THE TALBOT MANUSCRIPT – BETTER AS IT IS THAN THE BOOK IT NEVER WAS?
James Talbot was born in London in 1664, and educated at Westminster School. The school was, at this time, the leading grammar school in England. Amongst others who were educated there in the seventeenth century were Christopher Wren, John Dryden, Henry Aldrich, John Locke, Matthew Prior and Charles Montagu - a man who later became the Earl of Halifax - but from a musical perspective, the most important of Talbot's near contemporaries was Henry Purcell, who was five years older than Talbot. The school was particularly strong in what we might now consider the classics, especially the teaching of Latin and Greek, although Hebrew and Arabic were also taught.
The school had close connections to Christ Church, Oxford, and to Trinity College, Cambridge. Talbot chose Trinity College where he matriculated in 1683, and his first writings - a series of verses - were published there in 1685. Any aspiring, but financially insecure, scholar of the late-seventeenth century would inevitably seek to find a patron to support his work, and James Talbot was no exception. Some time prior to 1691 Talbot became the chaplain and secretary to Charles Seymour, the Sixth Duke of Somerset. Somerset was the Chancellor of Cambridge and - probably as a result of this patronage - Talbot held several university positions. His first academic appointment was as a minor fellow at Trinity College, granted on the 2nd of October, 1689, and he became a major fellow on July the 1st, 1690. He was additionally incorporated as an Oxford MA in 1691, probably at the recommendation of Henry Aldrich. In the early 1690s it is known that Talbot was regularly published as a versifier, and one of his best known examples is that written at the death of Henry Purcell in 1695. There is considerable documentary evidence to show that Purcell and Talbot were personal friends in addition to school contemporaries, and Talbot's ode was one of six written to the memory of Purcell which were published by Henry Playford in 1698.
After 1695 Talbot became increasingly involved in his work at Cambridge. He was involved in the formation and promotion of Cambridge University Press, and for this he probably deserves equal recognition to that give to Richard Bentley, about whom we shall shortly hear more. Indeed, the first book to be issued by CUP was Talbot's Quarto edition of Horace, published in 1699. In the same year he succeeded to the position of Regius Professor of Hebrew. Unfortunately for Talbot, the following year saw the appointment of Richard Bentley to the position of Master of Trinity College - a position Talbot must have himself coveted. In an age of patronage it is possible that the Duke of Somerset's refusal to support William the 3rd until 1701 played a part in Talbot's failure to obtain a position which was granted as Royal prerogative. Bentley saw it as a personal crusade to break the ties between Westminster School and Trinity, and soon attempted to replace Talbot as Professor of Hebrew, eventually succeeding in obtaining his resignation in 1704. Talbot's final recognition from Cambridge came the following year where he was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor, by which time he was the Rector of Spofforth in Yorkshire, a position he retained until his death in November 1708. He is buried in the choir of Spofforth Parish Church.
What is the Talbot Manuscript?
The manuscript is housed at Christ Church, Oxford, and is calendared as a, quote, "Collection for a Treatise upon Musick by Dean Aldrich", unquote. It bears the shelfmark Music Manuscript 1187. The larger part of the collection is, in fact, a rather undistinguished treatise about Greek music theory written by Dean Henry Aldrich, but appended to it is a variety of writings on musical instruments in a hand which can be identified as Talbot's. For the purposes of this, as well as previous discussions, the Talbot manuscript refers only to these appended papers and not to the work of Aldrich.
The manuscript consists of a series of fascicles which have been indiscriminately numbered one to eleven by a later librarian at Christ Church. In addition to these sections there are two further fascicles which, although unnumbered, are evidently parts of the writings. The illustrated list shows the numbering as used by the librarian, along with the subject matter of each fascicle, the number of pages of text and typical paper sizes. All of the fascicles consist of a series of leaves of paper, each folded in half and inserted together to make a booklet, rather like we might do by folding A3 paper in two to get A4 size.
An examination shows that three different sizes of paper were used, and these have been listed as "A", "B" and "C", along with their dimensions in the illustrated list. The quoted sizes are for the full leaf, rather than its folded size. In several instances the initial sheets of paper have been torn in half and these reduced sheets are then folded to make the booklets. These have been indicated by an asterisk following the letter. As yet I have not completed a manuscript study to determine if all of the paper came from the same source or comes from different manufacturers who used the same basic paper sizes. Just as today, where we might buy A4 or A3 paper, or Americans might buy Letter or Foolscap size, there were similarly established sizes used at the end of the seventeenth century. The paper itself is of fine quality, generally thin and of a consistent opaqueness which suggests the pulp was manufactured using a Hollander, which is basically a grinding machine, rather than being produced from a stamping mill. Given the presumed date of the manuscript it suggests that the Nethlerands or North Germany is the likely source of the paper.
Not every page has writing on it, and those that do can range from nothing more than a page heading, up to densely written lists of measurements or two columns of closely spaced text. In all some 240 pages have some written text. Talbot's authorship can be confirmed by a letter in the same handwriting which is found amongst one of the fascicles which reads:
"With a thousand thanks for yesterday's favour, I return you, dear Mr Shore, your Lute, Cornet & Fife, of which two last I send you the tablature as you ordered me to set it down yesterday : be pleased to look it over at leisure, & to make such alterations in it as you think fitt - against me meet, which I hope will be on Thursday or Friday after-noon at farthest. In the interim, oblige me in sending by the Bearer Your Mandole, & one of your Mouth-pieces, with a crook. I am, with all Gratitude
Your faithful humble Servant
At the bottom of the page you will notice the instruction to turn over, and on the other side one finds the tablature as promised. It is common in books today to find a list of acknowledgements, and the same is true of this manuscript. Section six, using the librarian's numbering system, lists the instruments discussed in the manuscript, along with those who provided information on them. It is no surprise to find John Shore listed prominently amongst the names, although surprisingly he is absent from those who assisted Talbot on the fife. Whether curious - or else of significance in dating parts of the manuscript - Henry Purcell is not listed at all: John Blow is acknowledged for his help on the organ, and in the entry on the spinet the names of a Mr Keller, Tisseran and Player are listed, the last two being prominent makers at the end of the seventeenth century. Other prominent musicians are also named: in addition to Shore and Blow we find Finger, Bannister, La Tour, Paisible, Crevecour, La Riche and Agutter. Other instrument makers who contributed include the recorder-maker Peter Bressan, trumpet- maker William Bull and, in what can only be described as a feat of either supreme diplomacy or else bare-faced deception, the organ makers Renatus Harris and Father Smith.
One also finds references to the few pre-existing books on musical instruments - it is clear that Talbot had copies of the three major books available in the period - Syntagma Musicum by the German Michael Praetorius, written in 1618; Harmonie Universalle by the French Marin Mersenne, of which Talbot had both the 1635 Latin and the 1636 French volumes, and Musurgia Universalis by Athansius Kircher of Rome, published in 1650. He also refers to early sixteenth century writings by Agricola and Virdung. Fortunately for my own purposes, Special Collections in the Main Library has original copies of all of these books.
The present arrangement of the fascicles by the Christ Church Librarian has obscured Talbot's original working methods, as have transcriptions of various instruments by modern researchers.
Three of the fascicles, numbered by the Librarian 5, 8 and 9 all use the same-sized paper and can be seen to follow on, essentially alphabetically, from one to the next. At the front of fascicle 5 is a classification list, presumably so Talbot did not accidentally omit any instrument. This also explains why some pages have nothing more than the name of the instrument - he never got around to completing his notes on it.
Another two fascicles, numbered 4 and 7 cover stringed and wind instruments respectively, giving lists of measurements obtained from real instruments. Fascicle 10 lists tablature, tunings and fingerings for the various instruments, both stringed and wind.
The first fascicle discusses the harpsichord and includes a list of measurements of a particular instrument, and fascicles 2 and 3 are both concerned with the organ, the third fascicle seemingly a revision of the second. One also finds in these sections various compilations of organ registrations which initially seem to promise much information about late-seventeenth century English organs but are, in fact, merely translated and transcribed from Mersenne. Fascicle 6 is, as already described, the list of acknowledgements, and the remaining fascicle, number 11, is concerned with the pipe, by which Talbot actually means the Greek Aulos - the only instrument he discusses which is not known to have been in use in seventeenth century England. The two unnumbered sections have further information about the aulos, and writings about the organ which are probably originally intended as part of fascicle 2.
Having discussed Talbot and described the manuscript it remains in this first part to consider why it was compiled in the first instance, and why Talbot left the work before its completion.
The title of this paper is something of a give-away and I obviously believe it was intended to have eventual publication as a book. Having stated that, it should be pointed out that there is nothing in the manuscript itself which positively states his intentions. There is little in the other writings of Talbot himself which provide evidence of the manuscript's existence, much less his initial reasons for undertaking the work. Robert Unwin, in his biography of Talbot published in the Galpin Society Journal makes reference to a "musica" folder which was sent by Talbot to the safe-keeping of his mother sometime between 1st February 1694 and the 6th of April 1695. It is clear that he was still compiling it in at least 1697, as it refers to an English translation of Louis Daniel La Compte's Memoirs and Observations of China, first published in that year. In the diary of William Nicolson, the Bishop of Carlisle, he mentions visiting Talbot in 1702 where he saw a, quote, "History of Musick, design'd by Mr T.; a great master of it" unquote. It is not certain if this "history" was the manuscript which survives today, a more advanced version of the manuscript, or even an entirely different book. The present survival of the manuscript is essentially one of chance - somehow it remained unharmed in a fire at the Rectory in Spofforth and eventually found its way into the hands of Henry Aldrich who passed it on, along with his own writings, to Christ Church.
But the writings in the manuscript do provide many clues to show it was intended as a book. The way in which the manuscript has been divided - in which there are separate fascicles for measurements, descriptions and tablature, is entirely reminiscent to Syntagma Musicum by Michael Praetorius and its accompanying De Sciagraphica, or Plates of different instruments. Of all the books Talbot makes reference to, Syntagma Musicum is both the biggest influence on the Talbot manuscript, and the most important historical book about musical instruments which survives today.
Syntagma Musicum is in three volumes, the first and third in Latin which discuss various aspects of musical theory and performance, and the second volume, subtitled De Organographia, which is in German and discusses musical instruments. Praetorius explains his reasons for writing in German as being that he wanted the information to be read by as many people as possible and not just by scholars who were able to understand Latin. He also made a special point about his plates in the Sciagraphica, which were scaled according to a ruler on each page which could itself be calibrated to a full size ruler in Brunswick inches which would be found at the front of the volume. Not only that, but he claimed that all of the instruments were scaled so they would play at the same pitch, and he has gone to great trouble to give precise details about how to make a pitchpipe to provide the correct pitch.
In principle Praetorius is taking a scientific approach to what is an entirely ambigious subject. In practice his writing has led to more arguments in the organological world than any other single publication. It seems so simple - here are the scaled drawings for the instruments, and they all play at the same pitch. The problems with the idea are several. In De Organographia, Praetorius describes each of the instruments, but one commonly finds descriptions which don't match the illustrations particularly well. For example, the illustrated guitar, as shown in this slide, has six courses (ie. pairs of strings), but his description and the list of tunings show only four courses. One can use a modern analogy of a description of a Steinway Model D coupled with a photograph of a Bosendorfer Imperial, complete with extra notes in the bass. There are also problems where Praetorius gives contradictory information about stringing in his tuning section to that of his text. With the images there is the occasional reversed image - the plate of clavichords providing perhaps the best known example - but also a much more fundamental problem. The woodcuts are the work of a professional craftsman and not of Praeteorius, just as one would expect. But we have no information about how the artist made his initial measurements in the first place, the type of projection he used or the accuracy he was expected to work to in practice. Nor do we know if he worked from real instruments, measurements or drawings. There are numerous examples of small inaccuracies - quite aside from reversed images as can be seen with clavichord number three, it can be observed from measuring the plates that both the organ pipes and recorder ensembles do not play in tune with themselves, let alone play to any particular pitch standard for example.
Other examples include instruments whose strings would break if they were to be tuned to the pitch as indicated in the text. In one instance a fellow researcher, when discussing the Klein Englische Zitterlein, has argued that Praetorius had steel strings (as opposed to iron) available, some two centuries before their accepted date of invention as the only explanation for the pitch levels and dimensions. Whereas it is possible now, and could theoretically have been possible then, to make stronger ferrous strings by altering the initial diameter at which the wire is annealed to increase the work-hardening effect, the researcher has - perhaps conveniently - forgotten that the brass strings would also break at the quoted pitches, and there is no physical way in which they can ever be made stronger.
It is unlikely that Talbot was aware of the potential problems found in Praetorius' writings. Indeed, his division of each instrument's information into three parts - namely dimensions, description, and tablature and tunings - follows Praetorius so precisely that there can be no doubt that Talbot was intending anything but a late-seventeenth century English equivalent of an early-seventeenth century German original.
With that in mind it is possible to conclude that Talbot had intended the lists of measurements to be used as a basis for illustrations similar to those that appear in Praetorius. It is reasonable to assume that he likewise intended to include scaled rulers in each drawing with the intention of providing the same accuracy as implied by Praetorius.
This is not to say that there aren't problems with the measurements as listed by Talbot. The first problem that we may consider is that of the unit of measurement. At the end of the seventeenth century each country, and often each town, had its own unit of measurement so that, for example, one Parisian foot is above 20 mm longer than the modern English foot, and the Brunswick foot, as used by Praetorius, is about 16 mm shorter than in England. In England, however, there has been an extremely consistent use of length measurements. The modern English foot is 304.800 mm long, and this was established by an act of parliament in 1824. Prior to that - and including the period in which Talbot was writing - England used what is known as the "Queen Elizabeth Yard", set down as a statute in 1558. The original yardstick that defined this length still survives and can be seen in the Science Museum in London. Unfortunately it has been broken at some stage, making accurate measurement of it impossible, but another official yardstick, which is dated 1659 and was originally housed in the Tower of London, also survives in the Science Museum, and it has been measured to give a foot length of 304.563 mm, just under a quarter of a millimetre smaller than the modern foot. Even earlier than the Queen Elizabeth Yard was one introduced by her grandfather, Henry the Seventh in 1497. Again the official yardstick survives in the Science Museum, and it can be measured to give a foot length which is very slightly shorter still, at 304.490 mm. In an age where the usual craftsman's ruler was commonly divided into quarter inches, or eighths at most, one can appreciate the ridiculousness of quoting lengths to three decimal places.
The next issue is one of Talbot's own accuracy. We do not know how he measured the instruments, or even if he personally measured all of the instruments himself. To pick an obvious example - when measuring the body length of a violin or cello did he use a flexible tape over the curve of the back or did he use a solid ruler and effectively ignore the carving? To put this in perspective - the Tononi violin in the John Donaldson Collection - selected at random rather than to emphasise the point - differs by 3 mm (which is about one-eighth of an inch) when measured by these alternate methods. Talbot is possibly not entirely consistent with the preciseness of his figures either. His general convention is to list measurements in feet, inches and lines - each line being one-eighth of an inch. In some instruments, for example that of the guitar, Talbot is more precise, subdividing the line further into halves, thirds, or adding a plus or minus, which implies an accuracy of perhaps one-quarter of a line or - put another way - one- thirty second of an inch. In contrast to that, the bass violin has only the figures zero, four and six in the lines column, suggesting that the accuracy might only be to the nearest quarter-inch.
A further problem is one of simple error - either a misreading of his ruler, or else a simple scribal error - writing down a six instead of a nine perhaps. Generally it is possible to determine that an error of this nature has been made, although it is often less clear what the intended figure might be. There have been modern studies of number-substitution frequency to work out the most common mistakes, and having taken literally tens of thousands of measurements from historical musical instruments I am personally aware of the types of mis- readings that can occur. However, caution must be observed in trying to "second guess" the intentions of the author. It is entirely possible that there are occasions in which modern research is unable to interpret measurements for which there is a perfectly plausible solution. Perhaps the guitar provides an ideal example of this problem.
As previously discussed, the guitar is one instrument in which Talbot quotes figures to a high degree of accuracy. One is therefore hesitant to suggest that he is likely to have made something of a monumental error with any particular measurement. Indeed the plan-view measurements all work out exactly as one would expect of a late-seventeenth century instrument. However, the dimensions of the body at the sides - which I am indicating in the slide in red - do not make any immediate sense. Traditionally seventeenth-century guitars were built with either flat or arched backs according to a variety of criteria, most notably the location of manufacture. Talbot quotes the depth of the sides measured at the bottom, at the middle and at the top of the body next to the fingerboard. It can't refer to a flat-backed instrument since, as can be seen from the illustration, the back would curve inwards along its length - something which is entirely unknown. Nor can the dimensions imply a typical arched-back guitar, since the depth at the waist is invariably higher than at the bottom due to geometric considerations, and the quoted dimension for the depth of the sides at the waist is not enough. This problem had bothered me for a number of years, and the only answer I could find was that Talbot had made a transcription mistake, but an alternative solution presented itself when making a technical drawing of an unsigned mid-eighteenth century Iberian guitar in the John Donaldson Collection at the Reid Concert Hall which has what can best be described as a broad-ribbed arched back. In the late seventeenth century when Talbot was writing this construction was essentially restricted to Hamburg, principally in the work of Joachim Tielke and Hans Christoph Fleischer. It is possible to construct a broad-ribbed arched back design in which Talbot's quoted dimensions are entirely plausible, and figures which have long been considered as scribal errors can be shown to have a historically-based precedent. The existence of at least four surviving Tielke guitars in Britain, plus viols and Hamburg-made keyboard instruments, suggests that such a solution is entirely justifiable.
The final potential problem with Talbot's measurements is one of interpretation. We don't know how Talbot measured the instruments in question. This problem is by no means restricted to Talbot, or even to earlier periods. Any modern organologist will have recourse to use catalogues which are lacking in terminology and conventions or even such basic details about which of two unison strings was measured. Talbot's usual practice when listing measurements is to start at the top and work his way down. To use the violin as an example, the first measurement is from the top of the scroll to the nut, and the second measurement is from the nut to the bottom of the fingerboard. It is not indicated which - if either - of the measurements includes the nut itself. In this example it is of particular interest because the distance from the nut (assuming it is not included as part of the second measurement) to the bridge is thirteen inches, the same as is used in a modern violin, but longer than what was found in other violins of the period. This has both historical and pitch implications. In some examples it is possible to resolve any ambiguities from other information, and in other situations any such questions are essentially irrelevant in a wider sense.
To return to Talbot's intentions, we must also consider why the manuscript was apparently abandoned as a work in progress. We know that he was working on it, amongst other projects, in 1697. It appears probable that Talbot had intended to write the book as a means of assisting his advancement in Cambridge. Whether the Mastership of Trinity was his ultimate goal cannot be determined, but it is likely that when Bentley was appointed to the position it was clear to Talbot that any further advancement was not possible, regardless of any major publication on musical instruments, and was ignored as the political situation within Trinity worsened. If the present manuscript was that which had been seen by the Bishop of Carlisle in 1702 it suggests that Talbot may have considered continuing his work later, but he clearly did not advance it much, if at all.
Let us consider the initial question as posed by the title of this paper - do modern researchers benefit more from the Talbot manuscript as it survives at present, than what they would have if the work was completed. To a certain extent it is an impossible question to answer, since we don't know many of the variables. We don't know if there were additional parts of the manuscript that have since been destroyed, we don't know if there were further drafts, and we don't know exactly what the final result would have been however much we might surmise it was influenced by, and to be based on, Syntagma Musicum. We may reasonably assume that Talbot's list of measurements would be converted into illustrations which would have been included with the volume and the messy handwriting would have been replaced by a legible typeface. There are two major issues that need addressing to make a case that the surviving manuscript is better than a projected book.
The first question is one of the helpfulness of measurements as opposed to illustrations. While it would be very interesting to see what the various instruments might have looked like when new, and in particular how they might have been decorated, my own research on the drawings provided by Praetorius suggest that however well intentioned his initial idea might have been, and regardless of any safeguards he might have put in place, the illustrations have limited use when trying to conclude actual dimensions. In a recent article for Clavichord International, I attempted to analyse the three clavichords depicted by Praetorius and present objective views about their reliability. My end conclusion was that the illustrations all had some degree of what might euphemistically be called "artistic licence" and that in two of the three instruments one must accept errors of up to 30 mm - about 1¼ inches - at full scale for them to work at all. In contrast, and to use the words of the fine scholars at Blue Peter - here is one I made earlier. This harpsichord was built using the list of measurements provided by Talbot in the harpsichord section. There are some speculative details naturally, but everything can be built according to the dimensions and other information. Features such as the position of the soundboard barring are described in the broadest terms in the manuscript, even though the actual dimensions of the bars have been precisely indicated, but surviving English harpsichords dating from before 1730 have a variety of different barring schemes, so any ambiguities are understandable and not of major importance.
It is also not entirely certain about how accurately the illustrations in Praetorius can be measured. In attempting to quantify this I have tried taking repeated measurements of different instruments on a number of separate occasions, and have found that my maximum error is, when converted to full scale, about 3 mm, with errors of 2 mm not uncommon. These distances have no significance in any practical sense. However, other researchers have quoted dimensions which can differ from mine of up to 5 mm. I am unable to explain such divergence in any objective manner apart from to suggest that different people simply see things in a different way. But given the observable inaccuracies as can be demonstrated by the organ pipes or the recorder ensemble, it suggests that the real inaccuracies in any quoted measurements taken from the illustrations could be up to about 10 mm from the original object.
The second question regarding the helpfulness of the manuscript compared to what might be found in any purported book concerns the text. Here it may appear counter-intuitive, but there is more information which can be learned from notes and drafts rather than a finished piece.
In studying a piece of music we are aware that our emotions are responding to a completed work. While it is often fascinating to examine composer's sketchbooks, they can rarely be said to "improve" the final piece in any way, although they can, and do, provide an invaluable insight into the thought-processes of the composer, and may well improve our modern understanding of the piece. We may learn themes or development ideas which had been considered, but then rejected for whatever reason. We might even form the opinion that pieces would be better, in our view, if an earlier version was retained. But it is rare that we view any musicologist's attempt to finish works based on the composer's notes with more than curiosity. Even pieces that were completed by another composer at the time tend to be considered as inferior to what might have otherwise have been written.
The written word is different in that it is attempting to convey a thought process. A finished piece of writing is, inevitably, an edited version of various thoughts, and almost always has removed information which the writer thought was superfluous or simply incorrect. Often a writer may have a series of conflicting opinions or viewpoints for which he or she must decide which, if any, is the most valid.
In considering the Talbot manuscript one must remember what would have been omitted from any final book. The actual measurements have already been commented upon at length, but they are only a small part of it. As demonstrated by the biographical information presented at the beginning of this seminar, Talbot was not a musician, composer or instrument maker by profession; and it is not known if he did any of those skills in an amateur sense. There is nothing to suggest that he was at all musical, despite having important musical friends and that several of his odes were set to music by respected composers.
In that sense one must consider that Talbot approached his work from a neutral perspective and without any strongly-held pre-conceived views. This is in contrast to both Praetorius, whose approach to his work was coloured by his position as a professional Kapellmeister and organist; and to Mersenne, whose main preoccupation was with mathematics and proportions. To an extent Talbot was a hostage who was reliant on the information he received from his various sources. The manuscript itself has barely a page without various crossings-out or insertions as he attempted to clarify the information he received. Present researchers, removed from the period by 300 years have similar problems with trying to understand the precise meaning, and Talbot's additions and alterations allow the modern reader to follow his processes as they occur, rather than read his eventual conclusions.
We also have a rare and invaluable insight into how Talbot actually dealt with the day-to- day processes involved in compiling the manuscript. We can tell that he worked on various, often entirely unrelated, instruments at the same time; and we know that his work was - at least as a general rule - checked by others for any obvious mistakes. This information would be unknown without the survival of the letter from Talbot to John Shore.
Finally, we have a list of those who contributed instruments or information. Although it might be perfectly reasonable to us to expect the book to have a page of acknowledgements as found in any book published at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is no reason to suppose that the list in the manuscript was for anything other than Talbot's personal records. The work has a much greater perceived importance for the modern organologist with the knowledge that comments in the manuscript about the best type of brass for making trumpets, or the tonal advantages of one stringing material over another come from the leading makers in London at the time. The manuscript is the only surviving source of information about organ mutation-stop registrations in late seventeenth-century England, and we know the information came from either Smith or Harris - the two foremost English builders of the day. Likewise there are small illustrations and descriptions of the tracker actions as used in these organs, something which no longer survives in existing instruments. There is contemporary evidence about the arrival of what may be termed "French woodwind" instruments in England. And we also can benefit from what is absent in the manuscript. The development of overwound strings for instruments of the violin, viol and lute families can be traced to English adverts dating from the late 1650s, but they are not mentioned at all in the manuscript, despite the importance and position within the London musical scene of the individuals who contributed information to these sections. We may reasonably deduce that these strings were either very rare, or that players did not like their tonal quality; and in either case it has implications for the tonal world of late- seventeenth century stringed-instrument practice. The reference to "catline" strings as coming from Catalonia shows that the name comes from geographic considerations rather than from the design of the strings themselves, and modern researchers who have argued that the term must indicate a form of rope construction, with its tonal implications, must reconsider their views. Some or all of these things might have found their way into the final book, but we cannot know that for certain.
My own work with the Talbot manuscript started about ten years ago. At the time I was carrying out research on English virginals for what would, some years later, become my PhD topic. Owing to the fact that the surviving virginals are somewhat scattered in location, and that as a professional instrument maker my financial income was not constant, meant that there were times in which I was unable to carry out any practical research on the virginals. I was looking for a second research topic which I could dovetail around the virginal work and which would not require any extensive travelling.
The Talbot manuscript seemed an ideal choice. Sections of the manuscript had been published in various issues of the Galpin Society Journal, and virtually each new issue made reference to the manuscript in some manner, but there had been no complete transcription. The published extracts followed a standard format as established in the very first volume of the Journal in 1948. Instruments were grouped by type, essentially matching the particular writer's field of expertise, and then the information concerning each individual instrument was extracted from the various parts of the manuscript and published together.
Although this system is helpful for the general readership, it distorts the information as it occurs in the manuscript. It also has the effect of forcing the writer to edit the work himself to a greater or lesser degree. Comments in the Journal entries such as can be found in the cittern section, quote: "The French tuning, erroneously transcribed into staff notation, and Italian tunings for six and ten course instruments, from Mersenne", unquote, are at best unhelpful and at worst wrong. In either case they represent the opinions of the modern writer rather than the information as written by Talbot himself. Similar editorial problems occur with any modern writer attempting to decide Talbot's intended meaning through his alterations and additions to the initial text.
It was from this starting position that I approached the manuscript. The initial plan was to transcribe the entire manuscript myself and add a critical commentary, calling on fellow researchers when my own knowledge was sure to fail me. As I was in no position to spend extended periods of time in Oxford, as nice as that may have been, I ordered the microfilm from the Bodleian Library, which turned up as expected. It was only when I saw the microfilm that I realised the problems and drawbacks of previous transcriptions and forced me to re-evaluate the entire project.
I have considered a number of ways in which the edition of the manuscript might be published, ranging from the minimal - a simple transcription with no additional commentary - to the exhaustive (in both senses of the word) - a diplomatic facsimile along side a reproduction of the original, plus introductory commentary, a commentary on each instrument and full drawings of all the measured instruments. Part of the reason for speaking now is to ask the views of others about the various methods.
My first concern is to avoid any misrepresentation of the manuscript. That covers obvious things like spelling of words and abbreviations, and other things such as retaining the order of the pages within the manuscript. I wish to allow the reader the same opportunity to make value judgements about Talbot's thought-processes in the same way I am allowed to with access to the original. The obvious solution would be a simple facsimile of the original with some additional commentary, perhaps with cross-references to the same instrument in other parts of the manuscript. The obvious drawback to that is that the reader would be obliged to interpret the almost illegible writing himself, something which would be expected of any serious scholar, but is an unreasonable demand on the general purchaser. The alternate extreme would be to transcribe the manuscript but retain the order of pages which would make the work immediately accessible to the average reader, but has the risk of my own misrepresentation of Talbot's thought-processes.
The next concern is one of practicalities. It is in everyone's interest that the finished publication is both affordable and of a manageable size. This would probably rule out the extreme example involving drawings and so on. With 240 pages having some written text, the finished volume would consist of 480 pages of source material, plus what would amount to several hundred additional pages of commentary, and I am yet to see a 700 page book that is a financial joy to purchase.
In order to not misrepresent Talbot I think it is essential that the work by presented as a diplomatic facsimile, complete with crossings-out and insertions as they appear in the original. Although this requires some work on the part of any reader, it is no more work than if I was to attempt to describe any alterations in an objective manner. It is, I must confess, considerably more work for me than a straight transcription, with an average page taking approximately three hours to type and layout using a desktop publishing programme. It is essential to clearly indicate the gathering structure of each of the facsicles, and to present them in an order which follows that of Talbot rather than the Christ Church Librarian. Ideally any blank leaves should be presented in that same manner in the final publication, and that recto and verso pages should remain as such. Each section should be published either life size, or else all of the manuscript should be scaled by the same amount. If life-sized the final publication would be larger than A4, and possibly as big as A3 in page size. Each instrument needs to be clearly cross-referenced so that the reader can move between sections with ease. Finally there should be a comprehensive preliminary commentary in which information about Talbot, the manuscript, and about the transcription and its presentation are discussed at length.
In a more ideal world, the original would be published alongside, preferably as a separate volume, so the reader was able to retain the effect of the gathering structure and consult the original and the diplomatic facsimile side-by-side.
At present I am transferring my transcription to a full-scale diplomatic facsimile format, and writing the commentary in the hope that it will be published according to the intentions I have just outlined. The Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments is putting together a funding proposal, and clearly any success with funding will have implications for the final publication. There are several publishers who have, over the years, been approached about the manuscript, and finding a suitable outlet is unlikely to present any major difficulties. And since I really don't want to spend too much time approaching the publication in a manner of which the general consensus considers unsuitable or flawed I would appreciate any discussion and opinions that anyone may have.