Piracy and Plants

By Nora Epstein |

The English have long been known for their love of gardening, a pastime popular since at least the sixteenth century: if not longer, to judge from the number of surviving botany books. Leonard Mascall’s A Booke of the Arte and Manner how to Plant and Graffe all Sorts of Trees…(USTC 513190) was a popular gardening manual that was printed at least 14 times over nearly a century—and pirated once.

Mascall’s first edition, printed in 1569, combined translations from Davy Brossard’s L’art et Maniere de Semer, et Faire Pepinieres des Sauvageaux (USTC 29689) along with a number of Dutch and German texts on gardening. While Mascall supplied his readers with practical horticultural information, he also stressed the moral benefits of gardening, which allowed men and women to improve their natural state by bringing order to chaos. Given the stable commercial appeal of this text, the lucrative right to reprint Mascall’s book provided his publishers with a safe investment to counterbalance larger and riskier endeavours.

A booke of the arte and manner how to plant, St Andrews copy
The 1589 edition by Thomas East, held at the University of St Andrews, TypBL.B96EH. USTC 512173.

The University of St Andrews Library Special Collections, our home institution and Preserving the World’s Rarest Books partner, has a 1589 edition of this work (TypBL.B96EH; USTC 512173). It was printed in London by Thomas East for Thomas Wight. At over one hundred pages, it was not an inconsiderable text and included several woodcut illustrations.

Given its popularity and thus profitability for printers, it is not surprising that the notorious Valentine Simmes, took a gamble by flouting the strict rules of England’s Stationers’ Company by pirating a copy of Mascall’s work. In his illegal 1596 copy of Mascall’s book, Simmes closely copied the textual and paratextual elements found in the latest legal edition, even going so far as to commission nearly identical woodcuts to illustrate the text. Only five libraries hold this rare pirated edition, including Harvard University. Two of Harvard’s libraries, Houghton Library and Andover-Harvard Theological Library are Preserving the World’s Rarest Books partners.  The copy of the pirated edition is held in Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum Library (Ka M37b 1596).

Comparing the pirated title page to the original
Comparing title pages: The St Andrews copy (TypBL.B96EH) on the left with the pirated copy at Harvard (Ka M37b 1596) on the right. USTC 512173 and 513190.


Comparing copied woodcuts
Comparing copied woodcuts: The St Andrews copy (TypBL.B96EH) on the left with the pirated copy at Harvard (Ka M37b 1596) on the right. USTC 512173 and 513190.

Mascall’s gardening manual was not Simmes first illegal venture. In 1588, Simmes joined fellow Stationers John Hodgkins and Arthur Thomlin in printing the scandalous pamphlets at the centre of the Marprelate Controversy. Simmes’ pamphlet mocked the ‘proud popish / presumptuous / profane / paultrie / pestilent and pernicious prelates’ of the Elizabethan Church and disseminated the work through Puritan networks under the pseudonym Martin Marprelate. The manhunt for the printers of these biting satirical tracts ended near Manchester on 14 August 1589, after Simmes attracted notice by dropping a case of type while moving the clandestine press. Simmes confessed to printing the tracts on 10 December 1589, having been imprisoned, and likely tortured, in the Tower of London. Surprisingly, these proceedings did not deter Simmes from continuing to defy the rules that governed the English print trade.

“Naturally, Simmes wasted very little time in breaking the ban…”

A year before pirating Mascall’s gardening manual, Simmes printed a school book under copyright to Francis Flower and as punishment had all his type melted down. For printing a ballad against Sir Walter Raleigh, Simmes was admonished by the Bishop of London, who reminded him of the many opportunities the Bishop had to hang him. From 1598-1605, Simmes continually paid fines resulting from numerous infringements. On 1 June 1599, Simmes was one of the printers officially warned after Bishop Bancroft and Archbishop Whitgift issued a prohibition against erotic and satirical works, commonly called the ‘Bishops’ Ban’. Naturally, Simmes wasted very little time in breaking the ban by printing satires by John Weever, Nicholas Breton, and Cyril Tourneur. A letter circa 1607 explained that ‘Valentine Symmes who was now taken printing seditious books, has done the like seven times before this; first he printed the things of Martin Marprelate, after has been meddling in Popish books, he by forbearing has become worse’. Finally, in 1622 the Court of High Commissioners forbade Simmes from working as a master printer.

Remarkably, it is not Simmes’ transgressions that are most remembered. His legacy as the first printer of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Q1, or the so-called ‘bad quarto’), Richard II, Henry IV, Richard III, and Much Ado About Nothing cast a more benevolent glow over his less savoury exploits. Simmes is also remembered as the first printer of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (A1, also known as a ‘bad’ quarto), Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday, Jonson’s Hymenaei and The Coronation Triumph, Drayton’s Matilda the faire and Poems, and Marston’s The Malcontent. The rare survival of the pirated edition of Mascall’s A Booke of the Arte and Manner how to Plant and Graffe all Sorts of Trees stands as a testament to the diverse and combative career of Valentine Simmes.


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Nora Epstein is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews researching how religious imagery during the long English Reformation impacted book culture. In particular, she focuses on the impact and popular reception of printed English devotional images. After receiving her Masters in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, she earned a Masters in Book History from the University of St Andrews. Most recently, she was a Special Collections and Archives Librarian at DePaul University. You can follow her on Twitter at @NoraEpstein


Images used with permission from the University of St Andrews Library Special Collections and the Harvard University Arnold Arboretum Library.

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