Monday, January 01, 2007

A New Year's Gift, 1607

My hundredth post starts 2007.

My illustration puts together into one composite image the tiny title page, colophon, and three miniscule openings from Automachia, evidently presented as a 'small New-yeres-Gift' at the start of 1607 to Mary Neville - 'Alia Minerva' ("Another Pallas", which the poet adroitly finds as an approximate anagram of her name).

The writer may be George Goodwin, or Joshua Sylvester; the dedicatee is the daughter of Thomas Sackville, First Earl of Dorset, part author as a young man of Gorboduc, contributor to The Mirror for Magistrates, and who, as Lord High Treasurer of England would die at the Council table in April 1608, aged around 72.

Automachia, 'self-conflict', isn't the work of a negligible poet:

"Both right and Wrong with me indifferent are:
My Lust is Law: what I desire, I dare:
(Is there so foule a Fault, so fond a Fact,
Which Follie asking, Furie dares not act?),
But Art-lesse-hart-lesse in Religion's cause
(To doo her Lessons, and defend her Lawes)."

It could be a bit of the wordy moralising in Lucrece; George Herbert would have approved. The poet is aware that the vociferous self-rebuke and the dainty format are at odds, but asks his dedicatee to accept the 'poore MITE' he humbly offers:
'Too small a Present to so great a GRACE,
And too unworthy of your Worthinesse

Saue that the Matter so exceeds the Masse'.

I am not sure that I could do a bibliographical description of this book even if I had it in front of me: it seems to run [A1-6]; B-B4 [B5-8]; C-C4 [C5-8]; D-D4 [D5,D6], the EEBO copy does not have a rule on the title page image to show just how small the book is. But a graceful present for a devout lady.

I wonder when it was that New Year's Day gifts were supplanted by present-giving on Christmas Day? I quite like the notion of starting the New Year with gifts, though perhaps they might all be rather forward-looking and improving. I recall liking in the Elizabethan Court records how, if you could manage it, your new year's gift to Gloriana had best be gold, while in return, you generally got something 'parcel-gilt' from the thrifty old girl.

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