Early Modern Editing Experiments

My latest John Taylor experiment has its own website here.

Early Modern Editing Experiments emerges from my interest in book history, and the early modern publications of John Taylor the Water Poet (1578-53) in particular. It also arises from my desire to see more Taylor available in places other than EEBO (great though it is) and specialist libraries. It’s exciting to be working on the Water Poet for this project because he was very keen on reaching a wide audience for his work, and so it seems right to be experimenting with the possibilities of digital humanities in order to enable more people to read the wonderful – and idiosyncratic – work of John Taylor.

John Taylor

Background to the Water Poet

Taylor, self-styled as ‘the King’s Water Poet’, was born in Gloucester in about 1578 and worked primarily as a boatman on the Thames, but also as a customs official, a guild representative, a river surveyor, a ‘beefeater’, a royalist pamphleteer, a writer, a poet and, even, a publican. He lived through the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I, and finally died in 1653 at the age of 75. He published a Works in 1630, when he was 52 and only halfway through his publishing career; it involved four printers and runs to 630 pages, containing 63 listed titles. He also knew such playwrights as Ben Jonson and Thomas Heywood, and no doubt other people associated with the press, or who used his boat to reach the theatres on Bankside.

Find out more about John Taylor here:

Background to the Project

I came across John Taylor while researching for a journal article on early modern paratexts. I then included his Works (1630) in an exhibition I curated on ‘Healthy Reading’ at Cardiff University in 2011. In 2014 I wrote a book chapter on ‘The Publicity of John Taylor’, thinking about his publications and publicity stunts in relation to his social position.

I’ve been encouraged through my participation on the ‘WISE: What is Scholarly Editing?’ AHRC-funded workshop in Cardiff in April, 2015; I’ve also been invited to attend the follow-on Peer Seminar at Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London, in June 2015.

I’ve included a webpage of editing websites here.

The Larger Project: Taylor’s Travels on the Continent

John Taylor, a Thames waterman by trade, travelled through Germany in the summers of 1617 and 1620, publishing his unique travel writing in two separate publications (1617 and 1620), one with a second ‘enlarged’ edition (1621). Both appeared in his 1630 Works. While his travels in Britain have been published in a modern edition already, the plan of this larger project is to produce a modern edition of his two journeys on the Continent. Taylor’s special place in the history of writing means that the edition will be important to scholars of book history, travel writing, and early modern authorship, as well as being of general interest to anyone intrigued by the history of travel writing and news reporting. The project will build on my own research into early modern authorship and Taylor’s publications and publicity. Bernard Capp comments that ‘Taylor can be plausibly seen as a forerunner of the modern war correspondent’, and his journey through Germany to Prague to visit James I’s daughter, the Queen of Bohemia, speaks to the hunger for news on the Continent at this time. However, it is Taylor’s ability to represent the extraordinary events of his everyday environment – in a way reminiscent of Pieter Brueghel’s paintings – which make his work most significant. His reflections, in verse and prose, on being a traveller, and a travel writer, offer valuable insights into early modern conceptions of the developing genres of travel writing and news reporting, and the edition will make a valuable contribution to our understanding of travel writing and make these texts more widely available to students, scholars, and the public.

The Smaller Project: Taylor’s Travels to Prague

The smaller project is to experiment with editing possibilities by producing an open access edition of Taylor, his Travels [to Prague] in the first instance. The aim is to produce an edition which shows the larger differences between the various early modern editions where they exist (1620, 1621 and 1630), as well as producing a text which is eminently ‘readable’ to those who are not used to reading early modern texts in the original. Therefore, this edition will include helpful but not extensive footnotes; it will standardise spellings, typography and punctuation but will not ‘translate’ archaic vocabulary, which will be glossed in the notes. My experiment is to try producing a pdf and electronic (i.e. on wordpress pages) edition in the first instance. I am also weighing up the pros and cons of producing an xml version myself.


In a characteristically anecdotal address to the reader at the start of Taylor his trauels (London, 1620), John Taylor explains that his pamphlet will not offer very much inside political news, but that it will provide broader information about him and his travels to Prague. He declares that he ‘did chiefely write it because I am of much acquaintance, and cannot passe the streets, but I am continually stayed by one or other, to know what newes’. In the early seventeenth century, merchants, state administrators, and a growing ‘public’ readership were interested in news from abroad, and especially during the Bohemian Revolt (1618-1620) at the start of the Thirty Years’ War. However, according to Taylor, the news on the street is that he has returned from Bohemia.


 First Experiment (25.05.15): Annotations and Modernising

Taylor’s pamphlet begins with an address to the reader.

John Taylor, Taylor his Trauels Q1 (1620)

John Taylor, Taylor his Trauels Q1 (1620)

My first experiment has been to edit this address. See the results here:


 Second Experiment (14.06.15): Collating / Textual Variants

In preparation for the second WISE workshop I have tried collating the first twenty lines of verse from Taylor’s travels to Prague, providing information about the textual variants. See the results here:




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