Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 781 is a miscellany manuscript containing prose texts and verse, compiled in the early seventeenth century. In Black's catalogue of Ashmolean manuscripts, the contents is described as 'Miscellanies, Religious, Political, and Poetical; chiefly by Persons of Quality' (Catalogue of the Manuscripts [...[ by Elias Ashmole, ed. William Henry Black, Oxford: OUP, 1845, pp. 395-401). There is no evidence on the identity of the compiler. Black in 1845 already noted that the manuscript was rapidly deteriorating, with many of its pages 'discolored with the badness of the ink' (p. 395). Today, the manuscript has been disbound and conserved in an effort to stabilise the extreme corrosive effects of the ink upon the paper, which was slowly but surely destroying the manuscript. Pages are currently kept unbound as bifolia, enclosed in melinex wrappers. A full conservation report and physical manuscript description was provided by Bodleian librarian Bruce Barker-Benfield, and our electronic edition of the Donne sermon in the manuscript is much indebted to this work (now prefixed to the first fascicule of the manuscript leaves). For general consultation, a photographic facsimile is available, MS Ashmole 781*.
The manuscript contains a single Donne text: his 'Sermon of Valediction at his Going into Germany', on Ecclesiastes 12.1, the most widely copied of all Donne's sermons in manuscript (OESJD, Vol. IV.10). In total, Black's catalogue lists 98 items in the manuscript: those immediately following the sermon include 'The General state of ye Scottish Commonwealth', 'A true declaration of the execution of Mary the late Queene of Scots', and 'His Mats speech in the Parlamt house at Edenborrough the 17 of June 1617'. A list of contents was also supplied by the seventeenth-century scribe responsible for the bulk of the collection (pp. 167-68).
The OESJD editors would like to express their gratitude to the Bodleian Library for allowing access to the original manuscript.