Before we could reenact the process of first printing some of Donne’s poems, we needed to reenact the process of copying the first printers’ most likely manuscript sources. So the class divided into groups. We called one group the Cambridge group, or “the Coote group of Bow Street, Covent Garden”—so named for the earliest recorded owner of Cambridge University Library MS Add. 5778 (manuscript C2, according to the Donne Variorum sigla). Like the original printers, the VCU students tended to rely on the text derived from this manuscript when they were typesetting. But neither relied on it entirely. Both occasionally took a word or something from a second text (before taking more from a third, introduced late in the process). No exact match for this second source survives. But one of the artifacts that matches it most closely is Trinity College, Dublin MS 877, Part I (DT1). Here’s a peek at the work of one student in the Dublin group, or “the apprentices of the Puckerings’ scribe”—since this part of the Trinity College Dublin manuscript seems to have been written in the same hand responsible for a manuscript once owned by members of a family by the name of Puckering (Trinity College, Cambridge MS R. 3. 12 (CT1)). So here’s one page spread from a VCU student’s replica of DT1, in Dublin:
This may look impressive (pun intended), but it can’t immediately looks as impressive as it is. First, the students in the Dublin group fabricated their manuscript using information from both Mark Bland’s published comments about the book and correspondence with Estelle Gittins at Trinity College, Dublin—in addition to the images available on the Donne Variorum website. You can see printouts from donnevariorum.tamu.edu on the left hand side of the image above. So you’re seeing here a partly digital means of reproducing analog media. More impressive is that the student whose work is shown here made her own ink, using both imported Aleppo oak gall and one of the early-modern recipes available here (the one beginning, “Take a quart of strong wine”).
This student also foraged the goose quills in nearby Byrd Park, named for the 17-18th-century British-Virginian planter and slaver, William Byrd II. She then cleaned, hardened, and cut the quills herself before writing with them.
As if this weren’t enough, she had to write left-handed, making it very difficult, and time consuming, not to smudge the ink as the writing hand trails the written word.