Copying, Letter-Books and the Scribal Circulation of Letters

  • James Daybell
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


Early modern letters survive to us today in range of material forms. While multiple copies of an individual letter may be textually identical, one might survive as an‘original’ letter sent ostensibly to its first reader; another as a copy made by the sender or recipient and preserved in a formal ‘letter-book’; and ten others might be copies — extant as separates or contained within manuscript ‘miscellanies’ — made by compilers, later readers who read it through scribal publication. Many scholars (literary critics as well as historians) use text from sent letters, letter-books and miscellanies almost interchangeably without noting the important differences inflected by nuances in scribal status. The letter-book as genre was intimately connected with bureaucratic practice, concerned with the preservation of outgoing and incoming letters for purposes of record. At the same time, the selection of letters to be copied, and the ways in which correspondence was ordered to represent an individual and his or her epistolary connections in a particular light has a powerful impact on the ways in which we should read and interpret letter-books. Thus letter-books, which form the focus of section one of this chapter, preserved single copies of letters sent or received by an individual or group. Copies of certain letters, however, enjoyed wider circulation in manuscript (and print) beyond the named addressee of a letter and the relative privacy of a letter-book.


Material Letter Individual Letter British Library Early Modern Period Paper Book 
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Copyright information

© James Daybell 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Daybell
    • 1
  1. 1.Plymouth UniversityUSA

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