The Reading of Books and the Reading of Literature

The Art of Compiling > A Morall Fabletalke

This manuscript, written mostly in Arthur Golding's striking secretary hand, brings together several fables “conveyed ... by speeches attributed too brute Beastes.” If heeded, these fables ought to lead the book's readers down the path of virtue. A Morall Fabletalke beautifully exemplifies the art of compiling, for it collects Aesop's fables, Golding's own animal stories, and tales from a variety of classical sources. More importantly, however, it shows that early modern compilations are inextricable from early modern reading practices. A literary text can be read in terms of the manipulation of preexisting literary forms and the recycling of earlier material.

The first tale of A Morall Fabletalke tells the story of a carrier and his starving horse. The beginning of the fable, its moral, and its biblical connection are marked with rubrication, and it is representative of the fables copied by Golding. What is interesting about these fables is that they do not stop at moralizing; rather, they include a relevant biblical allusion, which in this case is Exodus 5:18. Golding thus forges an intertextual relationship between secular animal stories and Scripture, visibly juxtaposing the classical and the Christian for the fables' interpreters.

Early readers were eager to fill the blank pages following Golding's text. At least two different scribal hands, one of which is shown here, added more fables to A Morall Fabletalke. Although they are not as expertly executed as the story of the carrier and his horse, the additions are fascinating because they reveal the extent to which Golding's text invited augmentation. While ample paper – an expensive commodity in the sixteenth century – begs to be written on, A Morall Fabletalke is not a closed narrative. Instead, it is an open series of vignettes to which other stories and their morals can be added. The manuscript's readers could plant more seeds in this “delectable Garden of morall Philosophy.”

Because there are so many fables in this book, one of its readers and contributors created an incomplete index of animal stories.

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