Monday, 14 December 2009

The Fall of Mortimier, Wilke's Editions

The Fall of Mortimer (1731) is a revision of an anonymous play King Richard the Third, with the Fall of Mortimer, Earl of March. An Historical Play (London: J. Hindmarsh, 1691), based on the life of Roger de Mortimer (1287?–1330). Mortimer fell from power during the regency of Edward III (b.1312, ruled 1327–37), being stripped of his position, hanged, drawn and quartered in 1330.

In the 1731 play Mortimer’s period of misrule is presented as a parallel to contemporary politics, thereby suggesting that the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole ought to face Mortimer’s fate. The many parallels between the two treacherous Prime Ministers must have been obvious to contemporary play-goers and readers. It was certainly clear to the government, which acted to suppress it, and it was made perfectly clear to anyone who may have had any doubt about the application in Remarks on an Historical Play, called, The Fall of Mortimer (1731).

The play’s attack on corrupt ministers, originally aimed at Walpole, was redirected by John Wilkes (1725–97) at the then Prime Minister, John Stuart, Third Earl of Bute (1713–92). The dedication to Bute is dated 15 March 1763; the play was published within two weeks of this date, and Bute resigned as Prime Minister on 8 April 1763.

Actually, 1763 was a pretty busy year for Wilkes. As Wikipedia explains Wilkes was charged with seditious libel over his attack on George III in issue 45 of The North Briton. The King ordered general warrants to be issued for the arrest of Wilkes and the publishers on 30 April 1763.

The combination of Wilkes’ dedication, Bute’s resignation, and the general warrants issued for the arrest of Wilkes and the publishers, probably contributed greatly to the success of the 1763 editions. Of these editions there are four. In my Bibliography (2004), 728–29, they are numbered"

De.1.4 The Fall of Mortimer: An Historical Play, Dedicated, to the Right Honourable John Earl of Bute, &c. &c. &c … (London: G. Kearsly, 1763). [ESTC: n63360].

De.1.5 The Fall of Mortimer: An Historical Play, Dedicated, to the Right Honourable John Earl of Bute, &c. &c. &c … (London: G. Kearsly, 1763). [ESTC: t35252].

De.1.6 The Fall of Mortimer: An Historical Play, Dedicated, to the Right Honourable John Earl of Bute, &c. &c. &c. The Second Edition … (London: G. Kearsly, 1763). [ESTC: t35253].

De.1.7 The Fall of Mortimer. An Historical Play. Revived from Mountfort, with Alterations. Dedicated to the Right Honourable John Earl of Bute, &c. &c. &c. … (Dublin: Printed for Peter Wilson, 1763). [ESTC: t56756].

I have had copies of all of these now. In a moment of penury I sold three of them—De.1.4, De.1.5 and De.1.7—to the Swift Collection at Monash University (i.e., the Matheson Library Rare Books collection). But I recently bought a copy of De.1.6 to keep my remaining copy of De.1.5 company. (Getting replacement copies of De.1.4 and De.1.7 is not a very high priority. Which is just as well really, since I only know of two copies of De.1.4!)

Anyway, I thought I'd post a few images of the two editions I have side-by-side to show the similarities and subtle differences in type-setting.

Note that this diamond-shaped tailpiece is made up of thirty-three separate type ornaments (click on the image for an enlargement). Either the printer of De.1.5 (left) kept this group of type ornaments bound together for re-use on De.1.6 (right), or he went to a lot of trouble to duplicate exactly the group used on De.1.5.

It is curious then that the printer didn't also reproduce the factotum—the decorative surround for the initial letter on page five (second image above)—that was used on De.1.5 when they printed De.1.6, because it is made up of almost as many separate type ornaments (twenty-eight on De.1.5 (left), twenty on De.1.6 (right)) as the tailpiece.

[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared (again) I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

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