An important part of the life of any library is the acquiring of new items for the collection. So far this year we have been very fortunate in having several interesting items donated. We were especially delighted to receive a wonderful “Commonplace Book” as a donation from Philip and Susie Wingfield. It is handwritten and appears to be late 18th Century. At the moment the author is unknown, but we have some clues. A commonplace book was primarily a private collection of information. This one is quite literary and contains sections of letters, poetry and elements of the eighteenth-century play “School for scandal”. There is even some Shakespeare in there. Commonplace books were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing it into a book. They have been kept from antiquity and were particularly popular during the Renaissance and up to the nineteenth century. They are like scrapbooks but filled with all sorts of handwritten items. The contents might range from notes, proverbs, adages, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, to prayers, legal formulae and recipes. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s personal comments or responses. As such, they provide a fascinating insight into the mind, household and life of the creator.
By the early eighteenth century they had become an information management device in which a note-taker stored quotations, observations and definitions. They were used in private households to collate ethical or informative texts, sometimes alongside recipes or medical formulae. As you can see, the handwriting is not just beautiful, it is also clear and legible.
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