John Martin wrote “Several Receipts for the Use of Mankind” (1690–96) mainly by copying out printed texts at a time when he was successfully converting from plasterer to the more upwardly mobile profession of painter. In his manuscript, a near‐complete fair copy of a theoretical text is followed by rearranged extracts from technical treatises, while many verso leaves are covered in recipes relevant to the trades of painters and plasterers, largely reorganized by ingredient, and following artisanal pathways. On the title‐page, John Martin established his ownership, editorial agency, and even authorship over this bound 350‐page volume, forcing us to reconsider the value of manuscripts in an age of print. This essay reconstructs the transactional nature of the manuscript as the artisan shaped his knowledge through adaptation of theoretical content. As a reader, Martin selected information to suit his own artisanal needs, then advanced his knowledge by copying that information and expanding his repertoire in the process. However, the text also had didactic value, and Martin updated and censored his extracts to make it appropriate for apprentices and his larger artisan community. He served as an author as well as a collector, and produced a valuable new work for the use of “all mankind,” as one of his title‐pages suggests. Ultimately, this manuscript case study shows that readers—even craftsmen who worked in less traditional centers of learning—were aware of the instability of the printed book and viewed knowledge as shaped through curation of content rather than permanence of form.
Writing Himself into a Profession: Knowledge, Skills, and Community in John Martin's “Several Receipts for the Use of Mankind”
Bénédicte Miyamoto, Faith D. Acker; Writing Himself into a Profession: Knowledge, Skills, and Community in John Martin's “Several Receipts for the Use of Mankind”. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 January 2024; 48 (1): 6–27. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-10951302
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