|‘To make excellent Inke’, I learn from a 1620s manuscript miscellany, mix ‘2 ounces of Gume Arabick, 2 Ounces of Galls, halfe an ounce of Coparas, & they will make a Gallon of Inke’. I've always been struck by how many recipes there are for ink in early modern manuscripts: they're everywhere, sometimes dozens of them in a single volume, and they seem to have served functions more numerous than simply telling readers how to make ink. There's something about ongoingness: about how commonplace books carry within themselves prescriptions for their continued evolution.|
A couple of weekends ago, at something of a loose end, I thought: that's what I'll do. I'll make ink. So I did, following the above recipe. The strange alchemy was performed with a friend in someone's backgarden, by candlelight. (Coincidentally, the owner of the backgarden looks strikingly like Samuel Pepys: but that's another post. Hold the flageolet, as they say.) Gum arabic is easy to acquire from any art supply shop: it's a thickening agent used in all kinds of things like chewing gum. Gallic acid and iron sulphate came via the university chemistry department, in bottles unopened since 1951. A certain amount of trepidation filled the air as the fifty-six-year-old bung was uncorked. But we survived, without even a singe to our ruffs. Oh yes, did I mention the full Inns of Court costumes?
Results. Well, one quite interesting thing. The ink, when made, was a horrible weak grey colour, watery and feeble on the page, the calligraphic equivalent of Slough. But after a couple of minutes, it turned a glorious, rich, dark black. The words literally grew in intensity before our eyes, as (I suppose) the oxygen did its thing with the 'coparas'. The ink had a life of its own, after the writing, and went about its business after we'd moved on. Which, if we're trying to extract something literary from this frankly rather odd evening, maybe complicates links between writing and fixity / permanence. And also of authorship: the ink filled itself out, long after the quill had dashed off to the next Buckingham libel.
Next week: how to stew pippins.