At the beginning of Theophila, amongst the preliminaries, Benlowes addresses his female readers on how to use the text.126 “Ladies,” he writes, likening his gathered poems and prints to a songbook, “We jangle not in Shools, but strain to set / Church-Musick,”—that is, harmonious choirs from these quires—“at which Saints being met / May warble forth Heav’ns Praise, and thence Heav’ns Blessing get” (sig. A2r). He goes on to instruct women to “Survey Theophila,” both the figure and the book, for examples on how to live a virtuous life: “To this spring-garden, virgins, chaste and fair,” he commends, “Coacht in pure Thoughts, make your Repair.” Facing this poem in most extant copies is an inserted plate of a woman wrapped in furs. It is Wenceslaus Hollar’s “Winter Woman,” taken from a widely-copied and popular series depicting English women’s seasonal costumes; in this half-length version, the caption has been scratched off, as is the case with other engravings that Benlowes recycles, suggesting he had access to the actual plate and may even have printed it at home.
If the poem abounds with imagery of song and spring, the repurposed engraving is the opposite: cold, stark, the woman’s face not blooming with virtue but hidden under a mask and hood. From this contradiction, Benlowes draws tension that the reader must resolve by reading the plate and the poem in relation to each other. Thus the furs that signify winter in Hollar’s series—and which probably would have been known to readers as doing so—become a literal rendering of chastity. Here, the gatherings of the codex serve as a prism through which the reader’s understanding passes, diffracting her prior associations and relations to popular imagery.
Benlowes’ repurposing of Hollar’s plate epitomizes the method that he deploys throughout Theophila the book. His work on the project began with the actual poem Theophila, or Love’s Sacrifice, an eight-canto epic about the heroine Theophila’s ascent to heaven. Forming the narrative kernel of the book, the epic begins with the preliminary canto, “The Prelibation to the Sacrifice.” This canto ends with a Herbert-inspired altar poem, thereby setting the stage—in a literal-minded way—for Theophila’s sacrifice.
A prose summary of the poem and the author’s prayer follows before the second canto, “The Humiliation.” Now the epic truly begins, and as if to mark that, Benlowes opens by recounting the origins of the world, illustrated in most copies with a large woodcut of Adam and Eve in Eden, printed on an inserted leaf. As with Hollar’s “Winter Woman,” Benlowes’ readers would likely have recognized this plate: it is the same image, indeed the same block that drifts in and out of various issues of Robert Barker’s Bibles beginning as early as 1602, appearing sometimes with an added strapwork frame. It was so popular that one amateur needleworker, Anne Cornwallis, even replicated it on her own Bible’s embroidered cover.127
Benlowes probably acquired the woodcut through his printer Roger Norton, who had himself likely seized it from the Barkers during his 1629 raid on the King’s Printer House, when he broke down a wall and removed a large quantity of books and stock—one particularly dramatic event in a decades-long dispute over certain patents and rights attending the office of the King’s Printer.128 It was at this time that Norton probably also acquired another, even older woodcut that Benlowes reuses later in Theophila, an image of Queen Elizabeth at prayer originally from the 1578 and 1581 editions of Richard and John Day’s A Booke of Christian Prayers (STC 6429, STC 6430).
By tucking this well-known image into the beginning of his epic, Benlowes roots the poem that follows not just in scripture but in the actual material culture of the Bibles then in circulation.
About fifty stanzas into this second canto, Theophila finally enters. She is “unhing’d with Fear, / Clamm’d with chill sweat” at her sinfulness—a state depicted in the accompanying etching by Barlow, where she kneels in prayer “Besieg’d with deadly Sinnes” in the form of gnarling boars, tigers, and dragons.
She weeps with shame and prostrates herself before God, offering a series of prayers that are set apart in italics in the text.
God accepts Theophila’s prayer, and the poem moves on to the third canto, “The Restauration”—an early modern form of the word “restoration” with the specific sense of something being returned to its original condition. Scrubbed of her sin, Theophila here appears refulgent with “Heav’ns brighter Love,” her body blazoned in language excerpted from amarous poetry and remade to describe God’s purified creation (3.XXV, sig. G2v). Her lips are “Rock-rubies, and her Veins wrought Saphyrs show” (3.XXVI, sig. G2v). When Benlowes has exhausted that theme, Theophila’s body is stretched to become a temple to house the devout poet’s feast (3.XLVI, sig. G4r) and a harp for his “mosts harmonious Musicks” (3.LII, sig. G4v). Drawing out these musical themes, Barlow’s etching for this canto shows King David playing his harp while Theophila holds the tables of Moses and sings heavenward.
In the text, her own italicized speech and the narrator’s voice begin to blend together typographically as her divine song mingles with his own.
The end of the canto turns from the “restauration” of Theophila’s soul to the restoration of the monarchy, as Theophila sings against “dissembling Pulpeteers” and the civil wars they have brought (LXXVI, sig. G6r). “If, Theophil, thy Love-Song can’t Asswage / The Fate incumbent on this Age,” the canto ends, then there is “No Time to write, but weep; for we are ripe for Rage!”
With Theophila’s “restauration”—a fantasy of the restored monarchy—established, the poem enters a more mystical register. In Canto 4, “The Innamoration,” Theophila takes over the text’s narration, first in a long soliloquy on her infatuation with God’s cleansing light, followed by her “Love-Song,” modeled loosely after the Song of Songs. In Barlow’s etching, she battles temptations with a shield and flaming spear. At stanza 61, the poet takes over the text again and Jesus enters, “a comely Person, clad in white”—her bridegroom. “Give, give me Children, or I die!,” Theophila cries to Jesus; “Love, rest / Thy Head upon the Pillows of my Breast! / When me Thou shalt impregn’d with Vertues make / A fruitful Eden, All the Frutage take!” Later, in a Crashavian erotic fit, she “lay with flaming Love empierc’t to the Heart: / Wak’t, As She bled, She kist the Dart; / Then sigh’d. Take all as I am, or have! All, All Thou art!” (LXXXIII, sig. I1v). After her consummation with Jesus, Theophila ascends to heaven, a journey depicted in the etching as the author watches, holding the pages of his book.
Benlowes attempts to narrate her ascent in the next canto, “The Representation,” but fails to express the ineffable. “Since Time began,” he writes, “What constitutes a Gnat was ne’re found out by Man. / Dares mortal Slime, with ruder tongue, express What ev’n Celestials do confesse / Is inexpressible?” (XIV–XV, sig. I5r).
Theophila reappears and takes over from the fumbling poet to describe her own passage from earth to the celestial stars, singing as she goes. The final three cantos—“The Association,” “The Contemplation,” and “The Admiration”—continue with her descriptions of Heaven and its inhabitants, an extended meditation on God’s immensity, and some theological musings on the paradoxes of the Trinity and reincarnation, among other ejaculations. The abstruse, abstract nature of these subjects continue to stretch the limits of language. “Best Eloquence is languid, high’st Thoughts vail,” the narrator complains; “To think, to speak, Wit, Language fail; / Tis an Abysse, through which no Spirits Eye can fail!” (VII.XXV, s.ig M1v). They also stretch the limits of visual representation, and Barlow’s etchings become notably sparse, lacking the accompanying plate of verse and taking on a half-finished look.
Formerly vibrant skies flatten into static geometrical shapes, and the prints often show a doubling effect from a sloppy use of acid and poor inking, as if the poet’s insufficiencies extend even to his technologies of reproduction. Lacking appropriate metaphors or images, the design of the text begins to bear more of meaning’s weight, to the extent that some pages are overwhelmed with capitals, italics, and exclamation points.
Thus the teetering poem, leaning more and more on its typography, sputters to an end. Its narrative has evaporated, leaving a constellation of superlatives, and Theophila abandons the poet, “as vanisht Lightning (VIII.XCVII, sig. O1r). Having set himself the task of singing the song of Theophila’s sacrifice, in the end the narrator, still trapped in his physical body, is only able to “re-act her Part” as “Fleet Joy runs Races through [his] Blood through thousand Veins” (8.XCIX–C, sig. O1r–v).
The nature of Theophila—a long, transformative journey—as well as the structure of its cantos suggest that Benlowes conceived of it in part as a divine epic. While the tradition of the allegorical travels of the soul toward God stretches back to Dante, Benlowes’ immediate model is clearly Joseph Beaumont’s Psyche, or Loves Mysterie, a 20-canto narration of the young woman Psyche’s spiritual journey to Christ. Beaumont was his Essex neighbor and a close friend of Crashaw’s; certainly Benlowes would have read his work when it came out in print in 1648, if not earlier in manuscript. The book’s influence is evident in the title—Theophila, or Love’s Sacrifice to Psyche, or Loves Mysterie—in the Neoplatonic figure of the feminized soul, and in the use of Latinate nominatives for each canto, laid out in a prefatory table. However, whereas Beaumont’s epic maintains a narrative thrust throughout its roughly 30,000 lines, Theophila does not. Its story constantly falters, snagged on myriad distractions as Benlowes digresses on his favorite subjects, from music to the civil wars. In an imaginative reading, Bellamy argues that these narrative failures constitute Benlowes’ comment on poetry’s inadequacy to investigate the spiritual realm, and certainly there is something too this.129 As mentioned above, much of the work is consumed by the inability of human language to describe the ineffable except through metaphysical paradox, contradictory figures, and eventually even the visual design of typography. When all else fails, the mortal poet-narrator hands the text over to the transcendent Theophila, who can sing more purely.
To assess Theophila’s structure only in terms of its narration, though, is to miss much of its generic innovation. Benlowes is as much indebted to Herbert’s The Temple, Richard Crashaw’s Steps to the Temple, or Robert Aylett’s The Brides Ornament as he is to epics like Beaumont’s Psyche, and the narrative confusion often stems from his interest in the lyrical voice. In particular, he tends to probe the boundary between prayer, song, and lyric verse, freely switching modes of address. While Theophila is outlined like a divine epic, then, each canto reads more like a loosely-linked series of verse portraits of the soul assuming various prayerful positions in relation to God. We see Theophila in her humiliation, in her inammoration, in her contemplation and admiration of God’s nature, nouns that echo the titles of Herbert’s lyrics: “The Sacrifice,” “Judgment,” “Humilitie,” “Affliction.” They also parallel the allegorical titles assumed by the women of Little Gidding in the Story Books, as described in the previous chapter (“The Obedient,” “The Affectionate,” “The Submiss”). In such collections, the reader does not track an epic journey across narrative cantos so much as she enters into a textual architecture built to display these portraits of the penitent soul. Thus Herbert’s book is a temple where the reader can overhear the “private ejaculations” of the striving Christian; Crashaw’s book the steps that lead there; and Benlowes’ tome a platform for Theophila’s sacrifice, a tomb for her transfigured ashes. What seem to be Theophila’s narrative failings, then, actually resonate with a particular type of thematically-conjoined collections of religious poems popular in the 1630s and 1640s. By infusing the divine epic with these traditions, Theophila structurally mediates multiple emerging genres of devout verse.
However, the poem Theophila only takes up 30 sheets of this roughly 79-sheet book. Immediately following the end of Canto 8, a more miscellaneous assemblage of material follows. There are sensible, albeit partially-finished sequences—almost like “rolling archetypes”—within this portion of the book. For instance, Canto 9 is a “Recapitulation” of Theophila in facing Latin and English translations, followed by Latin translations of cantos 1 and 3 done by Benlowes’ friend Alexander Ross. Together, these sections revisit Theophila as a Latin epic. After this, there appears a series of poems on the world’s vanity. It begins with a previously-unpublished poem by Owen Feltham, “Upon the Vanitie of the World,” which launches Benlowes into his own poem, “The Vanitie of the World.” This is a new work, with a new title—Benlowes has shifted away from Theophila and is now addressing his “Headlesse, heady Age”—but nevertheless he numbers the cantos 10 and 11, as if they were continuing the earlier work. Canto 11 ends with no catchword, suggesting that at one time, this page was considered by the printer, at least, to be the last. The illustration suggests this, too: here, in the blank area after the last lines, the plate of Hollar’s “Summer Woman” has been printed directly on the letterpress-printed sheet as a counterpoint to the “Winter Woman” who begins the book.
However, at some point after these extra segments were already in press, Benlowes decided to add even more content—more untitled Latin poems, some short Latin prose, and two new cantos on retiring to the countryside. The final section returns to Theophila with a Latin translation of Canto 7 by Jeremy Collier, followed by more untitled Latin fragments and, in most copies, two older, ornate pattern poems on inserted plates.
This final miscellaneous chunk—16 sheets or 64 pages total—is printed on paper stock that is consistently different from the rest of the book, indicating it was completed at a separate time, and it is signed and gathered in simple bifolia rather than quires of three. Perhaps the printer Roger Norton, weary of Benlowes’ constant additions to the project, decided to choose a format more amenable to such accretions. By the time the printing was done, Theophila had grown from the 121 pages of the original eight cantos to 268 printed pages, not including the added plates. Benlowes assembled these materials by hand at Brent Hall, as always, inserting engravings, sometimes hand-correcting printed errors, inscribing dedications to friends, binding the book in his arms, and sometimes adding his favorite Latin mottos to the title page, including, of course, “Esse sui voluit monumentum, et pignus Amoris”—he wanted it to be a monument and pledge to his love.
Like the poem’s narrative structure, the swelling assemblage of Theophila presents itself to modern readers as incoherence. Benlowes himself understood it differently. In the preliminary materials, he formulates his poetry as the marriage of masculine judgement, which “begets the Strength” of a poem, to feminine invention and “Ornaments”; “both These joyn’d form Wit, which is the Agility of Spirits” or, he continues, “Vivacity of Fancie in a florid Style,” which “disposeth Light and Life to a Poem” (sig. ¶¶2v). Key to Benlowes’ writing process, the word “fancy” is laden with meaning in the period. It implies something like “imagination,” the mind’s innate capacity to conjure objects that do not have a physical existence or events that never actually happened. Etymologically, it links to the noun “fantasy,” a fantastical or pleasure-giving mental image, and through this relationship begins to take on an erotic overtone in the seventeenth century, sometimes meaning something more like “desire” or “longing”—a sense still retained in today’s British usage of “fancy” as a verb for a physical attraction. Drawing together these various shades of meaning, Christine Varnado argues that early modern fancy constitutes a kind of queer desire: an insatiable longing for one’s own mental images, a fancy for one’s fantasies.130 Though infinitely reproducible, like the engravings shown in Nova Reperta, such desire is ultimately non-reproductive since it always directs itself toward the imaginary object that the subject lacks—as Benlowes does with his feminine double Theophila.
Benlowes expounds this desire in a prefatory poem written “To My Fancie Upon Theophila.” In it, he instructs his imagination to leave off blazoning false beauty, abandon empty metaphors, and instead “With artful Method Misc’line sow.” “Miscelline,” literally “mixed seed”—with a pun here on the “masculine” judgment used to mix elements together—is nearly synonymous with the word “miscellany,” something composed of multiple elements brought together artfully. In other contemporaneous usages it typically has a negative association, as when Joseph Hall denounces the “miscelline rabble of the prophane,” or Ben Jonson disparages the “misc’line Enterludes” of other writers in his dedication of the 1607 Volpone quarto to Oxford and Cambridge.131 Here, though, Benlowes has rendered miscellaneity as desirable and, more precisely, his patchwork method of composition as a process of desiring: it feeds the composer’s bottomless craving for an ineffable, infinite God whose enormity can only be glimpsed in this realm through endless material recombinance. Continuing, Benlowes mingles images of mixed writing with eating miscellaneous food:
Mix Balm with Ink; Let thy Salt heal:
Teach Palate various Manna deal.
Have for the Wise strong Sense, deep Truth:
Grand-Sallat of choice Wit for Youth. (sig. B3r)
A pun on “palate” treats the mouth as the “palette” for mixing the divine inks of the text, turning printed words to food, or “Manna”—perhaps another subtle pun on masculine judgment as meat for his method. The wordplay extends to the typography of the next line, where a long-s on “Wise”—either a compositor’s choice or intentional ambiguity—turns “strong Sense” and “deep Truth” into the poet’s wife and wisdom. Pulling together this various imagery, the final line grows from this mixed seed a “Grand-Sallet of choice Wit,” a “Grand-Sallet” being an early modern salad of greens, fruits, and nuts and more general metaphor for heterogeneous compositions, as discussed in John Evelyn’s Acetaria, a discourse of sallets (1699, Wing E 3480).132 Thus the very mixed metaphors mocked by Benlowes’ critics are here placed at the core of his method, demanding of the reader a different relationship to the poem. By gathering together ever more cantos and translations, Theophila is not failing to cohere so much as it is fueling Benlowes’ queer fancy for God’s infinite love. As if to heighten the parallels between divine writing and divine longing—much like the printers’ ornaments of putti and boys analyzed by Jeffrey Masten—each stanza is printed with a large decorative initial shaped from naked human bodies. These are repurposed from an erotic alphabet, the Menschenalphabeten, first designed and published by Nuremberg printmaker Peter Flötner over 100 years earlier.133
Yet as we saw with Quarles’ dedication to Benlowes in Emblemes, the word “fancy” in the seventeenth century also refers specifically to a genre of musical composition rooted in improvisation and erudition. In some early modern European traditions, the composer of a fancy—more commonly known today as a “fantasia”—may only set down the chords or motives of the piece. It would be the task of the instrumentalist to spin these differently with each playing, perhaps through arpeggiation or by improvising a solo. Sometimes a composer set down these variations as options for the performer or would write a section that simply sounds improvisatory; in other cases, a single variation might become standard in later settings of the music. Either way, the fancy allows space for infinite variation and virtuosic displays of skill, and the heard music emerges from the collaboration between a composer’s ideas and the player who actualizes them in performance. This sense of the fancy as a fundamentally improvisational (or faux-improvisatory) form seeps into the more common use of the term in seventeenth-century English music as learned polyphony.134 In these fancies, a composer might work through variations of harmonic relationships in a semi-systematic way or offer ingenious inventions on a theme. This type of fancy not only pleasures the ear but teases the educated mind and its refined judgment, which can recognize and appreciate the musical moves. John Jenkins, the composer who set parts of Theophila “to fit Aires” according to the title page, wrote more than 100 such fantasias for viol consort.135 When the musically-inclined Benlowes describes Theophila as a contrivance of his “fancy,” then, he refers not only to his imaginative process of intermingling texts but to the improvised material product that he—its “Renowned COMPOSER”—assembles by hand, adding manuscript notes and interleaving engraved plates differently with the printed sheets. Each copy of the material text is a virtuosic performance generating new harmonic collisions between text and image, judgment and ornament, the pleasures of the mind and the pleasures of the eye.
The fanciful, fantastic nature of Theophila takes us beyond the text, beyond genre, beyond even interpretations of layout or typography to fathom each copy as unique: the reader experiences one performance among many possible iterations. To appreciate the role of variation in Benlowes’ publishing project thus requires that the critic work comparatively, shifting across copies to track sites that vibrate with difference across the entirety of the edition. In the dataset provided here, three identifiable variants in the ordering of interleaved plates emerge. These are rough guides only. Certain moments in the text and locations in the book oscillate in their composition, as Benlowes works and reworks how the images relate to his verse across divergent registers of meaning; but no two copies contain the exact same number of plates in the same places. Confounding any interpretation is the fact that later readers—perhaps following Benlowes’ flight of fancy—often remade copies, as we shall see. Every book is a palimpsest of different moments marked by different hands, such that it is impossible to assign sole creative agency to Benlowes, even in those very few copies that remain largely as they did in 1652. With Theophila, Benlowes’ queer collaborations expand to encompass not just his homosocial network at Brent Hall or his stationers and engravers in London but the many readers, collectors, and antiquarians who, long after his death, saw in his “Misc’line” method an opportunity fulfill their own fantasies.
Consider, for instance, Benlowes’ gift to St John’s College Library, Cambridge, an exemplar of what appears to be an early variant.136 Bound in a leather casing stamped with his arms—with manuscript waste still poking from the headbands—this book shows little signs of repair or rebinding over the intervening years, and in many ways, it is a typical presentation manuscript, done with Benlowes’ usual blustering humility. For instance, rather than inserting an authorial portrait opposite the title page—as is more common in Theophila’s arrangement—he has written “THEOPHILA” in elaborate calligraphy, surrounded by flourishes. Pasted in the center of this hand-drawn cartouche is an inscription claiming the book as an eternal monument to his love of and benevolence toward the college. He then bumps his portrait to the location opposite the poem “Mens Authoris,” the mind of the author, where it is pasted onto a large stub; it must be unfolded from the book to be seen. By switching out his portrait for this calligraphy—and moving his own image to a poem about the book’s soul—Benlowes turns his authorial achievements toward the glory of his alma mater while, in a move that we have seen him make many times before, ensuring that no one forgets who channeled its divine spirit.
More than just personalizing the inscription, though, Benlowes also varies the arrangement of the inserted plates to draw scriptural echoes from the figure of Theophila. Barlow’s original etchings preface all of the core eight cantos—and unusually so; many copies lack the illustrations for cantos 2, 3, 6, and 8. In addition, two extra images have been repurposed in cantos 2 and 4 to illustrate aspects of Theophila’s transformation. First, in the middle of Canto 2 when Theophila finally first appears weeping before God, there is interleaved an engraving by Pierre Lombart showing Theophila at prayer; a second plate of Latin and English verses, signed Jeremy Collier, is printed below. Lombart designs the image like a frontispiece or title page for a smaller format, indeed beside Theophila is a loose sheet inscribed with an early title variant, “THEOPHILA’S LOVE SACRIFICE. WRITTEN BY EDW BENLOWES ESQU.”
Perhaps Benlowes originally imagined Theophila as an octavo, much like Quarles’ Emblemes—each canto being a poem paired with an emblematic image—and prematurely commissioned this frontispiece before switching to a folio format to accommodate his expanding text. By repurposing a vestigial frontispiece here, as Theophila enters the poem, Benlowes pins this location in the book as the true starting point of her journey, the beginning of a new text within the 8-canto text (which is itself nested within the bigger structure detailed above).
When placed in the second canto, this plate also forms a sequence with two other images, Barlow’s original illustration and the recycled woodcut of Adam and Eve. Resonating with each other and with the text, these three plates pulsate with proleptic, intertextual significance: Theophila is at prayer surrounded by the beasts of sin, she is Eve in Eden surrounded by the beasts of paradise, she is a soul prepared to transcend the world and climb with the seraphs to heaven, a second Eden. Another repurposed plate does similar work in Canto 4. Placed during “The Innamoration,” Theophila’s sexualized union with Christ, it shows Theophila leaning against a pedestal. She crushes a serpent under foot and props a book open in her lap. A palm branch in her right hand signifies the victory of the spirit (her book) over the flesh (the serpent) and visually doubles as a quill, suggesting her increasing role as divine poet in Canto 4 as she takes over the narrator’s faltering voice. It also resonates with the spear she holds in Barlow’s original etching for this canto: by her palm and her pen, she obtains the sword—another piercing phallic symbol, gifted through her union with Christ—to fight temptations and mortal death. If the orphaned title page seems too small for the book’s folio format, this engraving is too large and, making it seem larger still, has been pasted onto a long stub, like the authorial portrait. To see it in its entirety, the reader must unfold the plate well outside the bounds of the book—a material gesture that links her again to Benlowes as author. Through not only the illustrative use of found images but the actual repurposing of these plates’ formats, Benlowes elucidates in this copy and its relatives a new visual and material dimension of Theophila’s journey.
This interest in Theophila’s transformation continues in the second half of the St. John’s College presentation volume. At the text’s pivot point, just after Canto 8, Benlowes has placed another recycled plate. It shows an allegorical depiction of astronomy alongside a curly-haired older man and eagle, and it comes from the German-born engraver and tapestry designer Francis Cleyn’s series Septem Liberales Artes, the Seven Liberal Arts, first printed in 1645.137
While the original is labeled “ASTRONOMIA,” here, someone—probably Benlowes—has scratched the caption off the actual plate before it was printed. Without the caption to define it, this allegorical astronomy looks more like Theophila’s immortal soul ensconced in the celestial heavens, perhaps beside the author with his eagle (recalling the eagle on Barlow’s etchings for cantos 1 and 5). The plate is annotated in what appears to be Benlowes hand indicating that it should be placed before page 125.
This note appears here on four of the extant copies that I have seen; curiously, though, they have all been placed opposite page 122 facing the final lines of Canto 8, indeed none place Astronomia at page 125. It would seem that Benlowes changed his mind yet again when he actually began inserting plates. Finally, the image of Hollar’s “Summer Woman” has, in this copy, been tattooed with asterisks, upside crescent moons, dots, and other astrological or typographic marks written on her forehead and cheeks in ink, as if to annotate her body with the transcendent geometries—figured in Barlow’s etchings for cantos 7 and 8—that she should be contemplating.
From Theophila as Astronomia, pointing to the heavens, to Theophila as the Summer Woman marked by the celestial sphere, her after-image persists in the more miscellaneous second half of the book as a ethereal figure literally marked by her transfiguration.
Two other copies, both still bound in leather stamped with Benlowes’ arms, also contain the extra engravings placed in cantos 2 and 4, Astronomia at the end of Canto 8, and manuscript markings on the “Summer Woman.”138 These copies also lack the plates for the later cantos, and in one, the authorial portrait is opposite “Mens Authoris,” as it is in the St. John’s presentation copy.139 Far from random, then, this visual meditation on Theophila as a palimpsest of different figures in variously interconnected stances and gestures constitutes one variation on the book’s theme, one flight of Benlowes’ fancy, and probably an early one at that, when Benlowes still conceived of his project as cohering around the eight cantos of his divine epic. The template for a second variation might be seen in another presentation copy dedicated to the Earl of Westmorland, Mildmay Fane, now at Harvard’s Houghton Library.140 In an inscription dated October 17, 1653, Benlowes has again annotated the title page with his favorite phrase, “Author Esse sui hoc voluit Monumentu[m] & Pignus Honoraris” [the author wanted this to be a monument and pledge of his love]. This volume has some similarities to the St. John’s presentation copy: it is also bound in Benlowes’ arms with little signs of tampering and contains a complete set of Barlow’s original etchings for cantos 1 through 8. However, in other places Benlowes uses the engravings in this copy to claim more authority over the poem’s interpretation. For instance, the authorial portrait has been moved back to its more common place opposite the title page and the large plate of Theophila stomping a serpent has been moved opposite “Mens Authoris,” where the portrait was in the St. John’s volume. By shuffling these plates, Benlowes reasserts his primary place as the book’s author but continues to treat Theophila as his authorial double, as the “Mens Authoris,” the mind of the author, emblematically stomping sins and pointing to heaven as she pens Benlowes’ book. This series resolves on the next opening where, as is typical in most copies, the plate of Hollar’s Winter Woman sits next to the address to ladies—except on this copy, as well as another copy at Morgan Library, Benlowes has added a couplet explaining how to read the recycled image:
This shewes a Lady should affect a Dresse,
That Modesty & Vertue may expresse.
From a proud portrait of the book’s designer, to a feminized emblem for his mind, to this metaphysical memento of the female reader’s modesty, Benlowes uses the first three page openings of Fane’s copy to triangulate author, poem, and reader in a controlled relationship. A similar sequence is found in another volume at Houghton Library, except the authorial portrait has been moved before “Mens Authoris,” and Theophila stomping the serpent sits opposite the poem’s translation as “The Authors Designe” on the next page.141 Thus the leaf with “Mens Authoris” on the recto and its translation as “The Authors Designe” on the verso is sandwiched between Benlowes’ portrait on the one end and Theophila as the divine writer on the other. Again, the plate showing Theophila as a divine writer is being drawn into a relationship with the author’s image and his writing process, one that anticipates her taking over the text from the fumbling poet in cantos 5 and 6. In short, she is literally positioned here as his co-author.
With the Fane volume and its relatives, Benlowes’s interest in Theophila loosens, and he begins to experiment with ways of providing the miscellaneous materials and additional cantos with frontispieces from his cache of recycled images. For instance, the plate of Theophila at prayer moves from Canto 2 to the head of Canto 9, where it faces a prelude in Latin inviting the reader to “serve Poetry.” On the bottom of the page it faces is printed a plate of verse in Latin, the same size and design as the plates accompanying most of Barlow’s etchings. Thus the vestigial frontispiece serves as a visual echo of the text it sits opposite, and emblem and Latin prose reflect one another across the gutter. From this change unfolds another: Astronomia, facing the end of Canto 8 in the earlier variant, is bumped further along in the text to serve as an illustration for the beginning of Canto 13, “The Pleasure of Retirement.” This move suggests Benlowes’ falling interest in Theophila the divine epic and burgeoning desire to construct Theophila the book coherently, with plates evenly distributed across all cantos. In a third variant, these two plates are switched—Astronomia introduces Canto 9, and the vestigial frontispiece Canto 13—and most later readers take this to be the standard order, with the Fane copy representing an aberration.142 “This should be p 235,” a later reader has written on the image of Theophila at prayer in Fane’s presentation volume, adding to Astronomia, “should be page 122.” In another volume at Houghton Library, where these images have also switched places, Astronomia is annotated in ink with the phrase, “place this agst pag: 125,” in the same handwriting as the similar note in the St. John’s volume; a later hand has added in pencil, “To be placed at page 125.”143 The switch that later readers found endlessly frustrating, though, is probably an intentional riff on what I am calling his second variant, since two other copies have the plates in the same order.144 More, the coexistence of both variants together—the Fane ordering and its reversal—supports the thesis that Benlowes was becoming more interested in the relationship between a plate and the book’s structure, rather than the plate and the book’s text.
This growing interest in the design of the codex results in other variants. For instance, Canto 9 is, as mentioned, a facing-page Latin and English translation of a summary of the poem. In some copies, like that at the University of Pennsylvania, the vestigial frontispiece remains facing the canto’s prelude.145 The plate of Theophila stomping the serpent is then positioned to face the beginning of the English translation of the recapitulation, since it starts on a recto. Thus Astronomia and Theophila form parallel frontispieces to the dual beginnings of the Latin and English facing-page translation of the poem’s summary in Canto 9. The one points up to the left and out of the book’s fore-edge, the other to the right and toward its gutter.
This variant continues to witness the compiler’s desire to illustrate the later cantos, and the book balloons with additional images. There are new original etchings for Canto 10 and 12, probably made by Barlow after Benlowes decided to add new texts.
The book was most likely already in press at this point: as mentioned above, the book’s format changes after Canto 11, and Canto 12 begins on a verso, suggesting the printer did not anticipate these extra visual frontispieces, and few copies have these late additions. There is also another vestigial frontispiece that begins to show up at the pivot between Ross’s translations of cantos 1 and 3 into Latin. Cut by William Marshall, the same engraver who copied many images for Quarles’ Emblemes at Benlowes’ request, it features an elaborate floral wreath that encircles the title Ludus Literarius Christianus, Anthreno-Tripsis seu Crabronum Tritura and the name of the author, “Edw. Benlosij. Armig.” Swarms of buzzing bees turn the flowers’ pollen into honey, while a clutch of putti squeeze grapes from a wine press—a machine that looks very much like, indeed was the model for, the printing press.
The octavo-sized image largely repeats the design of another frontispiece by William Marshall to Benlowes’ Quarleis, a pamphlet that he had printed to celebrate the appearance of Quarles’ Emblemes and which now can often be found bound at its end. Perhaps Benlowes hoped to compile a book with the title Ludus Literarius Christianus, so he commissioned this frontispiece—again, prematurely. Or perhaps he uses it here to celebrate his friend Ross’s riff off Theophila, much as he does with Quarles in Quarleis.146
If the Fane volume presents interpretive problems, this later variant is nearly impossible to analyze, especially in relation to this question of Benlowes’ creative agency. Of the copies that I have seen that contain Ludus Literarius Christianus, none are in a contemporaneous binding; and in fact nearly all the copies that follow this template were rebound by Francis Bedford and his partner Charles Lewis, prominent bookbinders for the antiquarian marketplace at the beginning of the nineteenth century. One small clue as to Bedford’s possible influence on the book’s arrangement comes from the fact that all copies that I have seen rebound by him reverse the Adam and Eve woodcut: that is, in copies in original or repaired bindings, the woodcut is positioned on the recto; in Bedford’s copies, it is on the verso.147 It is as if Bedford, straightening out Benlowes’ crooked book according to his own time’s standard of consistency, can only imagine plates set invariably on one side of an opening. More than just rearranging the plates, though, nineteenth-century collectors also added new engravings in a futile quest to find or, more often, make up the most “complete” copy. Some sellers or owners took this obsessive urge to an extreme. For instance, one copy at the Houghton Library that otherwise follows the Fane variant in its composition also includes facing-page doubles of many etchings for the first eight cantos, the second cut and pasted onto a carefully-lined blank leaf that has been inserted for this purpose.148
Two copies at the British Library also contain two O2 leaves, one with an added plate and one without. A nineteenth-century note in the copy owned by the great bibliophile Thomas Grenville states, “This is the only perfect & compleat Copy that I have seen,” since it includes eighteen engravings and the duplicate leaf, which, he wrongly believes, “occurs only in Presentation Copies.”149 Yet another copy at Cambridge University Library has not only Hollar’s “Winter Woman” in its usual place but captioned versions of Spring, Summer, and Autumn interleaved seemingly at random throughout the preliminaries.150 One imagines the collector seeing “Winter Woman” alone and presuming the set incomplete until the rest of the series were added. While, from one perspective, this act destroyed Benlowes’ original intentions, disrupting his more purposeful recycling of Hollar’s plate, it also attests to the many ways that Theophila inspires readers to become like Benlowes, learned improvisors of his erudite and polyphonic fancy. The book’s boundaries are porous, and its use of plates open to interpretation; it should be no surprise that later readers would, like Quarles browsing Benlowes’ library, treat his books as instruments to pick up and play.
Two particularly interesting hybrid cases display the competing desires that have adulterated Theophila over time. The first is a copy at Williams College, noted as “Ex dono Authoris,” a gift from the author, on a flyleaf.151 Still in a binding stamped with Benlowes’ arms, it roughly follows the St. John’s variant in the placement of images: it includes the vestigial frontispiece of Theophila at prayer in Canto 2, and Theophila stomping the serpent in Canto 4. However, when the binding was repaired the owner inserted blank leaves where other engravings were thought to go then labeled and numbered them. Two of these leaves have the engravings carefully cut out and pasted in the center; the rest are empty but for their penciled title and placement notes, awaiting the time when that plate is found and repurposed for a second time.
By adding these blank leaves, the owner imagines that an engraving’s absence is a gap or a loss rather than the product of variance, and thus grafts a later version of Theophila onto his own earlier variant. In so doing, he invents a composite that, according to the evidence available now, did not seem to exist in Benlowes’ own time. The second copy, now at Columbia Library, shows a similar impulse.152 Having sat on library’s open stacks for many years, it lacks many engravings, and those that are present deviate widely from other templates: the etching for Canto 1 sits opposite the title page, Adam and Eve are juxtaposed with “Mens Authoris,” and Hollar’s “Winter Woman” has floated to the second half of the text. However, one particular lacuna bothered its owner: leaf O2 is missing. It has been supplied in manuscript on four interleaved pages that double the leaf, following the example led by the Grenville volume at the British Library, which must have been the copyist’s source. More, elements like Canto 9’s title, the engraved plate of verse, and some words printed in large caps have been traced on tissue paper and pasted to the manuscript leaf. The result is a quasi-facsimile transcription that amalgamates the text and its design, giving the reader a flavor for Benlowes’ exuberant typography without exactly reproducing the page.
In both hybrid copies, the compiler’s error—insofar as we can call it that—is to misread variance, and to do so twice: first by interpreting alternative arrangements as a lack, and second by using another, inevitably different copy of Theophila to fill it. As the nineteenth century grappled with the queerness of Benlowes’ anachronic object, two competing models of the printed book and readers’ desire for completeness butt heads.
Aiding these later efforts to repackage Theophila were new systematic bibliographies like William Lowndes’ Bibliographers Manual of English Literature (1853), the first work of its kind and an important precursor to the Short Title Catalogue. Lowndes describes Theophila, with the somewhat exhausted bewilderment that most of its readers feel, as a “very extraordinary and rare Book” that “is seldom found complete,” before proceeding to outline its many “engravings and decorations.”153 He missed a few that are present in some variants, and the Grolier Club followed with a lengthier list in its 1905 catalogue.154 The Grolier numbers are now the standard reference in most MARC records, which judge a particular copy according to how many are present—with a complete set of engravings often suggesting, with little evidence, that the volume must be more special, perhaps even an uninscribed presentation copy. Of course, these efforts to fix the order of plates, fill a book’s gaps, or measure its material integrity do little to help us understand Benlowes’ practice as a publisher and poet. Benlowes worked by principle and by design, but never according to the kinds of systems and standards that nineteenth-century cataloguers or collectors attempted to impose or, more often, simply invented for Theophila. At the same time, it would be equally foolhardy to assume that the critic today can easily sweep away the fragments of old seller’s catalogues that line the endpapers of extant copies, erase the pencil markings noting where a plate “should” go, and thereby grasp Benlowes’ original intentions. Theophila always was, and remains, a book that vibrates with variance. A permeable system stitched together by a poetics of the codex, it invites readers to constellate their own desires with its often startling assemblages of text, image, typography, and material form. That nineteenth-century bibliophiles staged their own fancy for completeness on the platform of Benlowes’ book is, from this perspective, not a failure but the project’s fulfillment. These remade copies spin one more riff in Theophila’s boundless choir. It remains for us today to decide collectively how we will remediate such unique books in the digital catalogues and databases used by Benlowes’ future readers.
126. When quoting Theophila, I will cite signature and, when relevant, canto and stanza inline.
127. Andrew Morrall, “Regaining Eden: Representations of Nature in Seventeenth-Century Embroidery,” in English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580–1700, eds. Andrew Morrall and Melinda Watt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), cat. 74.
128. Maria Wakely, “Printing and Double-Dealing in Jacobean England: Robert Barker, John Bill, and Bonham Norton,” The Library 8.2 (June 2007), 139. For further documents pertaining to this decades-long dispute, see the King’s Printer Project, directed by Graham Rees with assistance from Maria Walkley. Other smaller engravings used by Benlowes which may have been owned by Norton include a plate of two cavaliers drinking and carousing by Peregrine Lovell, cut in half in Theophila and printed on sigs. Yv and [Y2]v, and a small, ill-fitting map of the world printed on Yr.
129. Bellamy, “Edward Benlowes’ Theophila’s Love-Sacrifice,” p. 1.
130. Christine Varnado, in her forthcoming The Shapes of Fancy: Queer Circulations in Early Modern Literature.
131. Joseph Hall, A common apologie of the Church of England (1610, STC 14629), sig. C4v; Ben Jonson, Ben: Ionson his Volpone or The foxe (1607, STC 14783), sig. ¶3r.
132. I am grateful to Mary Learner for drawing my attention to this connection in her in-progress dissertation, “Material Sampling and Patterns of Thought in Early Modern England.”
133. Jeffrey Masten, Queer Philologies, p 138–40. On Flötner’s alphabet, see Erika Mary Boeckeler, Playful Letters: A Study in Early Modern Alphabetics (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 2017), 83ff.
134. “Fantasia,” The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2003), 306–8, esp. 307.
135. Andrew Ashbee, The Harmonious Musick of John Jenkins: The Fantasias for Viols (Toccata Press, 1992).
136. St. John’s College Library, Cambridge University, Bb.4.25.
137. Antony Griffiths, The Print in Stuart Britain (London: British Museum, 1998), cat. 71.
138. Boston Public Library, A.742.1 FOLIO; Chapin Library, Williams College, Wing B1879 folio.
139. This is Boston Public Library, A.742.1 FOLIO.
140. Houghton Library, Harvard University, HEW 7.10.9.
141. Houghton Library, Harvard University, f Typ 605.52.202.
142. Beinecke Library, Yale University, Z77 032; Newberry Library, Case folio Y 185.B43; Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Aj B438t +1652; British Library G.11598; British Library C.30.m.8; Cambridge University Library, Sss.28.2; Clark Library, UCLA, f PR3318.B25 T3; Kislak Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts & Special Collections, University of Pennsylvania, Folio EC65 B4387 652t. In some copies, the plates are situated with respect to recto and verso differently.
143. Houghton Library, Harvard University, f Typ 605.52.202.
144. Houghton Library, Harvard University, f Typ 605.52.202, Cambridge University Library, Syn.4.65.1
145. Kislak Center, Folio EC65 B4387 652t.
146. It is facing sig. R3r. The copies that include this engraving are Clark Library, f PR3318.B25 T3; Morgan Library, W 01 D; and Houghton Library, f Typ 605.52.202.
147. Copies with signed Bedford bindings include Clark Library f PR3318.B25 T3; Cambridge University Library, Sss.28.2; Morgan Library, W 01 D; and Kislak Center, Folio EC65 B4387 652t. However, many others are in similar nineteenth-century bindings following Bedford’s style.
148. Houghton Library, Harvard University, f Typ 605.52.202.
149. British Library, G.11598. The other copy with a doubled O2 leaf at the British Library is C.30.m.8.
150. Cambridge University Library, Sss.28.2.
151. Chapin Library, Williams College, Wing B1879 folio.
152. Columbia University, B823B43 T 1652.
153. William Lowndes, The Bibliographer’s Manual of English Literature, Vol. 1 (London, 1857), 153.
154. Grolier Club, Catalogue of Original and Early Editions of Some of the Poetical and Prose Works of English Writers from Wither to Prior, Vol. 1 (New York: Grolier Club, 1905), 35.