The Printer’s Copy of Henry Savile’s Tacitus

In: Erudition and the Republic of Letters
John-Mark Philo Honorary Research Fellow, School of Literature, Drama, and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK,

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In 1591, Henry Savile completed his celebrated translation of Tacitus, dedicating his efforts to the queen. Remarkably, the printer’s copy of Savile’s translation has survived, now preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Bodl. ms Eng. hist. d. 240). Replete with handwritten notes by both Henry Savile and his younger brother, Thomas, the manuscript offers a fascinating insight into the final stages of the translation. From instructions for the printer to last-minute changes to the text, the manuscript shines new light on print culture in the final years of the sixteenth century. This article establishes the manuscript’s provenance, tracing its journey from Savile’s study to Methley Manor, Yorkshire, and finally to the Bodleian Library. It also considers the evidence provided by the manuscript of collaboration between Henry and Thomas Savile as they undertook this extraordinary translation-cum-commentary. Finally, by comparing the text of the translation as it appears in the printer’s copy with that of the published version, the article explores what this manuscript reveals about Savile’s methods of, and approach to, translation.

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