1st Edition

Commonplace Reading and Writing in Early Modern England and Beyond

By Hao Tianhu Copyright 2024

    Approaching from bibliographical, literary, cultural, and intercultural perspectives, this book establishes the importance of Hesperides, or the Muses’ Garden, a largely unexplored manuscript commonplace book to early modern English literature and culture in general.

    Hesperides, or the Muses’ Garden is a seventeenth-century manuscript commonplace book known primarily for its Shakespearean connections, which extracts works by dozens of early modern English authors, including Shakespeare, Bacon, Ben Jonson, and Milton. This book sheds light on the broader significance of Hesperides that refashions our full knowledge of early modern authorship and plagiarism, composition, reading practice, and canon formation. Following two introductory chapters are three topical chapters, which respectively discuss plagiarism and early modern English writing, early modern English reading practice, and early modern English canon formation. The final chapter further expands the field to ancient China, comparing commonplace books with Chinese leishu, exploring Matteo Ricci’s cross-cultural commonplace writing, and re-reading Shakespeare’s sonnets in light of Ricci’s On Friendship.

    The solid book will serve as a must read for scholars and students of early modern English literature, manuscript study, commonplace books, history of the book, and intercultural study.

    1. Prologue  2. The Static Shape of the Written Page  3. Hesperides in the Commonplace Book Tradition  4. Commonplace Writing in Early Modern England  5. Hesperides and Early Modern Reading Practice  6. Hesperides and Early Modern Canon Formation  7. Comparative and Cross-Cultural Studies of Commonplacing  8. Epilogue


    Hao Tianhu is a Qiushi Distinguished Professor at Zhejiang University, China. He works mainly in early modern English literature and comparative literature.

    'Hao Tianhu's study of Hesperides demonstrates that this much-cited but little-studied commonplace book offers ways of understanding issues such as reading practices and canon formation in seventeenth-century England. I particularly enjoyed the final chapter, a fascinating comparison of the concept of commonplacing in England and China through the prism of Matteo Ricci's On Friendship.'

    Professor Gordon Campbell, Emeritus Fellow in Renaissance Studies at University of Leicester, UK, Fellow of the British Academy, and Member of the Academia Europaea

    ‘This exciting monograph incisively reveals the cultural importance of commonplace books in seventeenth century England and in intercultural contexts, including China. Every chapter delivers new discoveries and fresh insights through a deft convergence of archival work and sophisticated critical methods. Learned and original, Commonplace Reading and Writing in Early Modern England and Beyond is a delight to read.’

    Jean E. Howard, George Delacorte Professor Emerita in the Humanities and Special Research Scholar, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, USA

    ‘Hao Tianhu has written a remarkable book. Commonplace Reading and Writing in Early Modern England and Beyond is an astonishing reconstruction of the contents and motives of John Evans’s unpublished seventeenth-century commonplace book, Hesperides, or the Muses’ Garden. More consequentially, however, Hao’s book compellingly demonstrates why we should care about it. Hao’s study adds to and complicates our understanding of the long history of reading and of the contested development of the idea of literature; but, perhaps most importantly, in its final section it unexpectedly provides a wonderful example of and a powerful argument for the possibility of intercultural exchange.’

    David Scott Kastan, George M. Bodman Professor Emeritus of English, Yale University, USA

    ‘In Commonplace Reading and Writing in Early Modern England and Beyond Hao Tianhu’s meticulous and probing reconstruction of a seventeenth century manuscript commonplace book reveals our distance from early modern reading practices and, at the same time, traces the emergence of a modern concept of canonical ‘English literature’. Most fascinating of all, Hao’s concluding discussion of the cross-cultural intelligibility of commonplacing in early modern China and Europe reveals the value of considering what globally diverse premodern reading cultures might share.’ 

    Lorna Hutson, Merton Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford, UK