Elizabethan and Jacobean Studies

By Frank Percy Wilson | Go to book overview

The Complaint of Thomas Digges

FRANCIS R. JOHNSON

MUCH of our knowledge of the costs of publishing certain types of books during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I comes from the court records resulting from transactions that later became the subjects of legal controversy; hence, the relevant documents happen still to be preserved in the Public Record Office or are extant in some collection of sixteenth-century manuscripts.1

This essay is concerned with the story of the 'privately published' second editions of two mathematical and scientific treatises by extremely popular writers, Leonard Digges and his son Thomas--the Pantometria (first published in 1571 by Thomas Digges and printed by Henry Bynneman; second edition printed in 1591 by Abel Jeffes) and the Stratioticos (first published by Thomas Digges in 1579 and printed by Henry Bynneman; second edition printed by Richard Field in 1590).

The story is one which involves speculation for a profitable rise in price of a greatly sought-after technical publication, and a clever attempt to defraud the author of his just profits--an attempt that counted upon political favouritism and intrigue to enable the perpetrators to escape punishment.

The principal facts are most succinctly and comprehensively set forth in the letter Thomas Digges sent to Lord Burghley, entitled: 'Plaine praesumptions or rather proofs that Leonard Keare scrivener or his confederates meant not only to cozen and deceive Thomas Digges esquire of 2 or 3 hundred pounds debt, but also to have drawn him by device into treble forfeitures by penal statutes. And now seek to draw in Mr. Astelie the pensioner and his friends to countenance their wicked cozening plot: And fully to defame the said Digges.'2 Further confirmation appears in another letter to Lord Burghley: 'The true state of my proceedings in the matter

____________________
1
See, for example, Margaret Dowling, "'The Printing of John Dowland'"s Second Booke of Songs or Ayres', The Library, 1932, xii. 365-80; and Charles Sisson, "The Judicious Marriage of Mr. Hooker and the Birth of 'The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity'", 1940.
2
MS. Lansdowne 69, ff. 133 and 134. For the reader's convenience, I have modernized spelling and punctuation in quotations from sixteenth-century documents.

-36-

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