Knowing who’s who in Absalom and Achitophel

‘Annabal’ was the Duchess of Monmouth; ‘Zimri’ was the Duke of Buckingham; ‘Saull’ Oliver Cromwell, ‘Corah’ Titus Oates and so on.

In a volume of literary miscellanea bequeathed by Nicholas Crouch to his college library in 1690, there is a 1682 edition of Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel.

Bound with it is a manuscript list identifying prominent contemporary figures which the poem’s characters represented:

‘Annabal’ was the Duchess of Monmouth; ‘Zimri’ was the Duke of Buckingham; ‘Saull’ Oliver Cromwell, ‘Corah’ Titus Oates and so on.

In his Life of Dryden, Samuel Johnson repeats Addison’s claim that Absalom and Achitophel  was popular because readers enjoyed decoding its allegory and identifying its characters.

But Johnson disagrees:

‘There is no need to enquire why those verses were read, which, to all the attractions of wit, elegance and harmony, added the co-operation of all the factious passions, and filled every mind with triumph or resentment.’

Such resentment could be a stimulus to physical violence. In 1679, Dryden was ‘soundly cudgell’d by 3 men’ in Covent Garden. The biographer Anthony Wood, wondered (mistakenly)  whether the assault had been provoked by Absalom. In other poems, Dryden used more obscure allegory to frustrate hostile interpretation or scrutiny. But to contemporaries Absalom’s characters seemed dangerously identifiable.

Nonetheless, the binding of the written list with the play suggests that identification was not straightforward for everyone.

Perhaps Crouch found the key (one of many circulating in print and in manuscript) useful to stir his memory.

The writing is certainly not Crouch’s, so someone else has given him this list.

There is a tantalising entry in Crouch’s diary for 6th April 1665 which reads ‘Dined with me Mr. Dryden & Rothera[m?]’

Entries for April 1665 in Nicholas Crouch's diary (Balliol College MS 355). Photo: Paris O'Donnell

The rest of the entry is difficult to decipher but seems to refer to the proctors of Cambridge University.

The Mr.  Dryden with whom Crouch dined was probably not the poet, although his identity could merit further investigation.

Perhaps Crouch’s crib came from someone in the know.

By J. Hinchliff &  P. O’Donnell.

The following sources were used in the creation of this post:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘John Dryden’.

Samuel Johnson, ‘Dryden’, in Lives of the poets, ed. R. Lonsdale (Oxford: Clarendon, 2006), vol. 2.

Steven N. Zwicker, Politics and language in Dryden’s poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

Andrew Clark, The life and times of Antony Wood (Oxford: Clarendon, 1898).

Comments welcome: email library@balliol.ox.ac.uk.

Hobbes’ Leviathan: editions in disguise

The head, the bear and ‘the ornaments’

Balliol’s copy of the first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan has recently returned from conservation by the Oxford Conservation Consortium. The front board has been reattached and several leaves cleaned.

In addition to the iconic engraved title page, the first edition was issued with a letterpress title page. Three distinct editions would eventually appear with this imprint between 1651 and 1680.

The first edition of Leviathan had sold for a mere 8s 6d in 1651. By 1668, Pepys records that a secondhand copy ‘was mightily called for’, and was going for 24 shillings.

The second edition, printed by John Redmayne in 1670, copied the imprint of 1651. Noel Malcolm notes that it also contained text reprinted almost page-for-page from the first edition. After the Restoration and the 1662 Printing Act, powers of censorship were returned to the bishops. Charges of atheism against Hobbes led to the banning or suppression of many of his works.

Malcolm suggests that the 1670 edition may have been designed in this way to minimise attention to Leviathan’s republication.

The undertaking attracted attention nonetheless. Printed sheets were seized from Redmayne’s workshop on the orders of the Stationers’ Company in the autumn of 1670. They were taken away for ‘damasking’ (obliterating the text), although many sheets were probably salvaged and eventually issued.

The 'head' word cut ornament from the title page of the 1651 edition of Leviathan (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

At first glance, the one obvious difference among the three ‘first editions’ is the printer’s ornament on the title page, above the imprint. The copy in Balliol library carries the woodcut ornament known as ‘the head’, while the 1670 edition carries ‘the bear’ and the 1680 edition ‘the ornaments’. This is how we know that ours is from the genuine first edition of 1651.

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 d 139

Sources

Noel Malcolm, ‘The printing of the “Bear”’. In Aspects of Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Thomas Hobbes’

George Coningesby’s books

Among the early printed books in Balliol Library, one distinctive 18th-century hand appears again and again

Similar notes, in English and Latin, can be found in hundreds of books, on paste-downs, endpapers, on title pages, in the margins, in slips of paper.

The notes belong to one of the most important benefactors to the Library, the clergyman and antiquary George Coningesby (1692-3?-1766).

Coningesby proceeded Doctor of Divinity at Balliol in 1739. He was vicar of Bodenham, Herefordshire and then rector of Pencombe, in the same county.

The Oxford antiquary Thomas Hearne knew Coningesby, and described him as ‘a learned man, & studious, [who] bears the character of being honest’.

Coningesby made himself notorious in Oxford. In a 1727 sermon, he praised Charles I as ‘a Prince that was not alien by birth, & that preferred to dignities in the Church men of true worth and learning’ – in implied contrast to the current king, George I. By the time he was called before University officials to explain the offending sermon, Coningesby had contrived to ‘misplace’ his notes, according to Hearne. He was banned from preaching for two years and had to leave St Mary’s Hall.

The earliest book in the collection is a 1495 edition of Aristotle, but Coningesby collected books published throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Coningesby collected books with great energy, especially in the areas of classics, English history, church history, and religious polemics.

Coningesby acquired books owned and inscribed by other important scholars and antiquaries.

Thomas Hearne’s ownership inscription in a book later acquired by Coningesby.

These include Thomas Hearne; Arthur Charlett, master of Univ; Anglo-Saxonist George Hickes; the bibliophile Thomas Rawlinson; and Cambridge antiquary Thomas Baker.

Coningesby wrote on paste-downs, endpapers and in the margins, as well as on loose scraps of paper. He emended the text, transcribed errata lists and recorded bibliographical information. His notes also offer cross-references, citations and quotations from other scholarly works.

This little-known collection offers students of 18th-century history and literature opportunities for original research on reading and collecting practices.

Research by Paris O’Donnell

Sources

T. Hearne. Remarks and collections of Thomas Hearne. Vol. XI. Oxford: Clarendon, 1921

W.R. Ward. Georgian Oxford: university politics in the eighteenth century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958

How Bede’s Works came to Balliol: a sidelight on the Reformation

Tracing the trajectory of an early edition of Bede’s Works from Hailes Abbey, dissolved under Henry VIII, to Balliol Library

Manuscript additions on the title page of this book provide a little snapshot of English Reformation history. It is an edition of Bede’s Latin Works ([Paris]: Josse Badius, 1521). Abbot Stephen Whalley (or Sagar) of Hailes Abbey had acquired this volume of Bede’s works in 1538 and written his name at the head of the title page, as this detail shows:

‘Ex exempc[i]o[n]e dompini Stephani Whalley abb[at]is de heyles pro domo cap[itu]lari 1538.’
[Purchased by master Stephen Whalley, abbot of Heyles, for the chapterhouse 1538.]

The abbot's ownership inscription replaced by Grisset's donation note
The abbot’s ownership inscription replaced by Griffith’s donation note  (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

By the year of acquisition, 1538, the dissolution of English monasteries by Henry VIII was under way.

Hailes Abbey was home to a popular relic, a phial of blood thought to have been collected from the dying Christ. This attracted huge numbers of pilgrims, to the consternation of the reforming Bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer. The relic was investigated and declared a fake in 1538. By the following year, Stephen, the last abbot of Hailes, had surrendered the abbey to Henry’s men.

Stephen’s title-page inscription was then supplanted by the donation note of John Griffith, probably an alumnus of Balliol, who donated the book to the College.

The note reads: ‘Liber collegii ballioli ex dono d[o]m[ini] Joh[ann]is Gryffyt’. Griffith’s inscription (‘Ioh[ann]es Gryffytt’) is repeated at the foot of the title page.

John Grissett’s ownership inscription
John Grissett’s ownership inscription (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

Griffith’s donation is noted in Balliol’s benefactions book (below), and seems to have taken place between 1540 and 1543.

Detail from benefactions book  (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 f 115

Coryate’s Crudities: travels through 17th-century Europe

A curious early travel book

Thomas Coryate’s Crudities (1611) records Coryate’s extensive travels across Europe in 1608. The self-deprecating title, Michael Strachan has suggested, may derive from Dallington’s View of France (1605). Dallington refers to the glut of travel books on the English market as ‘unseasoned crudities’, incapable of being digested for knowledge or virtue.

crudities tp crop1

The self-deprecation of the title infuses the rest of the engraved title page. It is full of mock-heroic vignettes taken from Coryate’s experiences abroad. Coryate’s seasickness on the Dover-Calais crossing is depicted. His ragged travelling outfit, with lice dropping out of it, is also represented. A Venetian courtesan pelts Coryate with eggs. And from above the portrait of the author, as Ben Jonson glossed it, the allegorical figure Germania ‘pukes on his head’.

crudities tp crop2

A torrent of panegyrics

The engraved title page gave rise to another curious feature of the book, the mass of prefatory verses which precedes Coryate’s own travel narrative. To inspire verses in praise of the Crudities, Coryate circulated the engraving to many poets and wits.

Coryate belonged to a drinking society which patronised the Mermaid Tavern in London. Fellow patrons of the Mermaid, including Ben Jonson, wrote verses for the Crudities. John Donne and Inigo Jones also contributed. Many of the verses were mocking and derogatory. Donne predicted that the Crudities would be recycled to wrap market wares, and broken up to bind more worthy publications. He tells Coryate:

Go bashful man, lest here thou blush to look
Upon the progress of thy glorious book.

Many other contributors of verses professed not to have bothered to read the Crudities at all. As the torrent of panegyrics got out of hand, Coryate decided to suppress some of them. But the dedicatee, Prince Henry, commanded that all verses received (amounting to 107 pages) be printed in full. The cost of compliance was significant, as Coryate was financing the publication himself.

The tombstone traveller

Coryate’s appetite for travel was not sated by his European perambulations. He set off for the Levant in 1612 to gather material for another book. He visited Constantinople and Jerusalem before taking a route through Iran to India.

Tom Coryate, nicknamed ‘the tombstone traveller’ for his interest in epitaphs, never completed this second narrative. He died at Surat, Gujarat in 1617, aged about 40.

Balliol College Library shelfmark 575 b 6

Video created by Paris O’Donnell

Sources

Michael Strachan. The life and adventures of Thomas Coryate. Oxford University Press, 1962
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Thomas Coryate’ and ‘The Mermaid Tavern’

A golden hind

Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577)

Our copy of Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577) came via the large bequest of Sir Thomas Wendy in 1677. The gold-tooled centrepiece on the boards of this book shows a ‘hind statant’. It is believed this is the armorial device of the Hatton family, politicians and bibliophiles of the 16th and 17th century. Books from their collections can be found in a number of college libraries in Oxford.

Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591) helped finance Sir Francis Drake’s voyages of circumnavigation from 1577-1580. In 1580 Drake changed the name of his vessel mid-voyage from The Pelican to The Golden Hinde to honour Hatton.

Identification by Paul W. Nash

Piranesi in Balliol

Works by Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778)

Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778) was arguably the finest intaglio printmaker of the 18th century. He worked essentially as an etcher, but also employed engraving and drypoint techniques, and experimented with the inking and printing of his plates to achieve the complex, multi-textured images he wanted. As a draughtsman his architectural training was rather overwhelmed by his flamboyant, romantic, exotic and at times chaotic imagination. His depictions of buildings are beautiful, but inaccurate, and peopled with ragged, miniature human beings (partly to emphasise the scale and grandeur of the architecture). Piranesi’s ‘archaeological’ works are a great deal more valuable as art than as archaeology.

He was also a great controversialist, and engaged in bitter disputes with several contemporary historians and potential patrons, some of which gave rise to publications in defence of his (often quite untenable) position. Visitors to Rome, including British grand tourists, would often stop at Piranesi’s shop and buy a selection of his etchings or, if they could afford it, a complete set of what was then available. Piranesi’s works were expensive in their own time, and have long been regarded as high points among plate books, with good and complete copies commanding high prices.

Detail from Piranesi print

The ‘set’ of Piranesi’s works at Balliol is substantially complete for the period in which it was collected. The provenance is uncertain, but the ten physical volumes containing 18 separate works date from the same approximate period and were probably acquired together in Rome around 1770. A few of the works are in earlier states, datable to the earlier 1760s, but it is likely that all were acquired at the same time. There is a full set of the archaeological works of the period, including an excellent early example of Le antichita Romane (4 vols, 1757). Piranesi’s two great imaginative works, the Carcere d’invenzione and `Grotteschi’, are also present in contemporary states, and his earliest plates are represented by copies of Antichita Romane de’tempi della Republica (dated 1748) and the Opere varie di architettura prospettive grotteschi antichità (first published in 1750).

Among his works on interior design and decoration, there is a fine copy of Diverse maniere d’adornare i camini (1769) and an interesting set of eighteen plates from Vasi, candelabri …, which probably represents the state of this work at the time the plates were acquired (the Vasi was an open-ended series, not completed until after Piranesi’s death in 1778). Also present is the artist’s Osservazioni di Gio. Battista Piranesi sopra la lettre de M. Mariette aux auteurs de la Gazette littraire de l’Europe (1762), one of his controversial publications, in this case attacking Pierre-Jean Mariette.

The only major work of this period not found in Balliol is the Vedute di Roma, a group of large views published as an open-ended series from around 1748 (and completed after the artist’s death by his son Francesco; the series ultimately consisted of 137 plates). Also absent are two later works, the Trofeo o sia magnifica colonna coclide di marmo … fatte da Traiano (1774) and Differentes vues de quelques restes … de Pesto (1778). The Vedute may never have been present in this set, or it may have been broken up and the individual plates framed (as was sometimes the fate of copies of this work in the nineteenth century). The Balliol set was uniformly bound in half calf, probably in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The final volume in this set (925 a 10) is damp-stained, but the rest of the set is in excellent condition.

Paul W. Nash, 2011

The Balliol ‘set’ of Piranesi’s works

  • 925 a 1-4 Le antichita Romane (1757). 4 vols. Third/second state of 1760s?
  • 925 a 5(1) Le rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia (1761). Roman edition. Probably an early copy
  • 925 a 5(2) Carcere d’invenzione. Roman edition, early state, probably of around 1762/1763
  • 925 a 5(3) Guercino. Raccolta di alcuni disegni del Barberi da Cento detto il Guercino (1764). Includes one plate by Piranesi, and was probably sold by him as part of his `works’
  • 925 a 5(4) Opere varie di architettura prospettive grotteschi antichità. Roman edition, probably of 1760s
  • 925 a 5(5) [Grotteschi]. Roman edition, probably of 1760s
  • 925 a 6(1) Antichità d’Albano e di Castel Gandolfo (1764). Early state, probably datable to between 1764 and 1766
  • 925 a 6(2) Descrizione a disegno dell’ emissario del Lago Albano (1762). Probably an issue of around 1765
  • 925 a 6(3) Di due spelonche ornate dagli antichiemissario del Lago Albano (1762). Probably an issue of around 1765
  • 925 a 7 Diverse maniere d’adornare i camini (1769). Roman edition. An early state, with incomplete plate-numbering
  • 925 a 8 Ioannis Baptistae Piranesii … Campus Martius antiquae urbis (1762). Probably an issue of the 1760s or 1770s
  • 925 a 9(1) Della magnificenza ed architettura de’ Romani (1762). Probably an issue of the 1760s or 1770s
  • 925 a 9(2) Osservazioni di Gio. Battista Piranesi sopra la lettre de M. Mariette aux auteurs de la Gazette littraire de l’Europe (1762). An issue of around 1770, with the additional plates but unnumbered
  • 925 a 10(1) Trofei di Ottaviano Augusto. Roman edition of between 1767 and 1778.
  • 925 a 10(2) [Vasi, candelabri …]. Roman edition of 18 plates, all in early states, issued by Piranesi during the late 1760s of early 1770s
  • 925 a 10(3) Antichita Romane de’tempi della Republica (1748). Roman impression of around 1770
  • 925 a 10(4) Lapides Capitolini (1762). Roman issue of around 1770?
  • 925 a 10(5) Anthichità di Cora (1764). Roman issue of around 1770?