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Kentish Book Culture

Writers, Archives, Libraries and Sociability 1400-1660

Edited By Claire Bartram

This volume explores the writing practices and book collections of a range of individuals in early modern Kent including monks, a mariner and an apothecary as well as members of the gentry and clergy and urban administrators. In a county with ready access to metropolitan, courtly and continental influences, a vibrant provincial book culture flourished, in which literacy was prized and book ownership widespread. Reinforcing the important social role played by the literate and revealing something of their creative potential, the essays gathered here also uncover an appetite for debate, reflected in the books owned, lent, written and published by the Kentish in the period covered. Underpinning all of this is an enduring culture of sociability, centred around the book as an object to be shared.

Interdisciplinary in approach, this collection brings together specialists in the history of the book, literary scholars, social historians and librarians to explore the nature of authorship and the dynamics of the market for print and manuscript books outside London. It demonstrates the rich potential of regional archival study to extend our understanding of medieval and early modern literature.

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Introduction: Kentish Book Culture

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After fruitlessly searching for his copy of Thomas Coryat’s Coryats Crudities Hastily Gobled up in Five Moneths Travells, Henry Oxinden noted, ‘Who hath Coriats Travels?’ Modern-day book-lovers can readily extrapolate that perhaps exasperated comment to, ‘Who on earth did I lend it to? Why haven’t they given it back yet?’ And, ‘Why did I lend it, when its loss was a likely outcome?’1 Despite the advent of the e-book, we, as modern readers, still appreciate the social functions of book-lending, the mutuality expressed in the loan transaction and the conviviality that comes from discussion of a shared reading experience. This kind of sociability is a key aspect of this collection of essays which explores the place of the book in provincial society across the period 1400–1660.

Drawing together essays on literate culture in Kent in one focused volume for the first time, this collection celebrates the rich diversity of literate practice that Kent appears to have fostered in the period under discussion. It also endeavours to extend our understanding of literate culture in a region which has been recognised for the ‘bookishness’ of its social elite as print published writers and for higher than expected book ownership in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.2 Despite Thomas ←1 | 2→Wotton’s assertion of the relevance of William Lambarde’s A Perambulation of Kent (1576) for the gentleman set on self-improvement or public service, the gentry were not the only social group who were interested in reading...

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