Prof. Carol Ann Johnston

Category: Audience

Owner(s) and readership of Topsell’s “Historie of beastes”

This book, as previously established, does not seem like an edition belonging to those where “The historie of foure-footed beastes” and “The historie of serpents” were published jointly in 1658. In consulting archivist Malenda Triller, I learn that the most plausible way for two books published and printed a year apart to be included in the same codex is that a private individual had them bound into a single one. Reasons such as admiration for both works, the pragmatism of keeping two volumes in one place, faster consultation, or even the guarantee of equal preservation of the manuscripts might be considered, but the true motivations why this was done are unknown, as is the identity of the hypothetical individual who had Topsell’s two works bound together in the same volume. The inscription of a name –Jonathan Yates – and a date –1660– on the first page that we do preserve of the first book might be a piece of potential evidence that could give us more answers to the mistery of the individual who bound both books.

The mystery about the first owner who brought the two books together is not solved either by looking at information about the book’s most recent owner, before it came to the Dickinson College Special Collections Archive. And that is because, although the book arrived here as part of a donation from the Willoughby family, in which many other books from this former professor and scholar were offered to the college library for better preservation, after his passing, often, explained Malinda Triller, an ever-helpful librarian, donated books come with a record with information about their acquisition, their history, or some other piece of information such as the price for which they were purchased, but not in this case.

Going back to its origins and realizing that these are two books from different periods in the same volume, I pay even more attention to the front and back matters, which usually include information for the reader (dedications, epilogues, etc.). I do this in order to focus on learning more about the book, its afterlife and the way it was received. In other words, to better understand the book in its contemporaneity. For example, in the first “Epistle to the Learned Readers”, Topsell states that this book was conceived “to shew to euery plaine and honest man, the wonderfull workes of God in every beast in his vulgar toongue, and giue occasion to my louing friendes and Country-emn, to adde of themselues, or else to helpe mee with their owne obseruations vppon these stories”. Again, in “An Epilogue to the Readers”, I find that the author insists on asking its readers for their collaboration to continue expanding the book. He does it for a very important reason: the more collaboration in this work, the greater the glory for all English speakers, for never before has such an extensive work been written in vernacular English.

If you think my endeauors and the Printers costs necessarie and commendable, and if you would euer farther or second a good enterprize, I do require al men of conscience that shall euer hear, read, or see these Histories, or wish for the sight of the residue, to helpe vs with knowledge, and to certifie their particular experiences in any kinde, or any one of the liuing Beastes: and withall to consider how great a task we do vndertake, trauelling for the content and benefit of other men, and therefore how acceptable it would be vnto vs, and procure euerlasting memorie to themselues, to be helpers, incouragers, ayders, procurers, maintainers, and abettours, to such a labor and needefull endeuour, as was neuer before enterprized in England. (Y y y 2, The Historie of foure footed beastes).

In the front matter of the second book, however, Topsell writes about other issues regarding the reception of the first book. For example, two printing errors in the first book are amended and the translations of certain Latin verses that complicated comprehension are deleted.

Therefore, what we now know from the book is that its reading dignifies souls as would the contemplation of a divine work, and that Topsell had a clear intention to extend this text, to create an unprecedented scientific basis for zoology in the English language.

Despite the fact that it is not the 1658 edition and no other editions of this work are known to us, neither expanded nor revised, Topsell’s work has had an enduring life with much to be squeezed out.

For one, his project –even though he didn’t succeed in finishing it before his death– was crafted and first published (in 1607 and 1608) in the midst of important events for the scientific world, as John Lienhard points out in his brief description of these books. According to Lienhard, “his monumental work was actually an early glimmer of modern science” (Topsell’s Beasts), and therefore constitutes an exemplary work attempting to get closer to what we nowadays understand by “zoology”. The content of the book was, in its origins, according to the author, already relevant and dignifying to its reader not only because of the wealth of knowledge contributed by Conrad, but also because what Topsell proposes is a contemplation of the divine creation in a language that was no longer Latin.

The very dignifying content in this work, however, did not mature well over time. For instance, one does not believe nowadays the following description of the way in which mice procreate: “The generation or procreation of Myce, is not onely by copulation, but also nature worketh wonderfully in engendering them by earth and small showers” (The Historie of Foure Footed Beastes, Of Wilde Myce), or that “It is also very certaine that Mice which liue in a house, if they perceiue by the age of it, it be ready to fall downe or subiect to any other ruin, they foreknow it and depart out of it”, found in a passage subtitled “Presages and forknoledge of mice”, nor is it nowadays conceived a book of knowledge about animals to additionally include indications for natural remedies, medicines, spiritual or fantastic matters, such as long descriptions of the types of horns a unicorn may possess.

What makes it rare, not just because of its binding, but concerning its content, is precisely these out-of-date conceptions of nature, of authority, and moreover the evidence of a quest for objectivity, which is demonstrated by the extensive documentation used to talk about the creatures, in the midst of so much fantastic information about mythical creatures. Now considered obsolete, what brings us closer to this nearly 1000 page-long compilled volume of wisdom is the possibility offered by the work to immerse ourselves in the study of the natural world as it was understood in the seventeenth century, of reasoning, of the limits (or lack thereof) between truth and fiction, documentation and objectivity, of the weight of authors’ references versus what they themselves know or can attest to through their own experience (or, again, lack thereof).


Works consulted:

“Topsell’s Beasts” Engines of Our Ingenuity. Houston Public Media, 2000. John Lienhard, University of Houston. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Isaac, S. (2018, March 16). The familiar and the fantastic: The Historie of Foure-Footed beastes by Edward Topsell, 1607. Royal College of Surgeons. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from


Ralph Brooke’s Catalogue: Audience

For any readers just joining me, this is my third and final blog post about Ralph Brooke’s 1619 Catalogue. My first is a general introduction, and my second combines analysis of the book’s origins and afterlife. Here, I turn to the book’s provenance.

When Dickinson acquired the Catalogue, any papers establishing its provenance did not come along with it. While we do have some of the receipts from Edwin Willoughby’s purchases between 1943 and 1949, none of these documents mention the Catalogue. That has made the job of reconstructing the book’s provenance rather difficult. What follows is my best attempt; I have had to make several key inferences even to get to this point.

I think I have gained two writers for the price of one. In an earlier post, I identified the inscription on the title page (fig. 1) as a single name, “Sir Samwell Thomas Newman,” but this mystery knight seemed not to exist. Recently, though, I noticed that the ink, the alignment, and the letterforms appear to differ subtly but significantly between the phrases “Sir Samwell” and “Thomas Newman his booke 1640.” While I have received conflicting second opinions about bifurcating “Sir Samwell Thomas Newman,” I think it is worthwhile to entertain the possibility that the two parts of this inscription refer to two separate people, and I have chosen, not without evidence, to treat them as such for the purposes of this post.

Fig. 1: the inscription on the title page.

Christopher John Edwin Newman, a modern-day member of the family, has made a website cataloguing the family history of the Newmans of Fifehead in Dorset, and when we consider the possibility that there are two inscriptions, first by Thomas in 1640 and then later by Sir Samwell, a coherent timeline of family ownership emerges. Two Thomas Newmans, in fact, were alive in 1640, one who died in 1649, and the other, his son, who died in 1668 (C. Newman). Our Thomas Newman could be either; regardless, the timeline works. Sir Samwell Newman, on the other hand, lived from about 1696 to 1747 (C. Newman). His first name, Samwell, is his mother’s last name, and the Samwells and Newmans had not intermarried before then, so it is very unlikely indeed that a yet-unrecorded Samwell Newman even could have existed in 1640. His title “Sir” only makes the possibility of some shadowy 17th century Samwell more unlikely: the Newmans were only granted a baronetcy under the real Sir Samwell’s father, Richard, in 1699 (C. Newman).

The binding also offers clues. Both the front and back covers have been blind-stamped with the letters “TN,” who (if these are initials) very easily could be one of the two Thomas Newmans I have already mentioned (fig. 2). Thomas Newman was certainly not averse to marking up his books. Since the Newman Family Tree’s catalogue only lists two Thomases under the first initial T, identifying TN as Thomas Newman would conclusively date the binding to the seventeenth century. This timeline also raises a major question, though: why are the many annotations throughout the text cut off by the edge of the page? There are, I think, two possibilities. First: the book may have already been annotated by a prior owner in a cheaper binding before it came secondhand into Newman’s possession. Second, Newman could have annotated it himself prior to sending it to a bookbinder. My examination of the book yielded none of the telltale holes that stab-stitching leaves, but these can be difficult or impossible to find in a book that has been rebound.

Fig. 2: The back cover, blind-stamped with “TN.”

This book’s binding has also helped me fill in the gap after the Newman family and before Edwin Willoughby. At some point in the mid-nineteenth century, and certainly after 1831, our book came into the possession of Robert Dundas Duncan, 1st Earl of Camperdown, whose gilded armorial stamp can clearly be seen on the front cover (fig 3). How this book made its way from the West Country to Scotland eludes me, and any efforts to establish whether the Newmans and the Duncans intermarried have been unsuccessful. While my dating of the binding to the seventeenth century is tenuous without expert opinion, the presence of the Camperdown stamp on the front cover definitively dates the binding to the mid-nineteenth century or before.

Fig. 3: The front cover, stamped both with “TN” and with the seal of the Earl of Camperdown.

I mischaracterized Edwin E. Willoughby as a mere collector in my previous posts. Dickinson’s archive possesses many of his private documents and his publications, and these make it immensely clear that he had far more than a passing interest in the Catalogue. Willoughby, in fact, returned to the Catalogue several times in his publications, particularly because the Brooke-Jaggard dispute affected the schedule of the printing of the First Folio. In 1928, in graduate school, he wrote a five-page piece entitled “An Interruption in the Printing of the First Folio,” where he tracks the delays in the production of the Folio; a relevant section concerns the delay that Brooke caused (fig. 4). Four years later, Willoughby wrote The Printing of the First Folio of Shakespeare, which expands on the themes in “An Interruption” and discusses the difficulties between Jaggard and Brooke (fig. 5). Finally, in 1934, he published a biography of William Jaggard entitled A Printer of Shakespeare: The Books and Times of William Jaggard. I have had the opportunity to study both his handwritten drafts (fig. 6) and a printed copy (fig. 7).

Fig. 4: The section of “An Interruption” covering the Jaggard-Brooke conflict.

Fig. 5: A mention of Brooke in The Printing.

Fig. 6: Willoughby’s handwritten draft of the beginning of Chapter 13 of A Printer.

Fig. 7: The printed first page of Chapter 13 of A Printer.

Brooke’s Catalogue was clearly relevant to Edwin Willoughby’s research interests, and that is evidently why he owned it. What remains unknown to me, however, is when the Catalogue actually came into Willoughby’s personal possession. While it seems possible that he purchased it to aid his research while working on one of his pieces written during the 1920s and 1930s, I’ve noticed an inscription in in the back of the book: “F. 11.1.43” (fig. 8). To me, that indicates a date: either 1 November or 11 January 1943. Inscriptions of this type or in this hand are nowhere in all other Willoughby books that Special Collections Librarian Malinda Triller-Doran and I checked in the archive, which leads me to believe that Willoughby may not be the writer; he would have purchased the book, then, at some point during or after 1943. We do have a book order from November 1943, addressed to Willoughby from The Export Book Company in Preston, Lancashire, but this mentions only two Bibles from the turn of the 17th century (fig. 9).

Fig. 8: The mysterious 20th-century writing in the back of the Catalogue.

Fig. 9: An invoice from the Export Book Company to Willoughby regarding two Early Modern bibles.

Edwin Willoughby died in 1959, having never married. His sister, Cmdr. Frances Willoughby—an extraordinary figure in her own right, whose achievements included becoming the first woman to permanently achieve the rank of commander in the United States military—donated many of his books and papers to Dickinson after his death (fig. 10), and the College held an exhibition of his collection in his honor. The book has remained in our archives since then. I hope that some of its yet elusive mysteries are eventually solved, but I am grateful to have filled the amount of missing information I have.

Fig. 10: A letter from Charles Coleman Sellers, Librarian of Dickinson College, to Frances Willoughby.

Works Cited

Brooke, Ralph. A CATALOGVE and Succeſsion of the Kings, Princes, Dukes, Marqueſſes, Earles, and Viſcounts of this Realme of England, ſince the Norman Conqueſt, to this preſent yeare, 1619. London, William Jaggard, 1619.

“Duncan, Robert Dundas, 1st Earl of Camperdown (1785 -1859).” British Armorial Bindings, University of Toronto Libraries,

“Edwin Eliott Willoughby (1899-1959).” Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, 2005,

“Frances Lois Willloughby (1906-1984).” Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, 2005,

Newman, Christopher John Edwin. Newman Family Tree, 25 Dec. 2022,

Sellers, Charles Coleman. Letter to Commander Frances Willoughby. 28 December 1959. Edwin E. Willoughby file. Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Carlisle, PA.

The Export Book Company. Invoice to Edwin Willoughby. 2 November 1943. Box 4, folder 12. Edwin E. Willoughby papers. Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Carlisle, PA.

Willoughby, Edwin E. A Printer of Shakespeare: The Books and Times of William Jaggard. London: Philip Allan & Co., 1934.

—. Handwritten draft of A Printer of Shakespeare. Box 1, folder 3. Edwin E. Willoughby papers. Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Carlisle, PA.

—. The Printing of the First Folio of Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932.

Moby-Dick; or, the Whale: Audience

According to the Reception theory of literature, audiences actively construct texts they read by bringing their unique interpretations, experiences, and judgements to their examination — Moby-Dick; or, the Whale is a fitting example of how perceptions of a book may skew its meaning and cultural value (Jauss). Specifically, the life of Moby Dick demonstrates how intended audiences shift based on certain aspects of the physical book and the cultural moments in which it was distributed. In this blog post, I will explore the intended versus actual demographics of readership of Moby Dick as it was published in its time, then hone in on the Arion Press editions of the book before examining the specific copy in the Dickinson Archives.

Moby Dick is filled with an unyielding level of detail in terms of whaling and intense moments from adventures at sea. When Melville set out to create this novel, his intended audience would be mentally worthy of handling scenes that detail the gory battles of whale hunting, or the complete madness and obsession of Ahab. Prior to the publication of his book, Melville warned his friend Sarah Morewood, “It is not a piece of fine feminine Spitalfields silk – but it is of the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hausers … Warn all gentle fastidious people from so much as peeping into the book – on risk of a lumbago & sciatics.” (“Moby-Dick.”). Although this comment is inferred to be made in a joking manner, ( Melville was not explicitly a feminist, but themes of femininity in a positive light were tied into nature and the presentation of several characters), his perceived audience was not composed of females — or “gentle fastidious people” — whose tastes were “too sensitive” for this book. Rather, more broadly, Melville’s intended audience would be progressive-minded people who could mentally handle depictions of gay marriage and subversions of gender norms. This may be why Moby Dick experienced a revival in the 1920s — more people were becoming comfortable with breaking conventions with the explosion of the “New Era” (Routledge).  Therefore, the cultural value of this book has shifted and increased as societal mindsets evolved, hence Moby Dick’s new status as a masterwork of literature. 

Moreover, the front matter of the book details the findings of a “sub-sub librarian,” serving as a comedic fragment Melville included to indirectly engage in conversation with the audience (as seen in the front matter pictured here). This librarian is a thinly disguised representation of himself, considering he compiled the thorough references to whales (touching on their symbolic meaning that will be expanded upon) in past literature. However, at the time of publication, the public was widely unaccepting of Moby Dick. In a way, Melville may have undermined his credibility with his readers by introducing the self-deprecating sub-sub librarian. This epic work was a strict departure from the light-hearted adventures of his previous publications, and the playful introduction may have reinforced readers’ expectations that they were heading into an easy read about an adventure at sea. The harsh criticism and limited profitability negate Melville’s assumption of widespread admiration for his tragic work. Unfortunately, the failure of what he considered his magnum opus eventually led to the downfall of his career as a writer (Lagasse). 

Furthermore, the Printer’s (also referred to as the AP) and California Deluxe editions of Moby Dick were not produced for high school students to fulfill their mandatory reading. Rather, the high-quality Printer’s edition was created for someone who enjoys revisiting the tale of Captain Ahab and his obsession with the white whale. The hefty price suggests that the reader must also appreciate the minute elements that establish the character of a physical book. The intended audience could range from passionate book collectors to university archives; currently on sale for $10,000 – $15,000, this book has become a valuable cultural product (“Arion Press Moby Dick, Printer’s Copy.”). On resale sites, the price increases to $25,000 (“Moby Dick or, the Whale.”). Therefore, this edition is not used for constant rereading, bookmarking, and dog-earing. Rather, the book is representative of the appreciation of the storytelling and act of creation of the physical book — it could serve as a centerpiece or a lavish adornment to a coffee table. The thought put into this book is representative of the significance this book holds in our culture, widely considered one of the greatest American novels. Components including the size, quality of paper, condition of the binding, and presence of thoughtful, handcrafted details all signify that this edition is worthy of that prestige, a tribute to Melville’s success that was deserved when he was alive. 

The original publication of the book indicates the intended success of Moby Dick. Released in the UK and America, the first edition

First Edition of Moby Dick

First edition of Moby Dick, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1851

was a work of art in itself with golden gilt binding, however, the book was sold for $1.50 when published in 1851 (Kuhl). Although the book was not published cheaply, only 915 copies were printed in Melville’s lifetime. A helpful comparison is made to the print run of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published a year after Moby Dick, which “ sold 10,000 copies in 2 weeks” (Kuhl). The failure to sell copies reflects the notion that the audience of the time completely shapes the value of the book. However, as literary tastes developed, the book gained popularity and appreciation, as seen in Arion Press’s homage to Melville’s accomplishment. 

The California Deluxe edition has an intended audience similar to the Printer’s edition. The most prominent difference between the two is that the California Deluxe edition possesses photographic representations of the original. Moreover, this edition is slightly smaller with a cloth cover rather than goat skin. The size of the book still denotes an elevated status, one that deserves a spot in a prized collection or on display despite being less expensive than the Printer’s edition. Currently, copies of this edition are being sold on online marketplaces like Abebooks, on which prices range from $250 to $1,726, depending on the condition, denoting a dedicated audience that holds a deep admiration for bookmaking (“Moby Dick or, the Whale.”). The copies available for purchase are being sold by independent bookstores instead of individuals. This suggests that private owners may be reluctant to sell their books or are utilizing alternative sales methods.

Trade Edition

California Deluxe Edition

Arion Press also released a trade edition that was produced to transfer these finely crafted books into the hands of the public. With this, the audience has shifted to individuals who enjoy reading, but who are unwilling to spend more extreme sums on a single book. This edition was more economically reasonable due to its decreased size, all black rather than blue ink, and thinner paper. This edition aligns with Melville’s intended audience, which was likely a large portion of the population with progressive minds who will thoroughly enjoy the book for its thrill and thoughtfulness.

In terms of the California edition that Dickinson currently owns, the book’s journey to our archives has been touched on in my previous posts. In 2001, Friends of Dickinson College Library invited Barry Moser to deliver an engaging talk detailing his experiences as an artist in the printing industry. The 2002 Fall edition of the Dickinsonian newspaper reports on Moser’s experience at the college and the purchasing of books prior to his visit. Moby Dick was simply one out of seventy-five works acquired by the library to showcase Moser’s wide variety of works that spanned from classic literature to children’s books.

The California Deluxe edition of Moby Dick currently resides in the archives, which explains the near pristine condition of the book. Since this edition is less than 50 years old, this copy has not required any sort of retouching or rebinding. Most importantly, with the repossession of the book from a seller to our school, the audience has been transformed once again – now, readers include students with an interest in historical books, or members of the public who visit the archive for research or personal enjoyment. Throughout this book’s lifetime, its audience is likely to shift again.


Works Cited

“Arion Press Moby Dick, Printer’s Copy.” Moby-Dick; or, the Whale – Price Estimate: $10000 – $15000,

Davis, J. “Moby Dick; Published by University of California Press & Arion Press.” The Whole Book Experience, 14 Sept. 2014,

Jauss, Hans Robert, and Timothy Bahti. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. University of Minnesota Press, 1982. 

Kuhl, Nancy. “Moby Dick: Context and Resources.” Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 16 Sept. 2020, 

Marcus, Greil. “1851: ‘Give It up, Sub-Subs!”: A New Literary History of America.” Credo Reference, Harvard University Press, 2009,

“Melville, Herman.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Paul Lagasse, and Columbia University, Columbia University Press, 8th edition, 2018. Credo Reference, Accessed 12 May 2023. 

“Moby-Dick.” Brewer’s Curious Titles, edited by Ian Crofton, Chambers Harrap, 1st edition,

  1. CredoReference, Accessed 20 Apr.


“Moby Dick or, the Whale.” AbeBooks, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London,

“R. Michelson Galleries.” R MICHELSON Accessed 11 May 2023.  

Routledge, Christopher. “Moby Dick; or, the Whale 1851.” Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850, edited by Christopher John Murray,  1st edition, 2003. Credo Reference, Accessed 12 May 2023.

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