With Verses by Aphra Behn. A Fantastic, Large-Paper Copy

Behn, Aphra (1640-89); Aesop (ca. 620-564 B.C.); Barlow, Francis (1626?-1702)

Aesop’s fables with his life: in English, French and Latin. Newly translated. Illustrated with one hundred and twelve sculptures. To this edition are likewise added, thirty one new figures representing his life. By Francis Barlow.

London: Printed by H. Hills jun. for Francis Barlow, and are to be sold by Chr. Wilkinson at the Black-boy against St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleet-street, Tho. Fox in Westminster-hall, and Henry Faithorne at the Rose in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1687


Folio: 36.3 x 22.8 cm. [8], 40; 40; 17, 2-221, [3] p. COLLATION: π1(printed title), a2, B-L2; B-L2, B-Z2, Aa-Zz2, Aaa-Ppp2.

SECOND EDITION of Barlow’s Aesop. THE FIRST EDITION WITH THE VERSES OF APHRA BEHN ADDED TO THE PLATES. With 31 new plates illustrating the life of Aesop.

With an added engraved title page, undated, lettering partially re-engraved (see Johnson's Barlow No. 3.), an engraved frontispiece, engraved arms of the dedicatee, William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire; an engraved portrait of Aesop, 31 leaves of plates illustrating the life of Aesop, and 110 engraved vignettes illustrating the fables, with verses composed by Aphra Behn engraved on the plates. Nearly all of the plates illustrating the life of Aesop are signed by Thomas Dudley. This is quite possibly a large paper copy. Bound in contemporary English black morocco, paneled gilt, the spine gilt in eight compartments (one reserved for lettering), floral gilt roll on board edges, marbled endpapers, edges gilt; a few small, old scrapes and light rubbing to boards. An excellent and very large copy. The English "Life" is in the same setting as the small-paper copies of the 1666 edition, and probably constitutes a reissue of the same sheets. The French "Life" is a different translation from the 1666 version.

For this second edition of his magnificent production, Barlow commissioned Aphra Behn, then at the height of her popularity as a playwright and poet, to write verses to be engraved on the 110 plates illustrating the fables. In order to substitute Behn’s verses for those of Thomas Philipot (d. 1682), the lower area of the plate needed to be burnished down and the new verses engraved onto the plate in place of the earlier ones. “The workman doing the burnishing feared damaging the bottom border of the design above the verse: in many places traces of the tops of the letters in Philipot’s top lines remain. In a few instances a small new plate for the new verse had to be inserted.”(Hodnett)


For each of the 110 illustrations Behn composed a quatrain summarizing the fable and added an additional moralizing couplet. Her fame was such that Barlow needed to include only a succinct notice of Behn’s authorship in his letter “To the Reader”:


“The Ingenious Mrs. A. Behn has been so obliging as to perform the English Poetry, which in short comprehends the Sense of the Fable and Moral: Whereof to say much were needless, since it may sufficiently recommend it self to all Persons of Understanding.”


However, Behn’s poems are much more complex and convey far greater meaning than Barlow’s succinct statement might lead one to believe. And as Hodnett suggests, Behn “may have smiled wryly at [Barlow’s] ineloquence.”


“In his introduction to the Earl of Devonshire, Barlow claimed a special symbolic status for ‘his’ fables –‘a thing,’ he declared, ‘much practiced by the Ancient Greeks and Orientals’ who used them as ‘Portraitures in their Temples, design’d as Memorial Characters of Philosophic Notions to be the Subject of Adoration.’ In place of these antique idols, Barlow ostentatiously offered his English readers a ‘A Book ascrib’d to Aesop in a Plain and Simple Form.”


“Each a quatrain with a moralizing couplet tacked onto it, Behn’s fables deftly ‘perform[ed]’ the Aesopian premises that Barlow’s dedication had sketched. Behn feminized a number of Aesop’s fables, somewhat improbably turning the ‘kingly eagle’ who steals a young fox into a female, along with the kid whom a wolf woos away from its mother. A female ape begs in vain for an inch of a fox’s tail to ‘vaile’ her ‘bum’ and the fable of the dog in the manger is moralized as a story about how ‘Aged Lovers’ who ‘court young Beautys…/ Keepe off those joys they want the power to give.’ Behn’s verse not only bent fables with the crowbar of witty feminism she had perfected in the Restoration theater; writing in the last days of the Stuart monarchy, which she supported, Behn also included barely oblique references to the Stuart predicament. To the brief chronicle of a family of adders whom ‘the Porcupines deceiv’d/ Of their warme Nest which cou’d not be retriev’d,’ for example, she appended the observation that ‘Crownes got by force are often times made good,/ By the more rough designs of war and blood.’ Other fables, like that of the mouse who saves a lion from the snare by gnawing through the ropes, caution their reader not to ‘despise the service of a Slave’ since ‘an oak did once our glorious Monarch save.’ More than veiled political commentary, Behn’s fables fulfilled Barlow’s dedicatory promise that the ‘Plain and Simple Form’ of the Aesopian example ought to convey the impossibility of ‘relating truths.’… Since Behn’s verses were printed as captions to Barlow’s illustrations, throughout the book visual images were virtually soldered to Behn’s tendentious English words. The resulting figures effectively ironized –even parodied- the very notion of an indisputable emblem.”(Lewis, The English Fable, p. 22-24)

Wing (CD-ROM, 1996), A703