At this point I should say more about the hard work and care in the printing of this book by Michael Isingrin, the most painstaking printer of Basel, except that we know that these qualities are sufficiently known and proved by the many works that have issued from his workshop for some years now. And surely this work speaks for itself well enough, as to how diligent he was in printing it. However, how great an expense he was put to can be estimated by anyone who cares to weigh the magnitude of the work and the pictures themselves for their quality. Students of herbal matters owe much to this man, who spared neither expense nor labor in order to serve their convenience and aid their pursuits.
But the fact is that there are many today who, like drone bees, sneak into other people’s labors and by their inept copying spoil and debase books that were set up in the best and most elegant type and adorned with superb pictures. This is done for no other reason than to profit at the expense of others. Since this is so, we must have a thought of Isingrin, too, who has incurred enormous expense in publishing this work; and to that end a prohibition has been issued by imperial decree, that no one else anywhere may print these our commentaries without penalty, as we warned at the very beginning of this book.Footnote 1
Though his dedicatory epistle appears in the first pages of the printed book, Fuchs seems to suggest that he holds the remainder of the volume in his hands as he writes – as indeed he very well may have done. De historia stirpium’s preliminaries (including a title page, full-length author portrait, dedicatory epistle, explanation of difficult terms, and tables of plant names in Greek, Latin, German, and in the contemporary jargon of apothecaries) were likely printed last, and Fuchs’s epistle may have been written while he reviewed the bulk of Isingrin’s labor, enabling him to anticipate the experience of future readers encountering his book for the first time.Footnote 2 When readers encounter a physical copy of De historia stirpium, Fuchs’s insistence that Isingrin is “the most painstaking printer of Basel” can be readily verified in the very weight and materials of this folio. Held in the hands, Fuchs and Isingrin’s volume is appreciably, monumentally, voluminous.
De historia stirpium’s magnitude makes it obvious that Isingrin took a considerable risk in supplying the immense capital needed to publish the volume. As the grateful Fuchs explains, Isingrin’s industry has been protected by an “imperial decree,” and Fuchs’s phrasing makes explicit the way that Renaissance legal protections over books primarily concerned not the intellectual property of their authors but the financial interests of their publishers. As a professor at the University of Tübingen, Fuchs received an annual subsidy from his employer to supplement the costs of his publications, and his sympathies for Isingrin’s costs are impossible to separate from this shared investment in the publisher’s role.Footnote 3 Nonetheless, though Fuchs claims authority over “these our commentaries” as both an author and a publisher, his phrasing makes it clear he understands that the ultimate rationale for the imperial decree is to guard Isingrin’s outlay of the capital needed to produce the printed volumes rather than his own investment of scholarly and creative labor in the production of the verbal text and the illustrations it contains.
Much to Fuchs’s indignation, however, the imperial decree protecting De historia stirpium was insufficient to keep unauthorized agents from mimicking elements of the book. Nearly immediately after it appeared, De historia’s carefully produced illustrations were copied and adapted to accompany a new edition of Dioscorides’ De materia medica edited by Walther Ryff and published in Frankfurt by the printer and block-cutter Christian Egenolff (1543, USTC 683351). Egenolff’s encroachment on Fuchs’s work was neither surprising nor unprovoked: even as Fuchs praised the quality of Isingrin’s printing in his 1542 epistle, he also expressly condemned Egenolff’s skill as a printer and implied that the university-educated Egenolff lacked the knowledge needed to publish works of botany. In condemning Egenolff’s ignorance, Fuchs elevates his own professional status as a physician by implying that the study of botany is too sophisticated to be understood by lay figures without appropriate scholarly instruction. Later in his epistle, Fuchs notes that he has simplified some of his botanical descriptions specifically to suit the needs of such unprofessional readers: “since in relating the history of plants we had to use terms somewhat abstruse and remote from the knowledge and understanding of the lay reader, we have judged it worthwhile to add some short explanation of these terms so that the less knowledgeable reader would not be handicapped.”Footnote 4 While it is possible to read Fuchs’s readerly concerns as genuine, his condemnation of “drug sellers, a largely ignorant class of men” and “stupid and frightfully superstitious old wives” elsewhere in the epistle suggests that his remark about lay readership is part of a larger performance of self-promotion, making his concerns about the lay reader a form of intellectual noblesse oblige.Footnote 5 When it is seen within this broader intellectual context, Fuchs’s attempt to position Egenolff outside of professional and authentic studies in German natural history can be recognized as it was intended: as a deliberate and pointed affront.
Fuchs’s insult was also motivated by Egenolff’s history of unauthorized herbal publication. A decade earlier, in 1533, Egenolff had published the first edition of Eucharius Roesslin’s Kreuterbuch and copied the woodcuts of physician Otto Brunfels’s Vivae eicones herbarum (Strasbourg, 1530–1536), which had been published by Johannes Schott under the protection of imperial privilege. Schott sued Egenolff for violation of his privilege, and Egenolff defended himself by claiming that images of the natural world such as plants could not be protected as works of art by virtue of their innate similarities: a daffodil could only ever look like itself, and the ultimate artist responsible for its image is God.Footnote 6 As I explain in Chapter 3, Fuchs had devoted considerable effort in hiring artists to render De historia’s botanical illustrations to his precise specifications, and his attack on Egenolff suggests that Fuchs thought the printer’s illicit replication of Brunfels’s woodcuts would make Fuchs’s own botanical scholarship vulnerable to the replication of errors caused by unauthorized reprinting. “Among all the herbals extant today,” Fuchs claims, “none are so full of stupid errors as those the printer Egenolff published again and again.”Footnote 7 He points out that Egenolff’s herbals reused woodcuts to illustrate two distinct species of plants, and these errors stemmed as much from the printer’s avarice as from Egenolff’s botanical ignorance: “he does not regard the rewards of scholarship as of much account and is more intent on making money, it is no wonder that books of this sort come from his workshop.”Footnote 8 Fuchs’s easy dismissal of a publisher’s livelihood as merely “intent on making money” finds an analogue in some modern accounts of herbals, where historians find it inexplicable that sixteenth-century craftsmen were “out to make quick money” rather than to produce their wares primarily for the benefit of authorities attempting to lay claims to a new discipline.Footnote 9
Fuchs’s preface makes it clear that he separates publishers into two distinct categories. There are those publishers who, like Isingrin, put their livelihoods into the service of herbal authors like himself, and there are nefarious privateers like Egenolff who resist such authorial deference and seek to publish herbals for their own financial gain. In setting himself up as Isingrin’s champion, however, Fuchs once again bolsters his own intellectual and authoritative pretentions. He conveniently elides his reliance on a publisher for the propagation of his authoritative herbal knowledge, masking the way that his authorship depends entirely on the dissemination of printed books. While unillustrated and anonymous botanical works like Agnus castus might have flourished in manuscript, Fuchs’s De historia stirpium relied entirely on the precise correspondence of image and text that could be maintained only through a medium as relatively stable – and as technically difficult to produce – as print. It is through such rhetorical sleight of hand that Fuchs attempts to prevent his readers from understanding that, without the likes of Isingrin or Egenolff, there would be no illustrated printed herbals for sale at all.Footnote 10
Egenolff’s issuance of Dioscorides’ text alongside copies of the De historia woodcuts thus did not just violate privilege; it threatened the terms of Fuchs’s status as an expert, and Fuchs publicly condemned Egenolff’s thievery in a work that was both published and printed by Isingrin. In Apologia … qua refellit malitiosas Gualtheri Ryffi veteratoris pessimi reprehensiones (Apologia, by which he refutes the malicious criticism of the sly fox, Walther Ryff; Basel, 1544, USTC 602518), Fuchs cites both the financial loss to Isingrin and the damage by copying done to the reputation of the cutter of the De historia’s original woodblocks, Veit Rudolf Speckle. Having had this fight over botanical images before, Egenolff was well equipped to answer Fuchs’s charges, and he quickly countered with his own pamphlet: Adversum illiberales Leonhardi Fuchsij, medici Tubingensis … calumnias, responsio (A refutation of the unjust, false accusations of Leonhart Fuchs, doctor of Tübingen; Frankfurt, 1544, USTC 609318). In Responsio, Egenolff repeated his earlier defenses and even extended his argument to attack the originality of Fuchs’s botanical commentary. In defending his use of Fuchs’s woodcuts, Egenolff claimed that, because much of the text of De historia had been lifted not from Fuchs’s own experience but from the works of other botanists, it was hypocrisy for Fuchs to identify himself as the text’s author with a full-length title portrait. By clothing himself in the scholarship of his botanical betters, Egenolff argued, Fuchs’s expert status was vulnerable, as once these scholars come to reclaim their authority, “very soon we shall see him completely skinned, this mangy, quite hairless little fox.”Footnote 11 Not only, Egenolff claimed, were Fuchs’s images of plants mere copies of the book of nature but Fuchs’s own expertise was merely the stuff of so many other books. The implicit fraud that Egenolff leveled against Fuchs’s skill as a botanist is an insult that would later resonate with herbalists like Turner and Gerard, who used their paratexts to try to foreclose the possibility that readers might level the same accusation at them.
Egenolff’s acerbic quarto prompted Fuchs to respond in kind: Adversus mendaces et Christiano homine indignas Christiani Egenolphi typographi Francofortani suique architecti calumnias responsio (A reply to the mendacious calumnies, unworthy of a Christian, of Christian Egenolff, the Frankfurt publisher, and his architect; March 1545). Fuchs had intended for his second tract against Egenolff to circulate through the continental republic of letters via the 1545 Frankfurt Book Fair, but agents working for Egenolff managed to purchase all of the copies that its Basel publisher, Ulric Morhart, offered for sale and then presumably destroyed the pamphlets. None is now extant. In a print battle between an author and a publisher, the publisher clearly has an advantage. Defeated, Fuchs was forced to seek out another publisher for the work’s second edition (Basel: Erasmus Zimmermann August 1545; USTC 602515), where he offered his account of what had happened to the first.Footnote 12
Fuchs had many such disputes in print over the course of his long career as a herbalist and as a physician, and they were eagerly followed by contemporaries throughout Europe. His dispute with Egenolff, Fuchs suspected, was really with Janus Cornarius (1500–1558), a humanist physician who felt not only that Fuchs’s writings on Greek medicine had effectively plagiarized his own but also that Fuchs was dishonest in allowing successive editions of his own books to be printed under different titles, presumably to confuse potential buyers who had already purchased a previous edition. Thus, in condemning not only Egenolff but also “his architect” throughout this second tract, Fuchs responded to the accusation that he plagiarized the work of his predecessors by once again calling the publisher’s intellect into question and by condemning Egenolff’s mendacity. Egenolff’s criticisms must have been spurred at the behest of some other agent, Fuchs maintained, someone with a greater intellectual investment in botanical authority, rather than a mere publisher who is interested only in the commercial bottom line. Regardless of that bottom line, however, the artisanal fraternity that bookselling engendered in its practitioners enabled Egenolff to snuff out all evidence of Fuchs’s authorship of a particular pamphlet. Fuchs’s status as a botanical authority was assured for the remainder of his lifetime, but to his continued dismay, publishers held a great deal of power over those who wished to benefit from the broadcast potential of print. To succeed in print, therefore, even widely esteemed herbalists needed to know their place.
To examine how Renaissance authorship was a mode of self-fashioning, this chapter highlights that authors’ claiming of an expert knowledge domain depends upon readers’ willingness to recognize that authority. I suggest that to better understand the circumstances in which Renaissance herbals were commissioned, authored, and sold within a trade of ideas, scholars need to make a “bibliographic turn,” to see herbals not just as verbal texts but also as printed commodities. I argue that by conceiving of a “stationer-function,” a discourse of textual authority that is able to operate even in the absence of an author, we have a better way of accounting for the popularity of both named and anonymous books with Renaissance readers. Further, by attending to the circumstances in which printing took place, scholars attuned to a stationer-function can provide a more complete picture of the conditions in which natural history and medical knowledge circulated in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. Instead of valorizing authors as if they alone were responsible for making their works publicly available to readers, this approach can help us recognize that botanical works like herbals circulated because of the concerted efforts of booksellers and printers.
Self-Fashioning and the Sociology of Truth
The above-discussed account of Fuchs’s De historia stirpium demonstrates how Renaissance publishers were attentive to, and sometimes directly implicated in, disputes about the authorship of herbal texts. It is also evidence of the way that clashes over the accurate representation of details of natural history and medicine could rapidly descend into accusations of piracy (the unauthorized reproduction of material documents owned by another publisher) and the related but separate offense of plagiarism (the unauthorized reproduction of verbal works written by another author). When scholars account for these conflicts, however, they can sometimes conflate these two activities in ways that confuse the distinct concerns of the affected parties and mistake the text of verbal work for the material document that contains it.Footnote 13 So too, it seems, did early modern authors, though when they conflated plagiarism and piracy they did so for deliberate and self-aggrandizing purposes. As they dedicated their works to esteemed would-be patrons, ambitious authors of herbals like Fuchs had a vested interest in downplaying their dependence upon the financial means of publishers and the technical skill of printers, and it served their attempts at self-fashioning to use their paratexts to depict these agents simply as arms-length financial backers or unlearned mechanicals rather than as powerful figures and artisans responsible for instigating the creation of an author’s books. Fuchs’s complimenting of Isingrin’s “diligence” and “elegant type” thus betrays his anxieties over this dependency just as much as his condemnation of the “inept copying” of “drone bees” like Egenolff. As Fuchs insists that only the integrity of the individual agent involved separates a good printer-publisher from a bad one, he reveals his uneasy awareness that his botanical labors can be broadly recognized as “authorial” only through the publication efforts of another party, one with their own vested interest in the production of printed herbals. As Adrian Johns has succinctly remarked, “[t]here could be no substitute for publication if one wished to establish knowledge, and ways of securing knowledge, in a wider world.”Footnote 14
The denigration of other agents’ motivations, particularly others’ economic motivations, is a crucial part of establishing the veracity of “scientific” truth claims. Steven Shapin’s research has demonstrated that, despite seventeenth-century scientists’ attempts to characterize factual knowledge about the world as grounded in their own direct experience, what scientists put forward as “truth” was in fact socially constructed via the testimony, and the authority, of other scientists and invested onlookers. Readers’ knowledge of early modern natural history was thus based in scientists’ relationships with those figures who were trusted to accurately represent and verify their accounts of their world.Footnote 15 “What we call ‘social knowledge’ and ‘natural knowledge’ are hybrid entities,” Shapin writes. “[W]hat we know of comets, icebergs, and neutrinos irreducibly contains what we know of those people who speak for and about these things, just as what we know about the virtues of people is informed by their speech about things that exist in the world.”Footnote 16 Shapin asserts that the paradigm of seventeenth-century veracity was the English gentleman, a figure like Robert Boyle whose breeding, discretion, and financial acumen enabled him to be sufficiently indifferent to possible outcomes and therefore unbiased in his accounting of reality: “[a] selfless self was a free actor in a world of knowledge; all others counted as constrained.”Footnote 17 In Fuchs’s articulation of his authority over herbal knowledge, he follows a similar strategy by celebrating the efforts of a publisher such as Isingrin, who, like Fuchs himself (and unlike the seemingly acquisitive Egenolff), is motivated not by money but by civil and scientific truth. Fuchs notes that Isingrin’s labor and expense were designed not for profit but to serve the higher purpose of attending to the needs of scholars of botany, “in order to serve their convenience and aid their pursuits.”Footnote 18 So, even as Fuchs speaks of the value that Isingrin brings to Fuchs’s own botanical project, he makes the publisher’s material and economic needs secondary to Fuchs’s own intellectual ambitions. Thus, while the quality of the material form of the book is being celebrated, the product of the printer is demoted, and the importance of the verbal text created by the author is made superior to the material text produced by the printer.
The authority that Fuchs claims for himself derives from his creation of a verbal and illustrative work that represents a host of knowledge about plants, but his feuds with Egenolff and others make it clear that he realizes his authority does not fully extend to the representation of that work in book form. In other words, the way that readers received Fuchs’s knowledge was mediated by the efforts of other figures who had the power to reinforce or to undermine Fuchs’s expertise. Fuchs understood that his authority was dependent upon stationers, and he resented it. While authorial fears about loss of control are perennial, the technology of print led to an intensification of these concerns.Footnote 19 This observation suggests that Shapin’s claims need to be modified to account for the material means by which knowledge was transmitted. In the case of authority derived from individual reading acts, historians of ideas need to account for the reality – and the sociology – of printed books.
In my Introduction, I argued that scholars of early English printed herbals have focused their efforts so intently on the content of botanical works that they have often overlooked the material means by which these works were disseminated. As upcoming chapters will show, the popularity with lay readers of small anonymous works like the little Herball spurred London publishers to invest in newer, larger, and more comprehensive botanical works, many of which they specifically commissioned from authors, artists, and translators. Authorized English herbals were thus not fully autonomous textual creations that affirmed the reality of plants with varying degrees of accuracy but speculative books that publishers sometimes asked authors to produce in order to appeal to particular clienteles. In turning herbal scholarship towards an appreciation of the work of printers and booksellers, I want to suggest that these other agents need to be considered authoritative in the process of making botanical works available to early modern readers. The histories of these other agents have largely been hidden from view as authors’ social and intellectual pretentions required them to downplay the important role of those who literally constructed the material means through which their botanical works reached audiences.
“Print Culture,” “Piracy,” and “Plagiarism”
In this extension of authority to include the artisans who financed and manufactured the verbal works of authors, I am engaging with arguments similar to those made by Adrian Johns in The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making. By drawing what he calls “the first real attempt to portray print culture in the making,” Johns explains the means by which printed books “became trustworthy.”Footnote 20 Johns refers to “print culture” in his 1998 monograph, a phrase that has declined in use in recent years. He acknowledges that the phrase was popularized by Marshall McLuhan in his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, but Johns draws his concept of “print culture” directly from Elizabeth Eisenstein, who situates the term as a catchall phrase designed “to refer to post-Gutenberg developments in the West when setting aside its possible relevance to pre-Gutenberg developments in Asia.”Footnote 21 As the subtitle of her own volume suggests, Eisenstein’s goal in her monumental The Printing Press As an Agent of Change is to explore the role that the products resulting from Gutenberg’s new technology played in “cultural transformations in early-modern Europe.” Google Books Ngram Viewer, which displays a graph showing how a word or phrase has occurred in a corpus of digitized English books over a selection of years, records increased frequency in the phrase “print culture” from the early 1960s, corresponding with McLuhan’s work, while a steep spike in the use of the phrase can be seen from 1980 onwards, corresponding with the reception of Eisenstein’s book. As debates have raged over the agency and ontology of inanimate print, “print culture” has been in sharp decline since 2006, possibly as a result of its replacement by the related phrase “book history,” which has been in increasing use. (In 2013, Peter W. M. Blayney surveyed the discipline in his history of the Stationers’ Company of London and dryly remarked, “[t]he only sentence in this book in which the words print and culture both appear is this one.”)Footnote 22 Johns repeatedly insists that Eisenstein characterizes print culture chiefly through print’s capacity to endow “fixity” upon knowledge domains; however, her two-volume work of historical synthesis also explores myriad other features of cultural change that she sees resulting from the mass production of textual products, including dissemination, reorganization, data collection, preservation, amplification, and reinforcement, all of which, I argue, have particular relevance to the development of English botanical science throughout the sixteenth century.
In Nature of the Book, Johns recasts Eisenstein’s arguments about “fixity” to note that it is a “transitive” quality of printed texts that is “recognized and acted upon by people.” Johns’s new formulation of fixity is instructive for the arguments of the present volume, as Johns’s approach to print culture turns towards both the agents responsible for producing books and the varied readers who used them. Johns’s understanding of what he calls print’s “credit” builds directly on Shapin’s concept of trust but moves the focus from trusted individuals to the ways trusted individuals can be understood through printed artifacts. He maintains that a Renaissance reader first approached a printed book cautiously and sought to make “a critical appraisal of its identity and credit” chiefly by assessing “the people involved in the making, distribution, and reception of books.”Footnote 23 While earlier historians had viewed early modern readers as unthinkingly credulous, Johns finds readers to be highly apprehensive and even suspicious, attuned to the ubiquitous possibility that the texts of printed books may be something other than what they seem. To Johns, “[p]iracy and plagiarism occupied readers’ minds just as prominently as fixity and enlightenment. Unauthorized translations, epitomes, imitations, and other varieties of ‘impropriety’ were, they believed, routine hazards.”Footnote 24 To reassure themselves of the authority of a particular publication, Johns asserts, readers would first have to evaluate the credibility of printers and booksellers who produced and marketed it for sale, using the artifact as a surrogate for the agents who manufactured it. “The ways in which such agents thought of and represented themselves,” he writes, “were therefore of central importance to the received credit of printed knowledge.”Footnote 25 Through what Johns calls the “character” of printers and booksellers, an author’s credibility over a knowledge domain might then safely be established.Johns expands upon this point by exploring the particular means in which England’s Royal Society in the later seventeenth century came to be viewed as an authoritative locus for natural philosophy by highlighting the ways that its members harnessed all elements of the medium of print, from maintaining its own printing houses and periodical journal, Philosophical Transactions (1665 –), to overseeing a series of public-facing correspondences between its membership. Johns demonstrates that the scientific authority claimed by the Royal Society was due in no small part to the social status accorded its members, whose status as witnesses to the experiments it conducted “would be apportioned credit according to their place in the social hierarchy, and in particular according to their received status as gentry.”Footnote 26 Johns asserts that the establishment of epistemological credit in printed works of natural philosophy was the result of a concerted effort among not only authors and authorized witnesses to experiments but also book producers and sellers – namely stationers. Yet as book producers, stationers mediated the relationship between authors and readers, and their reputation could influence the reception of a particular book:
In managing publications, Stationers, and often booksellers in particular, controlled events. The practices and representations of their domains affected every character and every leaf of their products. Isolating a consistent, identifiable, and immutable element attributable to the individual author would be virtually impossible in these circumstances. Attributing authorship was thus intensely problematic for both contemporary and future readers. A priori, virtually any element in a work might or might not be the Stationers’ responsibility, in virtually any field of writing … [t]he reading of a book could in consequence be substantially affected by the perceived conduct, and above all the perceived character, of the Stationer or Stationers who had produced it.Footnote 27
Johns’s evidence is derived primarily from the later Stuart period, which influences how he reads earlier events that adhered to different customs and systems of textual ownership.Footnote 28 As he is particularly invested in the machinations and social pretentions of figures associated with the dissemination in print of works of natural history created by gentry and members of the Royal Society, it is unsurprising that Johns’s research primarily concerns evidence not only from the later seventeenth century but that foregrounds the identity of texts’ purported authors – as well as the identity of the stationers who supported or undermined these scientific endeavors. This focus, however, has the consequence of misrepresenting the nature of bookselling in the first century of English printing and leaves Johns without the ability to explain how the book trade operated before the Stationers’ Company of London gained a monopoly over printing in 1557 or how anonymous popular texts like the little Herball and The Grete Herball found eager purchase at the hands of thousands of early modern readers. This deficit becomes particularly acute in Johns’s articulation of piracy, or illicit printing, which he claims to be inextricably bound up in accusations of textual transgression from the period.Johns uses the term “piracy” to denote:
the unauthorized reprinting of a title recognized to belong to someone else by the formal conventions of the printing and bookselling community. But it soon came to stand for a wide range of perceived transgressions of civility emanating from print’s practitioners. As such, almost any book could, in principle, find itself accounted a piracy, whatever its actual circumstances of production and distribution.Footnote 29
In his opening “Note on Conventions,” Johns acknowledges the anachronism concomitant with his extended definition of the term, which scholars such as John Feather, among others, caution should be limited to serving its contemporary legal sense of “printing without his or her permission of a text that was clearly and legally owned by another agent.”Footnote 30 Johns, however, demurs:
while such precision is probably necessary in matters of technical bibliography, the stipulation seems rather too restrictive for a work such as this, which deals with social, cultural, and intellectual history. Such a book is entitled to recover the broader meanings recognized by contemporaries – indeed, it is its duty to do so. Contemporary usage provides warrant. Someone might call an unauthorized printing of personal letters a piracy, for example, even though their ownership had not been registered beforehand; similarly, an unauthorized reprint produced in another country for sale on the Continent might be accounted a piracy, although it was outside English legal jurisdiction. There are no legal terms for such cases, although individuals certainly felt them to be transgressions of some sort. It would be awkward to have to resort every time to “unauthorized reprint” or some such formula. For the sake of conciseness and dramatic value, then – and not least to capture something of the sheer sense of outrage displayed by the aggrieved – I have chosen to follow what I take to be the emerging usage of the time, and call these activities by the generic label of piracy.Footnote 31
Johns labors throughout The Nature of the Book to provide “the first extensive taxonomy of practices labeled piratical – from piracy itself, through abridgment, epitomizing, and translation, to plagiarism and libel … In short, it addresses precisely the epistemic significance of piracy.”Footnote 32 As Eisenstein later noted, Johns’s definition unhelpfully serves to “stretch the term ‘piracy’ to cover nearly every kind of printed output that was not specifically authorized.”Footnote 33 While there may be cause to expand textual impropriety in this way in very specific contexts, such as the reception of works by members of the Royal Society, it is all but useless in understanding the publication of books in the sixteenth century. A book such as John Skot’s reprint of Bankes’s edition of the little Herball (STC 13175.4), being anonymously authored as well as printed prior to the incorporation of the Stationers’ Company in 1557 (thus lacking both author and Company authority), would be implicated by Johns’s concept of piracy, irrespective of any logical applicability to this particular publication or to its other pre-1557 reprints.Footnote 34
Another concern with Johns’s use of the term “piracy” lies in the way that his preference for “dramatic value” allows him not only to ignore the scholarly “precision” presumably favored only by “technical bibliographers” but also to misrepresent the agents who were responsible for coining and popularizing the term, in order to accord with his book’s thesis that the strictures of fixity and veracity associated with printed books of natural philosophy were constructs hard-won by books’ various producers. Early in his first chapter, Johns claims (without a source) that “the term [piracy] seems to have been coined by John Fell, Bishop of Oxford, to describe the rapacious practices of London printers and booksellers”; nearly 300 pages later, a footnote reveals that “It was in the early 1670s, as part of the closely related struggle between Oxford University and the Stationers’ Company, that Bishop John Fell seems to have coined the term ‘pirates’ to refer to printers and booksellers who invaded others’ literary propriety: see below”; thirty-one pages later, persistent readers eventually learn that “when John Fell, bishop of Oxford and the leading proponent of Oxford printing, wanted to describe to Sir Joseph Williamson his frustration at the invulnerable community of London Stationers who violated the university’s ‘propertie in Printing,’ Fell called them ‘land-pirats.’ It was an evocative phrase, and one that would last.”Footnote 35
Johns’s footnote on “land-pirats” cites a manuscript letter dated August 6, 1674, held in the Public Record Office, and Johns notes that “[t]his is the earliest reference given in the OED; similar phrases occur in several writers of the time, however, and those who concern themselves about such things may question Fell’s absolute priority.”Footnote 36 As of the OED’s updated third edition of June 2006, the first recorded usage of “pirate” to denote “[a] person or company who reproduces or uses the work of another (as a book, recording, computer program, etc.) without authority and esp. in contravention of patent or copyright; a plagiarist. Also: a thing reproduced or used in this way” (n.3.a) was Thomas Dekker in his exhortation to “[b]anish these Word-pirates (you sacred mistresses of learning) into the gulfe of Barbarisme,” found on sig. A4r of his 1603 plague pamphlet The Wonderful Yeare. The earlier OED entry for “pirate” and the one cited by Johns in his 1998 text derives from the second edition of the OED published in 1989, which then offered as its first entry an exemplar reading “[s]ome dishonest Booksellers, called Land-Pirats, who make it their practise to steal Impressions of other mens Copies.” This entry, however, is not ascribed to John Fell, Bishop of Oxford in “the early 1670s,” but rather is credited to the authorship of the London bookseller John Hancock in 1668. As an “invulnerable” London stationer, Hancock was presumably the sort of “land-pirat” that so incensed Bishop Fell that Fell was moved to write the English Secretary of State Joseph Williamson to request the issuance of some kind of appropriate sanction. Johns’s appreciation of the “dramatic value” of the term “piracy” has limited the usefulness of his analysis, causing him to mistake the concerns of the agent who coined an evocative phrase. As a London stationer, Hancock was frustrated with “pirates” not merely out of a concern for propriety but because such behaviors put his (and others’) livelihoods at risk by undermining their exclusive rights to sell particular titles they’d registered with the Stationers’ Company. By ascribing Hancock’s words to Bishop Fell, Johns has confused the stakes of the dispute by turning a coinage derived from an internal commercial matter into one of civic decorum.
Considering the earlier usage of 1603 now credited in the updated OED only adds to the problem. Thomas Dekker’s use of “Word-pirates” needs to be appreciated in light of Dekker’s career as a prolific and opportunistic playwright and pamphleteer whose vested interests in self-promotion were so well known to his contemporaries that he was lampooned in Ben Jonson’s Poetaster and Cynthia’s Revels. Dekker is mentioned dozens of times in Philip Henslowe’s diary between 1598 and 1602, often for revising or “script-doctoring” other authors’ plays – collaborative activities that have complicated scholarly attempts at authorship attribution.Footnote 37 Dekker’s repeated imprisonment for debt and his continued dependence on his pen for his livelihood require careful contextualization to unpack the motivations behind his portmanteau coinage of a term like “Word-pirates.”Footnote 38Too easily accepting at face value the many accusations of textual impropriety that pervade texts of natural history throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would mean claiming, unreasonably, that all the herbals of the period were “pirated” in one form or another. Though modern discourses of scholarly authorship regularly seek to credit specific figures with idiosyncratic discovery or inventive composition, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors of herbals produced their works not sui generis but largely by incorporating and building upon the printed works of botanical scholarship that already existed.Footnote 39 As Egenolff noted of Fuchs, Renaissance herbalists composed their texts primarily by “gathering,” synthesizing, and commenting upon the materials of their predecessors and using this information as a scaffold upon which they could then record their own differing or dissenting experience. Frances E. Dolan links this kind of “compost/composition” with flourishing Renaissance cultures of recycling, while Jeffrey Todd Knight locates a “culture of compiling” that appreciated books’ material status as “thing[s] to actively shape, expand, and resituate as one desired.”Footnote 40 Brian W. Ogilvie characterizes this period of natural history as necessarily bibliographic, pointing out
that published texts were not the end product of the process of natural history research; rather, they were themselves employed as tools by naturalists seeking to make sense of their particular experience … Their technology of observation shaped habits of observation, and was in turn shaped by those habits, in a continuing dialectic that focused attention above all on defining and describing new species or varieties of plant.Footnote 41
Historians of botany who valorize invention and discovery have frequently struggled to account for this imitative and materialist method of composition and have often identified an author or publisher’s replication of a previous herbal text as suspect, repeating and endorsing the claims that herbal authors themselves made to distinguish their works in a competitive print marketplace. These misgivings have even led historians to label some herbals as mere “piracies” of earlier volumes or some authors meager “plagiarists” of another’s work. Scholarly narratives about reprints of the early Herball first published in 1525 thus characterize figures like Robert Wyer as a pirate of other stationers’ books, while John Gerard is reviled for being a plagiarist owing to his use of a now-lost manuscript by one “Dr. Priest.”
Attention to the context of the Tudor trade in vernacular books demonstrates that many of the seemingly illegitimate textual behaviors that have been ascribed to herbal publishers are instead normal stationer practice, while claims of “plagiarism” were often rhetorical ploys that served the interests of subsequent herbal authors leveling charges against their predecessors’ scholarly credibility. The rest of this chapter attends to what is at stake in modern scholars’ ratification of past claims of textual impropriety by explaining why it is crucial to distinguish between the agents who are responsible for the texts of verbal works (authors) and those who are responsible for producing copies of printed documents for sale (publishers and printers). While the financial and intellectual benefits to all of these figures frequently overlap, especially when an edition sells well, the particular motivations that lie behind authors’ and publishers’ investments in a text frequently differ, and it is instructive to separate the two roles. For example, while a herbalist’s reputation as a man of letters might suffer after attacks from a competitor in print, a publisher will benefit from an intellectual controversy so long as their books continue to sell. Conversely, because the print publication of a book will establish the priority of a discovery or idea, a natural historian can benefit socially regardless of an edition’s success in the marketplace. Printed books enabled naturalists to gain a larger public, making their private labors known to a wide audience. As Ogilvie remarks, “while manuscripts preserved experience for their authors, published [i.e. printed] natural histories reproduced it for others.”Footnote 42
Furthermore, the standards of intellectual propriety and legal ownership changed drastically over the course of the sixteenth century, shifting the norms of behavior for both authors and publishers. Chapter 2 therefore offers a history of the important changes in the way the Stationers’ Company of London, the civic organization governing English printers and publishers, sought to regulate the production of books. When the Stationers’ Company received a royal grant of incorporation in 1557, the Company’s new means of authorizing printed texts began to place a latent value on unpublished works, which could theoretically underpin any number of future editions. While earlier systems of English patents such as the one held by Richard Bankes in 1525 allowed a patent-holding publisher to declare a particular text off-limits for a fixed period of time (usually seven years), the emergence of the Stationers’ Company Registers permitted this kind of protected future speculation to become available to every London stationer who chose to register a title and to declare their ownership of those rights in perpetuity. Through the Stationers’ new system of textual authorization, it therefore becomes possible to recognize precisely when piracy occurred, because a stationer could sue another for damages. Further, a textual work came to be recognized as a commodity in its own right – something that could be owned and something that therefore could be transferred – regardless of whether the would-be publisher ever actually had the work printed. By more thoroughly understanding the implementation and effects of the Stationers’ system of title ownership, historians of herbals are in a better position to determine how both English booksellers and authors evaluated the dynamic market for printed books of natural history throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
A Bibliographic Turn of the “Author-Function”
As they were able to circulate through the channels of the early modern book trade both in England and on the continent, herbals were locations for plant investigators to publish theories that could later be confirmed or refuted by their fellows in their own publications. For example, in his A New Herball (London, 1551), Englishman William Turner refuted the Italian Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s description of Orobanche or broomrape that the latter offered in his printed commentaries on Dioscorides’ Materia medica. Mattioli had rebuked Dioscorides’ milder account of the plant and asserted that broomrape was so chemically destructive that it could kill other plants living nearby without any physical contact. In A New Herball, Turner corrects Mattioli, suggesting that the Italian had not properly investigated his subject – if he had, Mattioli would have seen that in fact broomrape’s roots strangle those of other plants. Agnes Arber sees Turner’s clarification of his fellow herbalist as indicative of both his delight in “pouring scorn upon any superstitious notions which he detected in the writings of his contemporaries” and his respect in asserting the authority of ancient authors such as Theophrastus, whose commentary on broomrape Mattioli had summarily dismissed.Footnote 43 To Brian Ogilvie, this kind of exchange is typical of “the dialectic between producing and consuming knowledge” that may be seen throughout Renaissance Europe as authors struggled to make and to communicate accurate observations of the natural world through the medium of the printed book.Footnote 44
This dialectic reveals that the herbalists’ dispute occurred neither in isolation nor in a restricted republic of letters between a handful of interested parties but publicly, in a marketplace filled with printed volumes of plant knowledge. The texts of Mattioli and Turner testify to the long-contested fight for scholarly authority over Europe’s botanical landscape, with broomrape and other plants serving as individual battles in an enduring transcontinental war. Printed books were the field in which this battle for botanical description was fought, and the capital to produce these books was fronted not by herbalists but by booksellers eager to see their investments pay off. While the herbalists’ attentions were, understandably, primarily focused on the content of their own authored works and the particulars of a plant, tree, or herb, the material fact of their works’ sale as books in a public marketplace also concerned a group of figures who were attentive to the ways that such texts (and their authors) could be marketed to as many readers as possible.
Historians who focus on herbals primarily as transcriptions of botanical or medical data make an implicit distinction between books and the words that books contain in order to justify their focus on the intellectual and social history of a genre. By separating forensic history of material documents as the proper concern of bibliographers, such historians have good company – the distinction between words and books is one that is also frequently employed by literary and textual scholars as they edit and interpret written documents. Because verbal works are immaterial, originating from the mind of an author and ultimately recognized in the mind of a reader, because they can be translated between languages, and because they can be copied innumerable times and still be identified in terms of their linguistic similarities, works are often seen as divorceable from the medium in which they appear. There is, between the copies of the first quarto and first folio editions of Shakespeare’s King Lear in 1608 and 1623, enough similarity between the words of the two works to suggest that they are versions of the same thing, some idea of the play that has been rendered into a readable form with various degrees of perfection.Footnote 45 In the same vein, the variations between Bankes’s first edition of the little Herball in 1525 and Robert Wyer’s first edition in or around 1540 are negligible enough to view the texts of both books as versions of a single work, something that can then lead to a charge of “piracy” against Wyer for copying Bankes’s printed text.
The question of what constitutes the essential components of a given work has been central to the occupation of textual scholars and editors for centuries, most of whom have been interested in uncovering an original, “intended” work of an author as it existed before it was rendered physically into the text of a manuscript or book.Footnote 46 While recently textual theorists such as Jerome McGann have used sociological methodologies to defend critical editions of particular printed texts on the grounds that such enterprises better reveal the historical and social circumstances relating to the production and reception of copies of these particular documents, scholarly interest in works, which are the products of authors, has not substantially waned.Footnote 47 Along with the division of the text from its material form, central to many such literary studies of authorial intention is a curious, and often undisclosed, notion of property that insists that a text of a work belongs to its creator, an intellectual right that is distinct from the conventions of physical property governed by common law.Footnote 48 Such a view holds that a book might be owned by anyone who purchases it, but regardless of how many copies of that book have been sold, the text of the book, or that material which represents the author’s verbal work, is the intellectual property of the person who labored to compose it.Footnote 49 Those who duplicate such texts without offering credit to the originating author are guilty of “plagiarism,” the usurping of an author’s authority over their own labor and a form of theft.Footnote 50 In such interpretations, even as a text is unyoked from one documentary form to produce another document, the verbal work that underlies both documents is nonetheless bound firmly to its author. The copying of the texts of works to form the texts of new documents can lead to confusion, though, and a slippage that enables the words “work” and “text” to become synonyms sometimes occurs as a result of the two terms’ similar relationship to their originating author. Scholarly focus on authorial works rather than physical documents elides the ways that the meaning of a text is shaped by a given medium.Once it was examined in detail by poststructuralist critics such as Michel Foucault, whose 1969 essay “What Is an Author?” attempted to delineate the purpose of this “solid and fundamental unit of the author and the work,”Footnote 51 this covalent stance on authorship became, in Roger Chartier’s terms, an “obligatory reference” for all scholars of the history of books.Footnote 52 Foucault’s demarcation of what he called the “author-function” served to establish that the idea of an authorial subject’s production of an intended verbal work was, rather than an historical fact, merely a “discourse” constructed by later readers in order to unify and limit the boundaries of that work within a document. In Foucault’s reading, an author’s name became synonymous with cultural authority over a given subject matter or narrative by virtue of this author-function, which provides
more than an indication, a gesture, a finger pointed at someone … it is the equivalent of a description … an author’s name is not simply an element in a discourse (capable of being either subject or object, of being replaced by a pronoun, and the like); it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function. Such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others … it is a speech that must be received in a certain mode and that, in a given culture, must receive a certain status.Footnote 53
accepted in the Middle Ages, and accepted as “true,” only when marked with the name of their author. “Hippocrates said,” “Pliny recounts,” were not really formulas of an argument based on authority; they were the markers inserted in discourses that were supposed to be received as statements of demonstrated truth.Footnote 55
According to Foucault, the essential characteristics of these “literary” and “scientific” discourses reversed positions “in the seventeenth or eighteenth century,” when “scientific” discourse no longer needed the influence of an author’s proper name in order to be considered authoritative, bolstered instead by
the anonymity of an established or always redemonstrable truth; their membership in a systematic ensemble, and not the reference to the individual who produced them, stood as their guarantee. The author function faded away, and the inventor’s name served only to christen a theorem, proposition, particular effect, property, body, group of elements, or pathological syndrome.
While “scientific” texts gradually gained authority through the methods of experiential and experimental science, which in turn anonymized their author-functions, Foucault argues, “literary” discourses began to depend upon the identification of the author as a pretext for the establishment of their authority.
Scholars of the Middle Ages have since challenged the accuracy of Foucault’s historical account of literary and scientific authorship.Footnote 56 However, I am less interested in the accuracy or generic particulars of Foucault’s chronology of historical change than I am in the useful distinction he makes between an authorial subject and the role that an author’s presumed assumption of status, or “authority,” takes in a particular text or body of literature. Without this separation between authorship and authority, both textual scholars and historians may unwittingly collapse distinct forms of textual agency and fail to recognize the contingencies and constraints of the material artifacts that mediate our understanding of the past. It is the discourse of the author-function that textual scholars who support the constraints of authorial intention implicitly endorse in their methodologies, while it is likewise the discourse of the author-function that many historians of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century herbals employ in their analyses as they investigate the history of an “authoritative print herbal tradition.”Footnote 57 All too often in both kinds of scholarship, however, the role of the author as a discourse that can be constructed ex post facto by later readers as a method of limiting and differentiating interpretations is overlooked. Foucault’s assertion that the author-function is constrained by its context demands the establishment of that context for the unique circumstances of every would-be author: “it is a speech that must be received in a certain mode and that, in a given culture, must receive a certain status.”Footnote 58 The function in Foucault’s author-function thus offers historians two crucial practical benefits in their discussions of the texts of written documents. First, the author-function presumes the existence of readers who will encounter the deployment of an authorial subjectivity and interpret such authorship in contingent and diverse ways. Secondly, by highlighting readers’ role in the construction of meaning, the author-function implicitly calls attention to the materials and technologies of text that enable readers to construct their interpretations.In their primary focus on the intellectual content, or works of herbals, scholars have sought to identify the provenance of specific ideas and concepts central to the development of modern botanical science, and in so doing, they have risked elevating the status of particular authors beyond the import garnered by authorship in given historical moments. This traditional logic proceeds as follows: the provenance of herbal works requires unraveling because as the texts of herbals were translated, copied, and distributed through the media of script and print, they were altered by figures other than their authors and potentially infused with meanings different from the ones originally intended. As herbal texts were transmitted through the physical vehicle of books, they could be separated from this accepted form of authority, rendering authored works anonymous or ascribed to authors who had nothing whatsoever to do with them. To remedy such confusion, many accounts of herbals have been preoccupied with locating the first author of a given classification scheme or method of plant description, considering it absolutely crucial to give authorial credit to the correct person in order to reassert the stability of the author-function. In such accounts it is the role of the historian to set acknowledgments to rights, to redeem the underappreciated author and condemn those “copyists” who shamefully and deliberately usurped the work of others. For example, Anna Pavord’s popular history of plant taxonomy The Naming of Names is as much a history of plant classification schemes as it is a clarion call highlighting the decisive roles played by such early botanists as the Greek Theophrastus (371 to ca. 287 bce), whose work was “shamelessly plagiarized and regurgitated” by Pliny the Elder in his Historia naturalis.Footnote 59 “Remember him,” urges Pavord, who titles chapter 4 of her work “Pliny the Plagiarist.” The same sentiments are also found in the works of mid-twentieth-century botanical historians, whose attitudes still seem to influence more recent accounts.Footnote 60 In a 1963 published lecture on “Herbals, their history and significance,” George H. M. Lawrence repeats a similar refrain as Pavord. As he closes his speech with “the late British herbals of the seventeenth century,” Lawrence maintains that “three are deserving of mention: one because it is so bad, the others for their excellence.”Footnote 61 The one that is “so bad” is
John Gerard’s The herbal; or general historie of plantes, published in London in 1597. The iniquities associated with it, ably reviewed by Arber and others, are too many to be recited here. Suffice it to say that Gerard (1545–1612), an unscrupulous barber surgeon of London, purloined an unfinished English translation of the last edition of Dodoens’ Pemptades of 1583, bungled his part in the completion of the translation, laced it throughout with anecdotes, legends and fables – usually presented as facts – and published the whole as his own! Today’s amateur herb lover may cherish the volume for its massiveness and antiquity and because its quaint English is readable. But the student of the history of science knows that almost every statement is suspect and that it is the production of a rogue.Footnote 62
The botanical biographer Charles Raven is even more insistent on the issue: “Gerard was a rogue: of that there can be no doubt … Gerard was a rogue. Moreover, botanically speaking he was, as has been indicated, a comparatively ignorant rogue.”Footnote 63
As scientists writing from the context of twentieth- and twenty-first-century post-Enlightenment science, the botanists uncovering the history of botany are keen on distinguishing between fact and fiction and often work backwards from their own knowledge of plants derived from modern empiricism to evaluate the accuracy of the texts printed in early botanical books. Yet Renaissance naturalists weren’t always governed by the same prescriptions for empiricist fact-finding as their modern counterparts, and such assumptions often misunderstand their earlier intentions.Footnote 64 Nonetheless, scholars of the history of herbals consistently value the writings of those authors who claim that their works are written upon the basis of firsthand evidence, while those herbalists whose publications were derived not from their own experience but from book-learning are barely acknowledged as natural historians at all. Charles Raven’s claim that Gerard, “botanically speaking … was … a comparatively ignorant rogue” is bolstered by the fact that Gerard’s investigation into plants “seems to have been almost exclusively in the home counties,” of which he then admits that Gerard “spoke with accuracy.”Footnote 65 Though he offers a paragraph celebrating Gerard’s charm (“Rogue their author may have been: but when we have ceased to respect him as a botanist or esteem him as a man of honour we cannot fail to enjoy him”), Raven nonetheless refuses to consider the value that the publication of Gerard’s Herball may have presented to the discipline beyond the narrow prescriptivism of the scientific method: “[b]ut we are concerned not with the charm of his writings but with their value as natural history; and beyond the defects already noted there are others.”Footnote 66 To scholars who privilege a form of authority derived from firsthand experience, the work of early herbal authors is degenerate unless it records and promulgates evidence of hands-on activity or originality. Thus, while Theophrastus’ study of prior works, coupled with his own investigations, offered “a synthesis of the information about plants that was available at the time,” and was “great and original,” for Anna Pavord, Pliny’s listing of more than 100 sources for his Historia naturalis “added little new to the existing debate” and demonstrated only the names of those whose “work he plundered for his own.”Footnote 67 The possibility that, however unoriginal, Pliny’s synthesis could provide a useful contemporary service in an age before print, where the survival of manuscripts was uncertain and rapid distribution of them impossible, is left unacknowledged. Because of his lack of originality in the content of his writing, Pliny’s practical service to the field of botany is not only dismissed but condemned. For his use of the books of others, Pliny, the compiler of 37 books of Natural History, is a “plagiarist,” while Gerard’s 1,400-page Herball or General History of Plants is the work of an “unscrupulous rogue” even as Gerard acknowledges his debts to Dodoens and L’Obel in his pages. Yet, as anthological gatherers, both Pliny and Gerard were well within the norms of the different modes of textual transmission in which they labored to produce their work.
Such condemnations serve little purpose but to express either the contemporary moral outrage of historians on behalf of their various authorial subjects or their appreciation of what Adrian Johns calls “dramatic value.” Without the recognition that the texts of works were created and distributed not as nebulous, free-floating ideas but as physical objects, books that were manufactured, sold, and circulated, scholars’ righteous indignation does not fully appreciate the wider context in which botanical knowledge was made public in the early modern period. Before modern systems of copyright (or literary theory) yoked author and text together, such historical accounts of herbals accord with Adrian Johns in viewing all but the most modern forms of textual transmission to be illicit and immoral.Footnote 68 The motivations for such illegality are naturally assumed to be economic, and as we saw with Fuchs’s attacks on Egenolff, the economic motivations of a stationer are often understood to be at odds with the civic-minded nature of scientific truth. Further, cause and effect are often uncertain. It is unclear, for example, whether the popularity of the work with readers led to its frequent reprinting or if the reverse is true and the wider availability of a work in multiple editions led to its popularity with readers. Anna Pavord may argue that the publisher Peter Schoeffer’s edition of a vernacular German herbal, Der Gart der Gesundheit (The Garden of Good Health, Mainz, 1485), was popular because “a pirated edition” was immediately published by Johann Schoensperger in the same year, along with the “seven plagiarized editions in the next four years,” but without investigating the book as a commodifiable object unto itself we are left with only a limited understanding of the role played by Der Gart der Gesundheit in its various “popular” forms.Footnote 69 Because scholars have been preoccupied with herbals’ authors, they have erroneously assumed that the correct ascription of authorship will solve the questions of authority that preoccupy many of these texts. In the early modern period, however, botanical authority is vested as much in the printed book form as it is in the verbal texts that authors composed.
Considering the “Stationer-Function”Though Roger Chartier generally endorses Foucault’s “What Is an Author?” as an invitation “to a retrospective investigation that gives the history of the conditions of the production, dissemination, and appropriation of texts particular pertinence,” he nonetheless finds fault with Foucault’s simplistic characterization of the “radical reversal” in the role of the author-function “between the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries.”Footnote 70 Citing Steven Shapin, Chartier finds Foucault’s depiction of scientific discourse without an identifiable author-function as authoritative to be inaccurate in the face of historical record. Chartier notes that, particularly in the case of experimental science,
the validation of an experience or the accreditation of a proposition presupposed the guarantee provided by a proper name – the proper names of those who, by their position in society, had the power to proclaim the truth. The fact that scholars and practitioners disappeared behind aristocratic authority in no way resulted in the anonymity of a discourse whose authenticity was not exclusively dependent on its compatibility with an already constituted body of knowledge. During the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries a number of scientific texts displayed a characteristic that Foucault (perhaps wrongly) reserved to medieval works alone: later scientific texts were also “accepted … and accepted as ‘true,’ only when marked with the name of their author” – an “author”, however, who was long understood as someone whose social position could lend “authority” to intellectual discourse.Footnote 71
This is the point that Adrian Johns expands upon in his examination of how England’s Royal Society came to be viewed as an authoritative locus for natural philosophy through its attention to publication. Chartier’s and Johns’s research suggests that the responsibility for a given discourse or text often rests in more than one person, indicating that the cognates “authorship” and “authority” are not always equivalent.
Often the locus of a work’s creation is as much a publisher as it is a writer, calling into question which responsibilities should be allowed to define the author-function and demonstrating a need to keep the terms “work” and “document” distinct. Roger Chartier makes a similar point in his Order of Books, examining definitions of the word auteur in seventeenth-century French-language dictionaries to reveal that the word was not originally invested with the writerly connotation that modern scholarship often takes for granted but has something closer to the English meaning of “agent.” César-Pierre Richelet’s Dictionnaire françois (1680) defines auteur as “the first who has invented something, who has said something, who is cause of something that has been done”; while Antoine Furetière’s Dictionnaire universel (1690) likewise validates a number of practical and technical meanings, including “said also of those who are the cause of something” and “said in particular of those who are the first Inventors of something.”Footnote 72 Within such vagaries of import, the two definitions that Chartier views as precursors to auteur’s later literary meaning, “he who has composed some printed book” (Furetière) and “those who have brought some book into the light” (Richelet), may be viewed as denotations of what we now understand as the printer or publisher of the book.
Though Chartier’s intent with this chapter in Order of Books is not to link the terms bookseller and writer under the rubric of author- or auteur-ship but rather to contextualize Foucault’s author-function within the pre-print eras, Chartier’s efforts nonetheless manage to highlight the authoritative status accorded to all those producers of the book who can be said to be responsible for “bringing it into the light.” Examining the systems of order employed by sixteenth-century French book catalogues, Chartier finds that “the author-function had no trouble harmonizing with the dependency instituted by patronage” and that “the patronage connection and the affirmation of the author together define the regime of assignation of texts.”Footnote 73 He cites La Croix du Maine’s Grande bibliothèque françoise as a case in point, a catalogue of “the works or writings of every author,” which listed for all works “by whom they were printed, in what format or size, in what years, how many sheets they contain, and especially the names of the men or women to whom they were dedicated, without omitting all their entire qualities.”Footnote 74 The above emphasis is Chartier’s, whose main interest in this passage is addressing the subject of patronage, but the part of La Croix du Maine’s quotation that Chartier does not emphasize is as relevant in locating historical conceptions of authority or responsibility, which apply not only to the agent who serves as a text’s prime origin but also to those agents facilitating its distribution to a reading public, that is, publishers.Such a broadening of the author-function to include multiple agents also opens up the venue for censorship and punishment that Foucault supplies in “What Is an Author?” In explaining the potential advantage of such a discourse, Foucault suggests that the author-function became necessary to provide a hierarchy that could adjudicate the responsibilities for textual production: “[t]exts, books and discourses really began to have authors … to the extent that authors became subject to punishment, that is, to the extent that discourses could be transgressive.”Footnote 75 In his support of Foucault on this point, Chartier underplays the role of book producers and distributors in his efforts to locate the historical importance of “the” singular author, but his evidence nonetheless demonstrates just how transgressive and subversive the producers and distributors of books were understood to be in sixteenth-century France. The edict of Châteaubriant of June 27, 1551, affirms that “the author-function was thus constituted as an essential weapon in the diffusion of texts suspected of heterodoxy,” but what Chartier’s emphasis again demonstrates is a curious exclusion of other evidence that heralds the multiplicity of the author-function’s subjectivity, for the edict also restrains printers:
It is forbidden to all printers to perform the exercise and status of impression except in good cities and orderly establishments accustomed to do this, not in secret places. And it must be under a master printer whose name, domicile and mark are put in the books thus printed by them [with] the time of the said impression and the name of the author. The which master printer will answer to faults and errors that either by him or under his name and by his order will have been made and committed.Footnote 76
In the hierarchy of multiple responsibility, the Châteaubriant edict holds the master printer as primarily liable for the profusion of unorthodox texts, a fact that Chartier’s later anecdotal evidence of convictions under the edict supports enough to lead him to assert that “it was printing that extended, hence that made more dangerous, the circulation of texts that defied authority.”Footnote 77The Châteaubriant edict of 1551 finds a contemporary analogue in England, where a proclamation of Edward VI dated July 8, 1546, includes a similar decree:
that from henceforth no printer do print any manner of English book, ballad, or play, but he put in his name to the same, with the name of the author and the day of the print, and shall present the first copy to the mayor of the town where he dwelleth, and not to suffer any of the copies to go out of his hands within two days next following.Footnote 78
Later proclamations and statutes of both Edward VI and Mary I emphasize that the “penal appropriation” Foucault sees at play in the author-function was also located within the producers of books (here defined not just as printers but also as booksellers) and “players of interludes” – in other words, all those with the power to broadcast seditious material:
Be it enacted … That if any p[er]son or p[er]sons after the xxth day of February next ensuing … maliciouslie devise write printe or set forthe any maner of Booke Rime Ballade Letter or Writing, conteining any false Matter Clause or Sentence of Sclander Reproche and Dishonor of the King and Quenes Majesties or either of them … or whosoever shall maliciouslie procure any suche Booke Rime Ballade Letter or Writing to bee written printed or set forthe … that then and in every such cace the Offender and Offenders therein … shall for his or their first Offence … have his and their right hande stricken of.
The English state’s need to control the distribution of unorthodox and treasonable viewpoints ultimately led to the crown’s seeking assistance from the civic body best able to monitor the movements of one particularly effective broadcasting medium: print. Though in his biography of the Company Cyprian Blagden downplays the importance of Mary Tudor’s granting of the privy seal to the Stationers’ Company’s charter of incorporation on May 4, 1557, the act clearly marked the state’s official recognition that the technology of the handpress posed a threat considerably more significant in scale than that proposed by the circulation of manuscripts or the singing of ballads.Footnote 80 Unlike a synchronous sermon, printed pamphlets and treatises could be manufactured in the hundreds and thousands and, once produced, were available to be read, reread, and passed on.Footnote 81
Foucault’s identification of the “penal appropriation” of the author-function is confirmed through historical research – indeed, this discourse did allow legal systems such as the English crown to control dialogue by the means of discipline – but it also serves a secondary function relevant in contemporary scholarship of the development of natural history. While it offers a vehicle for state censorship over the original production of discourses, the author-function simultaneously allows scholarly systems of accreditation and historical account to offer a form of censorship over the reception of discourse, as they license certain types of writing acts (such as accounts of personal experience) and condemn others (such as copying). A preoccupation with the writer in the author-function has led scholars of early printed books to disregard the multiplicity of the authorial subject (which includes booksellers and producers along with writers and government censors) in favor of a narrative that supposes, first, that texts are produced in a vacuum outside of the material realities of the printed book and, secondly, that the material book’s productive agents are necessarily in competition with authors for the benefits resulting from the commodification of the text in question. Implicit in such a narrative is the belief that printers, publishers, booksellers, distributors, and anyone else involved in the book trade are parasites feeding on their writerly hosts. It is understandable that authors like Leonhart Fuchs traded in such narratives, but there is much less justification for scholars taking authors’ biased accounts at face value.
The case of early modern herbals suggests that texts lacking an author are not necessarily without the advantages that Foucault ascribes to the author-function, which indicates that the relationship between authorship and authority is less causal than correlative and may be replaced by the characteristics of a particular artifact. Eleanor F. Shevlin finds that a paratextual element common to medieval texts, the incipit, serves a classificatory purpose in much the same way as Foucault’s author-function, but it manages to do so while respecting the multiple agencies of both the artifact’s form and its content. Shevlin suggests that the incipit was seen as an “informal” address, behaving “like conversational markers that featured authors introducing readers to their subject matter,” highlighting the dialogic relationship between not only reader and author but also reader and publisher, the auteur responsible for “bringing the book into the light.”Footnote 82 Through Shevlin’s model of titles as contracts, texts are united not with their authors but with their material vehicles and therefore may be seen as the product of the multiple agencies responsible for a document’s physical creation. Given this helpful intervention, the term “text” may be defined as any artifact that expresses a meaning, one that is subject to interpretation by various human agents.Footnote 83Shevlin’s influence might be seen in this volume’s Introduction, which opened with an analysis of the word “herbal” and suggested that a book’s title signified a publisher’s approach to their production. Shevlin writes that a title
participates in the world outside the text. Situated on the border of the text, the title commands a far larger audience than the actual work that it labels – a location that presents vast opportunities for its participation in cultural arenas. By casting such a wide contractual net, titles embody the potential to illuminate not just individual works, but reading processes, authorial composition, publishing practices, marketing trends, and generic transformations as well.Footnote 84
Agnes Arber’s 1912 work Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution: A Chapter in the History of Botany 1470–1670 is still considered one of the most influential texts on the subject and can be found cited in nearly every article and book on herbals that has since followed. Yet despite her focus not on the bibliographic elements of herbals but on their botanical content, Arber is unable to ignore the materiality of the book. Just as the publisher Robert Redman’s renaming of Richard Bankes’s 1525 Here begynneth a newe mater as a “boke of the properties of herbes” serves to illustrate the concerns of a book producer, so Arber’s title demonstrates that herbals are objects operating in physical space through the notion of the book as a metaphor for understanding the botanical discipline. Herbals, those books “containing the names and descriptions of herbs, or of plants in general, with their properties and virtues,” are to be understood as being but a “chapter” in a larger “history.”
The appearance of such a metaphor is not altogether surprising. In the same manner that “herbal” is at once both a signifying noun for a specific type of book and an adjective describing that book’s content, so is the word “history” heavily linked to its physical manifestation as written text. The second and third definitions of “history” in the OED emphasize the primacy of its written form, both citing as primary examples prefaces by England’s first printer, William Caxton.Footnote 85 In his 1485 translation of Paris and Vienne, Caxton tells his readers that he has “undertaken to draw the history for you,” an outlay spanning an intellectual effort not only in his translation from French to English but also in his literal construction of the printed pages that readers hold in their hands. Like Fuchs in his dedicatory epistle calling attention to the physical features of the printed book that materialize his status as an author, Caxton, as a printer, recognizes that intellectual and material responsibilities intersect in the artifact of a printed book. In “histories” as well as in “herbals,” the physical book is never absent, a fact that herbalists themselves recognized as they composed the texts of their herbals by integrating information from the printed herbals that had been published earlier. While such activities have sometimes been understood as “plagiarism,” such a description misses the point of the exercise: the work of herbalists was deliberately meant to be accretive and anthological rather than being entirely new and entirely original. In doing so, herbalists worked with the printers and booksellers who stood to profit from their sale and who pushed herbal authors to present their work in recognizable – and saleable – ways. In serving their “stationer-function,” these agents of the book trade had the most to gain – and the most to lose – from the printing of a herbal. The history of printed English herbals necessarily requires recognizing them as commercial artifacts, and such an inquiry might start with the Stationers’ Company of London, the dominant organization that structured the ways in which English books were produced, distributed, and sold.
To better acquaint readers with the way that early modern publishers thought about textual ownership, which directly impacts the way that herbals were produced, this chapter takes a deep look at the early history of English printing. Though such a history may appear to take us far afield from the specifics of the trade in botanical books, it provides an important context for the arguments I make in later chapters about specific herbals and demonstrates how the regulatory constraints upon the manufacture of all type of books in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London affected the production of herbals. These regulatory constraints involve both the crown’s early directed efforts to control the spread of seditious and heretical material and the customs of the City of London, which citizens and denizens were required to follow. Because the restrictions upon print publication changed dramatically in 1557 when a London civic organization identifying itself as the Stationers’ Company became a corporation, scholars of herbals need to consider how these shifting circumstances both effected and affected how herbals could be produced and sold. In order to appreciate how herbals moved from the relatively small books of Bankes and his fellow stationers to the massive tomes of Joyce Norton or Richard Cotes, historians need to better understand the legal and political restraints that guided booksellers’ decision-making processes. This chapter explains how the provenance of particular editions was largely determined by the shifting regulatory and economic contexts in which booksellers and printers operated.
The 1557 incorporation of the London Stationers’ Company had its roots in the Company’s efforts fifteen years earlier, when its members first approached Edward VI at the Convocation of Canterbury in March 1542 with a document petitioning for their right to govern the conduct of their trade.Footnote 1 The specific details of that petition, which was unsuccessful, remain unknown, but the Stationers’ efforts seemed to encourage the crown’s increasing attention to the potential dangers in the medium of print, which already had prompted a series of royal proclamations designed to censor the publication of seditious material. Evidence of extant historical records suggests a growing desperation on the part of the English government to control the spread of undesirable information. The reforming reign of Edward VI had encouraged the spread of printed materials like vernacular bibles, homilies, and prayer books, which proved a major problem for the Catholic Queen Mary I. Casting about for solutions to the ever-increasing profusion of now-heretical texts, the Marian government may in 1557 have recognized in the Stationers’ Company’s petition of 1542 an opportunity for offloading an otherwise impossible undertaking: complete authority over printing, the most effective broadcast medium the world had ever seen. In exchange for keeping tabs on subversive material, incorporation allowed the Stationers’ Company collectively to hold property in its own name, to conduct lawsuits on its own behalf, and to make ordinances to which their members were legally bound, without “molestation or disturbance” from other London companies or governing bodies.Footnote 2 London citizens had been practicing the trades of bookmaking and bookselling for centuries, but incorporation was the means through which the Stationers’ Company of London officially took regulatory control over the craft and the technology of printing. After 1557, the procedures put in place to manage Stationers’ licensing and insurance systems, including the optional policy of entering titles into the Stationers’ Company Registers, radically changed booksellers’ understanding of market forces. It is crucial, then, for scholars investigating the products of the early printed English book trade, particularly in the shifting mores of the sixteenth century, to consider the ways that the incorporation of the Stationers’ Company altered the motivations of the printers and booksellers who produced books.
The Stationers’ Company before 1557
While the first recorded use of the term “stationer” referred to a bookseller in Bologna in the thirteenth century, the earliest use of the word in England suggests that “stationer” referred to almost anyone engaged in the business of making, finishing, or selling books.Footnote 3 Graham Pollard’s investigations into the manuscript documents of the City of London testify that, by the fourteenth century, “stationer” readily signified “parchemeners” or parchment merchants, illuminators, and bookbinders.Footnote 4 The term is a curious choice, as the medieval Latin stationarius was used to describe any person in a fixed situation and did not signify any particular activity or craft associated with bookmaking or bookselling. Instead, what “stationer” suggested was the retail or commercial fixity of the agent concerned. Pollard surmises the term “emphasizes … the individual’s importance as a dealer rather than a craftsman, as an intermediary between the producer and the public rather than an actual maker of the goods he sells.”Footnote 5 Pollard’s point is reinforced by George Unwin’s exploration of the way the London economy came to differentiate its productive and distributive functions over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.Footnote 6 In Peter W. M. Blayney’s estimation, the term as it was used in 1417 and after probably meant something closely synonymous with the modern term “bookseller.”Footnote 7
In the fourteenth century and earlier, freemen of the City of London who employed the crafts of illumination and scriptwriting were members of a single mistery that included the “Writers of Court Hand and Text,” legal clerks who wrote deeds and contracts.Footnote 8 In 1373, this latter group split to form their own company, the Scriveners, and, on July 12, 1403, the Textwriters’ and Lymners’ Company gained the Mayor and Aldermen’s approval to superintend over all elements pertaining to their trade in the making, binding, and selling of manuscript books.Footnote 9 Over the next fifty years, however, the term denoting this Company in the Guildhall records varied considerably, from “Limners and Scriveners” in 1416, to “Scriveners, Limners and Stacioners” in 1417, to “Lymners and Textwriters” in 1423, and to “Lymnours and Stacioners” in 1433.Footnote 10 Regardless of nomenclature, however, the mistery that later became known as the “Stationers’ Company” had been in existence in London since 1403 and was consequently subject to the guiding customs of the City.Footnote 11
Members of the Stationers’ Company could specialize in any one or more of the specific trades associated with bookmaking (text writing, illuminating, or bookbinding), the efforts of which were usually coordinated through the enterprises of a broker with a fixed, stationary retail shop. While most of the products of a fifteenth-century bookshop were labor-intensive and bespoke, stationers also imported bound works from abroad and carried secondhand books for ready purchase.Footnote 12 As the mistery that controlled the manufacture and retail selling of books in London, members of the Stationers’ Company were thus quickly able to appropriate the rapid influx of products that followed Gutenberg’s development of movable type and consequently the rapid spread of printed material in Western Europe. While the craft of text writing may have been threatened by the new technology, the efforts of limners and especially bookbinders remained in demand; as Pollard points out, “[bookbinding] remained for some time the last bottle-neck of handicraft through which the finished book had to pass.”Footnote 13
There were two ways that English manufacturers and importers offered their commercial products for sale. The first was by retailing their goods directly to customers. This right to sell goods by retail was governed by civic custom, and towns and cities could restrict retailing as a carefully protected privilege held exclusively by their citizens, freemen with membership in a town craft guild or city company. While within the boundaries of a municipality retailing wares was a privilege held only by citizens or authorized denizens, events that occurred outside of city walls such as country marts and fairs were free from such restrictions. The second way that manufacturers and importers of goods might sell their products was wholesale, offering their products for sale to the civic merchants who were eligible to retail them inside a municipality’s confines. Then, as now, wholesale transactions usually involved the transference of a quantity of items, and retail merchants would sell individual articles to customers at a sizable mark-up. The publishers named on colophons and title pages largely made their money not by selling individual copies of their editions to customers (although publishers who owned bookshops also did exactly this) but by wholesaling multiple copies of their books to other booksellers for sale in their shops. As well as enabling Foucault’s strictures of penal accountability that I outlined in the previous chapter, the name of a publisher in the imprint of a book thus primarily served a wholesaling rather than a retail function and served to inform other merchants where they could buy multiple copies of the book in question. Therefore, while the title page of the first edition of John Gerard’s Herball (1597) claimed that it was “Imprinted at London by Iohn Norton,” the book could theoretically have been available for sale in any of London’s bookshops.Footnote 14 From Caxton onwards, the economics of the English printed book trade depended upon publishers wholesaling their editions as widely as possible, making their wares available in bookshops not only across London but throughout the British Isles and, on occasion, even upon the continent.
Though to modern eyes the emergence of printing in England in the latter decades of the fifteenth century may seem like a technological sea change for the English trade in manuscript books, at the time a much greater contemporary economic threat to London’s stationers (and indeed to all citizens of the City) was widely believed to come from the influx of foreign merchants and craftsmen who set up shops in the suburbs outside of the City’s jurisdiction. Though only citizens or freemen of the City of London could retail products, many of these “aliens” were better equipped to import continental goods that could be sold wholesale or to retail their English-made works outside of civic regulations.Footnote 15 Thus, while in the fifteenth century the craft of printing was not yet formally regulated by any London company (allowing foreign printers such as John Lettou and William de Machlinia to set up printing houses within the walls of London and make books), early printers would have been prevented by the customs of the City from binding and selling their product to customers directly. Within the City limits, aliens’ printed books might only be sold wholesale to London citizens, whose freedom of the City meant that they were the only ones legally eligible to retail books to a paying public.Footnote 16 As members of the established mistery that governed retail bookselling, limning, and binding, stationers were therefore best positioned to take advantage of the increased number of books supplied by the new technology of print.Footnote 17Printers, however, were operating under a different paradigm. William Caxton aside, the majority of England’s earliest printers were not native stationers but foreign-born aliens, and the English book trade depended upon these foreigners both for their printed products and for their importation of high-demand printed books from abroad. These circumstances explain why, when a 1484 Act of Parliament sought to limit the deleterious effects of foreign merchants and craftsmen on the English economy (including their ability to retail goods at country fairs), King Richard III explicitly exempted those strangers working in the book trade:
Soit fait come il est desire [let it be done as desired] Prouided alwey that this acte or any part therof, or any other acte made or to be made in this p[re]sent p[ar]liament in nowise extende or be p[re]iudiciall any lette hurte or impediment to any Artificer or m[er]chaunt straungier of what nacion or Contrey he be or shalbe of for bryngyng in to this Realme or sellyng by retaill or otherwise of any man[er] bokes written or imprynted, or for the inhabitynge within the said Realme for the same intent, or to any writer lympner bynder or imprinter of suche bokes as he hath or shall haue to sell by way of m[er]chaundise or for their abode in the same Reame for the exc[er]cisyng of the said occupac[i]ons this acte or any parte therof notwithstondyng.Footnote 18
The act of 1484 (1 Richard III, c. 9) was designed to restrict the economic activities of aliens residing in England, but the king’s proviso sought to prevent these restrictions from affecting the nascent trade in printed books. The importance of the importation of books printed on the continent to the fifteenth-century English book trade can be seen in the priority that the king’s proviso grants to the activity of “bringing into this realme or selling by retail or otherwise of any manner [of] books,” whether those texts be “written” (in manuscript) or “imprinted,” because regardless of their media, such imported items would contribute to the English economy by being illustrated, bound, and retailed by native-born Englishmen or denizens.Footnote 19 With a few exceptions, the king’s proviso did not override the existing rules governing trade within cities, so London’s restriction that prevented noncitizens from retailing wares directly to customers was still in effect, and foreign printers and booksellers in London were still limited to selling their works wholesale unless they were able to obtain their freedom of the City.Footnote 20
By the turn of the fifteenth century, native-born English stationers had begun to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with their book-dealing foreign neighbors. In exchange for admittance into the freedom of the City through membership in the Stationers’ Company, foreign-born printers not only provided the skill and capacity to train native apprentices in the new craft but also offered trade connections to the much-needed supplies of paper and type that were then available primarily from the continent. While the traditional way of being made free of the City of London was via an apprenticeship in a City company (or by patrimonial affiliation if one’s father had been a member of that company), citizens could also be made via “redemption,” by paying a fee and/or signing a bond to a company in exchange for membership.Footnote 21 Richard Pynson, a Norman-born printer, had gained his freedom of the City sometime before 1520, while Wynkyn de Worde, a Dutchman and William Caxton’s onetime foreman, was a “citizen and staciouner of london” at the time of his writing of his will in 1534.Footnote 22 As both men had trained London apprentices and retailed books throughout the early decades of the sixteenth century, Blayney surmises that they were both able to purchase freedom of the Stationers’ Company sometime around 1500.Footnote 23 Pynson may have been motivated to join the Stationers out of fear for his life and livelihood; in 1500, he brought an action under the Star Chamber charging a Henry Squire and others for an assault in Middlesex, a crime that Pynson believed stemmed from their hatred of Frenchmen. In his testimony, Pynson reported that he feared he would be unable to keep his employees because they had been so terrorized.Footnote 24
For the fifty years following the exemption act of 1484, England’s foreign-born printers were able to import, manufacture, and wholesale books alongside locals; and, for a few decades, this arrangement suited members of the Stationers’ Company well. Once enough native-born stationers had mastered the new craft of printing, however, the activities of these foreign printers posed a threat to the London book industry. Aliens importing books printed and bound on the continent were threatening the economic interests of freemen, and the Stationers joined a larger City-wide cry for London’s authorities to place further limitations on foreigners’ trade activities, including their employing of journeymen and binding of apprentices. As their authority was restricted to the City limits, London’s mayor and aldermen were forced to petition the crown to pass an act that would require all London area aliens, including those living in the suburbs and liberties, to submit to the jurisdiction of the City’s relevant craft wardens. Such an act was passed in 1523, though it was designed to benefit all of London’s citizens, not just its Stationers.Footnote 25Yet the 1484 exemption for foreign craftsmen and dealers in books, which explicitly benefited those importing bound books from abroad, remained. This exception directly harmed English bookbinders, who were a sizable percentage of the members of the Stationers’ Company. After petitioning the crown for a number of years to repeal it, the Stationers finally succeeded in 1534. Henry VIII’s “Acte for printers & bynders of boks” recognized that the act of Richard III had once been necessary,
for that there were but fewe bokes and fewe prynters within this Realme at that tyme which cold well exercise and occupie the seid science and craft of pryntyng; Never the lesse sithen the makyng of the seid p[ro]vysion many of this Realme being the Kynges naturall subjectes have geven theyme soo dylygently to lerne and exercyse the seid craft of pryntyng that at this day there be within this Realme a greatt nombre co[n]nyng and expert in the seid science or craft of pryntyng as abyll to exercyse the seid craft in all point[s] as any Stranger in any other Realme or Countre; And furthermore where there be a great nombre of the Kynges subject[es] within this Realme which [leve] by the crafte and myst[er]ie of byndyng of bok[es] and that there be a greate multytude well expert in the same … Be it therefore enacted by the Kyng our Soveraigne Lorde the Lordes spirituall and temporall and the Comons in this present parliament assembled and by auctoritie of the same, that the seid provyso made the furst yere of the seid Kyng Richard the thride frome the feast of the natyvytie of our Lorde [God] next co[m]myng shalbe voyde and of none effect.Footnote 26
As a result of the 1534 repeal, all English citizens, denizens, and aliens were now forbidden to purchase imported books that had been bound abroad. Such a restriction prevented an industrious bookseller from importing copies of continental herbals to sell in London, Cambridge, or Oxford. By removing the proviso that exempted foreign booksellers from the act of 1484, the crown ensured that foreigners operating in the book trade were now just as subject to the act’s decrees as other aliens, and thus were now unable to retail their printed wares anywhere in England – they could only sell their works wholesale to local citizens. The combination of the 1484 and 1534 statutes had the effect of ensuring that, as the mistery that held within its membership the largest group of bookbinders and booksellers, the Stationers’ Company remained an integral part of the making and selling of books within the City of London. It also created a space in which herbals produced by English booksellers could thrive without competition from foreign publishers. Until the incorporation of the Stationers’ charter in 1557, however, the specific craft of printing was still able to be practiced by anyone, foreign or otherwise.
Regulatory Procedures and Religious Controversy
As print became an increasingly popular medium for books and the demand for books of all kinds grew, some publishers were progressively more able to divest themselves of the technical details of manufacturing to focus instead on estimating which books would fare most profitably in the marketplace. By contracting out the actual setting of movable type to produce copies by impression, a number of stationers (as well as a handful of freemen from other companies) were able to invest in retail speculation, moving beyond the economic limitations of bespoke products that had followed books from their manuscript foundations. In separating the agency of the provider of capital from the agency of the manufacturer, publishing booksellers of this stripe could make considerable profit without needing the technical skill and materials to become master printers themselves. Though printers regularly published works for themselves, by the end of the sixteenth century more than half the books printed in England were manufactured for a publisher other than the printer.Footnote 27 Thus, when discussing the provenance of a particular early modern English book, the printer who literally manufactured the book should be understood as being of less import than its publisher, who, by “causing the book to be printed,” functioned as its actual architect or producer.Particularly in the first half of the sixteenth century, the production of early modern books was impacted by a number of papal and crown regulations designed to limit and control the spread of anti-Roman Catholic sentiment. This, too, had an effect on herbals. Herbalist William Turner was a Protestant divine as well as a Tudor physician and naturalist who authored numerous anti-Catholic polemics throughout his lifetime. A 1546 prohibition against “any maner of booke printed or written in the english tongue, which be or shall be sette forth” that listed Turner by name may have inadvertently been responsible for the destruction of copies of Turner’s first botanical publication, Libellus de re Herbaria novus (London, 1538; STC 24358), of which only a handful of copies now survive. To better track the publication of seditious material, Tudor responses to Lollardy and Lutheranism regularly mandated policies that required identifying those responsible for causing a book to be printed as well as those responsible for printing and selling it. Further, throughout fifteenth-century Europe, ecclesiastical authorities issued edicts requiring all books and sermons to receive official approval prior to “publication,” a noun that was generally understood to encompass both printed material intended for private reading and that which was broadcast live to audiences. While the transitive forms of the verb to publish necessarily imply that it is a book object that is “prepared and issued in copies for sale to the public” (OED 3.a), chiefly “in print” (OED 3.c), the intransitive verb is less stringent: “To bring a matter to public notice” (OED 5.a). That in early modern English both meanings could be in use simultaneously even in the noun may be evinced in Francis Beaumont’s commendatory verse to John Fletcher’s first quarto of The Faithful Shepherdesse (STC 11068), printed after that play’s unfavorable debut at Blackfriars, the play’s first publication:
none from henceforth any Thing preach, hold, teach or instruct openly or privily, or make or write any Book contrary to the Catholic Faith and Determination of the Holy Church … and also that none from henceforth in any wise favour such Preacher, or Maker of any such and like Conventicles, or holding or exercising Schools, or making or writing such Books … and that all and singular having such Books or any Writings of such wicked Doctrine and Opinions, shall really with Effect deliver or cause to be delivered allsuch Books and Writings to the Diocesan of the same Place within xl. Days from the Time of the Proclamation.Footnote 28
Prepublication licensing was designed to forestall the problems caused by heretical publications and broadcasts. These attempts were prevalent on the continent as well; a bull of Leo X dated May 1515 required that
No one shall presume to print or cause to be printed, in Rome or in any other city or diocese, any book or other writing whatsoever unless it has first been carefully examined and its publication approved by our vicar and master of the Sacred Palace, in other cities and dioceses by the bishops or by competent persons appointed by them and by the inquisitor of the city or diocese in which the books are to be printed.Footnote 29
By July of 1520, the circulation of heretical sentiments in print would result in Leo X’s decree to round up and burn such books, and that anyone inclined to “read, hold, print, publish or defend” them would be subject to excommunication. Cardinal Wolsey dutifully sought Luther’s imported works throughout the realm, and on May 12, 1521, the apprehended books were burned in Paul’s Cross Churchyard, the center of England’s book trade as well as London’s civic pride. Four and a half years later, the spectacle was repeated on a rainy Sunday in February 1526, shortly before imports of William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament began to circulate in England. After twice watching their products go up in smoke at the behest of doctrinal command, the Tudor booksellers who in the 1530s and 1540s reprinted the little Herball first printed by Bankes in 1525 had considerable reason to be concerned about the crown’s regulations governing the printing and selling of books.
Bishop of London Cuthbert Tunstall was soon issuing more edicts in an attempt to stop the spread of Lutheran books. On October 12, 1524, a select group of London booksellers was summoned to Tunstall’s palace and ordered not to sell imported books printed abroad without first showing them to himself, Archbishop William Warham, Cardinal Wolsey, or Bishop of Rochester John Fisher.Footnote 30 Shortly thereafter, the printer Thomas Berthelet was summoned to account for his publishing of four works without having sought ecclesiastical approval, and when Berthelet admitted his guilt, he was forbidden to sell them. Even in such a politically charged era, financial penalties were more successful motivators of religious compliance than theological ones. For instance, in a letter dated January 5, 1526, John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, described a conversation with the king about burning Lutheran books and binding the Stationers with recognizances against importing more: “The King approved the plan, especially as to the recognizances, which many would fear more than excommunication.”Footnote 31
As the four texts published by Berthelet were unlikely to meet with the bishops’ disapproval (one of them was a copy of an anti-Lutheran sermon preached by Bishop Fisher at Paul’s Cross before the second book burning), A. W. Reed surmises that this case illustrates “a tightening of the hold which the Bishop’s officials had put upon the Printers.”Footnote 32 Having not actually printed seditious material, Berthelet’s fault was a technical one, and his prosecution was perhaps designed to demonstrate to other booksellers the seriousness with which the censors intended to pursue their authority.Footnote 33 Tunstall had a second meeting with London’s booksellers in October 1526, in which he made that authority explicit and forbade them not only from importing Latin or vulgar books from abroad but also from producing any works native to England without first exhibiting them to a group of censors. The effect of this proclamation on the London book trade may have been more profound than is currently recognized, as such an order immediately established that books in print currently accredited with the king’s privilege were assumed to have already met with the approval of ecclesiastical authorities and could thus be reprinted without falling afoul of the church or crown. Contemporary booksellers could reasonably surmise that, as no company yet had authority over the craft of printing, and as disputes over printing privileges were still resolved by a king and his council who were becoming increasingly concerned with the profusion of heretical material, reprinting other booksellers’ privileged works was considerably less risky than attempting to get ecclesiastical approval for new texts.Over the next decade or so, it would become increasingly easier for booksellers to follow such a pragmatic policy; by 1538, up to 40 percent of the books printed in England claimed to be printed under the protection of the king’s privilege.Footnote 34 Yet the expansive use of the king’s privilege soon created other problems, one of which mirrors the difficulties of distinguishing between works and documents that I have been discussing more broadly. When the king’s privilege began to be appended to radical books, Henry was forced to clarify what, exactly, his privilege entailed. In November of 1538, the king issued a proclamation designed to refute
sondry printed books, in the englyshe tonge, that be brought from outwarde parties, and by such lyke bokes as haue bene printed within this his realme, set forth with priuilege, conteynynge annotations and additions in the margines, prologes, and calenders, imagined and inuented aswell by the makers, deuysers, and priynters of the same bokes.Footnote 35
The 1538 proclamation reiterates Henry’s enthusiasm for preprint licensing, expanding this requirement to include all books printed in England or in English and extending the prerogative to be that of a secular body (the king’s Privy Council) rather than a religious one. The second matter restricts the language of his printing privilege:
ITEM that no persone or persons in the realme, shall from hensforth print any boke in the englyshe tonge, onles vpon examination made by some of his gracis priuie counsayle, or other suche as his highnes shall appoynte, they shall haue lycense so to do, and yet so hauynge, not to put these words Cum priuilegio regali, without addyng ad imprimendum solum, and that the hole copie, or els at the least theffect of his license and priuilege be therwith printed, and playnely declared and expressed in the Englyshe tonge vnderneth them.Footnote 36
Unfortunately, scholarly confusion over the squinting modifier solum has since led to misunderstandings about the nature of the printing privilege. While the king’s addition sought to clarify that the royal privilege supported only the commerce surrounding the printed book object, as held distinct from royal support of the nature of the printed object’s text, some publishers and bibliographers have held that ad imprimendum solum signifies the exclusivity of the patent owner’s claim.Footnote 37 That certain booksellers and readers had viewed cum privilegio as royal endorsement rather than simply as a time-limited grant of monopoly issued by the crown is clear from its use as a legal defense in Essex in 1534.Footnote 38 There, a group of Lutherans, having been arraigned by a local vicar and his questman for reading books deemed inappropriate, claimed that, because the books were issued with the imprimatur of royal privilege, they were not only protected by the crown but recommended. By the time of his writing the 1538 proclamation it had become necessary to clarify that booksellers’ use of his privilege was in no way related to this prepublication licensing. In other words, the king’s privilege is the protection of the printed book as an economic commodity, not an endorsement of a text therein contained. To make the distinction between texts (which require ecclesiastical licensing) and documents (which, like other commodities, can be protected by privileges), the 1538 act also required that booksellers print both their license and their privilege in their books, and such accounts soon began to appear in colophons and in addresses to the reader.
I have elaborated the early history of the Stationers’ Company at such length because a comprehensive understanding of the systems and practices of textual ownership in Renaissance England better equips us to evaluate the surviving evidence of herbals and other printed books of natural history. In Chapter 4 of this volume, I will show how the effect of Henry VIII’s 1538 proclamation provides evidence that helps to explain the choices made by printers and publishers, providing an answer to the question of the enormous popularity of the text of the little Herball after Richard Bankes’s exclusive privilege to print the title had expired. Yet before accounting for the ways that changing civic and company regulations influenced that book’s many editions, I need to address the ways that changing attitudes towards botanical illustration likewise grew to become a material and promotional concern for English publishers. By accounting for the regulatory and economic concerns of publishers alongside the appearance of naturalized botanical illustrations, I can explain not only the little Herball’s enormous popularity but also the reason why that enormous popularity eventually started to wane.
Over the course of the sixteenth century, herbals grew from small, unillustrated octavos to giant, illustrated folios and shifted from reprints of anonymous medieval works to commissioned authorial tomes. I argue throughout this book that, by making a bibliographic turn, scholars of English herbals can better understand the context in which English botanical science developed. Thinking bibliographically about herbals requires a consideration of herbal texts from the perspective of the publishers who invested capital in their manufacture. To reveal the sophisticated and nuanced calculus of English stationers, this chapter explores the recursive relationship between readers’ responses to printed herbals and the activities of the publishers who catered to them, as well as the shifting regulatory mechanisms that enabled stationers to navigate the amount of financial risk that herbal publication increasingly asked of them.
The Emergence of Illustration in English BotanyRenaissance herbals frequently contain explanations of how plants can serve as remedies for ailments, but in his 1621 endorsement of study as a defense against melancholy, Robert Burton argued that even material books themselves could ease the disordered mind. Along with his recommendation that melancholics improve their moods by studying wholesome volumes of cartography, geography, and mathematics, Burton suggested that readers examine the figures of plants in large botanical books:
To see a well cut herball, all Hearbs, Trees, Flowers, Plants expressed in their proper colours to the life, as that of Mathiolus upon Dioscorides, Delacampius, Leobel, Bauhinus, and that last voluminous and mighty herball of [Besler of] Noremberge, wherein almost every Plant is to his owne bignesse … such is the excellency of those studies, that al those ornaments and bubbles [baubles] of wealth are not worthy to be compared to them.Footnote 1
In advocating for the benefits of herbals that are “well cut” – that is, illustrated with woodcuts – Burton is by no means dismissing the medical remedies contained within these texts (he regularly cites the expertise of “herbalists” throughout his Anatomy) but is demonstrating what Heidi Brayman calls “the extent to which the very materiality of the book matters” in establishing readers’ attachment to the printed medium.Footnote 2 As Sachiko Kusukawa’s work has detailed, herbals were among the printed genres that most benefited from new technological developments in book illustration, so it is unsurprising that Burton finds that herbals’ salubrious effects can be gained not just by reading but by gazing upon their engraved or woodcut pictures of plants.Footnote 3 To that end, the large-format herbals that Burton explains are of particularly healthful use are those widely known for their distinctive illustrations, like the Czech edition of Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s 1544 commentary on Dioscorides with new, full-page woodcut illustrations (Prague, 1562; USTC 568706); Pierre Pena and Matthias de L’Obel’s Stirpium aduersaria noua (London, 1570–1; STC 19595); Jacques Dalechamps’s Historia generalis plantarum (Lyon, 1586–1587; USTC 83985); and the Prodromos theatri botanici of Swiss physician Caspar Bauhin (Frankfurt am Main, 1620; USTC 2135791), an illustrated preamble to what would later be his magnum opus, Pinax theatri botanici (Basel, 1623; USTC 2045504). Since Burton was writing his Anatomy with the resources of Oxford’s Bodleian Library close to hand, his awareness of large, illustrated continental herbals is unsurprising, and it explains his ability to access a copy of Basilius Besler’s notoriously expensive florilegium Hortus Eystettensis (Eichstädt, 1613), which featured copperplate engravings of plants intended to show, in extravagant detail, the riches of that particular garden.Footnote 4Burton’s investment in the affordances of printed botanical illustrations is of a piece with the health effects of “reading green” that Leah Knight finds is a recurrent feature of seventeenth-century English literary culture, including the phenomenon’s association with the elite readers who could afford such large and lavishly illustrated books.Footnote 5 As Knight shows, the recursive effects of “green reading” could be seen not only in approaches to wellness but also in architecture and interior design, as Renaissance readers manipulated the leaves of herbal texts into new forms as imagined and literal decor. Leonhart Fuchs, who was particularly invested in illustration, puts the benefits of such books this way:
there is the wondrous pleasure that will permeate your soul on contemplating so many kinds of plants and will invite you not only to the love, but to the defense, of herbal medicine. For what could be more pleasurable, more enjoyable, than to gaze upon plants, which Almighty God has painted with so many varied colors, has decked with the most elegant flowers, whose colors no painter ever could completely express, and then has adorned with fruits and seeds of the greatest use as condiments and medicine?Footnote 6
As I discussed in Chapter 1, Fuchs’s account of the beauty of his herbal conveniently elides the mechanical reproductive processes of printing and publishing that make such “wondrous pleasures” available to readers. More ironically, Fuchs’s celebration of gazing upon books also inadvertently endorses the position of his rival, printer Christian Egenolff, as Egenolff copied the illustrative woodcuts of Fuchs’s and Brunfels’s herbals on the grounds that the natural world could be copywritten only by God himself. For Fuchs, the material forms of printed herbals are not a surrogate but a supplement to real-world botanical experience, useful primarily because their pictures can spur others to the godly and wholesome study of plants. The book is an inspiration, in other words, one that can force people out of their studies and into the fields to marvel in God’s creation.Given that Renaissance readers had such widespread appreciation for botanical illustrations, it is not surprising, then, that printed images of plants also found their way into the needlecraft of gentlewomen by providing them with patterns. The herbalist John Parkinson recognized this potential in his Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (London, 1629):
Although Borage and Buglosse might as fitly haue been placed, I confesse, in the Kitchen Garden, in regard they are wholly in a manner spent for Physicall properties, or for the Pot, yet because anciently they haue been entertained into Gardens of pleasure, their flowers hauing been in some respect, in that they haue alwaies been interposed among the flowers of womens needle-worke, I am more willing to giue them place here then thrust them into obscurity.Footnote 7
Parkinson’s woodcut illustrations in Paradisi are roughly four times larger than those in other herbals, taking up the entirety of the folio’s page, and it is small wonder that women would find them useful as patterns for needlecraft (Figure 3.1). As Rebecca Laroche suggests, Elizabeth Isham made use of the woodcuts of printed botanical books like Parkinson’s in just this way to quiet her agitated mind.Footnote 8 Isham’s autobiographical diary, dated 1638/9, reveals that through embroidery she “delight[ed] much in [flowers’] seuerall shaps & collers … it kept me from those thoughts w[hich] was hurtfull to me,” seemingly echoing the way that her contemporary Robert Burton also made use of printed herbals to distract from his own melancholy.Footnote 9 Other readers found these books so attractive that they were dangerously distracting: the diary of Puritan Samuel Ward lists looking at herbals among sinful behaviors: “May 17, 1595. Thy wandring mynd on herbals att prayer tyme, and at common place. Also thy gluttony the night before.”Footnote 10
By the time that Robert Burton and Elizabeth Isham were writing in the 1630s, herbals had been so long associated with botanical illustrations that they had become a requisite part of the genre. Samuel Ward’s remarks suggest that botanical illustrations in printed books may have been appealing – and potentially damnable – even forty decades earlier. Yet, though the benefits of pictures now seem obvious to readers, particularly those inclined to marvel at herbals for their beauty, Renaissance authors’ appreciation of printed book illustration emerged more slowly. Not all authors of works of natural history or medicine were initially convinced that illustrations were useful substitutes for traditional verbal description. Like Thomas Johnson in his account of bananas discussed in the Prologue, some authors were concerned that portraits drawn from living examples represented only a particular specimen and thus were inadequate to describe a species’ fuller, more varied appearance.Footnote 11 Copious and detailed verbal descriptions that required readers to apply their own judgment as they evaluated their particular specimens could be seen as far more useful. Nonetheless, a combination of the advancement in printers’ technical expertise and an increased authorial investment in illustration eventually enabled herbals to be used as identification tools for the description and classification of plant species that early modern English readers found at home and abroad.Footnote 12 These improvements in both the form and the content of herbals were valued both by needleworkers and by melancholics.While the typically large folio size of these publications limited their utility as field guides, the comprehensive nature of their verbal texts in outlining plants’ agricultural and medicinal virtues made them of pragmatic interest to medical practitioners, scholars, and literate laypeople alike. In some cases, a demand for large books could lead directly to the production of smaller ones. After experiencing the indignity of seeing his carefully designed woodcut images for De historia stirpium copied for a translation of Dioscorides’s De materia medica by the Frankfurt publisher Christian Egenolff, Leonard Fuchs had smaller copies of the images recut for Primi de historia stirpium (Basel, 1545), an octavo edition of a much-reduced text of De historia stirpium designed to be used in the field. Likewise, William Ram created an unillustrated abridgment of Henry Lyte’s English translation of Rembert Dodoens’s Cruydeboeck (Antwerp, 1554) that he titled Ram’s Little Dodeon [sic] (London, 1606; STC 6988). Ram wrote that he hoped to make the most salient features of Dodoens and Lyte’s work available to readers unable to afford the large volume by “draw[ing] that into a handful, which before was in the compass of a great garden: or else to bring that into a little Garde[n] which before was (as to be looked for in many fields and disperced places) not to be found but by great labour and industry).”Footnote 13 Ram suggested that he needed to create the epitome to serve the underprivileged, but deserving, herbal reader:
So as where the geat [sic] booke at large is not to be had, but at a great price, which ca[n]not be procured by the pooer sort, my endeuor herein hath bin chiefly, to make the benefit of so good, necessary, and profitable a worke, to be brought within the reach and compasse aswell of you my poore Countrymen & women, whose liues, healths, ease and welfare is to be regarded with the rest, at a smaller price, than the greater Volume is.Footnote 14
The publisher Simon Stafford, however, took his time bringing the book into print: though he entered the volume into the Stationers’ Registers on June 9, 1600, Stafford didn’t actually print Ram’s epitome until 1606, and he never reprinted it.Footnote 15 For Stafford, then, the little book didn’t seem especially “profitable” after all.
What herbal authors’ hesitancy about illustration means is that, for a time, the images accompanying printed works were not drawn from authors’ descriptions but supplied from publishers’ existing stocks of woodcuts, many of which were copied from manuscripts. Wynkyn de Worde’s 1495 English translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s illustrated encyclopedia De proprietatibus rerum (The Properties of Things, STC 1536) features a chapter on botany headed by a large woodcut of an orchard foregrounded by a field of plants. Even by the standards of incunabula, de Worde’s early woodcuts are primitive, likely copied from his manuscript original, and the single illustration accompanying the chapter on trees offers little to make De proprietatibus rerum useful to fifteenth-century readers as a tool to identify distinct specimens of plants and herbs.Footnote 16 Though the leaves on the trees in de Worde’s woodcut differ slightly from each other, they largely share the same trunk morphology, while the herbs in the foreground are similarly patterned rather than distinctive. Over the next century, however, two publishers saw enough in Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s text to risk publishing it again. Thomas Berthelet’s edition appeared in an unillustrated version in 1535 (STC 1537), and Thomas East published an updated and revised version in 1582 (STC 1538) after he entered the work into the Stationers’ Company Registers.
Between Berthelet’s edition of 1535 and East’s publication of De proprietatibus in 1582 occurred a turning point for botanical book illustration. Brunfels’s and Fuchs’s illustrated herbals were extremely popular on the continent, going through dozens of editions in multiple vernacular languages. Despite being printed abroad, their books often appear in English library catalogues and booklists, suggesting that they were regularly imported.Footnote 17 In England, William Turner’s three-volume A New Herball (1551–1568) and Pierre Pena and Matthias de L’Obel’s Stirpium aduersaria noua (1570–1571) were likewise authoritative volumes that offered clarifying illustrations to accompany individual plant descriptions wherever possible. East’s De proprietatibus bears evidence of the publisher’s awareness of this shift in readers’ expectations for botanical book illustration, as does the new woodcut that East commissioned for his edited text; the image clearly exhibits the artist’s awareness both of distinct species of plants, like the plantain (bottom left) and violet (bottom right), and of the changing trunk shapes that might result from the different locales where trees might grow. The tree overlooking the river slopes down towards the water, while its roots mound to keep it fixed firmly on the bank. East’s decision to change the botanical illustration accompanying his text (he could simply have commissioned copies of the 1495 woodcut instead of designing a new one) demonstrates the ways that Elizabethan publishers considered the norms established by other printed books in the marketplace as they added features and affordances to distinguish new volumes.Footnote 18 As Chapters 4 and 5 will show, this attentiveness to generic norms was observed even fifty years earlier, as Henrician, Edwardian, and Marian publishers likewise considered the competing books offered for sale by their contemporaries as they brought their own books to market, innovating wherever they perceived an opportunity to distinguish their product.
The first illustrated book printed in England exclusively devoted to the study of plants appeared in 1526, the year after Bankes’s edition of the little Herball offered the first appearance of the word “herbal” in print. However, the illustrations in Peter Treveris’s The Grete Herball (STC 13176) suffered from some of the same problems as those in de Worde’s edition of De proprietatibus. Treveris’s Grete Herball contains 481 woodcut illustrations of plants and animals, which, as Edward Hodnett notes, was “the record for an English press” at the time.Footnote 19 As with de Worde’s text, however, precision in the rendering of illustrations suffered at the level of accuracy; Blanche Henrey calls The Grete Herball’s pictures “completely out of touch with nature.”Footnote 20 Though attractive, many of the figures are deliberately stylized to fit into the woodblocks, and the occasionally preternatural and Galenic doctrine of the late medieval text is aptly represented in the accompanying illustrations, where mandrakes look like men and plants both flower and produce fruit at the same time.Footnote 21 In addition, some of the same figures are repeated as representing different species of plants, complicating attempts an early modern reader might make to use The Grete Herball as a guide to identification. I will explore the publication history of Treveris’s Grete Herbal more fully in Chapter 5. My interest here is to use illustrated herbals to demonstrate more broadly some of the ways that early modern English stationers evaluated the existing market of books when they considered the viability of their own speculative publications.
While the “slavish copying” of medieval botanical manuscripts followed herbals in their initial foray into print,Footnote 22 some authors and compilers of Renaissance herbals began to include their own experiential accounts of plants, and such interest soon led to herbals’ inclusion of botanical images drawn from life. The German Herbarius (Mainz, 1484; USTC 740862), an illustrated work printed by Johannes Gutenberg’s sometime foreman Peter Schoeffer, appears to be the first example of a printed herbal text in any language that was primarily written from firsthand knowledge.Footnote 23 The preface to the German Herbarius claims that it was the joint work of a wealthy traveler to the east and a Frankfurt physician.Footnote 24 The Herbarum vivae icones (Strasburg, 1530–1536; USTC 662094) of Otto Brunfels promised its readers “living portraits of plants,” while, as I’ve noted, Leonard Fuchs’s De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Basel, 1542) sought precision in every detail, including in the rendering of the text’s printed images. Along with a woodcut portrait of the author, the opening pages of De historia stirpium featured portraits of De historia’s various craftsmen at work illustrating directly from the plants themselves and transferring the images to the woodblocks before the woodblocks were cut by Viet Rudolf Speckle (Figure 3.4).Footnote 25
Fuchs was expressly invested in the utility of illustrations to reinforce the extent of his own botanical investigations, and he instructed his artists to use a diachronic strategy to display the various stages of a plant through the seasons to illuminate bud, flower, and fruit. Fuchs’s illustrations display the entire plant right down to the root and both sides of a leaf, and varietals among a particular species might also be displayed as if they were growing on a single plant to show diversity while also minimizing the number of separate woodcuts needed in the volume. His accompanying text suggests that Fuchs assumed considerable botanical foreknowledge among his readership, and Kusukawa demonstrates that Fuchs uses his book’s illustrations to provoke his readers’ recall of sensible features of known plants (like taste and smell) to enable them to “adjudicate between competing opinions among ancient and contemporary authorities.”Footnote 26 In this way, the technology of printed images constituted Fuchs’s contribution to a raging humanist debate between the proper relations of theory and practice, particularly in the practice of medicine. Rather than the practice of reading standing in as a surrogate for firsthand expertise, the publication of an illustrated printed book could serve as an authoritative supplement designed to arbitrate readers’ own experience of handling plants. As Kusukawa persuasively argues, “[t]exts worked in tandem with pictures to produce a powerful form of argument – a visual argument, encompassing both demonstration and persuasion,” and authors like Fuchs exploited the new affordances available to them in the medium of the printed book to promote their professional agendas.Footnote 27
Though it is easy to represent these developments in botanical illustration as a simple linear progression (herbal images were crude and then they became more sophisticated), the history of English herbals in print reveals that the process was recursive. After all, authors create texts, not books, and the concerns of those who make and market the codicological vehicles in which verbal texts find their readers do not always align with the preoccupations of authors. The progression in Renaissance naturalism was not linear either, as later publishers and compilers often copied classificatory images that had initially been drawn from an author’s personal experience and placed them in “un-authorized” new contexts. The woodcuts of plants and herbs that illustrated the German Herbarius were for decades copied by other continental publishers in their own botanical books. Similarly, despite their author’s efforts to defend a visual and verbal ethos in plant description and the efforts of the publisher to name the artists within the volume, the woodcuts in De historia stirpium were quickly divorced from Fuchs’s text to join the works of other authors, much to his dismay. Fuchs’s woodcuts were so popular that they were copied by herbals in Germany and the Low Countries, and reproductions of the images eventually found their way into William Turner’s A New Herball, which was so celebrated for being the first of the great English herbals that Turner is widely heralded as the “Father of British Botany.” (That the illustrations to Turner’s magnum opus were copied from Fuchs often goes unmentioned in such celebratory accounts.)
As the genre of illustrated herbals became more familiar to English readers over the course of the sixteenth century, these botanical works gradually grew in both size and scope, cumulating in such extensive books as Turner’s three-volume A New Herbal (1551–1568) but also in the 1,400-plus-page folio of John Gerard’s Herball or General Historie of Plantes of 1597 and in the equally massive Theatrum botanicum of John Parkinson published in 1640. The names of these large, illustrated folio herbals frequently turn up in the libraries of physicians and apothecaries, a reasonable inclusion given the attention that herbals typically pay to the use of plants in treating ailments and disease. Mention of these folio herbals also crops up in the diaries and account books of aristocratic women who worked as lay healers: Grace Mildmay specifically mentions Turner’s A New Herball in her diary; Margaret Hoby has “the Herball” read to her three times in 1599; while Anne Clifford is featured in her great triptych portrait at Appleby Castle standing in front of a wall of books that includes a manuscript epitome of Gerard’s.Footnote 28 Given his declared interest in illustrated herbals, it is perhaps not surprising that Robert Burton singled out his copy of Gerard’s Herball in his will to bequeath it to one “Mrs Iles.”Footnote 29 Such an itemized note testifies that Burton saw Gerard’s Herball as an especially valued book to pass along, and Blanche Henrey provides evidence that Gerard remained in use as a standard botanical textbook through to the nineteenth century.Footnote 30 Indeed, scholars still regularly invoke Gerard’s, Turner’s, and Parkinson’s illustrated herbals as authorities: editors of early modern texts view them as valuable resources that explain early modern authors’ medical and botanical knowledge.Footnote 31
And well they should – the large English folio herbals, whose authors are widely heralded as the fathers of British botany, are thick, informative compendia. Their contents contain “the names and descriptions of herbs, or of plants in general, with their properties and virtues,” and they bear evidence of their authors’ study of other printed and manuscript herbals as well as their own informed experience as gardeners. The images in these books served as a vital means for disseminating visual information about exotic “New World” varietals that few old world botanists ever got to see firsthand. Gerard’s herbal of 1597 offered readers the first printed illustration of the potato, while, as we’ve seen, Thomas Johnson’s 1633 revision of Gerard offered what was then cutting-edge: a cross-sectioned banana.Footnote 32 Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, herbals grew through such botanical one-upmanship until their ever-more comprehensive contents reached the upper limits of binding a single-volume codex. Such accumulated bulk accounts for Richard Cotes’s choice of words when he entered Parkinson’s Theatrum botanicum in the Stationers’ Registers as “an herball of a Large extent.”Footnote 33
Yet, as the impressive popularity of the unillustrated Herball first published by Richard Bankes in 1525 suggests, such heavily illustrated folio herbals did not emerge from print shops sui generis, invested in by their publishers simply on the grounds that a market for such vernacular works likely existed in England as readily as it did on the continent. Publishing a work such as Gerard’s Herball in 1597 required a substantial outlay of capital to purchase or rent not only the book’s 2,200 woodcuts but also sufficient paper for the entire print run, the printer’s expenses for composition and presswork, and the copy of the manuscript produced by Gerard. To better compare the costs involved in publishing books of various sizes, bibliographers invoke a unit of measurement known as an “edition-sheet.” Because a four-page (two-leaf) folio, an eight-page (four-leaf) quarto, and a sixteen-page (eight-leaf) octavo gathering are all created from one sheet of paper, considering the total number of sheets of paper required to print a copy of a book allows for a comparison of relative cost among formats.Footnote 34 Each copy of Gerard’s 1597 folio Herball, for example, contained 371 edition-sheets, so a print run of 500 copies of the volume would have required the Nortons to purchase 185,500 sheets of large-size paper, more than 386 reams.Footnote 35 (Printing a single copy of Bankes’s 1525 quarto Herball, by contrast, needed only nine edition-sheets.) The cost and quality of white paper suitable for printing varied, but the paper used in a volume of comparable format, the 1596 edition of John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, cost seven shillings a ream; at such a rate, the paper alone for the 1597 Herball would have cost its publishers more than £135 before a single word or image had been printed upon it.Footnote 36 Once the paper and Gerard’s manuscript copy had been acquired, the booksellers Bonham and John Norton needed to provide the printer, Edmund Bollifant, with these supplies, as well as with sufficient funds to employ Bollifant’s workers in manufacturing the massive volume. In order for a herbal to be printed, publishers’ significant material and financial concerns needed to be accommodated. Illustrations required woodblocks to be manufactured, rented, or purchased, and large illustrated texts could be financed only by the wealthiest stationers.
Early modern publishers could not begin selling copies of books and recouping their costs until every page of every copy of a volume had been printed, and they still would not break even until they had sold about two-thirds of the books wholesale to other booksellers.Footnote 37 Such risks to financial outlay in the creation of an edition motivated stationers to pay the fee to license their right to copy and record their intention to print a particular work within their civic organization, the Stationers’ Company. While some earlier Tudor publishers held individual time-limited, crown-issued patents that protected their editions from piracy (I will detail these patents more in Chapter 4), the Stationers’ incorporation in 1557 granted the Company the legal means to assert control over the technology of print. Only members of the Company were now permitted to do so, and all stationers were required to license their titles in advance. The earliest records post-incorporation record payments of the Company’s licensing fee.Footnote 38
As the edition-sheet totals for herbals like Gerard’s suggests, printed book manufacturing was expensive and financially risky. What protected stationers’ investments was the Company’s internal regulations: once the right to copy a title had been claimed, another stationer could not also print an edition of the text without risking Company sanction. Licensing was therefore largely designed to protect members’ economic investments: “it was problems of infringement, rather than of censorship, that the Company’s license was intended to regulate.”Footnote 39 An extant record of a stationer having paid for a license to publish a work was typically recorded in an entry in the Stationers’ Registers, and thus has since come to be known as a “register entry.” Such licenses could be exchanged, bequeathed, or transferred among stationers.Footnote 40 Register entries were primarily designed to record the fee that the Company charged for a license to print a work, but they eventually also came to indicate, within the Stationers’ Company, a stationer’s ownership of a particular textual property and their right to profit from the income that property could generate through print publication. Under the rights granted to the Stationers by virtue of their charter, precautions such as licensing enabled the Company to charge anyone who usurped a stationer’s right to copy with a breach of contract, subjecting the thief to fine and seizure of the surreptitious copies.Footnote 41 Without the insurance of Register entries, even wealthy stationers such as the Nortons could not afford to hazard their finances on such large-scale products as bibles, lawbooks, and herbals, as avaricious colleagues could, in theory, have easily appropriated others’ finished texts and reprinted them to sell at a reduced price.
There were additional costs to putting a book into press for the first time. The editorial labor involved in compiling, organizing, and (especially in the case of large books like Gerard’s Herball) indexing a text only affected the profits of its first edition; a page-for-page reprint of a text required little new editorial work. Yet, while sizable folios with complicated editorial constraints such as bibles and statutes of law were always in popular and professional demand, the market for more specialized treatments of scientific and literary subjects usually needed to be readily established by smaller projects along similar themes before a publisher would reasonably invest in a larger book. Only after a clear market for Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s play quartos was demonstrated, for example, did it make sense for the publishers Humphrey Moseley and Humphrey Robinson to risk their capital publishing a folio of their collected dramatic works.Footnote 42 Similarly, before examining the Nortons’ or other publishers’ investments in the illustrated herbal phenomena of the latter half of the sixteenth century and first decades of the seventeenth, it will be helpful to investigate the period when the market for such works was first established.
This discussion brings us back, at last, to the first and most popular printed herbal in early modern England: the unillustrated little Herball of 1525 that was first printed by Richard Bankes. With eighteen editions in less than fifty years, this small book was a runaway bestseller, and the Herball’s demonstrated profitability for many publishers later made it possible for the larger, illustrated herbals of William Turner and John Gerard to be produced. The little Herball does more than simply pave the way for later, larger editions, though: as different publishers experimented with different ways of presenting the Herball in print, they tested new affordances and marketing strategies that would influence how English readers would respond to the herbal genre. The decisions made by innovative publishers like Robert Wyer and William Copland as they repackaged the little Herball demonstrate that authority – and authors – gradually became a useful mechanism for distinguishing one’s wares in the competitive print marketplace of early modern London.