The Autobiography of Thomas Whythorne

By James M. Osborn; Thomas Whythorne | Go to book overview
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OF the five part-books of Whythorne 1571 Songes for three, fouer and five Voyces, three copies of each book are known, but no perfect set exists. The Henry E. Huntington Library at San Marino, California, has the only set with all five; they came from the Britwell Court Library, selling as lot 160 on 15 December 1919. Unhappily, each volume is mutilated to some degree; all lack title-pages and some other leaves, front and back, are missing but supplied in facsimile.

Christ Church, Oxford, has four of the books, a handsome well- preserved set consisting of the Tenor, the Triplex, the Medius, and the Bassus, but lacking the Contratenor volume. For many years it was suspected that the Contratenor had been stolen in the nineteenth century, but examination of a manuscript catalogue made by Dr. Charles Burney in November 1778, still preserved at Christ Church, shows that among the music kept on the '4th Shelf' was Whythorne Songes, and Burney added the note, 'N.B. but 4 Books'.

The British Museum also has but four of the part-books, lacking the Tenor volume.1 Several of them have missing or mutilated pages, supplied in facsimile. The Triplex and the Contratenor have the name 'J(?) Johnsone' and ' Thomas Johnsone' scribbled on the endpapers of each respectively. The Bodleian has only the Tenor volume, but it has the signature ' Thomas Johnson' several times on the final leaf. This argues that the Bodleian volume was once part of the set at the British Museum, a set once preserved in a Johnson family. Oddly enough, the Bassus book in the Huntington set also has the name ' Johnson Thomas' on its second leaf.

The only other volume known is a copy of the Contratenor book in the New York Public Library. It may be the copy formerly owned by E. F. Rimbault and described in the Bibliographical Miscellany (part 4, 1854) which is otherwise untraced. The book came to the New York Public Library with the Drexel Collection; a note inside the cover shows that it was purchased for £3. 2s. 6d. A possible relationship between this and other extant part-books may be found by some later investigator through examining the vellum leaf of a Latin manuscript with rubricated initials in which it is bound.

Purchased as lot 527 in the Oliphant sale, 24 Apr. 1873.


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