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The Magnetic Lady: Textual Essay

Helen Ostovich

The publication history of The Magnetic Lady is part of the long complicated story of difficulties besetting F2 . Jonson alludes to the problems briefly in a 1631 letter to the Earl of Newcastle, in which he blames ‘the lewd printer’ and ‘absolute knave’ John Beale for ‘subject enough for a tragicomedy, for with his delays and vexation, I am almost become blind, and if heaven be so just in the metamorphosis to turn him into that creature he most assimilates, a dog with a bell [playing on the pronunciation of Beale] to lead me between Whitehall and my lodging, I may bid the world good night’ (Letter 15). Jonson could have had no idea then of the multiplied ‘tragicomedy’ that would plague the printing of F2(2) and (3) from 1637 to 1667, with disputes over ownership of the copy despite his best efforts to forestall such events.

Presumably, when Jonson saw that his arrangements with his publisher Robert Allot had gone awry over the printing of F2(2) in 1631, he retained fair copy of all his unpublished works, may have begun negotiating with another printer, and appointed Sir Kenelm Digby as his literary executor. After Jonson’s death in August 1637, Digby made arrangements for the publication of Jonson’s manuscripts, F2(3), including The Magnetic Lady, with Thomas Walkley, who paid £40 in 1637 for the edition, planned for 1640. The choice of publisher was probably based on Jonson’s earlier working arrangements, presumably satisfactory, with Walkley, the publisher of Love’s Triumph through Callipolis and Chloridia (1631), the last works issued in Jonson’s lifetime.

Digby’s decision to accept Walkley as publisher gives considerable pause for thought, because in July 1637, Allot’s former apprentice, Andrew Crooke, and his printer, John Legatt, finally entered their copies of F2(2) into the Stationers’ Register, after repeated warnings from the Company for neglecting this duty. Crooke, who gained control of the stock after Allot’s death in 1635 by managing the shop for his widow, and who had been battling in Chancery with Mary Allot and her new husband Philip Chetwin over rights since then, plotted subsequently to gain control of Walkley’s copy as well. The aptly named Crooke had performed similar acts of what amounted to piracy in the printing of The Practice of Piety (Williams, 1977, 90-1 ), an immensely profitable book which contemporaries revered as a second bible (see The Magnetic Lady, 4.4.39n.). Although Crooke and Legatt had legal control over Allot’s copyrights (see Arber, Transcript, 4.387 ), they acquired it under questionable circumstances, which may be inferred by observing how they attempted to gain control of Walkley’s rights.

Luckily for current scholarship, Walkley had an excellent lawyer, John Vernon, whose Chancery bill gives a lucid narrative of events (see Marcham, 1931 , and Eugene Giddens’ account of the dispute in the Textual Database). A word of caution, however: the persuasive powers of a good lawyer may obscure or misrepresent the issues, skewing evidence to secure the best possible advantage for the client. Walkley’s story, good as it is, may not reflect his character accurately; for example, E. A. J. Honigmann (1996, 22-9, 152-8 ) finds him dishonest in his business practice during the 1620s. The document nevertheless establishes the provenance of The Magnetic Lady and the rest of Jonson’s late works in F2(3) by explaining that Digby, as literary executor of Jonson’s manuscripts, had the right ‘to dispose thereof at his will and pleasure’, and that Jonson had left ‘true and perfect copies for his better and more effectual doing thereof’.

Walkley apparently won his case, since he did print and issue F2(3) in 1641, but he had to make further complaints, finally to the House of Lords in 1648, before he acquired the right to license – or relicense – the book he had already purchased and printed. This registration was finally entered on 17 September 1658, with the surprising addition of Devil, the disputed, unregistered play from 1631 F2(2):