One of the things I’m particularly interested in with early indexes is signs of use. There’s an argument you hear from the early seventeenth century at least that goes something like, ‘Indexes are only there as padding so that unscrupulous publishers can charge more for their books.’ Like the ‘deluxe’ reissue of a classic album which adds bonus tracks that nobody wants. Here’s Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621): ‘[critics] with their latest editions, annotations, castigations, &c. make books dear, themselves ridiculous, and do nobody good.’ He’s not quite saying that scholarly apparatus is an elaborate ruse to charge more, but a connection between unnecessary paratexts and overcharging is clearly being drawn. And Burton is certainly not alone in this frustration. John Earle follows him in Microcosmographie (1628), with this definition of a critic: ‘He is the one that makes all books sell dearer, whilst he swells them into folios with his comments.’ So it’s always nice to find an index with annotations, if only to know that some people at least were actually using them.
Sometimes the index annotation takes the form of an additional entry inserted into the table, something the reader will use but which was missing from the published index. In this book of hymn commentaries, the original index misses out the commentary to ‘Clare sanctorum’, and someone has assiduously added it in by hand:
Elsewhere, the annotation might just be a case of an entry underlined, or a manicule in the margins, as in the rather sad case of John de Burgh’s Pupilla oculi. Burgh’s text, written in the late fourteenth century, was intended as something of a manual for parish priests, giving guidance on the correct teaching in a vast array of the situations they might be required to pronounce upon. It was a relatively common book in the late middle ages, and various print editions of it were made, including one printed in London by Wolfgang Hopyl in 1510.
By the standards of the time, the index to Hopyl’s Pupilla oculi is vast: twenty-five pages of double columns, more than a thousand entries, largely in the form of specific questions – ‘What should you advise…?’; ‘Is it a sin to…?’ – set out under an alphabetically-ordered series of themes: Abbots, Absolution, Abstinence. From an inscription on the flyleaf, we can see that the copy in the British Library belonged to one Nicholas Purfettes, and the main text has a fair amount of marginal commentary in the same hand.
The index, however, is more sparsely marked up. Instead of a textual commentary, here we find only a thin line surrounding certain entries, and in one case a rough manicule pointing to a headword. There are only six marked entries, as follows:
What we must counsel a woman who has committed adultery or is suspected of a false birth with the aim of disinheriting legitimate sons.
Whether it is lawful for a man to kill an adulterous wife.
Whether it is lawful to kill an adulterer caught with [one’s] wife.
The circumstances in which a man is not obliged to repay his marital [sexual] obligation.
Where in the sacred place [i.e. in the scriptures] he is not obliged to repay.
Whether [sex] is permissible after birth and before purification or whether it is a sin.
Besides these, the thousand or so other items in the index are unannotated.
The marks show that the index was used, of course, but they also give us a specific glimpse into Purfettes’s work, and his anxieties as a counsellor. They testify to his ruminations, passages which he needs to come back to in the course of dealing with a difficult, potentially violent parishioner and a terrible marriage.