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The Works of Ben Jonson (1716-17): Textual Essay

Tom Lockwood

General title-page

THE | WORKS | OF | BEN. JOHNSON. | IN | SIX VOLUMES. | [single rule: 90mm] | ADORN’D with CUTS. | [single rule: 90mm] | –neque, me ut miretur turba laboro: | Contentus paucis lectoribus. | [single rule: 90mm] | LONDON: | Printed for J. Walthoe, M. Wotton, J. Nicholson, J. Sprint, | G. Conyers, B. Tooke, D. Midwinter, T. Ballard, B. Cowse, | J. Tonson, and W. Innys. M DCC XVI.

Collation by volume

Volume 1

8o: A-2I8; pp.i-v, 6-512.

[$1-4 signed (-B1, 2C1), missigning H4 as “G4”]

CONTENTS: A1r: general title-page; A2r: volume title-page; A3r: commendatory verses; B1r: EMI; H5r: EMO; R7r: Cynthia; 2C1r: Poet.

Volume 2

8o: A 2 B-2F8; pp.i-ii, i-iv, 5-448.

[$1-4 signed (-S1, Y4)]

CONTENTS: A2r: volume title-page; B1r: Sej.; H8r: Volp.; Q3r: Epicene; Z6r: Alch.

Volume 3

8o: A-2G8 2H4; pp.i-ix, 10-488.

[$1-4 (-A4, 2H3-4)]

CONTENTS: A1r: volume title-page; A2r: Cat.; H1r: Epigr.; M1r: Forest; M6r: King’s Ent.; P6v: Panegyre; Q1v: Althorp; Q7r: Highgate; R4r: Two Kings; R5r: Theobalds; R8v: Blackness; S7v: Beauty; T8r: Hym.; Y2r: Haddington; Z3r: Queens; 2B6r: Barriers; 2C5r: Oberon; 2D7v: Love Freed; 2E7r: Love Rest.; 2F4r: Challenge; 2F8r: Irish; 2G3v: Merc. Vind.; 2G8r: Gold. Age.

Volume 4

8o: A-2E8 2F4; pp.i-vii, 8-456.

[$1-4 signed (-A1, A2, 2C3, 2F3-4)]

CONTENTS: A1r: volume title-page; A2r: Bart. Fair; I5r: Staple; Q5r: Devil; Z6r: Mag. Lady.

Volume 5

8o: A 2 B-2E8; pp.i-iv, i-ii, 3-432.

[$1-4 signed (-S4)]

CONTENTS: A2r: volume title-page; B1r: Tub; G5v: Sad Shep.; K4r: Und.; T5v: Welbeck; U3v: Bolsover; U7v: Mort.; X2v: Christmas; X8r: Lovers MM; Y4v: Vision; Z1r: Pleasure Rec.; Z7r: Wales; 2A5v: News NW; 2B3v: Gypsies; 2E1v: Augurs.

Volume 6

8o: A 2 B-2D8 2E4; pp.i-iv, i, 2-414, i-x.

[$1-4 signed (-2B1, 2E2-4), missigning M2 as “M”]

CONTENTS: A2r: volume title-page; B1r: Time Vind.; C2r: Neptune; D3r: Pan’s Ann.; D8v: Owls; E3v: Fort. Isles; F6v: Love’s Tr.; G3r: Chloridia; H1r: Horace 2; K5v: Grammar; P7r: Discoveries; Y2v: New Inn; E2r: Leg. Conv.


The Works of 1716-17 represent a consistent attempt by the London publishers to package Jonson according to the developing tastes of the early eighteenth-century reading public. Advertised in The Evening Post (9-11 May 1717) as ‘This Day . . . publish’d’, the so-called ‘Booksellers’ Edition’ prints Jonson’s texts in a six-volume octavo format, a move that keeps pace with the contemporary switch away from the large folio formats favoured by printers at the close of the previous century, embodied in books such as Jonson’s Works of 1692 . The Works of 1716-17 also add to Jonson’s texts a series of eleven illustrative engraved plates by Louis Du Guernier. ‘ADORN’D with CUTS’, as its general title-page describes it, this edition of Jonson has its place not only in the history of the transmission of Jonson’s text but within a developing contemporary market-place for print. It has as much in common with the multi-volume octavo editions of Shakespeare (1709), Beaumont and Fletcher (1711), and Spenser (1715) – all of which represent the first multi-volume octavo publication of their authors, and were accompanied by engravings – as it does with earlier collected editions of Jonson (I. A. Williams, 1936 ; Hadfield, 2000 ).

If a tendency to identify the complete reprintings of Jonson’s Works with the names of their editors rather than their publishers has, in a later period, obscured the relevance of the book trades to the continued transmission of his texts, the so-called Booksellers’ Edition firmly locates Jonson in the trades (the coinage is probably Gifford’s, 1.ccxxxiii ). The major transaction behind the Bookseller’s Edition was the transfer, on 22 May 1707, from Henry Herringman, at the close of his career as a printer, publisher, and stationer, to Jacob Tonson II of ‘all that second part of the Copy of a Book intituled the Works of Ben: Jonson’ (Bodleian Library MS Charters Surrey c.1 (84); Miller, 1948 ). Here, as in the case of the 1692 Works, the full history of the rights to copy in Jonson’s works has not been written. Many details of the smaller transfers within the booktrade that must have taken place beside that from Herringman to Tonson remain unclear. Tonson was the major owner of Jonson’s copies involved in the financing and printing of the edition and accordingly the publisher whose transactions are most easily recoverable.

It is clear, however, of the booksellers whose commercial transactions are more difficult to recover that the syndicate of publishers of which they formed part was very closely related to the syndicate that had financed the 1692 folio. The means of this relation was the Stationers’ Company, and some probable deductions as to the passage of rights to copy can be made on this basis (I draw here on McKenzie, 1974 ). Besides Matthew Wotton and George Conyers, two publishers from the older generation who feature in the imprints to both the Works of 1692 and 1716-17, men of a younger generation, who had been apprenticed through the Company to members of the 1692 syndicate, occur frequently in 1716/17. George Conyers (named in both imprints, as we have seen) had been master to Thomas Ballard (named in 1716/17); Daniel Midwinter and Benjamin Cowse (both named in 1716) had been apprenticed to Richard Chiswell (named in 1692); Thomas Basset (named in 1692) had been master to Jacob Tonson (named in 1716/17). It is tempting to speculate that rights to copy in Jonson passed along routes within the trade created by the patterns of master- and apprentice-ship. More archival research, however, remains to be done in this area. (A 1732 inventory of the copies jointly owned by Daniel Midwinter and Aaron Ward, a later business partner, is now British Library Add. MS 44,849, for instance.)

Yet these transactions between individual members of the Stationers’ Company took place within a broader context of change within the book trades. Specifically this shift related to rights to copy, the key change being that engendered by the ‘Act for the Encouragement of Learning’, enacted in 1710. The first Copyright Act (as it has come to be known) ought radically to have altered the legal and practical basis on which stationers conducted their business, for the first time legally giving a living author a period of time-limited rights to copy in his or her work. In fact, for the first twenty or so years after the Act came in to force, the book trade seems largely to have carried on as if little had changed, its day-to-day practices confirming the de facto continuance of perpetual copyright. The Act allowed that all existing books were to be copyrighted to their present owners for 21 years from the date of its enactment, 10 April 1710. Those printed after this date were to remain in copyright for only 14 years (Dugas, 2001 ; Feather 1980 ; Feather 1987 ; St Clair, 2004 ). Even these transitional arrangements had little effect on the established sale within the book trades of pre-existing copyrights in dead authors like Jonson. The impact of the Act, then, can only be seen indirectly in the publication of Jonson’s work. The Works of 1716-17 are probably to be understood in this context partly as a gesture intended to restate the booksellers’ right to Jonson’s copy, and partly as an ongoing attempt to find a new, fashionable market for them.

The eleven plates drawn and engraved by Louis Du Guernier, as has been noted above, represent one of the key strategies intended to market Jonson to a new reading audience. ‘ADORN’D with CUTS’, the 1716-17 Works responded to the very height of book-producing and book-buying fashion. Louis Du Guernier arrived in England from France in 1708, part of an influx of foreign engravers drawn to the developing market for English engraved prints at the start of the eighteenth century. He quickly established himself in the English trade. In 1711 Du Guernier, as a director, collaborated with another émigré, Nicolas Dorigny, to establish the Great Queen Street Academy in London, where engravers, on payment of a subscription, had access to casts of classical statues and life-models. Later, at the time he was at work on the engraved plates for the 1716-17 Works, Du Guernier was, along with Claude Du Bosc, one of two named engravers associated with Henry Overton and Thomas Bowles’s subscription publication of Louis Laguerre’s frescoes of the military triumphs of the Duke of Marlborough (Clayton, 1997 ). As the prominence of these non-literary examples demonstrates, engravings commissioned by and executed for the book-trades formed only a part of Du Guernier’s output. Nonetheless, his association with Jacob Tonson was substantial. He designed or engraved plates for editions of Otway (1712), Shakespeare (1714, the third edition of Rowe’s text), Horace, and Virgil (both 1715), in all of which Tonson had a share.

Du Guernier’s death in London from smallpox on 19 September 1716 prevented him from completing the set of engravings commissioned for 1716-17 Works. At his death engraved plates had been prepared for the eleven plays between Every Man In and The Staple of News; no second artist was engaged to supply the engravings that would have accompanied the three remaining completed plays, Devil, Mag. Lady, and Tub. What those completed engravings themselves represent is not clear. John H. Astington has argued of the revisions made by Du Guernier to the Macbeth engraving from Rowe’s 1714 Complete Works of William Shakespeare that they show a concern with ‘the emotional concentration and tension of a pictorial composition rather than a reflection of early eighteenth-century staging’ (Astington, 1998 ; see also Boase, 1947 ). That Du Guernier’s classicizing images for Poetaster, Sejanus, and Catiline do not derive from stage practice seems clear: the plays simply were not in the contemporary repertory. Less certain are the stark, out-sized interiors of the engravings to Every Man In and The Alchemist, which could just possibly represent stage practice, even if not represented within a realistic stage image. More certain is the fact that the crowded, exterior scene from Volpone – Volpone’s performance as Scoto in front of Celia at the window – represents an idealized pictorial response to Jonson’s text on the page rather than the stage. It seems likely that Tonson and his successors retained the originals of Du Guernier’s plates following the publication of the Works in 1716-17. The engravings recur regularly in editions of single plays through the century until they begin to be replaced in the mid-1770s by images of named actors in Jonsonian roles, Garrick chief among them (ed. Burnim and Highfill, 1998 ).

The printing of the 1716-17 Works was shared among the members of the publication syndicate. Although it is not possible (yet) to identify the specific printers of individual volumes, evidence provided by the volumes’ format and the setting of their title-pages and imprints shows that production of the edition was divided between at least two printing houses and proceeded both concurrently and out of volume-sequence. H&S (9.136) noted that volumes 1, 5 and 6 list ‘J. Wotton’ in their imprint, rather than the ‘Matthew Wotton’ of volumes 2-4, but do not otherwise comment on this distinction. In fact, it forms part of a larger pattern that serves to differentiate the printing of the volumes that make up the edition. Volumes 2-4 – which set two reversed braces between the list of their contents on the title-page, consistently begin their register at sig. A, and set their imprint date on a new type-line – were produced by one printing house. Volumes 5-6 – which set two vertical rules between the list of their contents on their title-page, consistently begin their register at sig. B, and set their imprint date on the same type-line as the names of the last publishers set out in the imprint – were produced by a second. Volume 1, which contains the edition’s general title-page as well as the volume-specific title-page, is less clearly attributable, though was most likely printed by the same house as volumes 5-6. It apparently shares in common with volumes 2-4 the setting of braces on the title-page, and begins its register at sig. A, but in other respects accords with the habits of volumes 5-6: besides the coincidence noted by H&S, the imprint date is set on the same type-line as the last publishers named in the imprint, and it begins printing the text of Every Man In at sig. B1r. As the first volume in the edition it is, of course, possible that the printers deliberately sought to bring it into typographical line with volumes 2-4. It is also the case that the contents of sig. A in volume 1 – the general and volume title-pages, and the collected commendatory poems from the 1692 folio – are properly preliminary material. The evidence of two printing houses working collaboratively on the joint production of the 1716-17 Works is therefore clear, and there may be still further evidence for the involvement of a third house.

The six volumes of the 1716-17 Works take as their copy-text the third folio of 1692 from which they depart – in order or accidentals – only by error. The printing of the 1716-17 Works is generally of a good standard, allowing for a startling misprint (‘VOLUME the FIRRST’ for ‘FIRST’) on the title-page of volume 1 (other errors are noted by H&S). Altogether more curious is the rapid diminution of type size across the final gatherings of The Alchemist in volume 2, first at sig. 2E5v and then again at sig. 2F5v. Although presumably a response to an error in casting-off copy, and a wish to economize on paper in the volume’s two final gatherings, the increasingly claustrophobic typographical environment unintentionally renders in the book’s mise-en-page the constricting timing and stage-space of the last acts of Jonson’s comedy to (unintentionally) wonderful effect.

Looking back at the Works of 1716-17 from his vantage point a hundred years later, William Gifford thought that their appearance indicated a ‘considerable’ demand for Jonson’s texts in the early eighteenth-century, a demand that, regrettably, they in some way served to extinguish: ‘This publication was merely a reprint of the old copy, and with this, defective as it was, the town was content till the year 1756’ (Gifford 1816, 1.ccxxxiv ). Smaller selections from Jonson’s plays were published in the years following 1717. William Feales printed Three Celebrated Plays of that Excellent Poet Ben Johnson for an expanded syndicate in 1732, and Every Man In and Epicene were included in The Theatre; or, Select Works of the British Dramatic Poets, printed in twelve volumes in Edinburgh for Martin and Wotherspoon in 1768. So too, many editions of single plays were printed; those most in fashion through that period were the major comedies. Every Man In, to take an indicative and not exclusive example, was printed with David Garrick’s alterations in London for Tonson and Draper in 1752, 1755, and 1765; anonymously in London in 1759; in London for Caslon, Lowndes, Nicoll, and Bladon in 1769; and in London for Lowndes, Nicoll, and Bladon in 1789 (full listings to 1777 are provided by Pedicord and Bergmann, in Garrick, Plays, 1980-2, 5.318-26, 6.364-73 ). A Dublin edition was also printed for W. Whitestone in 1759. Every Man In, Volpone, and The Alchemist also became a standard part of John Bell’s many-times reissued collection, The British Theatre (Burnim and Highfill, 1998 ). Jonson’s complete works were not reprinted again until they were edited by Peter Whalley in 1756.