errors and stop-press corrections the Nashe team have found in their collation of the many copies of his work, which challenge (a) the distinction we usually make between 'accidental' and 'substantive' variants, and (b) the silence of the literary text. I will make the case for Nashe's distinctive imaginative print-awareness, and of the visual play and meaningfulness of printed marks on his pages: Nashe's inventive use of the bracket and colon, I will propose, is an example of the early use of the emoji!

11.50-12.50 Panel 2

Frances Eastwood (Cambridge)

Cobblers! A printing anomaly in The Coblers Prophesie (1594)

The Coblers Prophesie, ascribed to Robert Wilson, carries a colophon which attributes its printing in 1594 to John Danter for Cuthbert Burbie. Signature F2r contains a striking anomaly. The printer fills the white space on the page with text in an outsized font. The anomalous stage directions signal the mayhem which breaks out at court and the madness of the cobbler’s wife Zelota:

A cry within help, murther, murther, Raph comes running out, Ennius after him with his dagger drawen, after Ennius Zelota the Coblers wife, who snatches the dagger from Ennius, and runs rauing. (F2r)

The gargantuan font sprawls over seven lines. The colossal directions are one of many accidentals of the printing process. The outsize print may be attributed to a compositor’s miscalculation. The problem appears to have arisen as the result of an erroneous casting off during a shared print run. Nevertheless, the typography becomes integral to the reading experience. A practical solution to a printing house error extravagantly emphasises a moment of dramatic excess on stage and the monstrous type generates an embodied and theatrical reading. The question then arises whether this material depiction of indecorous expansiveness is deliberate. It could be argued that the lines capture the startling manner in which this scene was performed, providing a brief but illuminating insight into early modern dramatic performance. The printer’s practical intervention may briefly lift the veil on early modern staging practice and the material text could be seen to momentarily mediate the experience of Wilson’s play in performance. My paper will test the validity of this supposition and consider the effect of the compositor’s improvisation on reader reception.

Alex Plane (Newcastle/National Library of Scotland)

Errors fixed for a King? Corrections in printed works from King James VI and I’s library

My PhD research seeks to reconstruct the library of King James VI and I. Having examined hundreds of his books, one of the principal areas of evidence which has emerged is that of manuscript corrections to printed errors. These corrections, in a range of hands, are often found in royal presentation copies, suggesting that they may be the work of the authors themselves, as opposed to later readers. Some of these corrections are for simple printing errors, but others create substantial changes in textual meaning. Several examples of the latter can be found in encomiastic poetry addressed to the king which survives in very few copies. I seek to understand what this might tell us about the status of error-correction at this time. King James was famous not only for his literariness, but also for his investment in the processes of textual composition, correction, and printing. Can we interpret these manuscript interventions in printed presentation copies as a kind of ‘performative correction’, employed by authors to demonstrate to the king their own involvement in creative and/or accurate textual production?

12.50-13.45 Lunch

13.45-14.45 Panel 3

Alice Leonard (Coventry)

Redemptive Errors

This paper examines the exceptional amount of annotation left by the Dean of Windsor, Christopher Wren (1589–1658), in Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646), held at the Bodleian Library (O 2.26 Art. Seld.). Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica was an ambitious encyclopaedia of error that gave unprecedented attention to mistaken belief in all categories of thought, from medicine and superstition to the natural world and astronomy. Such devotion to enumerating error attracted its own correctors. Wren’s interventions take many forms, from highlighting misprints, striking out words or phrases, to challenging Browne conceptually in discursive annotations that often fill the margins. Rather than something shameful, error is shown to be an important model of improvement of early scientific knowledge. Wren’s responses to Browne’s assertions are full, detailed and sometimes acerbic, but always make the correction clear for future readers. This paper investigates the redemptive nature of error and correction in this copy. What Wren sees as Browne’s errors are redemptive because they are worth correcting, even if they are small. There is something moral in this pursuit, in the stand Wren takes against error, and in the unique document he painstakingly creates that does not seek to excise or hide error, but makes its correction useable for other truth-seekers.

Mathieu D.S. Bouchard (McGill)

 John Hughes’s ‘Errata’ in the 1715 Works of Mr. Edmund Spenser

Between 1695 and 1720, the London bookseller Jacob Tonson acquired copyrights for a series of early modern English authors and proceeded to publish new editions of their works. The Works of Mr. William Shakespeare, for instance, were published in 1709 and reissued in 1714. The Works of Mr. Francis Beaumont, and Mr. John Fletcher appeared in 1711. In 1715, Tonson published The Works of Mr. Edmund Spenser, in six duodecimo volumes edited by John Hughes. Critics have made much of the similarities between these editions: all were printed in compact, multi-volume sets, with similar typefaces and handsome engravings by European artists. Each edition contained a biographical essay about its respective author. Their uniformity, it would seem, was part of Tonson’s attempt to craft a new English canon for his eighteenth-century readership.

Yet Hughes’s Spenser deviated from the standard format of Tonson’s Works in one important detail: it contained a list of ‘Errata,’ printed as the last item in the edition’s extensive prefatory materials. Almost none of the literary works published by Tonson during this period contained such lists. This paper examines the exceptional inclusion of the list in the 1715 Spenser. There is, of course, something about the Faerie Queene that almost demands the inclusion of an ‘errata.’ The poem, after all, allegorizes Error itself, and warns against the perils of misguided readings. Yet, as this paper will argue, Hughes’s list served another important function: it helped craft the image of Hughes as a meticulous editor, one whose careful attention to minutiae extended to every printed detail of his edition. In an early example of editorial self-fashioning, he harnessed the textual apparatus of the 1715 edition, and the ‘Errata,’ in particular, to signal his control over the text and to promote his scholarly reputation.

14.45-15.00 Break

15.00– 16.00 Panel 4

Grace Murray (York)

Not Knowing How-To: Errors in Advertisements in Early Modern How-To Books

In David Browne’s epistle to the reader in his 1638 writing manual, he invites students wishing to learn more to consult him at the Cat and Fiddle in Fleet Street. At the very end of the book, a lengthy correction is appended: ‘Since the first sheet heereof was printed, the Professor hath removed to a countrie house in Kemmington, which adjoyneth to Newington-butts, (alitle above the signe of Iacobs Well, about a mile from London, and halfe a mile from Westminster) where hee usually attendeth everie morning till ten a clock’. In this paper I argue that Browne’s corrected advertisement highlights the difficulty of keeping the promises of educational books, printed to help both local, contemporary readers, and the far-flung future generations who used these texts decades after publication. I will examine this and a survey of similar seventeenth-century erroneous advertisements, which included fraudulent recommendations for apothecaries supposedly inserted without the author’s knowledge, and ‘ghost advertisements’, or invitations to consult with an author preserved in print for years after their death. These quickly outdated invitations to readers shed new light on how-to literature as a genre that struggled to understand its relationship to print, well into the seventeenth century.

Michael Winter (Newcastle)

 ‘remembring alwaies, it is more easie to finde a fault then to amend it’: establishing and correcting errors in John Day’s Certaine Notes set forth.

John Day’s Certaine Notes (1560/65) is a curious publication; it is rather scattered with errors and oddities. Firstly, the printing was paused for several years and when it resumed, a new title was given correcting some of the errors that appeared in the title from 1560! Secondly, it contains some erroneous statements such as ‘this Basse is for children’ when in fact the Bass part is written for broken voices and would be impossible for a child to sing! Thirdly, there are typographical errors in the musical notation as a highlighted by John Milsom (2016).

The presentation will use a single, seemingly egregious, error found in Thomas Tallis’s If Ye Love Me to consider questions around the reliability of John Day’s music compositors. It will consider the fallacy of the primacy of print in scholarly music editing. It will further discuss how an error can be established (not all that straight forward when it comes to music) and what approaches an editor might take in order to accurately correct any errors.

16.00-16.30 Tea

16.30-17.30: Panel 5

Anette Hagan (National Library of Scotland)

Agnes Campbell (1637-1715): Scottish business woman and flawed printer

Campbell was an exceptionally successful businesswoman who, as a printer, served as the King’s Printer for Scotland and then as printer to the General Assembly of Scotland. Despite this track record, she regularly produced howling errors in her work This paper will situate the many flaws in her printing work in the context of her hugely successful career in printing and papermaking and position her experience both in the context of the Scottish booktrade and, more briefly, in comparative perspective to her contemporaries in the English booktrade.

Giles Bergel (Oxford)

Error, erasure and compromise in The Antiquities of Warwickshire.

Sir William Dugdale and Thomas Warren’s Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656) is a substantial achievement of historical scholarship and the printer’s art, embodying decades of learning in 800 folio pages. Like all complex early-modern books it inevitably contains errors, which are only partially enumerated in the book’s Errata statement.

Many errors relate to the book’s 200 letterpress genealogical diagrams, one of its most appealing features to its intended readership among the Warwickshire gentry. It is known from Dugdale’s diary – and is apparent from a comparison of printed book with the surviving manuscript draft -  that the diagrams presented particular challenges for the printer Thomas Warren. Between book and manuscript we can see the author and printer engaged in a dialogue about how best to fit content to page, resulting in a range of ingenious typographical solutions, large and small errors and more-or-less workable compromises. It also lead to losses - erasure of some of the more “difficult’ or notionally inconsequential branches of Warwickshire family trees. More positively the dialogue also indicates what, as far as author and printer were concerned, mattered the most as the book went to press, testifying also to the affordances and possibilities of antiquarian printing within an economy of patronage.

This paper will examine the printing of the Antiquities in relation to our general understanding of the processes of printing and correcting of the time -  in particular the role of the author in the printing-house – and ask how far the Antiquities are a special case. It will address the book’s reception through looking at some manuscript annotations, later editions and through the book’s usage as a handbook of genealogical information that was cited in legal proceedings. Comparing the book’s monumental reputation with its troubled birth, the paper will conclude with some thoughts on its digital remediation, and its own potential for error, transformation and compromise.

17.30-18.00 Drinks

18.00 Helen Smith (York)

'Making Errors', a talk to celebrate the launch of Errors of the Common Press, Helen's letterpress-printed chapbook

If you would like to attend, just send an email to Ruth Connolly at and Ruth Frendo at to register. Conference free. 


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