The two satires will feature in the auction of selected furnishings, pictures, books and other items from Glyn Cywarch in Gwynedd, Wales, the family home of Lord Harlech, which will take place at Bonhams’ Knightsbridge rooms on March 29.
One is an early work of the dramatist John Marston, The Scourge of Villanie, which he first published in 1598* under the pseudonym ‘W Kinsayder’.
It appeared during a first brief blooming of satirical verse in England that was all too quickly curtailed by the censors, though not before making its literary mark. Influences on the plays of Shakespeare, notably in the mad speeches of King Lear, have been noted by later scholars, and Marston, in his turn, references Romeo and Juliet in The Scourge...
The Harlech copy is an example of what has traditionally been described as the third edition, one of two printed in 1599, but a revision to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) suggests that the imprint may be false – “A forgery; really London, 1600?”.
This suggestion may be borne out by the fact that the typographical ornaments used in the Harlech copy match those used in the other volume with which it is bound, The Letting of Humours Blood in the Head-vaine...
All three editions of Marston’s work are scarce as the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, and the Bishop of London, Richard Bancroft, had The Scourge... publicly burned at Stationers Hall in June 1599 – though which edition or editions is not clear.
The Letting... is the work of Samuel Rowlands, a writer of jest-books and pamphlets about whom little is known – but a man whose “career as a satirical observer of contemporary humors” attracted for his works the same unwanted censorial attention.
Rowlands’ books were ordered to “be burnt in the hall Kytchen [of the Stationers' Company]” in October 1600 and six months later 29 booksellers were fined half-a-crown each for for having handled and sold them.
Public outrage at the ban seems, however, to have worked to his advantage, for The Letting... was in 1603 re-published under a different title, Humors Ordinarie, where a Man may be Verie Merrie and Exceeding Well Used for his Sixpence and under the original title in 1611 and 1613.
In a 19th century binding, these rare survivors show some dampstaining but carry an estimate of £10,000-20,000.
* Only one copy of the first edition is traceable in auction records, the ex-Bradley Martin copy that when re-offered in 2015 as part of the magnificent Robert S Pirie library made $34,000 (£22,515) at Sotheby’s New York.