Prof. Carol Ann Johnston

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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.  

Foundations for Connection in The New Edinburgh Dispensatory

At first, the New Edinburgh Dispensatory appears dislocated from modern scientific relevancy. My email to a Dickinson science history professor before the bulk of my research started yielded no title recognition from her (Pawley). However, though the Dispensatory was not placed within a relevant book list, I was told that Edinburgh was a scientifically significant location at the time of its release, giving the first hint to this book’s place in a larger historical continuum after further research (Pawley). This theme does not stop there, though, as the people and knowledge behind the production and transport of the book have significance, even if the content does not. The most immediate link to this theme lies in the way the book was donated to Dickinson in the first place.

Figure 1- Donation Inscription and Date of Sale

Despite being noted as originally owned by Joseph van der Schot, the donation inscription also states that the donor was one Frank R. Keefer (Figure 1). However, all that is known about van der Schot from Dickinson records appears on the inscription within the book, describing his career as a military surgeon who died in service at Pittsburgh in 1805 (Figure 1). Interestingly, though morbidly, the above seller’s inscription cites 1805 as the sale year, meaning that we can infer that van der Schot must have possessed this book for only a brief time. The manner of his death is unknown, but probably unrelated to his service in the military, since early 1800s Pittsburgh was in an industrialization stage, not a combat one (“Pittsburgh”). Still, van der Schot is not the only relevant personal figure associated with this book.

Figure 2- Dedication from Andrew Duncan to his father.

Keefer’s life expands the story. Joseph van der Schot was Frank Keefer’s maternal great-grandfather, so this specific Dispensatory must have been an inherited family keepsake (Figure 1). My February interview with Dickinson archivist Malinda Triller Doran helped fill in the gaps in Keefer’s life. In addition to graduating as part of Dickinson class of 1885, Keefer was an “M.D.” at time of donation. Just like the author Andrew Duncan’s dedication to his doctor father, a family legacy of medicine was something also perhaps implicitly passed down (Figure 2). We also know the book was officially donated and processed on February 17th, 1950, based on archival records, meaning the book was in his family line for almost 150 years before donation (Figure 3). Keefer also donated books from his personal collection such as Military Hygiene and Alcoholic Drinks and Narcotics in 1952 (Malcolm). A November 1925 Dickinson Alumnus profile shows Keefer reflecting on his comparatively storied military career to what we know of van der Schot (“Ranks” 8-9). Still, Keefer and his great-grandfather’s military service implies a legacy in this family line, especially considering both served in medical capacities. However, a caveat must be made that the finer details relating to the emotional dynamics of this book are likely lost forever. For example, even though van der Schot only had this book a short time before death, there is no record as to whether this book was a treasured family keepsake lovingly passed down throughout the decades, or merely something left to grow dusty in an attic until the Keefers did some spring cleaning and decided to donate. We cannot know that, but the familial line alone tells us about how this book has traveled throughout the ages based upon a continuing familial line and legacy.

Figure 3-(Donations aside from Dispensatory crossed out for privacy)

Scientific legacies of mutable terminology and practice also represent another throughline of history within the Dispensatory. Page 5 in the “Epitome of Chemistry” section, for instance, discusses how radiation is a method to “repel” certain “particles of caloric” (Duncan 5). In other words, the Dispensatory states that heat can be transmitted through waves. Though we may associate the term “caloric” with calories today, the quote context signals the 18th century connotation of heat (“Caloric”). Similarly, the first modern use of X-ray radiation in 1895 was not discovered until almost a century after the Dispensatory’s publication (Fröman). The usage of radiation in the Dispensatory instead points to an older (and more obvious) definition describing “emissions of rays” or heat (“Radiation”). Thus, while technically correct even today, the terminology marks the content squarely as part of the past. On a similar note, there are many elements within the text, but their true significance and usage would not be realized until much later. For example, uranium’s short description calls it an “incoherent mass” and then briefly mentions its hardness and basic combinative potential (Duncan 27). Once again, the content is technically correct, but not in the same context we would describe how to handle uranium today.

However, the Dispensatory’s most important representation of its continued scientific relevancy is its handling of the demonstration of science itself. From a commercial standpoint, a bookstore today selling a medical textbook that gives advice on deadly poisons and remedial balms would be unlikely. (Duncan 491-503). Still, the principles behind these actual recipes are still used practically today, even if some of the ingredients themselves are different. In the “Preparations and Compositions Section” concerning lead, the book gives instruction to “entirely…[reject]” ingestion (Duncan 476). Yet, it still advertises lead’s usefulness in treating external skin ailments (Duncan 476). While the lead in everyday life has declined significantly, using harmful materials for a greater destructive purpose remains a part of modern medicine like with chemotherapy (Pedersen, “Lead”). Despite chemotherapy’s proven negative effects, the continued usage reflects a similar principle to that found in the Dispensatory in which medicine does the best with the knowledge available at that moment in time (“Chemotherapy”).

While some of the Dispensatory’s content may be obsolete, the scientific and personal history found within still has relevancy. We now understand that lead should not be applied to the skin, but similar philosophies of taking the lesser evil are still present in modern medicine. At the same time, the Dispensatory’s personal history with the Keefers and van der Schots further shows how real people also continue and pass down legacies of knowledge, occupation, and blood to newer generations. In short, taking all the Dispensatory’s information to heart may not be productive because of the outdated content. Instead, appreciating the mindsets and continued legacies, whether personal or scientific, provides the key to understanding the Dispensatory’s rich nature.





Works Cited: 

“caloric, n.” OED Online, March 2023, Accessed 30 March2023. 

Dickinson College Library. Accessions ledger 70001-80000, January 12, 1949 to October 19,1953. Record Group 4/51 Library, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. 

Duncan, Andrew. The New Edinburgh Dispensatory. Worcester, 1805. 

Fröman, Nanny. “Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium.” NobelPrize Outreach AB 2023,                   -polonium-and-radium/. Accessed 30 March 2023. 

“How Chemotherapy Drugs Work.” American Cancer Society, 2023,                                             Accessed 30 March 2023.  

Malcom, Gilbert. Letter to F.R. Keefer. Received by Frank Keefer. 25 June 1952. 

Pawley, Emily. “Re: Book Relevancy.” Received by Anna Robison, 27 March 2023.  

“Pittsburgh Becomes the City of Steel.” PBS, 2023,                                                                                  Accessed 30 March 2023. 

Pedersen, Traci. “Facts about Lead.” LiveScience¸ 6 October 2016, Accessed 30 March 2023. 

“radiation, n.” OED Online, December 2022, Accessed 29 March 2023. 

“Ranks High in Army Medical Service.” The Dickinson Alumnus. November 1925, pp. 8-10.

Triller Doran, Malinda. Personal Interview. 10 February 2023. 


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