Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670-1740: Hackney for Bread

By Brean S. Hammond | Go to book overview

1
Literary Property

Aphra Behn play The Rover was entered to its publisher John Amery in the Stationer's Company Register on 7 July 1677.1 In its first printed edition, the play includes an intriguing postscript, composed in a different type-face from the text itself and crammed into a small space between the last few lines of the epilogue and the 'finis', suggesting that it was hastily added to the page just before publication:

This play had been sooner in print, but for a report about the town . . . that 'twas Thomaso altered; which made the booksellers fear some trouble from the proprietor of that admirable play, which indeed has wit enough to stock a poet, and is not to be pieced or mended by any but the excellent author himself. That I have stolen some hints from it may be a proof, that I valued it more than to pretend to alter it, had I had the dexterity of some poets, who are not more expert in stealing than in the art of concealing . . . I might have appropriated all to myself, but I, vainly proud of my judgment, hang out the sign of Angellica (the only stolen object) to give notice where a great part of the wit dwelt, though if the play of the novella were as well worth remembering as Thomaso, they might (bating the name) have as well said, I took it from thence. I will only say the plot and business (not to boast on't) is my own . . . though had this succeeded ill, I should have had no need of imploring that justice from the critics, who . . . would doubtless have given me the whole honour on't. Therefore I will only say in English what the famous Virgil does in Latin; I make verses, and others have the fame.2

What exactly is going on here? How could Henry Herringman, the formidable proprietor of Killigrew Thomaso, act to prevent the

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1
A Transcript of the Registers of the Worshipful Company of Stationers from 1640 to 1708 A.D., ed. G. E. Briscoe Eyre and C. R. Rivington, 3 vols. ( London, 1913; repr. New York: Peter Smith, 1950), iii. 39.
2
Aphra Behn, The Rover ( 1677), ed. Janet Todd (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), 248. Todd's editing is faulty here. She does not indicate, by the use of italics, that, 'the play of the novella' is a reference to Richard Brome play The Novella ( 1632); so that the passage is confusing for the modern reader and some of its force is lost.

-19-

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