Prof. Carol Ann Johnston

Author: emesedaroczi

The Life of Merlin, Surnamed Ambrosius by Arthur Heywood: Part Three

Beyond the intriguing political climates surrounding the origins of the actual printing, the copy of The Life of Merlin that I have had the chance to study has had a bit of a journey beyond the printing press (which is of course to be expected from a book created in 1641).  

Regarding publishing, The Life of Merlin had three print runs– the original 1641 edition, a 1651 edition, and an 1812 printing. The 1651 edition is mostly a reissue, published by a bookseller named Thomas Pierrepoint at “at the singe of the Sun in Paul’s Church-yard” but makes the acknowledgement of King Charles’ death (Figure A).


Figure A. The cover page of the 1651 edition of The Life of Merlin– note that it now says “to the Reign of the late King” as opposed to King Charles.  Photo from Freeman’s Auction (ninth source on Works Cited)

It’s probable that this was why the book was reprinted in the first place.  

In the 1812 issue, there are stylistic changes– for example, the “Prophecies and Predictions” part of the title is in blackletter typeface now– but the same hand-marbled cover and content carry over from the previous edition (Figure B).

Figure B. The cover of an 1812 version of The Life of Merlin.

Image from Rooke Books’ seller listing.  

From what I can tell, according to the listing of one such copy on the Biblio database of rare book auctions from Rookes Books, the printing is more refined in the 1812 edition. The marginalia are gone, and the text is formatted in a way more reminiscent of our modern books. There are indents, little to no ornamentations (from the previews I saw), and when quotations are done, they’re not italicized but quoted in a more modern, standardized manner. The 1812 edition was published by the Carmarthen company– by J. Evans and Messrs Lackington. This edition of the book is listed as both “very scarce” and historically “interesting,” according to the Biblio listing from Rookes Books. 

If we look further into the differences between the 1812 edition and the original 1641 printing, the former is far easier to find both digitized and on databases. Additionally, Google digitized the 1812 edition onto Google Books, but there is no mention of the 1641 edition anywhere, at least not in Google’s databases.  

Multiple editions aren’t where the book’s journey ends– the copy of The Life of Merlin that I have has an ex-libris before the Sellers name and the dedication to Helen Gilbert. After I did a reverse image search on it, shown in Figure C, it appeared to be a coat of arms.

Figure C. The bookplate inside The Life of Merlin. 

Looking at the “House of Hill” webpage on European Heraldry, the claim that it is an armorial bookplate of Rowland Clegg Hill, or the Hill family, proves true. There is still some mystique here, though—according to the images on the website, the bookplate could’ve belonged to either Rowland Hill, who lived from 1800–1875 and was the 2nd Viscount of Hill of Hawkestone and Hardwicke, or his son Rowland Clegg-Hill, the 3rd Viscount. The Hill family crest is outlined in Figure D and again on the “House of Hill” website.

Figure D. The Hill family crest/coat of arms.

Image from European Heraldry’s House of Hill. 

Anne Clegg’s coat-of-arms is also somewhat adapted in the bookplate, and she is the mother of Rowland Clegg-Hill, which is why I’m unsure as to whose coat of arms this is.  

Either way, the two of them were British politicians; according to the biographical entry on Rowland Hill from The History of Parliament and the biographical entry for Rowland Clegg-Hill in Prabook, both had military careers, with the 2nd Viscount serving as part of the Royal Horse Guards and eventually becoming Lord Lieutenant of the Shropshire Yeomanry and the 3rd Viscount also serving until 1879. Rowland Hill was a Tory politician who was in parliament for Shropshire from 1821–1832, and he became Baronet of Hawkstone in 1824, serving in the House of Lords in 1842. Rowland Clegg-Hill was a Conservative Member of Parliament for North Shropshire from 1857–1865. He succeeded his father in the viscountcy in 1875, becoming part of the House of Lords, but became bankrupt in 1894 with a debt of £250,000. Perhaps that’s how this book ended up at large again.  

In addition to the bookplate, the frontmost pages contain the name “Coleman Sellers” and the numbers 28/98 (Figure E).

Figure E. The inked-in mention of “Coleman Sellers” at the

beginning of The Life of Merlin. 

At first, I thought this was a bookseller’s company name, but it’s the family name of Charles Coleman Sellers. It’s unlikely Charles Sellers himself wrote in the book, given that if “Jany 28/98” is a date, 1998 doesn’t line up with Charles’ life and neither does 1898. I then assumed that this was something his father owned– however, the name Coleman Sellers goes back a long time. While perusing Charles Coleman Sellers’ files in the archive, I came upon a section of his will that said he was leaving a painting called “Coleman Sellers” to his son and daughter that was done by C. W. Peale. Charles Willson Peale was his great-great grandfather, a painter known best for being the first to paint portraits of George Washington. He was also the founder of one of the first American natural art and history museums, according to the National Gallery of Art’s webpage on him (listed below). If mentions of “Coleman Sellers” go back that far, it’s an old name.  

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in Helen Gilbert’s file beyond a sketch shown in Figure F, a photo of her from junior high and a poem in a small magazine from 1925.

Figure F. A sketch of Helen Gilbert, unknown artist.  

Archivist Malinda Triller told me she believed Helen Gilbert to be Sellers’ first wife. According to page on Sellers from the American National Biography, she was “an actress, poet, and author of children’s stories, whose work was published in Poetry Magazine and Sewanee Review,” and they ran a small bookstore called Tracey’s Bookstore in Hebron, Connecticut, where she was originally from (Soltis). This went on until Sellers got his job as a bibliographic librarian at Wesleyan University. In this way, the dedication of the book in her memory when donated to Dickinson College then makes sense.  

Sellers’ file was significantly larger. Going through various news clipping from Dickinson regarding his job, his awards for research work and his honoring of his great-great grandfather, I uncovered the history of a very dedicated man. According to a statement issued by Sam A. Banks titled “Dickinson College Newsletter detailing Charles Coleman Sellers’ passing,” Charles Coleman Sellers was born in 1903, was educated at Haverford College and Harvard University, and came to Dickinson College in 1949 as a curator and a teacher in the fine arts. Beginning in 1956, he was librarian for 12 years. He was dedicated to preserving the history of his great-great grandfather Charles Willson Peale, and retired in 1968, but worked tirelessly to capture the history of Dickinson and beyond. He passed away on January 31st of 1980. From what I can tell, he was a meticulous librarian with a love for both books and history– it seems only right that such a book like The Life of Merlin should have ended up with him, considering it’s about both.  

Beyond knowing that it was likely Mr. Sellers donated the book, I’m not entirely sure how it got here. The number attached to it meant that the book was likely added around the 1960s, which would be in line with Sellers’ retirement and subsequent passing, but I’m not sure if it ended up with the large group of appraised books from a subsequent piece of paperwork or if he donated it while he was still alive, as the donation is in his first wife’s name.  

It was certainly lovely to learn about a man so dedicated to the preservation of books and history, especially after having spent time in the archives these past weeks.  




Works Cited 

“Armorial Bookplate of Rowland Clegg Hill, 3rd Viscount.” Flickr, Accessed 26 March 2023. 

Banks, Sam A. “Dickinson College Newsletter detailing Charles Coleman Sellers’ passing.” Dickinson News. 11 February 1980.  

“Charles Willson Peale.” National Gallery of Art, Accessed 15 May 2023. 

Heywood, Thomas. “The Life of Merlin: Digitized by Google Books.” Google Books, Accessed 26 March 2023.   

“House of Hill.” European Heraldry, Accessed 26 March 2023.  

“Hill, Rowland (1800-1875) of Hawkstone, Salop.” History of Parliament Online, Accessed 15 May 2023. 

“Hill History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms.” House Of Names, Accessed 26 March 2023.  

Last will and testament of Charles Coleman Sellers. 14 November 1978. 

“Listing of Merlin’s Prophesies and Predictions Interpreted.” Biblio, Accessed 26 March 2023. 

“Listing of The Life of Merlin Surnamed Ambrosius.” Biblio, Accessed 26 March 2023.  

“Merlin’s Prophesies and Predictions with the Life of Merlin.” Freeman’s Auctions, Accessed 26 March 2023.  

Mosley, Charles. Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage. Burke’s Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003.  

“Rowland Hill.” Prabook, Accessed 15 May 2023. 

Soltis, Carol Eaton. “Sellers, Charles Coleman (1903-1980), biographer and librarian.” American National Biography, Oxford University Press, Accessed 15 May 2023.  

“1812 The Life of Merlin Surnamed Ambrosius.” Rooke Books, Accessed 26 March 2023.  

The Life of Merlin, Surnamed Ambrosius by Arthur Heywood: Part Two

Figuring out what possible path this book could have taken through time from when it was printed in 1641 was fascinating. The author of The Life Of Merlin was Thomas Heywood, an English playwright through the peak periods of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. He became part of the theatrical company The Admiral’s Men and claimed to have had a hand in writing at least 220 plays, of which 30 are known today. His plays typically focused upon a charming portrayal of the workings of London with realistic settings and citizen heroes and were very popular for his time. According to the ODNB entry on Heywood, King Charles I and his queen saw one of his plays, Love’s Mistress, three times in eight days. In addition to plays, Heywood wrote both poetry and prose. One of his more important pieces of prose was an account titled An Apology For Actors, written in 1612, that supported an actors’ place in history and defended their continued role in society. He died in 1641, in London– the exact circumstances and date of his death are a mystery, but he was buried on August 16th, 1641.  

The historical circumstances already paint an intriguing picture, especially when regarding the content of The Life of Merlin. We can conclude that Heywood was well-liked by royalty — meaning King Charles — and that he was staunchly in support of theater, which the Puritan government viewed as reprehensible. King Charles I was relatively liked in the beginning of his reign, but with his dissolution of the Parliament and the addition of reforms led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and backed by the Catholic queen, citizens rapidly became suspicious about his assertions of religion. In 1637, Charles I attempted to establish “a modified version of the English Book of Common Prayer that provoked a wave of riots in Scotland”, according to a Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide entry on English Civil Wars. Scotland quickly responded with the National Covenant, which in essence politely justified a revolt against Charles I for interfering. 1642 brought with it the English Civil War, in which King Charles I raised an army despite the Parliament’s wishes, meaning to deal with parts of Ireland rebelling, but then having the skirmishes quickly devolve into an outright war between Parliament and royalty. This was the year the theaters were shut down. 

So, Thomas Heywood, a prolific and extremely popular playwright who frequently had royalty attending his plays, writes a book that’s primarily about what he believes to be an accurate account of Merlin’s prophecies about kings from Brute to Charles I (that he’s writing with the benefit of hindsight). It’s meant to be flattering and to help the public find some kind of reassurance in their royalty in times of uncertainty, as when this was being published there was unrest and a general disdain regarding Charles I and his frequent abuses of power. The war breaks out a year later, and Heywood himself passes away in 1641 after the printing of his book. Coincidence (the man was in his late sixties) or not, the timing is certainly ironic. Charles I was beheaded eight years later in 1649.  

Heywood was of course not the only one involved in the creation of this book. From what I could tell, our printer “J. Okes” stood for John Oakes, and he was part of a line of printers. His father Nicholas Oakes was the one who preceded him, and the woman presumed to be his widow, Mary Oakes, succeeded him. Apparently, his printing business was founded by a man named Thomas Judson in 1586, and John Oakes was a printer from 1636-1644. He was partnered with his father for a good portion of that time. The other person included in the title page of The Life Of Merlin was a man named Jasper Emery, who was also a printer and a bookseller and is listed in “A transcript of the registers of the company of stationers of London” as having been publisher from 1629 to 1640 (the records I’ve seen seem to play fast and loose with the words printer and publisher). Jasper Emery had a small bookseller’s shop near St. Paul’s Church-yard, which is the address from the title page of The Life of Merlin. From what it looks like, the three of them had a well-maintained relationship– John and Nicholas Oakes collaborated with Jasper Emery on books together. Similarly, I believe Oakes and Emery worked together to assemble the book, which is why the title page makes note that Emery folded the pages. Overall, Emery assisted with at least a dozen or so publications, including Thomas Heywood’s play Loves Maistresse: Or, The Queen’s Masque. The rest of his publishing was mainly theological texts, which was the norm at the time. With the knowledge of Heywood’s popularity and the records of Emery and Oakes having worked together before, it’s not entirely out of the question that they’d be willing to print this book. The location it’s listed as printed at is St. Paul’s Churchyard, a general area around the Cathedral of Saint Paul and a hotspot for printers and booksellers.  

A map of St. Paul’s Churchyard. Image from the Map of Early London website.

Heywood was remembered far beyond his death. According to a journal article from Modern Language Notes titled “Thomas Heywood As A Critic” by Arthur Melville Clark, “extracts of it were used in The Rarities of Richmond by E.C.” in 1736 and “a condensed version of it appeared in 1755 as The Life of Merlin: Merlin’s Life And Prophecies” (Clark 141). He continued to be celebrated, particularly into the 19th century.  

The names written at various points throughout the book.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite discover who Arthur and Hannah Bradley were, but perhaps as I continue looking into the circumstances around how this book got here it’ll be revealed. Further information about the book’s journey beyond printing as well as the book’s appearance will be detailed in an upcoming blog post.  

The mystery continues.




Works Cited 

Ainsworth, Sarah-Jayne et al. “St. Paul’s Churchyard.” The Map of Early Modern London, U of Victoria, 2022. Accessed 5 March 2023.  

“Civil War, English.” The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide, edited by Helicon, 2018. Credo Reference, Accessed 27 Apr. 2023. 

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Thomas Heywood”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 5 March 2023. 

Carlone, Dominic. “Bookselling at Paul’s Churchyard.” The Map of Early Modern London, U of Victoria. Accessed 5 March 2023.  

Clark, Arthur Melville. “Thomas Heywood As A Critic.” Modern Language Notes.  

Kathman, David. “Heywood, Thomas (c. 1573–1641), playwright and poet.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. 

/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13190. Accessed 27 April 2023. 

Ohlmeyer, Jane H. “English Civil Wars”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 5 March 2023. 

Plomer, Henry Robert. A Dictionary of the Booksellers and Printers who Were at Work in England, Scotland and Ireland. 

Stationers’ Company. A transcript of the registers of the company of stationers of London, Columbia University

Libraries, 2007. Electronic reproduction. 

Wright, Louis B. “Notes on Thomas Heywood’s Later Reputation.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 4, no. 14, 1928, pp. 135–44. JSTOR, Accessed 5 March 2023. 


The Life Of Merlin, Surnamed Ambrosius by Arthur Heywood: Part One

The particular book I chose was a lovely little first edition with the audaciously long title of The Life of Merlin, Surnamed Ambrosius, His Prophecies, and Predictions Interpreted, by Thomas Heywood and printed in 1641 by J. Okes in London. It’s a small book of about 6’’ by 7’’ with a 1’’ depth, 219 sheets, with a leather binding and a hand-marbled cover that has definitely seen better days (Figure A).

Figure A: cover design & display of the spine. 

I was taken with the book as soon as I saw it– the cover was fascinating, and there’s something inherently enchanting about holding something printed before the United States existed and with handwriting in it to boot. It was even a first edition, and one that, as I searched, seemed to be rather scarce at this point. As I investigated the book further, its character seemed to grow larger and larger. A sort of cursory once-over revealed that pages had been torn out from the front, leaving only blank sheets before the title. When I looked up the facsimiles of other prints of the book, I came to the realization that there was supposed to be a wood-etching print of Merlin himself sitting underneath a tree (Figure B).


Figure B: The wood-etched illustration meant to be in the front of the book. Image sourced from the WorldCat database.

Then again, it wasn’t an unexpected find– the cover was completely separated from the rest of the book, to the point that its binding was even somewhat exposed. According to Jane Greenfield’s ABC Of Bookbinding, the binding style “wouldn’t have changed very much from [the] 16th century,” and bookbinders usually would have used either hemp or linen for the binding in single supports with the covers being calf or goatskin (107). There was also a variety of front matter that seemed very standard for its time– the illustration, had it still been whole, would have been first, and then there was a very sincere epistolary dedication to someone named “Master James Mettam” and then a “To the Reader” section where Heywood details why he is writing of Merlin’s prophecies despite him living in ‘heretical pagan’ times. A table of contents follows that with a few sentences outlining each chapter, and then the final part of the front matter is titled “A Chronographical History of the Kings of Britain, from the first plantation of this Island by Brute and his Cousin Curinaeus, to the Reign of King Vortiger,” which I believe is an ordering of all of the British Kings up until King Charles (Figure C).  

Figure C: A demonstration of the front matter of the book. 

Once the chapters begin, the formatting is done in such a way that there are clear left and right hand margins following the spread of the book (it’s an English book so it reads left to right), which add on little pieces of further clarifying information about whatever is being referenced, as demonstrated in Figure D.

Figure D: A demonstration of marginalia, as well as an organic annotation.

There is also a vast amount of ornamentation, typically marking the conclusion and introductions of each subsequent chapter. At the ends of each chapter, there are smaller ornamentations used, such as those in Figure E, whereas for the beginnings of chapters decorated letters are added to the introductory line of the text. Some of them are particularly grandiose, such as the ‘H’ in Figure F when chronicling King Henry’s reign.

Figure E: Examples of the ornamentation used to mark chapters.  

Figure F: An example of the decorative lettering used to denote the beginning of a new chapter.

When a chapter ends, the next page is usually the start of the following chapter, but sometimes there is simply just a space or ornamentation before the next begins. The pages are laid out a bit differently from how a modern book would be printed (which of course makes sense, considering the ~400 year difference) in that there is barely a margin at the top– the book title is boxed in by the sort of lined margins that are presented and then immediately after it is text, which is about what I would estimate is a 12 or 14 point font of something like 1545 Faucheur Normal or Grit Primer, though the app I used to try and determine these gave me a different font for practically every word. The use of ornamentation marks the start and close of every single chapter, with gratuitous spacing in between, likely a byproduct of the way the type is laid out. Continuing on with the investigation, I asked archivist Malinda Triller-Doran– who was assisting me overall– what she thought of the actual paper. She said that it was cloth-based because of the chain lines on all of the pages, but that it was also comparably thinner to other books in a similar time period, something that I confirmed when I looked around at some of the other books that my peers were working on and discovered the paper in them was of a much higher density and quality. This I think made my book more susceptible to tearing and wear, as there was… so much going on throughout the book.  

On the title page and final text page, as well as several pages in between there are doodles, writings or just scribbles from what appears to be ink. In Figure G, the previous owner seems to have written “Arthur Bradley” and “Hannah Bradley” on the last page, as well as “therefore” and some letters in illegible red ink.

Figure G: Various examples of the writings throughout the book. 

Some pages just have swirls doodled on them, as if someone were absentmindedly using the book to work with a pen, either to test the pen’s usage or the paper’s ability to keep the ink from spreading. There is also something written in red– though I can’t quite make out what it is beyond perhaps a “g”– on the beginning page of the “To The Reader” segment of the book. There are also pages with damage to them– Figure H shows one which has a piece taken out of it in a way that looks as if it would’ve been done by an exact-o-knife or something for its precision.

Figure H: An oddly cut (?) page. 

Something has clearly been spilled on pages 222 and 223, and I also managed to find an entire squashed bug nestled between pages 372 and 373 (Figure I).

Figure I: The mystery bug. 

I actually have this bug now, in a bit of tissue paper in a box, because the archivist was a little repulsed by the idea of it staying in the book, and it’s really quite bizarre-looking. At first glance, I thought it was a fly, but it has a striped body– I think I might ask further about what it might be from someone who knows more about insects and has a microscope at hand. It might not be that old, but it was unlikely to have been squashed here in the archives, and we only received this copy of the book in the 1960s, so there was plenty of opportunity for bug murder by prior owners. The point is– there is evidence of a wealth of use throughout the book, and it is something that is delicious to think about. How many hands has this passed through? Was the quick-to-annotate Arthur Bradley the one who squashed a bug between the pages, or stabbed something sharp and distinctly pen-like through at least twenty? Furthermore, what is the story of the cover? The marbling style seems indicative of sprinkle marbling, at least from what I could ascertain from page 18 in Iris Nevins’ book Traditional Marbling as shown in Figure J, but the marbling seems to have been added on top of the leather, if we’re looking at the corners of the cover as in Figure A.

Figure J: The presumed marbling style of the cover, as done by Iris Nevins.

Were there some metal embellishments added to these corners that have since fallen off? Every time I open the book, I’m struck with a kind of glee– the knowledge that there have likely been hundreds of people to hold the text, and that those who still wrote in calligraphy annotated pages is such an oddly humbling feeling. I’d certainly like to discover how this book came to rest in my hands, and perhaps understand some of the people involved with it along the way. 




Works Cited 

Alexander, Jonathan James Graham. The Decorated Letter. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. 

Greenfield, Jane. ABC of Bookbinding. Oak Knoll Press, 1998.  

Nevins, Iris. Traditional Marbling, Alembic Press, Kennington, Oxford, 1985. 

Wolfe, Heather. “Was Early Modern Writing Paper Expensive?” Was Early Modern Writing Paper Expensive Comments, Folger Shakespeare Library, 13 Feb. 2018,  

“WorldCat: World’s Most Comprehensive Database of Library Collections.” OCLC. 


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