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Note-taking 18th Century Style… Jonathan Edwards’ Miscellanies

I recently stumbled upon a couple of YouTube videos about Jonathan Edwards’ Miscellanies. The Miscellanies were basically random notes that Edwards assembled as he studied Scripture. In essence, they were an extension of the notes written in his own Bible (or his nifty “Blank Bible“).

The system seems similar to the “commonplace book” championed by John Locke. In essence, Edwards kept several collections of blank books/notebooks/journals with numbered entries that were indexed/listed in a table of contents. He numbered each note and then referenced those numbers in his Bible margin, etc. So, it was a way of taking more thorough notes than marginal space would allow. (The “Blank Bible” referenced above was another way of keeping copious notes while studying Scripture.)

The video, by Pastor Matthew Everhard, details a way of keeping miscellanies on your own.

Given my own interest in 18th century books and material culture, I was particularly interested in what Edwards’ Miscellanies actually looked like. How were those notebooks/blank books constructed? Did he buy an “Italian Leather” covered journal at Barnes & Noble for his own Miscellanies? Well, no.

Thankfully, Yale University’s Beinecke Library has a beautifully digitized collection of much of Jonathan Edwards’ manuscripts, including his Miscellanies.

Volume 1 (parts 1,2,3) is no longer bound, so it’s not terribly easy to see how the pages were actually assembled into a single “book.” Volume 2, however is covered in a wrapper made of a colorful piece of printed linen glued backed with rough paper. The fabric appears to be simply glued without turn-ins to the paper:

If you look at the inside covers and the centerfold, you can see the telltale signs of a three-hole pamphlet stitch used to bind together the 95(!) folded sheets of paper into a single volume. The stitch appears to be “inside” a single set of folded pages rather than pierced through the left margin of multiple signatures (as were the ubiquitous printed pamphlets of the time). See the “upright” book in the illustration below:

Figure 1, Cloonan, p. 7

See Michèle Valerie Cloonan, Early Bindings in Paper: A Brief History of European Hand-Made Paper-Covered Books with a Multilingual Glossary (London: Mansell, 1991), p. 7.

James Moore at 18thCenturyBibles.org put together a video tutorial on Facebook illustrating the pamphlet stitch he uses to bind together multiple-signature pamphlets.

Book 3 of Edwards’ Miscellanies is constructed in a similar way using a rough plain brown paper wrapper.

The cover paper was actually made from a “ream wrapper” that was lengthened using a simple running stitch to connect another piece of scrap paper. The back cover shows the emblem of the company responsible for the manufacture of “super fine” paper. Ream wrappers were literally pieces of heavy stock used to wrap bundles of blank paper for transport (usually from Europe in the case of 18th c. America). See here, here, and here on ream wrappers.

You can examine the digitized versions of Edwards’ Miscellanies at the Beinecke website, and you can read the edited version in the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online:

Note in particular the introductory material in WJE Online Vol. 13.

It is interesting to see the “upcycling” that was involved with the construction of these notebooks. From fabric scraps to ream wrappers, whoever put them together was interested in simplicity, function, and frugality (all New England Puritan values!). It seems that a similar notebook would be fairly easy to construct using the pamphlet stitch demonstrated by James Moore. Watch Everhard’s video above to get an idea of how to use Edwards’ Miscellanies in your own Bible study.

Front & back covers showing larger design.

UPDATE: It appears that the printed cloth used in Book 2 is some form of packaging waste similar to a ream wrapper, though it is made from cloth rather than heavy paper. As Katey C. of the 18th Century Sewing FB group pointed out in an edited version of the cover photo, there “Appears to be a frame surrounded by flowers and scrolls. Bottom scrolls read ‘fine’ possibly also ‘superfine’ and a word ending in ‘RT’ at the far bottom right.” I’d add that you can also see the ghostly remnants of a rampant lion (on the upper cover in this combined pic) that would seem to be consistent with a lot of different paper manufacturing insignias/logos from the time.

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