Skip to main content
Fol. 57r. of MS Spanish e 9. Image courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries.

As an MSt student in French and Spanish last year, I became interested in the label of ‘commonplace book’ in the Bodleian Libraries’ catalogue. Commonplacing is the practice of copying down extracts from various works, be they religious, scientific, literary, or historical, into a single volume known as a commonplace book. Perusing early modern manuscripts’ catalogue descriptions, I came across MS Spanish e. 9, which was described thus:


Commonplace book, early 18th century, containing Latin and Spanish verse and extracts from classical and contemporary authors, in two hands, including:

(fols. iii-52) extracts from Antonio de Sousa de Macedo, eva y ave (first published Lisbon, 1676);

(fols. 71-86) Pedro Calderón de la Barca, esortaz. panegyrica al silenzio motibada de su apostrophe, Psalle et Sile (first published, 1662).


I was intrigued by what was to be found in fols. 53–70. As ‘Eva y Ave’ and ‘Psalle et Sile’ are Spanish poems, I knew that the central folia had to be the ones that contained the Latin verse and extracts from classical authors specified in the first line of the catalogue description. I ordered the manuscript into the Weston Library’s reading room to discover what fols. 53–70 contained.

What I found in these folia was a wide-ranging selection of commonplaces from various sources. Some were indeed Latin extracts from classical sources, which were sometimes repurposed: for example, commonplaces from Virgil’s Aeneid and Eclogue v appear to have been copied out for their usefulness as exaltations of the Christian God. Others were Latin extracts from contemporary sources, and still others were paraphrased or copied from contemporary Spanish works. I decided to trace the commonplaces in these folia and thus examine how the author had read his sources, interpreted them, and reoriented them to his own belief system, or selectively chosen extracts to speak to several particular themes. To present and disseminate this research, I opted to produce a digital edition of the manuscript and elucidate each individual commonplace by means of a hypertextual note.

The next step was to transcribe fols. 53–70 and encode them in TEI XML. To produce a diplomatic transcription in the Oxygen XML Editor, I learned how to encode features of a manuscript text, such as strikethroughs, additions above the line, and marginal notes intended to replace an erroneous word in the main text. I encoded all of these elements, but did not encode instances where the author had simply run out of space and written down the side of a folio. This was because the latter did not reflect how the author had interpreted his sources or illuminate his writing process, whereas marginal corrections and additions did. These decisions formed the basis of my editorial principles for the project, from which I produced an editorial declaration.


With Emma Huber’s help, I published the encoded transcription and declaration as a digital edition on the Taylor Editions website in Hilary Term 2022. I recently conducted further research and added this to the hypertextual notes; these can be accessed by clicking on the superscript numbers within the transcription. The updated digital edition is available at The hypertextual notes identify the sources from which the author copied commonplaces, and discuss the author’s commonplacing practice by identifying and explaining his errors, use of paraphrase, or similar. In some cases, I managed to trace the exact edition that the author was using, such as the 1628 edition of Sebastián de Alvarado y Alvear’s Heroyda Ovidiana.

After transcribing fols. 53–70 and familiarizing myself with their content, I could extrapolate the themes of the commonplacing. Taking into account these folia as well as the other sections of the manuscript, I established the author’s thematic preoccupations. He cites several Jesuit authors, including Martin Delrio, Juan Cortés Ossorio, and Franciscus Remondus, suggesting that he too was a member of the Societatis Jesu. The interlinked themes sown by ‘Eva y Ave’ of nationalism and misogyny – Eva being associated with La Cava and the fall of Spain, and Ave representing its salvation in the form of Isabel the Catholic Queen (see Grieve, The Eve of Spain, 2009: 86) – recur in the commonplacing. The author also appears to have had a strong interest in science.

Mike Webb provided me with the tools to rewrite the manuscript’s catalogue entry; my aim was for the catalogue to reflect the manuscript’s contents more completely and accurately. Having counted its folia and quires, I wrote out the manuscript’s collation; I also traced its custodial history, and specified that it was written in only one hand, not two. The new catalogue entry is available at I also researched where the manuscript’s paper came from, for which Dr Andrew Dunning showed me how to use a specialist lamp to see the watermarks. There were six different watermarks throughout the manuscript, such as the one in Figure 2. I checked these against dictionaries and databases, and one was of Dutch provenance. From the combinations of watermarks, I deduced that the first fourteen quires were produced in one place, and the remaining two (significantly larger) quires in another.

Watermark on fol. 38. A circle containing the letters ‘CBO’, topped with a cross. There is another circle underneath, imperceptible in the photograph. Photograph: Tess Eastgate, courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries.

Under Dr Loreto Romero’s supervision, I then wrote an essay on my findings. This included a physical description of the manuscript and its custodial history, but also an analysis of how the author produced the manuscript and interpreted his sources. This constituted a contribution the field of the history of reading, and produced one of the first studies of Spanish commonplacing as a reading practice. I am delighted that my essay, entitled ‘Commonplacing in the Spanish Baroque: Bodleian MS Span. e. 9’, was awarded the Gordon Duff Prize by the Bodleian Libraries. The prize is awarded to a student at Oxford for an essay on subjects relating to bibliography, palaeography, the history of reading, and the history of the book.

I have recently found another commonplace book in the Bodleian’s collections, written in the same hand, with ‘various papers, volume two’ in Spanish on the first flyleaf. It is not catalogued as a commonplace book, nor even wholly as a manuscript, since segments of printed volumes have been bound into it. Following further research, I have concluded that the author of both commonplace books was Ambrosio José de la Cuesta y Saavedra. In his second commonplace book, he has copied out much of Góngora’s Soledades; despite having written my MSt dissertation on this poem, the commonplace book’s version contains struck-through lines and variants that I have never seen before. I hope to conduct further research into whether these variants are attested in extant manuscripts of the Soledades.

In October 2022, I began studying for a DPhil in French. My Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Centre de recherche du château de Versailles (CRCV) is generously supported by the Clarendon Fund and the Open-Oxford-Cambridge Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership. My thesis will focus on Marie-Antoinette’s correspondence with the politician Antoine Barnave. I will also produce a physical edition and a digital publication of this correspondence, in collaboration with the CRCV, for which creating a digital edition has provided invaluable experience.