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Extensively Annotated Plautus

Plautus, Titus Maccius. M. accii Plauti comoediae xx. diligente cura, & singulari studio Joachimi Camerarii Pabeperg. emendatius nunc quam ante unquam ab ullo, editae. Edited by Joachim Camerarius. Basel: Johannes Herwagen, [1552]. Octavo. USTC 674254.

Collation: a-z8, A-Z8, Aa-Ii8

The present octavo of Plautus’s Comedies contains the version edited by Joachim Camerarius (1500–1574). Camerarius was one of the most important classicists of his era, translating many of the Greeks into Latin and providing the commentary on Plautus that appears in this volume. He also wrote widely on other topics, including numismatics and horsemanship. He knew Erasmus, and, while studying in Wittenberg, came into contact with Philip Melanchthon, who became a friend. Camerarius was present with Melanchthon at the diet of Augsburg in 1530; correspondence between the two men survives.

Camerarius’s work on Plautus proved influential, and appeared in at least ten editions between 1530 and the end of the century. Copies are not uncommon. What sets the present book apart from others is not so much the text, but the extensive commentary in the form of earnest and engaged annotations that surrounds it. Not a single page goes unmarked, and, on many pages, annotations fill most of the marginal and interlinear space available. Some marks even connect passages together across an entire opening.

Helpfully, one annotator signed the title page of the book when he had it in 1571: “Sum Iohannis Plancomarij / sortis beneficio. / 1571.” At this time, Johannes Plancomarius—Johan Planckemair of Aichach*—taught at the St. Anne Gymnasium in Augsburg. Founded in 1531 at the order of the Evangelical Council of that city, the school was designed as a Protestant alternative to the Catholic institutions in the region. The famous humanist Hieronymus Wolf, who was himself a student of Melanchthon and Camerarius, was one of its first rectors. Indeed, he may have been responsible for Plancomarius’s appointment in 1566. In a letter to the physician Johan Schenck in 1578, he refers to Plancomarius as a close associate (“affinis”) and a colleague (“collega”). And there is much more to be gleaned about Plancomarius’s time at St. Anne from other German sources. What is already clear is that, due to the association with Plancomarius and an important school, this book will contribute to our understanding of the Wolf-Camerarius circle and the educational system under Protestantism. It is entirely possible—perhaps even likely—that Plancomarius had met Camerarius himself. Annotations in his hand on the title page and its verso discuss Camerarius directly,  evincing a specific interest in the volume’s editor.

Before teaching at St. Anne, Plancomarius was a student at the university in Ingolstadt. He entered the Faculty of Arts there on 11 June 1557. The scholar Peter Macardle has located a volume that Plancomarius inscribed that same year, probably soon after beginning his studies. It is a copy of publisher Johannes Oporinus’s collection of biblical plays, Dramata Sacra (1547), and is now at the British Library under the shelfmark 11712.b.1. Ten years before the book ended up with Plancomarius, it had been given to another individual—a student—by the dramatist Hieronymus Ziegler, who inscribed it. When he first donated the volume, Ziegler was actually a teacher at St. Anne, but had moved to Ingolstadt by 1557. Presumably, Ziegler served as one of Plancomarius’s instructors. In Dramata Sacra, a hand that is probably Plancomarius’s has annotated only one play: Ziegler’s Samson.* These are the two Plancomarius inscriptions, as reproduced by Macardle:

Macardle Plancomarius Inscriptions

In addition, a letter from Plancomarius to Johannes Ehinger survives in a bound volume at the Wurttemberg State Library in Stuttgart. It is dated 23 June 1593, and is documented in Die Autographensammlung des Stuttgarter Konistorialdirektors Friedrich Wilhelm Frommann. It is preserved as part of a larger set of letters written to Ehinger. Plancomarius also inscribed the autograph album of Georg Salzhuber in an entry dated 3 March 1576. Finally, I have located a third book that Plancomarius owned. It is now at the Regensburg State Library, and can be found in their provenance database. The title page specifying that Plancomarius owned the book has been digitized along with the rest of the volume—a sammelband—that contains it.

Plancomarius’s inscription in the Plautus, stating that he acquired the volume “sortis beneficio,” is obscure. It may represent a poetic way of indicating only that he came into possession of the book in a way one normally does, that fate was behind such a pleasant acquisition. But, because the language is so atypical, it may mean that he actually received the book by lot, through a kind of lottery or selection process. In 1571, Plancomarius was already an instructor at St. Anne, and it is difficult to know what circumstances could have made this kind of thing possible. I have not located another ownership inscription using this phrase.

Because the annotations in the Plautus are so extensive, it is difficult to ascertain the precise number of hands present in the volume. Some that appear to represent distinct readers because of variations in size and the thickness of the strokes are almost certainly Plancomarius writing at different times, though there are others that may point to other individuals. At least one of the annotations, which quotes a letter from Camerarius to Wolf, must be from 1583 or later, when Wolf’s correspondence appeared in the printed edition it cites. Taken individually and as a complete set, the annotations demonstrate serious engagement with the state of the text, the commentary tradition, and the nature of the comedies themselves.

The Plautus collates complete, and is in a nineteenth-century quarter binding with marbled paper over pasteboard. The pastedowns and endpaper bifolia are of yellow paper. The bookblock is sewn on three supports; they are detached at the upper hinge. They do, however, remain secured at the lower hinge, and the joint between each board and the spine covering is intact with only minor rubbing. The binding was made with a hollow back, and bookblock remains protected when the covers are closed.  On the spine, a compartment defined by gilt ornamental rolls (and blind rules) contains “Plauti,” which is also gilt. “Z” appears near the foot, and there appears to be a blindstamped “1” or “I” to the right of it. Although not ideal, the detachment at the front has the unexpected virtue of revealing a spine liner recycled from a nineteenth-century German-language newspaper. Among other things, the preserved section contains part of an advertisement for the Germania Life Insurance Company at 90 Broadway, in New York City, and there is a mention of the Sing Sing Correctional Facility dated 14 October 1865. This may indicate that the binder was a German immigrant working in or near New York not long after the Civil War. According to a report issued in 1868, the Germania Life Insurance Company was founded in 1860 and was, in 1868, located at the 90 Broadway address. An insurance periodical confirms that the insurance company occupied that office in 1861. Another report, from 1886, locates the company at a new address, 20 Nassau Street, which helps to establish a terminus ante quem for the newspaper clipping, and, in all likelihood, the binding itself.

The final two leaves show some chipping at the edge, which does not affect the printed text, but cuts a few words of the manuscript annotations that appear at the foot. In addition, there is a worm track that has damaged the foot of the final three pages, obliterating some letters from the same set of annotations. The leaves of the volume are otherwise crisp and intact. Despite the fact that the book has been rebound, the remainder of the text and annotations remain wholly uncropped. Somewhat miraculously, the block does not appear to have been trimmed since the 16th century.

A printed label on the front pastedown reads: “Ex bibliotheca Congregationis SS Redemtoris. Rochester, N. Y.” It includes unused spaces for shelving information. In addition, there is library card pocket at rear, labeled “Mt. St. Alphonsus Library” with a list of the library’s rules. A stamp for the Rochester congregation, “C. S. S. R.,” appears on the title page, and a Mt. St. Alphonsus library stamp appears on the title page verso and on a page deep within the text. Mt. St. Alphonsus was a seminary in Esopus, New York, that later became a retreat center and finally closed in 2012. The spine liner, mentioned above, locates the binding to America in the nineteenth century, probably in New York City or nearby. The volume was sold in 2013 at the auction of the Mt. St. Aphonsus Library, and appears to have come to that institution from the Rochester congregation. Most recently, it was sold by an online bookseller in New Jersey.

Both the annotations and printed content in this volume exemplify the kind of humanism that scholars routinely associate with the Renaissance. It presents the rare occasion in which we have a heavily (and interestingly) annotated book that can be connected not only with a known individual, but with a significant institution, and a network of influential humanists. This important book will no doubt reveal much to historians of humanism and education, researchers in the history of reading, those interested in the reception of drama, and literary scholars more generally. SOLD

* For information on Plancomarius’s life before arriving at St. Anne and the volume at the British Library that he annotated, see Peter Macardle, “Hieronymus Ziegler’s Handwriting: Autographs in Two Books in the British Library,” Wolfenbütteler Renaissance-Mitteilungen 18.2 (1994): 51–55.

William Alexander’s “Woorkes”

Alexander, William. The monarchicke tragedies. London: Valentine Simmes [& George Eld] for Edward Blount (1607). STC 344.

Bound with

Alexander, William. A paraenesis to the Prince. London: Richard Field for Edward Blount (1604). STC 346.


Alexander, William. Aurora. London: Richard Field for Edward Blount (1604). STC 337.

Collation: π1 5A4(-A1.A2)*, a2 A4(-A1.A2)** B-M4 N2 2A-K4 2L2, 3A-C4 3D2, 4A-M4, 5B-2D4 5E2(-E2)

* These are the two preliminary leaves of The Alexandrean tragedie, misbound at the front of the volume.
** In both 1604 and 1607, these usually appear before a2. In 1604, A3 was preceded by A2, the general title, and a blank (present in the Beinecke copy). In the 1607 issue, the title page to The Monarchic Tragedies is a single-leaf insert (π1 here), canceling the 1604 title page.

More than fifteen years before he helped finance Shakespeare’s First Folio, Edward Blount published a collection of plays by the Scottish politician and writer William Alexander. When issued in 1604 and when augmented in 1607, The Monarchic Tragedies was one of the only collections of English plays available in print. In fact, a good case can be made that it was the first, though Blount apparently designed it as one part of a larger collection of literature. On 30 April 1604, he registered “The Woorkes of William Alexander of Menstrie” with London’s Company of Stationers. Along with The Monarchic Tragedies, the “Woorkes” were to include some non-dramatic poetry: “Paranethis to the Prince. and Aurora.” There is no evidence that a title page for the collection was ever printed, but volumes like this one indicate that Blount did market The Monarchic Tragedies, A Paraenesis to the Prince, and Aurora as a set—to some customers, at least. The first issue of The Monarchic Tragedies, which came out with the poetry in 1604, contained two plays: The Tragedy of Croseus and The Tragedy of Darius. In 1607, Blount reissued The Monarchic Tragedies with two more plays written by Alexander: The Alexandrean Tragedy and The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.

The present volume preserves the 1607 issue of The Monarchic Tragedies and both of the 1604 poetry editions, A Paraenesis to the Prince and Aurora. In this copy, A Paraenesis to the Prince and Aurora follow Croseus and Darius. The Alexandrean Tragedy and Julius Caesar then come after. Because the 1607 plays follow the complete 1604 “Woorkes,” they were probably added to the earlier material, which had previously been in its own binding. (More on this below.) In other copies I have located, Paraenesis and Aurora follow all four plays. As noted in the collation, the two preliminary leaves of The Alexandrean Tragedy have been misbound at the very front of this volume, immediately after the general title page of The Monarchic Tragedies.

Paraenesis and Aurora both collate complete, including the final blanks. The Monarchic Tragedies lacks the divisional title page for The Alexandrean Tragedy, the blank that may have preceded it, and the blank that should precede the general title page. The blank at K4, the end of Darius, is present. Of the copies I have been able to check, only one at the Beinecke preserves the blank preceding the general title page, and none retain a blank, A1, before The Alexandrean Tragedy. The pages throughout the book are remarkably clean and bright.

The volume remains bound in seventeenth-century sprinkled calf; it has not been rebacked or otherwise conserved. The covers are decorated only with a frame of blind double fillets near the board edges, and the fillets cross to form small Oxford corners. The spine has four raised bands with pairs of blind lines at the top and bottom of each of the five compartments. All of this is very typical of English trade bindings from the period. There is some scuffing and one larger (~1cm) gouge out of the leather on the front cover, and the rear cover looks to have sustained a rather serious ink spill, causing discoloration and damage to a significant section of the leather (~8cm x 9cm). Though unfortunate, the damage does attest to the early modern recommendation that readers be able to write in the presence of their books. All three board edges are decorated with a gilt diamond pattern, which, unlike the austere covers and spine, would have been visible when the book was shelved with the fore edge facing out. The text block would also have been visible; all of its edges are colored yellow with red sprinkling. Dust over the centuries has darkened it, but this edge decoration was once quite vivid. The foot edge is brighter than the others, and some pages preserve the original yellow where it has encroached into the margins. A seventeenth-century owner has written “Allexanders tragedies” on the fore edge, further enabling potential readers identify the book on a shelf. Both hinges are rubbed and the front one has cracked through, but the tawed supports remain intact and secure both covers well. The binding includes plain paper pastedowns and a free endleaf at front and rear. The first black-letter quarto of the King James Bible (1613, STC 2227) makes an appearance here, too: waste from the Book of Ezekiel is used for endpaper guards. This helpfully indicates a terminus post quem of 1613 for the binding. Everything about the style also fits with an early- to mid-seventeenth-century date.

Notably, however, a témoin (a folded “witness”) on H4 of The Alexandrean Tragedy all but guarantees that the book—or part of it—was previously bound: the extended edge is also trimmed. That said, there is significant ink transfer from the 1607 Monarchic Tragedies title page onto the front free endpaper, indicating that the two leaves have been in contact for a long time, and that they have been in contact from fairly early on in the life of the title page. This, of course, is confirmed by the early date of the binding itself. The témoin may suggest that the current binding is the second binding for the whole collection, and perhaps a third binding for the 1604 sequence. Because the current binding dates from no more than a few decades after 1607, this would be surprising, but it is by no means impossible. Bindings can damage easily, and well-to-do owners would have had no problem financing repairs. An alternative possibility is that the 1607 material was taken from a separate bound collection, and that the témoin only tells us about its early binding, not the history of all the volume’s printed material. If true, the current binding would be the second for both parts. The idea would be that the 1604 material and the 1607 material had been in separate bindings, and were newly joined when the present book was made. The more basic claim that this is not the first binding for the 1604 material is supported by the fact that A3 and A4 of The Monarchic Tragedies, which would have followed the original 1604 title page, are soiled in a way that surrounding leaves are not. Light staining on the margins of both of these leaves and the final leaf of Aurora probably place them at the extremities of an earlier bound volume. Unfortunately, because the binding is tight and so well preserved, the underlying structure cannot be examined without special imaging. X-ray or CT would likely help to clarify the early history of this book.

There are some annotations at the very front of the book. Two names have been written multiple times on the recto of the front free endpaper, giving us some sense of the book’s life in the eighteenth century: “Henry Howms” and “Richard Wetherhead.” The date “1713 14” appears in the middle of the leaf, and is perhaps attached to one of the Henry Howms inscriptions. Richard Wetherhead has also written his name and initials on the title page. All of the handwriting on the endpaper and title page is consistent with an eighteenth-century date, and there are no other marks in the volume.

All said, this book represents an important watershed, both in Edward Blount’s career and in the larger history of English literature. The Monarchic Tragedies was Blount’s first foray into vernacular drama, and the larger collection of Alexander’s “Woorkes” was his first significant investment in an English author. But although it is perhaps easiest to tell the story of this book as a precursor to the First Folio, as I have been doing, Alexander’s works are not without their own merit. They were praised by personalities as notable as Sir Robert Aytoun, Samuel Daniel, Sir Davies of Hereford, Michael Drayton, and William Drummond. Indeed, although he is often forgotten now, he was one of the major literary figures of his time. Like Spenser’s, his sonnets depart from the Petrarchan model by looking toward marriage instead of unrequited love; Paraenesis speaks to his attempts to curry favor with James in the first years of his new role as monarch of England; and The Monarchic Tragedies demonstrates the vitality of one of the most important genres of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries: Senecan tragedy. More research is needed, but this may be the only surviving copy with all four plays, both works of poetry, and an untouched early binding. It is almost certainly the only one that also preserves the curious binding order. SOLD

English Vulgate and Sternhold-Hopkins Sammelband

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