Chapter XXIV The Emblem Books, Van der Noot, Erasmus, Hadrianus Junius, Whitney, Plantyn, Jacob Cats.
The word ‘emblem,’ in Latin, ‘emblema,’ is from the Greek verb, ‘emballein,’ to lay or throw in, and so emblem means the representation of some idea, thought or story; for instance, a crown is called the emblem of royalty, the balance is the emblem of justice, a scepter the emblem of power.
Books containing nothing else but a number of those emblems, illustrations, wood cuts or copperplates, with mottos at the head and an explanatory poem underneath, became very popular in the sixteenth century, and this is easily understood. The Rennaissance brought the wisdom for life which was found in the riches of Greek and Roman Literature, not in a systematic and philosophical form - the time for a modern philosophy had not yet come, and the philosophical system of the Reformation was too much different from, and opposed to that of the classic humanism - but in the didactic form of adages, proverbs, ‘dictes and sayings,’ or, however, they may have been called. Caxton's first book, printed in England, was the ‘dictes and sayinges;’ Erasmus' Adages, in the first edition containing only 800, grew in the later editions to the number of 4,000; Hadriamus Junius, in his volume of Adages added to them several hundreds not yet found in Erasmus.
As soon as the art of printing was advanced far enough to reproduce illustrations; painters and en-
gravers, pupils of the schools of Marc Antonio, Albrecht Durer, Lucas van Leyden, found a new field for their art in producing pictures with which the printers might illustrate proverbs and adages; poets then wrote their explanations in verses, and so the emblems were born. What case-books are for the law student today, the emblem-books were for general education, and especially for the development of wisdom in life, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The luxurious editions of the best authors, illustrated with the best pictures, and to be found in the family library of all wealthy people are today what the emblem books were during the first centuries of modern history. And those whose refined taste and spiritual aristocracy disliked the vulgarity of the Howleglass (Ulenspiegel) literature, found their full satisfaction in the luxury of emblem books. The prevailing life system of the nations in Europe was still that of the Christian Church, and this system was soon explained more clearly, more logically, and more elaborately by the Reformers than ever before. For the foundations of this system as a whole all the reviving literature of Greece and Rome was of little or no value. But for the common wisdom of daily human life, the heathen literature of Rome and Greece produced a richness of scattered and separate proverbs and devices, adages and practical lessons, parables and stories, which the great mass of the rising democracy enjoyed immensely. Even Theodore Beza, the intimate friend and successor of Calvin, saw this blessing which there was in the wisdom of the old classic world and published his ‘Portraits and Emblems’ in accordance with what people needed and enjoyed along that line for their social life. Soon the emblem-literature got an illustrious
Kopergravure door Michael Natalis naar P. Dubordieu.
name all over Europe. ‘With Andreas Alciatus,’ says Green,1 ‘in 1522, we may date the rise of the emblem-literature and its popularity; with Paolo, Giovio, Bocchius and Sambucus, its continuance; with Jacob Cats, its glory, that still shines and has lately been renewed.’2
In England this emblem-literature was not less popular than in the other parts of Europe, and here we find again the influence of Holland on English literature. The first emblem-book in English was the ‘Theatre of voluptuous worldlings,’ of Jan van Der Noot, the Dutch nobleman, whose influence will be treated more elaborately in connection with Spenser. It seems that Henry Green, in his beautiful work on Geffrey Whitney's ‘Choice of Emblemes,’ did not know Van der Noot at all, probably because the question Spenser-Van der Noot at that time was not yet as prominent as in our present time. But other English authors, as for instance, Charles H. Herford, in his Studies on the literary relations between Germany and England (p. 369), recognizes as a mere matter of fact that Van der Noot gave to England the first English emblem-book.3 It was printed at London in the year 1569.
One of the most famous English emblem-books, however, is that of Geffrey Whitney, entitled ‘A Choice of Emblemes’ ‘and other devices for the moste parte gathered out of sundrie writers Englished and Moralized and divers newly devised,’ ‘Imprinted at Leyden in the house of Christopher Plantyn, by Francis Raphelengius, 1586.’
This remarkable book, one of the most artistic
examples of book printing during the sixteenth century, combining its 248 wood cuts with the same number of devices and poems, has been reprinted in facsimile and provided with elaborate introductions and explanations, by Henry Green, London, Lovell Reeve & Co., 1866.
Little is known about the author of this splendid work, as it lies before us in the beautiful edition of Mr. Green, an edition which makes the name of Mr. Green immortal in the history of literature. But what we, after the researches of Mr. Green, know about Geffrey Whitney, brings him and his work into immediate contact with the Netherlands.
The work is dedicated to ‘the right honorable my singular good Lord and Maister Robert Earle of Leicester, etc., Lorde Lieutenant and Captaine General of her Majesties forces in the lowe countries.’ It is ‘imprinted at Leyden in the house of Christopher Plantyn, by Francis Raphelengius, 1585.’ The press of Plantyn, at Leyden, was at that time one of the most famous in the world, first at Antwerp, later at Leyden. The ‘French historian, De Thou, on a journey to Flanders and Holland, in 1576, visited the workshops of Plantyn and saw twenty-seven presses in action, although, as he remarks, this famous printer was embarrassed in his affairs; but carrying out his well known motto, Labor et Constantia (work and steadiness), he re-established his fortunes. The catalogue of Plantyn's publications compiled by M.M.A. de Backer and Ch. Buelens gives the titles of 1030 works which had their origin from his types and presses.’1 From the time when Christopher Plantyn commenced his business at Antwerp, in 1555, until his death at Leyden, in 1589, there issued from his press
nearly thirty editions of the chief emblem-books of the day, all executed with the utmost care, some possessing great beauty of execution and one or two equal, if not superior, to any similar work of that age. In considerable part it is due to the coöperation of Christopher Plantyn and his son-in-law, Francis Raphelengius, that the poems of Geffrey Whitney have been preserved in so splendid form. Of the 248 wood-cuts in Whitney's work, at least 225 were used before by Plantyn in the emblem-books of Andreas Alciatus - the founder of the emblem-literature - Claude Paradin, John Sambucus, Hadrianus Junius and Gabriel Faerni, all emblem-books published by Plantyn before Whitney's ‘Choice of Emblemes’ and only twenty-three is the number of the ‘divers newly devised.’1 Among the five sources of Whitney's work, just mentioned, we see the name of Hadrianus Junius, the famous Dutch humanist, whose emblem-book was eight times reprinted by Plantyn, a book from which Whitney derived twenty emblems. Some of the intimate friends of Whitney are the Englishmen, Philip Sydney and Edmund Spenser, as well as some of the most learned Dutchmen. ‘A fast friend of Whitney, Jan Douza, the elder, was the first who presided over the newly-founded University at Leyden; another friend, Bonaventura Vulcanius, was the Greek Professor at the same time; and Justus Lipsius for thirteen years, until 1590, filled the chair of history. Raphelengius, too, by whom the ‘Choice of Emblemes’ was imprinted, had taught Greek in Cambridge when Whitney was a student, or shortly before, and thus we have all the elements of the acquaintance and friendship between our poet and several of the eminent men by whom Leyden was adorned.2
Jan Douza, Bonaventura Vulcanius, and Peter Colvins of Bruges, wrote poems on the Emblems of Whitney. So we find in Whitney's life and in his work one of the best links between the most learned and literary men of England, and of the Netherlands, during the last half of the sixteenth century.
If Van der Noot gave to England its first English emblem-book, Whitney's Choice of Emblemes, probably one of the most beautiful in English Literature, was written under the suggestions of his Dutch friends and printed at the press of Plantyn.1
Half a century later, another English Emblembook was published, mentioned by Green,2 as Heywood's Pleasant Dialogue, etc., extracted from Jacob Catsius, 1637. Now Jacob Cats (1577-1660) was the well-known and most popular poet of the Netherlands, about whose life and work there are articles or chapters in any book on the history of Dutch Literature. During more than 150 years the poetical works of ‘Father Cats’ were found in every Dutch home, providing the Dutch families with that abundance of wisdom of life for which this prince of didactic poetry has an immortal fame. ‘Britain,’ says Green, ‘can advance no early claims to originality in the production of emblem-books, and scarcely improved the works of this kind, which she touched upon and translated, yet she took no inconsiderable interest in emblem-literature; and during the century, beginning with Whitney and ending with Arwaker - if we except Jacob Cats, who died in 1660 in his eightythird year, and who to this day is spoken of familiarly yet affectionately in Holland as “Vader Cats” -
our country may be said to have marched at least with equal steps by the side of other European nations.’1 As far as Jacob Cats is concerned, Green says: ‘A splendid tribute to his excellence has lately been supplied by the publication of ‘Moral Emblems from Jacob Cats and Robert Farlie,’ London, 1862. ‘The beautiful illustrations by John Leighton and the translation by the editor Richart Pigot, are contributions in all respects worthy of emblem-art and deserve the admiration of all lovers of the old proverbial philosophy and literature.’2 During the eighteenth century the Emblems of ‘father Cats’ were so well known in England that the famous painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his youth took delight in studying them. In the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, article on Jacob Cats, we read: ‘His book of Emblems was a great favorite with Sir Joshua Reynolds in his childhood, being often styled The Household Bible.’ Those emblems certainly must have inspired the young Reynolds with love for pictures representing fine ideas and lessons, and nobody knows how much they may have contributed to the wonderful inspiration which in later time made a great painter out of the emblem-studying boy.
One more emblem-book, printed in the Netherlands and later translated into English, is mentioned by Green - viz., Hugo Hermann's Pia desideria, Gemitus, Vota, animae poenitentiae, etc. (Pious aspirations, Groans, Vows, and Sighs of a penitent soul, etc.), published at Antwerp in 1628 with wood cuts; and again in 1632 with Bolswert's beautiful copperplates. It was Englished by Edmund Arwaker, M.A., in 1686, and illustrated with forty-seven copperplates; but the omissions and alterations of the original, render it scarcely deserving the name of a translation.3
Henry Green, Whitney's Choice of Emblemes
. A facsimile reprint with explanations. London. Covell Reeve & Co., 1860.
Green alludes here to the English editions of Emblems of Cats, in 1862.
Green, Whitney, p. 268. August Vermeulen, Leven en Werken van Jonkheer Jan van der Noot
. Antwerp, 1899, p. 47.
Green, Ibid, Introduction, p. LIV.
About the life and works of Whitney see more elaborate treatment in Green's edition of the Choice of Emblemes.
Green, Ibid, Introduction, p. XXII.
Green, Introduction, p. XXII.
Green, Introduction, XXII.