Collective Authority and the Encyclopedia
An authoritative source for practical and theoretical information, the encyclopedia offers a paradoxically fluid and communal model of knowing, depending for its currency on continual revision, correction and addition. One of the most important such books in early modern England was Batman vppon Bartholome (Items 1 and 2), a translation and expansion of an encyclopedia of natural history originally written in Latin and compiled by the thirteenth-century friar Bartholomeus Anglicus. Best known now as "Shakespeare's Encyclopedia" Batman was an introduction to theological, physiological, medical and natural scientific knowledge. The book's title, like its prefatory list of "contributing authors" both ancient and modern, makes explicit the accretive nature of encyclopedic knowledge. Unsurprisingly, books like this often offered a model for their readers, too, to add to the book, fashioning them as potential participants in the endless project of making and maintaining the encyclopedia.
This copy of Batman is interesting, in fact, for the information added in 1600 and 1605 by one of the book's early owners. Adapting the book to his own needs, the owner used the front flyleaf to record useful practices from other sources, notably local and oral ones. He takes care to authorize these as dependable, either by identifying their source or by giving brief testimony regarding the history of their use. In one dramatic instance, he is able to call a medical remedy "soveraigne" because he notes it was used at court, "proved throughly vppon margarit Homerson, wife to one of the Kings servantes."
The owner's additions were not limited to the categories organizing the encyclopedia, nor were they dependent on only traditional or socially sanctioned authorities. One of his most striking additions, for example, evokes an authority grounded in local practice and communal experience: "Anno 1600 June 6: The miller of the windmill by Henley vppon Thames shewed me how he preserved his apple trees from the Caterpillers: viz: he vsed everie evening late to shake everie bow of the trees first aboue, then below, and so he did shake many down which lay thick on the grownd. And thereby preserved fruite in aboundaunce. Remember to practice the same."