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‘The progress of thy glorious book’: material reading and the play of paratext in Coryats Crudities (1611)


  • I am grateful to Joseph L. Black for his numerous insights after reading drafts of this essay, as well as the two anonymous readers at Renaissance Studies for their helpful and incisive criticisms. Thanks also to Peter Berek, Eugene Hill, and John Lancaster.


Coryats Crudities (1611), a 939-page narrative of its author's five-month journey through Western Europe, is well known as a strange amalgam of euphuistic prose travel writing and a substantial body of ‘Panegyricke Verses’, comprising over eighty mock encomiastic poems written by the likes of Ben Jonson, John Donne, Inigo Jones, and Sir John Harington (among others). Described by Thomas Coryate as a prose and verse ‘miscellany’, the volume enables a variety of readerly strategies for interpreting its mixed-mode form, employing printed marginalia in particular to lend its miscellaneity a playfully referential structure. Material evidence left by seventeenth-century readers, moreover, reveals a complex and imitative paratextual dialogue between the printed marginalia and manuscript additions to the volume. My case study of the extensively annotated copy surviving as Pierpont Morgan Library W 02 B, owned by the poet and writing master John Davies of Hereford and at least three, perhaps four additional seventeenth-century readers, not only recovers valuable early approaches to reading Coryats Crudities, but investigates how those readers responded to various textual stimuli in the volume – from the author's incessant measurements to the satirical mode of the mock panegyrists – to construct the Crudities as both innovative travel book and site of elaborate literary play.