Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: print

The Hampton Court Letter, being a reply to The Epsom Ladys Answer

I came across this fun early eighteenth-century rebus earlier on this evening while searching the British Museum database for something else:

AN354005001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

Here is a translation from the BM catalogue. If you have any ideas what the sentence starting with two maids means then you are clearly much cleverer than me:

Glorious lady, Your rebus deciphered does inform that benign stars ordain happiness, to recompense noble flames. Your heart shall be mine I understand you well. Those eyes assure what your tongue should utter, belie not your sole, or I undermine your heart: maids madden[?] refuse but take it. Madam believe your fortune made; my income can bear a coach and six, which all the world knows. When wedlock joins hands then O! for your beauty. Your loving obedient meanest servant, signed, sealed, delivered before Henry Smith.

This seems to have been part of a series of prints: the first from the “Tunbridge Beau”, the second a response from the “Epsom Lady”, the third this one, and the fourth the answer of the “Country Assembly”. Unfortunately the only other image I have tracked down is the fourth and final part of the series:

Translation (again, would welcome any thoughts on the uncertain sections):

Vain pragmaticall man, The style and assurance of your epistle shows you a daring bogtrotter, what earnest of ye lady’s heart could induce you to fancy your famous party and as you believe handsome overtures would be cordially received. You are a great bear for your pains, too [knave paired?] and lunatic, [straw bed, owl] pottage, Bedlam, and iron bars is what you want; [urinal/flask?] clothes her hatred, esteemed nor regarded of a [?]. The Tonbridge rake that begun this folly is a danmed liar and prevaricator, two nonesuch violents not to be uttered on a spinster, a welshman but she made address to defend herself and waived entering fool’s paradise so ridiculously. On that he charitably belies Mr J-n nobody knows wherefor, but ye scandal would not stick. Ye post stays so I can only beg you repent be content confess your treacheries and we shall become your admirers. To show [basket?], Abel Burnet, Martin Palfrey, Millicent Fane, Rose Cage, Bridget Cooper.

All four in the series were published by Andrew Johnston, a printmaker based at the Golden Eagle in Old Round Court off the Strand. He seems to have mostly sold engraved and etched portraits, but clearly fads like these rebuses could also prove a useful money-spinner.

Edward Finch and graphic satire

I am in the midst of an essay crisis at the moment, trying to get my final paper finished before I embark on finishing the research for my dissertation and the task of writing it up. It is an odd feeling: stressing about getting the essay finished on time, while at the same time knowing that once I hand it in the end of my Masters is nearly here.

In the meantime here is a snippet from a previous paper I did for my MA on graphic satire during the civil wars. It’s about Edward Finch, a Laudian clergyman from the mid-seventeenth century. From 1630 he was vicar of Christ Church in Newgate in London.

In 1641 some of Finch’s parishioners rebelled and petitioned Parliament for his removal. They complained about his “superstitious affection to the Surplice and other Popish practices”, and accused him of extorting money from his flock. They also charged him with hanging around with “divers women suspected of incontinency”. Like many such petitions of the time, it ended up being printed as a quarto pamphlet: The petition and articles or severall charge exhibited in Parliament against Edward Finch vicar of Christs Church in London, and brother to Sir Iohn Finch, late Lord Keeper (London, 1641). What was different about this particular pamphlet was that it had an illustration of one of the accusations: a trip to a particularly notorious tavern.


The wooduct shows a stumbling Finch in canonical dress, addressing a coachman who, it is revealed in the text, had taken him to the Chequers Inn to get drunk. The coachman is shouting “away for Hamersmith”.

The illustration seems to have particularly stung Finch, so much so that he wrote a pamphlet in response. In it he attacked the “Frontispeece of his abominably absurde Pamphlet”. However, the detail of the woodcut was such that he was unable to deny the accusation completely. Instead, he only managed to tinker with the details: protesting that one of his companions on his trip to the inn had been his sister, and that they had been to the Goat Inn rather than the Chequers.

What was it about the cartoon that particularly irritated Finch? In her seminal book on the impact of the printing press, Elizabeth Eisenstein focused particularly on what she called the “fixity” that printed words could bring to ideas and concept. If anything, woodcuts would have been even more “fixed” than type. Unlike spoken or written descriptions of an event, images provide a statement of meaning that can be exactly repeated for as long as the printing surface works effectively. Viewers can still interpret them, but arguably with less room for manoeuvre. This element of ‘fixity’ seems to have been important in determining contemporary responses to graphic satire. For Finch, it meant that he was less able to refute the accusations levelled at him. Early modernists are now very attuned to the history of readers and reading as part of the wider history of printed, but there is probably still much more to learn about the viewers and viewing of printed images.

1. The petition and articles or severall charge exhibited in Parliament against Edward Finch vicar of Christs Church in London, and brother to Sir Iohn Finch, late Lord Keeper (London, 1641), B.L., T.T., E.166[12].

2. Edward Finch, An answer to the articles preferd against Edward Finch, vicar of Christ church by some of the parishioners of the same (London, 1641), Wing / 256:E.175[11].

3. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-modern Europe (Cambridge, 1980).

The pamphlet war between John Taylor and Henry Walker

The series of posts that follow are a slightly amended and lengthier version of a paper I gave on 12 July at the Birkbeck Early Modern Society. [Note: since writing this my views on some aspects of this pamphlet exchange have evolved: if you are also researching this issue and want to get in touch please do.]

The pamphlet above is one of a number of salvoes fired in an infamous pamphlet war that started in June 1641, between two writers called John Taylor and Henry Walker.

Taylor was a waterman who had lived in London since his apprenticeship in the early 1590s. Despite only a brief spell at grammar school, contact with actors and writers he ferried to the Bankside triggered a new interest in literature for him. From 1612, Taylor started publishing verses and experimented with other forms of print. For example, in 1614 he produced a miniature “thumb-bible” as a novelty for courtiers. He also experimented with a subscription model for selling books. By the 1630s, Taylor’s predominant output was satirical pamphlets.

Less is known about Henry Walker’s background. In 1638 he was admitted as a pensioner at Queens’ College, Cambridge. However, before this he was apprenticed to an ironmonger in Newgate market. By 1641 he was writing and selling anti-episcopal books. At the same time, he was also becoming well-known as an Independent “tub preacher” – in other words, a preacher without a living.

The first salvo in their pamphlet war was fired by Taylor in a pamphlet called A Swarme of Sectaries. In it Taylor satirised a range of “mechanic” or non-beneficed preachers. Walker responded with An Answer to a Foolish Pamphlet entituled A Swarme of Sectaries, in which he attacked Taylor’s literary and religious credentials. Taylor quickly came back with another pamphlet, A Reply as true as Steele, criticising Walker and throwing in a woodcut of a she-devil giving birth to Walker. Walker then wrote a further response, Taylors Physicke has purged the divel, with a woodcut showing Taylor in his ferry-boat drinking something unmentionable from the rear end of another she-devil: this is the pamphlet you can see above. A third author, George Richardson, then entered the fray on Taylor’s side.

Although the dispute went quiet later in the summer of 1641, Taylor resurrected it in 1642 with two further pamphlets. One, a satire of a sermon preached by Walker, became well-known as “Tobie’s dog” after the mock-sermon’s subject, the book of Tobias. Another was a spoof of a debate held between Walker and a Jesuit.

This dispute has traditionally been seen as one of the literary set-pieces of the 1640s. In the civil war both Taylor and Walker would go on to be propagandists for king and Parliament respectively. As a result, their dispute is often presented as a paper conflict prefiguring the actual conflict that would break out between Charles I and Parliament in 1642. This interpretation has been combined with a tendency to see the dispute as being crude and of low literary merit. More recently, historians have been concerned not to marginalise popular print and instead to see it as an expressive form in its own right. Taylor and Walker’s pamphlet war has also been re-evaluated as part of this trend, and some historians have sought to restore Walker and Taylor’s literary credentials.

However, all of these re-interpretations have continued to stress the oppositional nature of Walker and Taylor’s exchange. Importantly, too, even the most recent interpretations have only considered one aspect of the dispute – the two authors.

But actually it takes more than authors to bring a book to print. As Robert Darnton has argued in work on the print culture of eighteenth-century France, there is a “communication circuit” involved in every book. You also need printers, booksellers and readers. And a text itself doesn’t exist in a vacuum either – it relates to the social and political context of its time. The diagram below shows Darnton’s version of this communication circuit.

What I will do in subsequent posts is analyse some of the missing characters in the communication circuit behind Walker and Taylor’s dispute:

  • the texts, and how they relate to seventeenth-century print culture in general
  • the readers
  • the publishers

A full contextual analysis of all the parties involved, and the creative tensions between them, reveals that the exchange could be at once a pitched battle and a friendly spat, and could simultaneously be both crude and erudite.

Richard Badger

I’ve finally got round to catching up with the June edition of the Historical Journal and I’ve been particularly intrigued by an article by Peter McCullough on the printer Richard Badger [link to article – subscription or Athens access required].

Badger (1585-1641) was a printer who was entrusted with publishing an edition of Lancelot Andrewes’s XCVI sermons (1629) whilst still a journeyman. In the 1630s he was made a master printer and went on to produce a wide range of Laudian publications.

McCullough uses a close study of Badger’s professional and kinship connections with Laud and his supporters to study the extent to which his political and religious ideologies were consistent or sincere. He makes a crucial distinction between books published by printers – in other words, where the capital was put up but the printing often passed on to others, where the publisher’s name would generally be given on the imprint – and those merely printed by them – where they were doing work for other stationers.

This sensitivity to form yields a fascinating analysis of Badger’s career. McCullough argues that to use printed output as an index of religious allegiance is not on its own sufficient – this distinction between published and printed works needs to be borne in mind. An analysis of published works shows that Badger showed remarkable consistency in his Laudianism.

McCullough complements this analysis by looking at an untapped source for stationers’ allegiances – the exchequer’s composition books from the Office of First Fruits and Tenths, which show stationers standing surety for over 300 clerical appointments. He weaves this together with bibliographical analysis, looking at the printer’s imprint Badger adopted, shown above – with its grandeur and heraldic crests – to demonsrate the positive impact Badger’s association with Laud had on his business.

McCullough concludes that these sources can be used to confirm recent trends in the historigraphy of printing that have moved away from seeing printers as motivated solely by commercial interests.

As a work of historical analysis this is properly post-revisionist, crossing a number of academic disciplines and using a wide range of sources. I found it a really stimulating read and would recommend checking it out.

1. Peter McCullough, ‘Print, publication and religious politics in Caroline England’, Historical Journal (2008).

2. Lancelot Andrews, XCVI Sermons, printed by Richard Badger (London, 1641).

Cheap print

cheap-print.jpgI’ve been posting far less than I would like recently, due to being completely overwhelmed at work at the moment. If I never have to write another strategy, delivery plan or risk register for the rest of my life, it will be too soon… But I am scraping together the time to fit in MA work and one of the books I’ve most enjoyed in the last week or two has been Tessa Watt’s Cheap Print and Popular Piety.

I am ashamed to say that I never read this as an undergraduate, despite spending an entire term doing early modern social history. But I’ve enjoyed catching up. I particularly liked the way in which she reconstructed the networks of middle-men and middle-women involved in the ballad, broadside and woodcut trade. I was also very taken with how she mapped networks of London publishers through connections of marriage, apprenticeship and business partnership. You can see the resultant map here.

My paper for the end of this term’s work will be trying to reconstruct a seventeenth-century pamphlet battle, and Watt has given me plenty of ideas of how to look at the printers and publishers involved. I will try to post more about my research as it progresses.

Anyway a short post for now, normal service and posting frequency will hopefully be resumed at the end of this week!