Humphrey Moseley’s Social Network
At the Morgan Library is a copy of Theophila that Benlowes gave as a gift to his bookseller Humphrey Moseley. Shortly after, Moseley regifted the book to “his ff[r]eind The statio[ner] Mr Henry Seile,” another purveyor of Theophila, who then gave or sold the book to an unidentified owner. This owner soon set about personalizing this copy. On the title page, he recorded the birth of his son Peter in September 1657 in proud, careful Latin. To the “Winter Woman” plate—already inscribed with the couplet [“This shewes a Lady should affect a Dresse, / That Modesty & Vertue may expresse.”]—he added anagrams in English, Latin, and Greek on the name of Sophia Lancaster, expressing her chaste virtue: for instance, “Sophia Lancaster. / A plain chast Rose.”
That this Benlowes-bound and inscribed copy of Theophila would change hands between his booksellers so quickly—and that it would be seen as special enough by another contemporary owner to bear the handwritten record of his son’s birth and baptism—points to Theophila’s unique place in London’s bookstalls. On the one hand, it served as a beautiful, bespoke object—not a text so much as a token to be traded in the enduring gift economy that still ran parallel to the emerging capitalist market for printed books. On the other, there was, in reality, nothing special about this particular book. Benlowes used the same binding, even the same inscription on nearly all presentation copies. Taken together, they look less like the handmade gift books of, for instance, the Elizabethan period—books like Esther Inglis’s books of calligraphy or Jane Seager’s sibylline prophecies—and more like a boutique or private publication. Hence following the social life of this presentation copy as it moves between Benlowes’ booksellers and accrues family notes takes us out of Brent Hall and back into the broader world in which Theophila circulated, inviting one final question: how would mid-seventeenth-century readers have encountered such a seemingly idiosyncratic book?
Of the two booksellers that offered Theophila in their shops, Henry Seile was the less prolific and more cautious of the two, publishing about 175 editions in his forty-two years in business. Many of these were reprints of reliable bestsellers, like John Willis’s The art of stenographie, and he tended to work with the same authors more than once, including several of Benlowes’ favorites, like Owen Feltham. It seems possible that someone like Feltham first recommended Seile to him. By contrast, Humphrey Moseley ran a bigger operation, publishing nearly twice as many books in just thirty-four years. All extant evidence suggests that Moseley was an ambitious innovator, and many of the features now considered standard in seventeenth-century books were pioneered and promoted by him at his shop, the Prince’s Arms, between 1637 and his death in 1661. He manipulated his books’ preliminaries to cement an image of literary authors and their works as transcendent and monumental, inviting commendatory verses, writing his own prefatory letters, adding authors’ portraits to the front of books, and commissioning elaborately emblematic engraved frontispieces to help advertise their contents.155 In the process, he forged relationships with engravers like William Marshall, carving out a more stable place for printmakers in the English book trade. He also marketed editions using catalogues tacked to the end of his books and with an eye to his potential buyers.156 For instance, when a copy of John Fletcher’s The Wild Goose Chase was discovered after he had already published Fletcher and Beaumont’s collected Comedies and Tragedies in 1647, Moseley made sure to have it printed in folio—an unusual format for a single playbook—so that readers could add it to the earlier collection.157 He also used serial publication to package the work of lesser-known playwrights into octavo composites of “New Plays,” printing subsequent single playbooks in the same format for easy collecting.158 On the production end of the business, Moseley bought up unsold sheets from other stationers and mixed them with his own to form unacknowledged composite editions. The most notorious example today is one of his editions of Edmund Waller’s Poems (Wing W511), which contains leaves printed for Thomas Walkley’s own edition of Waller’s Workes (Wing W495).159 While none of these practices was invented by Moseley, his consistent program of packaging and promoting Royalist literature has led David Scott Kastan to describe him as the publisher most responsible for “allow[ing] an idea of English literature to form and be generally recognized.”160
It is not clear whether Seile and Moseley sold copies of Theophila that Benlowes had made up at Brent Hall, just the printed sheets, or the printed sheets alongside the loose prints for readers to purchase piecemeal, as with Peake’s prints for Bibles. Given the consistency with which extant copies are bound in Benlowes’ arms, it seems likely that, like the “large paper” copies of The Purple Island, Benlowes produced an entire boutique edition himself. Most likely he set some copies aside to gift or sell to friends, adding custom inscriptions to these volumes, and offered the rest to Seile and Moseley to sell. Regardless, the placement of Theophila beside Moseley’s own composite volumes at the Prince’s Arms puts Benlowes’ seemingly idiosyncratic practices in a new light, making Benlowes the private, rural publisher and Moseley the entrepreneurial London stationer seem almost mirror images of each other. Both were invested in promoting Royalist literature, especially the earlier poetry and drama of the century’s first decades, Moseley as publisher and Benlowes as patron. Both understood the added value of preliminary content and engraved illustrations, especially densely symbolic ones, and explored new ways to incorporate them into the technical processes of literary production. And both treated publishing as a practice of compiling works into coherent packages, Benlowes in his boutique editions and Moseley in his serial and made-up publications. Of course, they operated toward almost opposite ends, with their work accruing cultural and literal capital very differently. Moseley presented himself as a stationer, a member of a guild company who sold and published books for profit. Benlowes never saw himself in this light, calling himself not a printer or bookseller but a composer or Benevolus the patron; and while he may have made money from his boutique projects, as Schoren suggests in his suit against him, his motives followed his creative and aesthetic fancies. Nevertheless, their similarities of approach and practice point to a common Royalist techne, a shared set of actions and uses of publishing technologies that together constitute the dynamic, emergent, and evolving trade in English printed literature in the turbulent decades of the 1640s and 1650s.
Comparing Benlowes’ and Moseley’s use of preliminaries illuminates Benlowes’ position within this techne. As we have seen, Theophila swells with accretions. These named connections to printers, poets and engravers map the social world of the material book—who wrote content for it, who helped in its production. When tallied they offer a rough index of a book’s degree of collaboration within the field of literary production, with a single-author book printed and sold by the same person showing a low level of collaboration and a multi-author book padded with preliminaries and engravings, like Theophila, showing a high degree of collaboration. Even in comparison, this holds true. Of the books that name Moseley as seller or publisher on the imprint, Theophila has the third-highest number of named connections. One other book has the same number, Nicholas Murford’s Fragmenta poetica, a small duodecimo collection of poems with 65 pages of verse and 14 pages of commendatory verse.
The only two books with more connections are, not surprisingly, Moseley’s enormous posthumous folios of collected dramatic works: Beaumont and Fletcher’s Comedies and Tragedies (1647) and William Cartwright’s Comedies, tragi-comedies, with other poems (1651). Thirty-seven commendatory verses pad the former and fifty-three the latter—more than twice as many as Benlowes’ or Murford’s books and, of course, many of them address not just the playwrights’ genius but the stationer’s prowess bringing the collection to press. Not only, then, was Benlowes’ swollen book part of a small cadre of similarly bloated, publisher-assembled Royalist books of verse, all produced around 1650, but it seems he may have wanted his own bespoke folio to be seen and interpreted alongside these large posthumous collections. One commendatory poem in Theophila even makes a direct connection to Cartwright’s folio and its enormous preliminary apparatus:
Here Heav’n-born SUADAS, Star-like, gild each Dresse
Of the BRIDE SOUL espous’d to HAPPINESSE.
Here PIETIE informs Poetick Art;
As All in All, and all in every Part.
For All These dy’d not with fam’d Cartwright, though
A Score of Poets joyn’d to have it so. (sig. C1v)
Thus to the monumental Royalist dramatists being invented by Moseley in ornate portraits and laudatory verse, Benlowes offers Theophila, a figure for infinite and divine desire dispersed across fragments of found images; to the posthumous folio of “fam’d Cartwright,” he offers the urn of her “love’s sacrifice.” In this soft imitation, Benlowes both flatters Moseley’s as a promoter of a homosocial literary network and critiques the hubris that attends his exaltation of dead poets over the immortal soul, mortal wit over devotion. Thus the very accretions that have caused so many later readers to dismiss Theophila as incomprehensibly odd may have lent the book literal and interpretive weight as it sat alongside other such folios, frontispieces, and authorial portraits in Seile’s and Moseley’s shops.
If Benlowes is imitating Moseley’s strategies, he nevertheless does so from his position as a rural poet and publisher, more committed to his own circle of close male friends and collaborators than to the institutions and ideologies that motivated the stationer. This becomes clear when the connections described are graphed as a network, showing links between the books that Moseley published and the printers, booksellers, writers, engravers, musicians, and dedicatees who were directly or indirectly involved in them. Consider, for instance, the Beaumont and Fletcher folio. In the linked resource, this monumental volume sits at the center of a ring network showing, in the first circle, the individuals who contributed it. There are no less than 35 writers, indicated in green, who contributed some kind of text to the volume—most of it commendatory verse—as well as one engraver, one dedicatee, and two stationers. Of those primary connections, many have a high number of connections to other books published by Humphrey Moseley, indicated by the black dots on the second ring. Clicking on one of the primary connections—the people involved in the making of the book—recenters the network on that person, and their involvement in Moseley’s other projects becomes clearer. As the graph shows, James Howell in particular worked with Moseley on a number of books, writing both his own and commendatory verse for others. A similar pattern can be seen with the network centered on the Cartwright folio. Compare these books to the ring network centered on Theophila. Although many people are involved in the book, they tend not to be thickly embroidered into Moseley’s broader circle. This is evident in the relatively few books shown in the outer ring, representing links between Benlowes’ collaborators and other books published by Moseley. Those who wrote commendatory verses are his friends, like Alexander Ross, John Gauden, and William D’Avenant, or poets he patronized, like Payne Fisher. His engraver Francis Barlow never worked directly with Moseley, despite the stationer’s frequent commissions for plates. The author of the poem above comparing Theophila to Cartwright’s folio is even a family member, one “T. Benlowes,” whose identity is unknown to his biographer Jenkins; I suspect it may be Benlowes himself, perhaps under the guise of “Theophila Benlowes,” given the verse structure and the poet’s penchant for coterie word games. This low degree of connection to his bookseller’s network demonstrates that Benlowes was, in a sense, self-publishing: he, not Moseley, commissioned and assembled the pieces of the book. But it also evinces his overall attitude toward literary production. A country gentleman, Benlowes designed fabulously elaborate, collaborative books that were, for all that, the almost scribal output of a provincial workshop. He was still the muse of Quarles’s engraving, exclaiming from Finchingfield, “We sing together.”
155. Lois Potter, Secret Rites and Secret Writing: Royalist Literature, 1641–1660 (New York: Cambridge University Press), 20–22; Marotti, Manuscript, 259; Ann Baynes Coiro, “Milton and Class Identity: The Publication of Areopagitica and the 1645 Poems,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 22.2 (1992), 277.
156. Adam Hooks, Selling Shakespeare: Biography, Bibliography, and the Book Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 145–6.
157. Paulina Kewes, “‘Give Me the Sociable Pocket-Books . . .’: Humphrey Moseley’s Serial Publication of Octavo Play Collections,” Publishing History 38 (1995), 7.
158. Ibid., 8.
159. Timothy Raylor, “Moseley, Walkley, and the 1645 Editions of Waller,” The Library 2.3 (2001): 236–65; David Scott Kastan, “Humphrey Moseley and the Invention of English Literature,” in Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth Eisenstein, ed. Sabrina Alcorn Baron, Eric N. Lindquist, and Eleanor F. Shevlin (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 118–120.
160. Kastan, “Humphrey Moseley,” p. 111.