University of Virginia Library

The Suppression

Ralegh's biographers have been deeply concerned with the suppression of the History. Until 1894, when Arber printed Abbot's order, the most authoritative evidence for suppression was provided in a letter of John Chamberlain dated January 5, 1615: "Sir Walter Raleighs booke is called in by the Kinges commaundment, for divers exceptions, but specially for beeing too sawcie in censuring princes. I heare he takes yt much to hart, for he thought he had won his spurres and pleased the king extraordinarilie."[5] Even though Chamberlain's report was generally accepted before Brushfield and William Stebbing both questioned its reliability, several questions seemed to require explanation. Why was the Stansby 1614 published anonymously? If suppression took place, why were so many copies of this edition extant?

Before he knew of the suppression order, Brushfield took these two facts (anonymous publication and the existence of numerous copies) and in 1887 offered a conjecture:

Had the work been really suppressed, few copies of the original edition of 1614 ought now to be met with. As a matter of fact, it appears to be fully as common as any of the later ones. The British Museum Library possesses two copies, and there are two in my own collection. Suppression is inconsistent with — 1st, there being two distinct issues of the early edition, one with a list of errata on the last


Page 201
leaf facing the index, the other without any, but having the errata corrected in the text [emphasis added];[6] and, 2nd, the publication of another edition three years later.

A careful consideration of these facts will, I think, warrant our drawing the conclusion, that although the work was "called in" by royal command, such a command must have been soon rescinded. We may, however, advance a step beyond this. There appears to be something more than probability in the conjecture that all hindrances to the sale of the work were removed on the understanding that it should be published without the name of the author — anonymously — and this was effected in a very simple manner by omitting the title-page, and all copies of the original edition that have been preserved are destitute of one. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XIX, 406)

Stebbing, however, was unpersuaded. In 1891 he answered: "The surmise is ingenious; but it is very hard to believe that such an arrangement, if made, would have excited no discussion. Chamberlain's language, moreover, implies that the book was already in circulation. It would be exceedingly strange if its previous purchasers had the docility to eliminate the title-page from their copies, in deference to an order certainly not very emphatically promulgated." Stebbing concluded by impugning Chamberlain's reliability. "The readiest explanation is that Chamberlain, in his haste to give his correspondent early information, reported to him a rumour, and perhaps a threat, upon which James happily had not the hardihood to act."[7]

When Abbot's order was printed, thus vindicating Chamberlain, Brushfield in 1894 interpreted the order as confirmation of his original conjecture. "In a paper of mine . . . read in 1887 . . . , I expressed the opinion that as Ralegh's work was certainly not suppressed, some kind of compromise was probably arranged with the publisher, and this was effected by removing the title-page, and thus virtually converting it into an anonymous one. This view appears to be corroborated by the document which Prof. Arber has brought to light. Is it capable of any other explanation?" (N. & Q., 8th S., V, 442). In 1904, however, perhaps realizing that his original conjecture was scarcely supportable, he withdrew it, thus reopening the question of anonymous publication and suppression.

In my former paper I suggested that, in lieu of suppression, a compromise was probably agreed upon, by the elimination of the printed title-page, so as to render the work anonymous; and its absence in the


Page 202
first two editions seemed to bear this out
[emphasis added].[8] Stebbing points out the difficulties attending the enforcement of a royal order for the book to be called in, as it had been for some time in circulation; but the discovery of the de facto order rather adds to than diminishes the difficulty of assigning any reason for the absent title-page. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXXVI, 185)

In spite of Brushfield's 1904 withdrawal (admittedly less than candid), the damage had been done. In 1918 Firth took up Brushfield's 1887 conjecture and transformed it into fact, and embellished the fact. He wrote:

in spite of these objections to the History, the suppression was merely temporary. The government contented itself with the removal of the title-page, which contained the author's portrait as well as his name, and no alterations or omissions in the text were ordered.

This excision is not difficult to explain. Raleigh was a state prisoner condemned to death for high treason, owing his life to the King's mercy; respited, not pardoned. He was a man 'civilly dead,' as it was alleged. Yet he had the impudence to show that he was very much alive, not only by writing a great book, which might have been winked at, but by putting his name and even his portrait on the title-page. (Essays, p. 55)

Ralegh's more recent biographers (and others such as F. A. Mumby in his Publishing and Bookselling, rev. ed. [1954], p. 97) have accepted the story without question. It was repeated by Milton Waldman (Sir Walter Raleigh [1928], p. 193), D. B. Chidsey (Sir Walter Ralegh: That Damned Upstart [1931], p. 258), Edward Thompson (Sir Walter Ralegh: Last of the Elizabethans [1936], p. 259), Willard Wallace (Sir Walter Ralegh [1959], p. 250), and most recently by Margaret Irwin (That Great Lucifer [1960], p. 236). Thus a bibliographical conjecture has become an historical fact. And the "fact" in turn proved Ralegh's "impudence" and purportedly helped to explain James's wrath.

What then can be said about anonymous publication and suppression? If Camden's word for March as the month of publication is correct, the History was on sale for nine months before the suppression order; yet if the copies sold in this period possessed the printed title-page, why have none survived? Copies of this edition are plentiful; yet not one has been found containing a printed title-page.[9] Furthermore, the simple bibliographical


Page 203
fact is that there is no evidence that the printed title-page was cancelled. The preliminaries of the Stansby 1614 consist of two unsigned conjugate leaves. The first leaf contains Ben Jonson's "The Minde of the Front," verses which interpret the allegory of the engraved title-page. The second leaf bears the engraved title-page, which has the title "THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD" lettered across the center and the imprint at the bottom "At London Printed for Walter Bvrre. / 1614." In the preliminaries of all subsequent editions up to 1652, the printed title-page follows the engraved one. This order seems to have been the usual one for those books which possess both. In the "Jaggard 1617" the preliminaries consist of a gathering of two folds. The inner fold contains "The Minde of the Front" and the engraved title-page; the outer fold contains the printed title-page on the recto of the fourth leaf. In the Stansby 1617, a reprint of the 1614 and the first actually to possess a printed title-page, the title-page is a single leaf inserted after the engraving (in the Folger copy the conjugate blank leaf which would complete the outer fold may have been lost). In any case the important point is that the makeup of all subsequent editions to 1652 indicates that had the bound Stansby 1614 contained a printed title-page it would have followed the engraved one; thus evidence of cancel would be present in extant copies. No such evidence appears. It must be assumed that the History appeared in 1614 without a printed title-page.

The causes of James's anger and the suppression are not difficult to surmise. Ralegh lived only through the "mercy" of James. In this precarious position to pass fierce judgments on the crimes of monarchs,[10] to paint Henry VIII as the pattern of a "merciless Prince" (II, xvi-vii), to provide examples of the overthrow of tyrannies (VI, 50-75, 130-136), to speak of monarchy in terms suggestive of constitutional limitations (II, 339-352), and to lament for the monarch's ungrateful treatment of England's patriot soldiers, carefully excepting James, but the inference was plain (VII, 789-790), all this quite understandably irritated the inflexible champion of divine right. The attitude of James was certain to influence the practice of historians. Camden, with all his devotion to historical truth, stated in the preface to The History . . . of Princesse Elizabeth: "THE HIDDEN MEANINGS OF PRINCES . . . and if they worke any thing more secretly, to search them out, it is vnlawfull; it is doubtful & dangerous; pursue not therefore the search thereof."[11]

Ralegh, qua historian, took a bolder view. Whether the historian's subject matter was ancient or modern made no difference in terms of its moral, political, or practical relevance. All past events were seen within


Page 204
an immutable framework created by an immutable God, whose judgments determined history. Thus any example, no matter how ancient, had its contemporary meaning if one knew how to search for it. Since this view of history was a commonplace shared by Ralegh's contemporaries (who had not learned to judge "historically" in a universe of change or becoming), they could, as well as James, note Ralegh's judgments on the deeds of monarchs and draw their own conclusions or parallels; and drawing such parallels was dangerous. James had noted Ralegh's treatment of kings. In a letter to Sir Robert Carr, James alluded to "Sir Walter Ralegh's description of the kings that he hates, of whom he speaketh but evil."[12]

It is improbable that James "compromised" with a man he feared and rescinded his suppression order with the stipulation that the printed title-page be removed. Such a weak measure would not have changed the possible influence of Ralegh's remarks on monarchs, nor would it have rendered the work truly anonymous. Scarcely a chapter of the History is without a Raleghian observation on his own experience: his relations with Prince Henry, his defense of the daring landing at Fayal, his answer to charges of Puritanism, his praise of exploratory voyages. From internal evidence alone few authors could have been easier to identify by a Londoner. Also, what would have prevented a bookseller from revealing the identity of the author, then the most famous inmate of the Tower, in order to stimulate sales?

We may conclude that the suppression order most likely remained in force until Ralegh's conditional release from the Tower in 1616.