Your browser is not supported. This might affect how the content is displayed.

Some new Jonson books

Posted by: CEWBJ Team 4 years, 6 months ago


A few exciting Jonson volumes have turned up in the last few months which may interest readers of this occasional blog. One is a book from Jonson’s own library: Adagia, sive proverbia Graecorum (Antwerp, 1612) by Andreas Schottus. This book, which has hitherto been in a private collection and does not appear in David McPherson’s catalogue of Jonson’s library, has Jonson’s signature (‘Svm Ben: Ionsonij’) and motto (‘tanquam Explorator’). It will be sold later this year at Sotheby’s.

Schottus’s Adagia is one of the many books in Jonson’s library that typify his serious scholarly interests and his engagement with humanistic circles in the Low Countries. Schottus (André Schott; 1552-1629), was born in Antwerp and spent his formative years in Spain, lecturing in Greek at Toledo and Saragossa. In Toledo he was ordained and joined the Jesuit order, returning to teach in Antwerp in 1597. His extensive publications include editions of Greek and Latin authors, works of commentary and philology, and some voluminous historiography, including collections of historical and chorographical material on Italy and Spain. His Adagia is an edition of three gatherings of proverbs by Greek writers: Zenobius, Diogenianus, and Suidas. Printed in Greek and Latin, with learned scholia, it is one of those dense and erudite works of reference which are particularly well-represented in Jonson’s library. (For a useful overview of Schottus, see Fernando Sánchez-Marcos and Fernando González del Campo, ‘Historiography and intellectual debate in late Renaissance Europe’, in De lectuur in van het verleden, eds. J. Tollebeek, G. Verbeeck and T. Verschaffel (Louvain, 1998), 175-87.)

Even more exciting than this is a copy of the 1640 reprint of Jonson’s 1616 folio Works which has recently been sold by Maggs to Edinburgh University Library. The remarkable thing about this copy is that the text of Epicene boasts extensive annotations in a 17th-century hand or hands suggesting that it had been marked up with a view to a performance. These marks – nearly 160 in all – are exclusively theatrical in nature. They add or delete names in stage directions to clarify the flow of characters on and off stage, provide indications of small props, and expand in useful ways on the implied stage action, either with instructions for movement – ‘runs in’, ‘withdraws aside’, ‘backs towards entrance’ – or elaborating action which is implicit in the text: ‘raps his fingers’, ‘feigns this speech as if Sir Am[orous] not present’, ‘steps to the closett & seems to speak this softly’. (I take these examples from Arthur Freeman’s account of the book in Maggs’s catalogue 1495, September 2017.) What is unclear is when these annotations were made, whether they are complete, and whether they can be linked to any particular performance. They are, though, the only such theatrical marks to a Jonson text surviving from the period.

The other interesting question concerns the volume’s provenance. Until recently the book was in the library of the Powell family at Nanteos, two miles east of Aberystwyth. The earliest known owner of the Nanteos estate was Colonel John Jones, a royalist army officer who raised the Cardiganshire militia for Charles I in the Civil War. His daughter married Cornelius Le Brun, a German engineer who made his fortune in the Welsh lead and silver mines and became High Sheriff of Cardiganshire; and Le Brun’s daughter married a neighbouring gentleman, William Powell, whose father Sir John Powell (1633-1696) was one of the judges of the King’s Bench under James II.  Could the book have come to Nanteos through the Powell family, given that Sir John must have known something of the cultural life of Restoration London? Or were Jonson’s plays already circulating in Wales during the Civil War? Might there, in fact, have been an amateur Welsh Epicene planned at Nanteos in the 1640s? At the moment such speculations cannot be taken any further. Hopefully we shall learn more about the volume once it has been made available for proper scholarly study.

Finally, another book offered for sale in the same catalogue is a copy of the so-called third volume of the 1640-1 folio which carries a unique title-page in letterpress announcing it as ‘The Mirror of | ELOQUENCE | AND | Wealth of Wit. With severall excellent | Masques and Poems: | Wherein are also contained these Playes, viz. | Mortimers Fall, The Sad Shepheard, | The Magnetick Lady, And Tale of a Tub. | BY | Benjamin Jonson. | LONDON, | Printed in the Year, Mdcxl.’ The setting of this single leaf is very rough and certainly does not correspond to the quality of printing in the rest of the volume. Maggs’s catalogue entry speculates that this leaf could have been printed during the period of the legal disputes over copyright that held up publication of the volume, in which some of the as-yet-unreleased sheets printed by John Dawson for Thomas Walkley were temporarily impounded. The catalogue – noting that no bookseller is named on the title-page – suggests that someone may have had possession of a sufficient amount of stock of the volume to conceive a plan to issue some of it surreptitiously under a different title. ‘The Mirror of Eloquence’ is a title previously used by Anthony Munday for his translation of The Orator by Alexander le Silvain (Alexander van den Busche), but I’m not sure this actually adds anything useful

One notable aspect of this title-page is that it does not mention the translation of Horace, The English Grammar or Discoveries, all of which form one sub-section of the volume, which was printed in three sequences. Perhaps the intention was to release only the other two sections, which contain the better-known plays, poems and masques. It is also notable that the title-page does promise The Sad Shepherd, which is one of the two texts in the volume dated 1641 by the printer, rather than 1640 (the other is Discoveries). It has sometimes been argued that the variation in dates indicates that the printing of The Sad Shepherd and Discoveries was delayed by the legal dispute, but Eugene Giddens has argued on the basis of headline evidence that these two texts were in fact already substantially complete. If, as the date on this title-page suggests, The Sad Shepherd was capable of being issued in 1640, then it tends to affirm Giddens’s deductions – so long, that is, as the ‘1640’ date is accurate and not falsified later for some reason.

I am very grateful to Henry Woudhuysen, Ian Donaldson and Tom Lockwood for their comments on these three volumes.

Martin Butler


  • There are currently no comments