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An early reader of the Jonson folio

Posted by: CEWBJ Team 7 years, 6 months ago


An interesting copy of the 1616 Jonson folio is listed in a recent catalogue by the specialist booksellers Maggs Bros. Ltd (catalogue 1471, 2013, item 46). This copy was sold at auction in October 2012, and has now been bought by the Folger Shakespeare Library. The book is yet to reach the shelves at the Folger, but the following preliminary account is based on details from Maggs’s catalogue.


What makes this copy particularly special is that it has many early annotations, and that we know the name of the man who first owned it and probably made them. The title-page is endorsed with the purchaser’s name and a record of the price he paid for it: ‘Hen: Latham pretiu[m] x-s’. Ten shillings seems to have been the regular retail price for the folio, since the inventory of the stock held by a York bookseller, John Forster, who died late in 1616, lists a copy of ‘Johnson’s Workes ... x s’. It is particularly exciting to have confirmation of this figure from the annotation showing that Latham was charged the same amount. (For further discussion, see David Gants’s textual essay on the folio in the electronic edition.)


Who was Henry Latham? Inevitably it’s difficult to be sure, and readers of this blog may want to send me their own suggestions. The only potential candidate I have found in the university admissions records from this period is a Henry Latham who took his BA at Brasenose College in 1566 and his MA at Catherine Hall, Cambridge, in 1571. The editor of the Cambridge records notes that a minister of this name was rector of Little Sandal in Yorkshire in 1588. However, it cannot be said for sure that these three Henry Lathams are all one and the same man, and it seems fairly unlikely that a minister in a small Yorkshire parish was our purchaser.


Another Henry Latham is recorded as the son of Lewis Latham. Lewis Latham (d. 1655) was a Bedfordshire man with a close court connection, for he was falconer to Prince Henry and subsequently to Charles I. Falconry ran in this family, for a presumed relative of theirs, Simon Latham, wrote a handbook to the sport (in two parts, 1614-18). However, this Henry Latham is too young (he was born in 1612), and the family occupation is unpromising background for book-collecting habits.


A more significant dynasty of Lathams lived at Whiston in Lancashire. These were an ancient Lancashire family, whose main line had been absorbed by the Stanleys, Earls of Derby (famous for their patronage of drama). The Stanley seat was at Knowsley (now in Merseyside, but historically part of Lancashire) and Whiston is close by. Henry Latham of Whiston was born in 1570/1 and died in 1652. He is described as ‘yeoman’ in 1614, but two of his sons went to Oxford and the family was sufficiently prosperous and well known to be listed in William Dugdale’s 1665 heraldic visitation of Lancashire, so this might just be our man. Henry married in 1594 and had four sons and five daughters. Strikingly, this generation of the family had strong puritanical leanings. Henry’s eldest son, John, supported parliament in the civil war, and the two younger sons became nonconformist ministers; John’s son (also Henry) made a fortune out of coal. If Henry senior was indeed the book-owner – and it’s by no means certain – it would be noteworthy that Jonson, scourge of the puritans, was being read in a family whose outlook eventually took them in quite different directions.


Whichever Henry Latham is the right person (and he may well be none of the above), on the basis of his annotations he seems to have read the folio thoroughly and carefully. The  text of Poetaster is annotated with a series of stage directions, mostly saying ‘Exit’ or ‘Exeunt’, particularly filling out the complicated stage business in 2.1 and 2.2, which is rather elliptically signalled in the folio. As Maggs’s catalogue suggests, Latham was probably copying these from the 1602 quarto of the play. Notably, a superfluous ‘Exeunt’ is carried across at 3.4.223, and at 4.9.97 ‘Exit Julia’ is repeated word for word from the quarto. Also interesting are some corrections to folio misprints. In The Alchemist, a speech-heading for Face has dropped out of the dialogue at 3.3.6, and Latham writes this in: there is no precedent for it in the 1612 quarto of The Alchemist, which also lacks the speech heading. At Every Man Out 1.2.8, a one-line speech for Carlo Buffone has disappeared at the foot of the page, ‘A most gentlemanlike resolution.’ This is the uncorrected state of H3v, the missing text being put right in state 2, but Latham has a go at fixing the omission himself, writing in ‘Carl: Very good: A Braue Resolution.’ His addition has no textual value, of course, but it is impressive in that he managed to supply a form of words which comes out quite close to the missing line. Was he consulting the 1600 quarto, or carrying over a memory of the play in performance? A further insertion is made in Epicene 4.1.19-20, 58-9, where a flaw in the paper has caused three words to disappear from 3B1 and two from 3B1v, all of which are correctly written in. Epicene had not previously been printed, so in this instance Latham must have supplemented the words from his own memory or imagination. 


Another revealing alteration comes in a song in The Masque of Beauty, 279, where Latham adjusts the phrase ‘polity of court’ to ‘policy of court’. Maggs’s catalogue describes this as a correction, though in fact the word does not need emending, for it appears as ‘polity’ in the 1608 quarto as well as the folio. ‘Polity’ as an etymological variant of ‘policy’ is recorded by the OED as late as 1925, and Jonson’s folio prints ‘’Tis your best politie to be ignorant’ in Cynthia’s Revels 1.1.13 (albeit the 1601 quarto has ‘policie’ here; a c/t foulcase error is always a possibility). Almost certainly, Latham took the reading ‘policy’ from the variant text of the song in the composer Alphonso Ferrabosco’s printed collection of Ayres (1609), for his annotations show that he went through the folio comparing it with Ferrabosco’s volume and looking for songs set to music by him. Latham annotates this song and eight others with notes along the lines of ‘This is Alphonso his sixte songe’, ‘This is the 18th of Alphonso his songs’; and on a blank leaf at the end he adds a transcript of Ferrabosco’s eighth song ‘Young and simple though I am’ (setting words by Thomas Campion). Did he own Ferrabosco’s Ayres, or had he borrowed it from a friend? The fact that he wrote out the whole of Campion’s lyric perhaps suggests that he was comparing the folio with a music book that was only temporarily in his possession.


Whatever the truth behind the details, this volume gives us a sharp picture of one of the folio’s early readers, and a remarkable insight into the reading habits which he brought to it. And if the Lancashire Latham is our man, it would help to confirm that – as the York bookseller’s stock indicates – from early on the folio reached a provincial readership, and was not merely read by the metropolitan elites.


For information about the Latham family, see the very useful essay by Tom Steel:


Martin Butler


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