The Reading of Books and the Reading of Literature

The Art of Compiling > Sixteenth-Century Commonplace Book


Judging by the number of hands, and names, in this commonplace book, it was owned by several people. One of the book's owners used the book to practice his handwriting. After copying out the alphabet, he reproduces and rearranges the prefatory quatrains from six psalms published in Al such psalmes of David as Thomas Sternehold late grome of [the] kinges Maiesties Robes, didd in his life time draw into English Metre (1549). On this folio page, he has reproduced the introductory verse from Psalms 16 and 63 (twice).

The compiler continued copying text from Sternhold's psalms on the next page. Here, we see the prefatory quatrains of Psalms 122, 74, 15, and 20. (Number 74 was actually versified by John Hopkins, whose psalms were included in the same volume as Sternhold's). The rearranged verses can be read as a single, deeply Protestant poem, not as discrete units. This poem showcases the portability of small units of text; they can be recombined to produce new compositions.

What we have here is a text warning against the dangers of fornication in two different scribal hands. When one is tempted with “ffornycatyon, adulterye or unchastnes of lyuyng,” he or she should call sentences of Old Testament scripture to his/her remembrance. The compiler has assembled the relevant Biblical passages together for easy reference.

William Somers was obviously at some point in possession of Al such psalmes of David, as here he has reproduced Psalm 103's prefatory quatrain. If this William Sommers is indeed the famously possessed Nottingham resident, then he probably copied this spiritual salve before he “came to be possessed by meanes of a witch in Worcester shire, who sent a wicked spirit into him, witch [sic.] he called Lucie.”

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