Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sparke's Notes

My pictures are from The Holy Bible containing the Old Testament and the New newly translated out of the originall tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, London: Printed by the Company of Stationers, 1651.

I cannot offhand find very much out about this Bible printing, which has 144 pages of plates, which seem to be by Jacob Van Langeren (who also engraved early travellers’ maps, globes, and the emblems in the Jesuit Henry Hawkins’ Partheneia Sacra). The dedicatee for the publication is King Charles. Rather as the king stayed on the coinage while he was Parliament’s prisoner, what must be an older dedication gets re-printed after his execution.

The puzzle here is just what is going on: how can the Company of Stationers be putting out a Bible which, in 1651, would have been thought suspiciously ‘Popish’, simply by having pictures in it?

The dementedly indignant and hypocritical Michael Sparke may, in his way, provide some explanation. Sparke had been William Prynne’s publisher, and during Charles’ reign, had made a good trade in bringing in Geneva Bibles (with their Protestant commentary) from abroad, and selling them against the Authorized Version.

By 1651, however, Sparke had shifted ground. He had repeatedly, by that date, published against imported Bibles, which he represented in appeals to Parliament as popish, and part of a popish plot against the nation. A work typical of this phase of his career has a quintessential 17th century title (for they were always ‘A Beacon Lit’ and then ‘The Beacon Quenched’). He puns, of course, on his own name for his pseudonym:

A second beacon fired by Scintilla: with his humble information and joynt attestation to the truth of his brethrens former declaration & catalogue, that fired the first beacon. Wherein is remembred the former actings of the papists in their secret plots: and now discovering their wicked designes to set up, advance, and cunningly to usher in popery; by introducing pictures to the Holy Bible: and by sending many young gentlewomen beyond the seas to the nunnes. Also, shewing and setting forth the misery of the whole Company of Stationers: and holding out rather a desolation to religion then a reformation; as more at large appears both in our ministers and churches, in these sad times, when blasphemy, negromancy, popery, and all heresies be printed and publiquely sold, in a most horrid manner without controll or punishment. , London : Printed for the author, 1652.

The man who had been on the scaffold with Prynne now wanted more vigorous censorship. He calls on Parliament to use its powers in line with its professed beliefs:
“And now in regard our Honorable Parliament have made a greater profession for Reformation, then any heretofore, and have by Declarations declared in that kinde their exceeding care in demolishing Images, Pictures in windowes, and burning some Books that have been Popish and Erroneous…

He hints at the kind of punishments he’d like to see imposed, rebuking the godly but negligent authorities with a loaded comparison: about the Ranter Abiezer Coppe’s Fiery flying Roll, “where he terms the Holy Bible the Scripturian Whore: Was not one hanged in Qu. Elizabeths dayes for a Book not like that? Have I not seen many Books, that had they been published in the Bishops dayes, how had a man suffered?”

Sparke then comes to a delicious anecdote, where puritan idealism and commerce collide:
“I know, and with grief I speak it, I heard an Anabaptist (as he professeth himself) affirm to my face, when I told him I marveled he would print such a book, as he had then printed, and how he could in conscience publish a Book so erroneous: his answer was in these plain ungodly termes, he got by it, and well too; I told him although a man got never so much, yet he should have a care what he printed; his reply was thus, if the Devill himself should give him or bring him a Book that he was sure to get by, he would print it.”

The printer was being unduly cautious about the sales prospects for any book written by Satan (God, my part in his downfall?): the 17th century would have been collectively beside itself with excitement.

But to return to our main issue, Sparke has a lot to say about how lucrative the trade in Catholic books had been, and he tells the story of “Francis Ash a Book-binder and ingenious fellow, an excellent Workman, a strong and secret Papist (who) … Found an extraordinary Trade, especially to joyn pictures to the English Bible in 8vo which pictures he had from Mr Robert Peake, (who after went to Basing-house) so that Mr Ash after took a voyage to France for Popish Books, and pictures for the Bible, which the Papists so much extolled, so that now the Papists of late will have Bibles in English, and the Pope cannot avoid it, but so that all their sorts must have pictures, and I fear Popish notes: and by this means Ash grew into an extraordinary way to get Trade; I am credibly informed there, that in France he dealt for the Pictures of all the Popish sorts, and the most excellent, as of Vandikes Draft, and there bargained with an excellent workman Mr Hollard to ingrave and cut them…”

Ash made a lot of money from these Catholic readers willing to pay over the odds for an embargoed book: but when Parliamentary forces besieged Worcester, he hid his takings in the cess pit of his privy, and later ‘undertook to sift his Gold and Silver from the filth, by reason of which noisome smell he was suffocated’ (Sparke clearly approves of the fate of the man who pursued profits in such a disgusting way).

Sparke recommends John Gee’s The foot out of the snare (1624) for further details of the threatening tide of subversive Catholic books. Gee’s book contains “a catalogue of popish bookes lately dispersed in our kingdome”, which constitutes one of the most hilarious bibliographies you have ever seen: Gee lists the books printed, gives the inordinate prices charged for them, and also annotates the list with rancorous comments. (In another work, Gee lists the young English women who have recently fled abroad to become nuns, in that other threat to patriarchy.)
But it’s those Bibles with pictures which upset Sparke most. They are completely counter to the iconoclasm of which he approves, and they are luxury items that make money. Van Dyke, engraved by Wencelaus Hollar! And now, ‘Mr Hodnow in Covent-Garden continues the work on the pieces, fourteen are finished’, he reports, naming a name and giving a place, and obviously hoping to trigger an arrest.

However, this 1651 Bible, printed by the Company of Stationers, with cuts by a Catholic artist: I surmise that where Sparke complained, his fellow Stationers compromised. Sparke is very eloquent about the miserable decline of the stationers’ trade by the early 1650’s: with books printed abroad flooding the market (recall, that had been the basis of Sparke’s own business in Charles’ reign), home-based printers not making a pound a week, a London trade which (he asserts) spent £500 during the civil war printing pro-parliamentary materials not now supported by strong licensing to protect it, and large amounts of money being lost by printers on properly devout publications (he mentions a “Learned Reverend Divines Study” that cost at least £400 in production sold with stock moved on so cheaply that the publisher only made £60). “Our Reformation is now a Desolation”, he says, miserably.

So (I assume) the stationers, less fanatical than Sparke, set about to produce locally a Bible with pictures. It wasn’t a Popish plot, but more on the same lines as the Anabaptist printer who said he’d publish a book written by the devil if he thought there was money in it.

There must be a study of this 1651 Bible, and I admit my search has been rather cursory. The pictures are not bad, good by contemporary English standards, but the printing seems poor, or at least the EEBO copy is poorly inked. Unlike the informative illustrations in, Théodore de Bèze’s Amsterdam printed English Bible of 1633, they are pictorial in nature, as Sparke said. Sparke has an ODNB entry: apparently his will provided for pious books to be handed out to mourners at his funeral.

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