trevelyon miscellany of 1608


In 1945, Lessing Rosenwald organized a meeting with the Folger Shakespeare Library. Rosenwald was already well known in the Washington D.C. museum community as an influential benefactor who had begun to donate his monumental collection to the Library of Congress and National Gallery of Art only two years prior. In 1943 Rosenwald publicly announced that he was collecting rare art and books for the nation. He firmly believed that “A work of art that is never seen is little better off than a work of art that has never been created.” His visit to the Folger Library was important, but the donation he was about to make was to be one of the greatest the Library had seen. In that meeting he donated what is now known as The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608, a huge manuscript detailing mundane details, historical accounts, and even design patterns from the era of Shakespeare.

The 594 page manuscript was in a poor state– 300 of the leaves were too fragile to even be handled. Despite its condition, the manuscript was soon to become one of the most valued treasures of the Folger Library. The preservation and reconstruction of the manuscript was time-consuming but the Miscellany is currently the only book in the Folger Collection that has had an entire exhibit dedicated to it.

In 1608 Thomas Trevelyon, a scribe and pattern-maker, finished the manuscript at the age of 60. The posthumously titled “Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608” was meant to inform his close friends and family of Biblical stories, encyclopedic information of the year, and design suggestions for print-making and artwork. Although Trevelyon was a commoner he had remarkable access to English and European woodcuts, engravings, broadsides, almanacs, and emblem books. In a time when the printing press had revolutionized his profession, Trevelyon dedicated his time to documenting the important information he found necessary for every-day life.

For the seventy-fifth anniversary in the Collection, the Folger Shakespeare Library reproduced the manuscript in a facsimile edition with an introduction by Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In the introduction Wolfe explains “this is the mental world of Thomas Trevelyon: a world where looking to the past was a key means of understanding the future, where faith in the providence of a merciful God was the primary comfort against life’s unpredictability.” The manuscript was both a personal creation and a public donation of information on the era.

The manuscript begins with practical and historical information—an illustrated calendar, detailed information about each month, astronomical diagrams—but continues with the family members connected to William the Conqueror. Almost immediately after it plunges into Genesis and then follows the generations of Adam that pass into the kings and queens of England and Scotland. The rest of the manuscript covers everything from popular designs to advice on dealing with different people (the physician, the strumpet, etc). Additionally Trevelyon added multiple typefaces, maze designs, and patterns for admiration and recreation. Each page was painstakingly created and attentively designed—there are even mistakes, carefully edited out by Trevelyon to avoid misinformation.

A few days ago, one of our professors walked into our office and donated a copy of the Folger’s 75th anniversary facsimile edition of The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608. Like Rosenwald, the Goucher community has always believed in the importance of sharing information. The Miscellany is already being added to the syllabi of our art courses at Goucher, and has attracted my attention for the hours we have had it in our office. It humbles me when I’m reminded of how much our community values us. While my days at work are often spent dealing with the average matters of a library, occasionally an impromptu visit from a professor turns into a gift of an expensive rare book that we might not have thought to add to our collection. I love the books, manuscripts, and memorabilia from my job, but I often think the people who donate to our collection are even more valuable.