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Skeletons and sheets in the cupboard

by on February 24, 2009

Leviathan; from All Souls College LibraryAt the Seminar on the History of the Book on Friday February 20th, Dr. Noel Malcolm untangled the bibliographical mysteries of the three ‘1651’ editions of Hobbes’s Leviathan.

In working toward a critical edition of Leviathan, Dr. Malcolm wished to identify which of three versions with a London 1651 imprint are actually Hobbesian editions. The three versions are identified by their title page ornaments: ‘Head’ which is the true 1651 edition; ‘Bear’ which some had suspected to be a Dutch pirate edition of the 1670s; and ‘Ornaments’, long supposed to have been printed in London in the 1670s or 80s. But was Hobbes involved in the production of the second and third issues?

By collating dated ownership inscriptions and sale prices, Dr. Malcolm was able to create a picture of the appearance of each version on the market: the ‘Head’ through the 1650s, the ‘Bear’ in the late 1670s and early 1680s, and the ‘Ornaments’ rather later than expected, through the early years of the 18th century.

A fascinating tale of subterfuge emerged around the ‘Bear’ edition, involving the London printer John Redmayne and the Stationers’ Company. In September 1670 Redmayne’s printing house was raided by the Master of the Company and two sample leaves of the Leviathan seized; three days later the Court of the Stationers’ Company was told that Redmayne’s premises were to be raided again in order to seize the remaining sheets of this new edition. A few days later this pre-announced raid took place and Redmayne duly yielded up another 38 sheets. Had this action supressed Redmayne’s intended edition?

Close examination of the type, ornaments, and skeletons (fixed type such as running headers) used in the ‘Bear’ edition showed that there were two distinct sets of sheets, printed with different type and therefore almost certainly in different printing houses. Distinctive spelling and punctuation on one set of these pages strongly points to their Dutch origin. As reconstructed by Dr. Malcolm, the printing of early sheets of the ‘Bear’ had gone smoothly in the London printing house of John Redmayne until the time the intended raid was announced; then there had been a mad scramble to print more sheets, at the expense of careful proofreading. In spite of his apparent cooperation with the authorities, Redmayne evidently made use of the warning he gained from Stationers Company colleagues to cache some sheets off the premises. Finally the remaining quires were printed, also using the first ‘Head’ edition as a model, in the Netherlands. The ‘Bear’ ornament itself, along with a head-piece used in the first quire, were identified as belonging to Christoffel Cunradus, a printer in Amsterdam. The London sheets were combined with sheets printed in the Netherlands to create a new edition for surreptitious sale.

After painstaking work , Dr. Malcolm has been able to identify the type used in the ‘Ornaments’ edition as that of the London printer John Darby. It is a typeface that was not in use before the late 1690s, thus dating the third edition to the late 1690s, and no later than 1702 – long after the death of Hobbes in 1679!

Detailed examination of textual editing and ‘corrections’ made between the three editions support Dr Malcolm’s thesis that Hobbes was involved in the first ‘Head’ edition; made a few significant textual changes via his original publisher, Andrew Crooke, that appeared in the ‘Bear’ edition; but had no involvement in changes seen in the last edition (still dated ‘1651’), the ‘Ornaments’ edition. — Julie Blyth, All Souls College

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