A Big Old Good Book

In the year 1800, Thomas Macklin published a huge bible.

[Bible in English.] The Old [and] The New Testament Embellished With Engravings from Pictures and Designs by the Most Eminent English Artists. Six volumes. London: Printed for Thomas Macklin, by Thomas Bensley, 1800. First edition.

It remains the largest bible ever printed (by letter-press; there’s a Hawaiian bible that’s much larger that was printed via a rather ingenious wheel fitted with rubber stamps). Embellished is an apposite descriptor; in the title it refers to the 70-odd engravings taken from painters such as Joshua Reynolds and Henry Fuseli, but it is a much more sumptuous production than that.

Reynolds's Holy Family. After his painting now at the Tate Gallery

Thomas Macklin caused a new type-face to be designed and paper to be made expressly for this edition, whose subscribers included most of the Royal Family. The cost to Macklin was reportedly over £30,000 (embellished, indeed). Much of the cost will have been in the production of the plates. At least he didn’t have to pay for a translation (King James took care of that).

Our set was bound by Charles Hering, the London bookbinder who was in several ways the successor of Roger Payne, the greatest English bookbinder of the late eighteenth century. He was patronized especially by Earl Spencer. Lord Byron through rather highly of him. The binding is embellished too, bound in straight-grained deep blue morocco with a dense gilt border, gilt inside dentelles running around all four sides of the paste-downs, and refined gilding to the spine with its six pairs of raised bands.

The present item is in certain ways unusual. First, the list of subscribers follows the text rather than precedes it, as is usual. Second, the text itself occupies five volumes rather than the six called for by the table of contents. Third, the sixth volume contains most of the plates en bloc, instead of having them integrated with the text as is usual. Thus, the set is six volumes in five, plus one. The half-title and title-page of volume six are used at the beginning of volume six (the plates), so nothing is missing. This was doubtless the preference of the original purchaser, who had it so sumptuously bound. A fourth point is the foot-notes, or rather their lack. At the lower edge of several pages foot-notes in a smaller type are to be found, commenting on the text, but nearly are cut off. Oddly, at least one page preserving a deckle edge at the bottom (5Z1 in vol. I) contains a cut-off foot-note, which appears to be unevenly inked. I find it difficult to believe that Hering or his customer would have trimmed the book, whose raison d’être, it might be said, is vastness. Was there an even larger-paper format destined, perhaps, for subscribers? Certainly some copies listed boast slightly larger dimensions than ours, though many cataloguers measure the size of the book rather than of the text-block, which is the dimension of true import. The bibliographies and library catalogues do not mention foot-notes.

Also of interest is the book-plate in all six volumes of George Alexander Baird, of Stichill (1861-1893).

The heir to a great coal and iron fortune built by his grandfather, Baird attended Eton for a year and Magdalene, Cambridge for two, but his great interest was horse-racing. Under the name Mr. Abington (or Squire Abington), Baird was a gentleman jockey, breeder and owner. Baird’s father died in 1870, and the young lad was famously spoiled by his mother. He spent his leisure time in the stables (looking, as a Freudian would doubtless say, for a father-figure) and once he came of age used his inheritance to fund his racing and a gallant lifestyle that drew attention from the British and American press; this only intensified when he took up with actress Lillie Langtry (better known for her affair with Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales).  He came to America in 1893 (it is fanciful to hope that he brought this bible with him) and fell ill while prize-fighting in New Orleans, where he died in the St. Charles Hotel. All this was followed with breathless articles in the New York Times, which make for good reading, e.g.:

At first it was believed that he was suffering from a heavy cold, which he contracted when he seconded Jim Hall in his fight with Fitzsimmons. It developed shortly into pneumonia. High fever followed, and his temperature has been as high as 106º. Two female nurses remain constantly by his side, besides his faithful valet, William Monk, and his private secretary, “Ed” Bailey. For two days now he has been delirious, and has taken scarcely any food. Whenever his valet enters the room the Squire in his delirious state jumps up and calls for his clothes, and if it were not for the valet holding him in bed he would injure himself. 

    March 18, 1893 (the day of his death).


Folio (18 1/2” x 14 11/16”, 470mm x 373mm).
Vol. I: π-2π2 A-7E2, binder’s blank [$1; +D2; –2M]. 281 leaves, pp. [viii], [554].
Vol. II: binder’s blank, π2 7F-13I2 [$1]. 240 leaves, pp. [iv], [676].
Vol. III: π2 †A-†8E2 [$1]. 334 leaves, pp. [iv], [664].
Vol. IV: π-2π2 †8F–†13G2 [$1]. 300 leaves, pp. [vi], [594].
Vol. V: binder’s blank, π2 ‡A-‡8S2 ‡8T2(–‡8T2) a-b2, binder’s blank [$1]. 365 leaves, pp. [iv], [718], [8].
Vol. VI: binder’s blank, π2, 67 plates, binder’s blank. 2 leaves, pp. [iv].

Was Creation on a Saturday?

As we’re now only ten days away from Christmas, I write today on Marshall’s Chronological tables:

Marshall, Benjamin and William Lloyd. Chronological Tables In which are contain’d not only all the chief things of Sacred History from the Creation of the World till Christ’s Time, but also all other the most Remarkeable Things of those times that are recorded in any of the Antient Writers now extant. For the Church Matters, They, are chiefly collected out of the Holy Scriptures: but not without such additions as are to be had out of Josephus. For the Other Matters, They are taken partly out of Africanus and Georgius Syncellus; and partly out of Eusebius, and St Jerom: not without consulting the most learned Joseph Scaliger; and those most eminent Chronologers of our own Country, Arch-Bishop Ussher and Sr John Marsham, and Mr Dodwell. But immediately as to Church Matters, for them we are most particularly indebted to the present Lord Bishop of Worcester: as well in what is contain’d in the Tables before, as also but more especially in the Appendix which his Lordship hath added in the end of the Third, and is continued in the Whole Fourth Table. All these Tables were compiled, and are here represented together. Eight sheets in four. Oxford: At the Theater [viz. Oxford University Press], 1712-1713 [1713].

These four magnificent tables, each composed of two sheets of super royal paper (ca. 25” x 17”) pasted long-end to long-end (thus 34” x 25”), chart the events – births, reigns, occurrences and the like – of the whole ancient Western world from Creation to the birth of Christ.

Benjamin Marshall was a domestic chaplain to the William Lloyd (1627-1717), Bishop of Worcester. Lloyd worked for many years to revise the chronology of James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, which established the creation at 6 pm on Saturday, 23 October 4004 B.C.; these tables also contain a calculation according to the Alexandrian Septuagint (LXX), which takes the year of creation as 5260. It is unclear to what extent Lloyd and Marshall worked together; Lloyd wrote the whole of the lengthy appendix on the life of Christ and the decades following his death (the second half of table 3 and all of table 4). Because some sources for the dates are extra-biblical, the tables ultimately become a chronology of the whole ancient world: Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Sicyon, Troy, Macedon, Rome all correlated with the bible by column. A major goal of the project was to establish the correct (fixed) dates for the major Christian festivals. Lloyd focused on the nativity (set as 25 December, 4 before A.D.), and calculated from years before and after A.D. (i.e., the traditional year of Christ’s birth, set by Dionysus Exiguus). Thus the tables mark the beginning of the calendar of festivals that governs much of the world today. Lloyd was mocked for his Ussherism, but he was a man of profound learning; the British Library has correspondence between Lloyd and Isaac Newton on the subject of the lunar year. The scale of the project’s ambition matches its product’s size.

For a detailed treatment, see Scott Mandelbrote, “‘The doors shall fly open’: Chronology and Biblical Interpretation in England, c. 1630-1730” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in England, c. 1530-1700, edd. K. Killeen, H. Smith, R.J. Willie, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 176-195, esp. 192-195.

ESTC T93609.

Maiden Voyage

Keeping a Web-log or "blog" is not something I ever thought I'd do as a bibliophile, but here I am. Ephemeral, meet durable.

In going through our holdings, I usually just pick up what I find most interesting. Thus there are stacks of books about British sea-weeds and countless books of commonplaces or common prayer that I ignore. When I deem it time to take my medicine, I pick one of these pieces of sea-weed up, and usually manage my find to be engrossed, or at least amused by something.

There's a pretty bible in English (KJV) that sits on a bottom shelf of a book-case obscured by the pretty carved table in the center of the shop. It is unpaginated, which at least makes collation a little easier. I thought the fore-edge was stained, but as I did the collation saw that the marks were polychrome and not at all random. A quick fan of the pages revealed a concealed fore-edge painting: Malmesbury Abbey in vol. I, Byland Abbey in vol. II.

Malmesbury Abbey. Vol. I, fore-edge.

And who is the "LP" whose gilt initials are on the covers?

Detail of the cover of vol. I. Gilt "LP"

The armorial bookplate in vol. I reads "[[ ]] Priestley", i.e., the forename has been erased. Some sleuthing in Burke's reveals that it is Lydia Priestely (née Lea), wife of Joseph Priestley (Esq. of White Windows in Yorkshire; not the famous dissenter, though the family is ultimately the same). Vol. II has the bookplate of Henry Priestley, Lydia and Joseph's second son. Now a plain bible (which turns out to be most rare; only four copies in institutional libraries, and one for sale at Blackwell – though bound with a Book of Common Prayer) is both attractive by reason of the fore-edge paintings (maybe Edwards of Halifax?) and sentimental: a mother's gift, or perhaps an inheritance, to a son who would not inherit White Windows.


Vol. I: binder’s blank, A-Mm8 Nn5(Nn6-8 bound into vol. II), binder’s blank [$4, –A1]. 285 leaves, pp. [1], blank, [2], [566].

Vol. II: binder’s blank, Nn3(i.e., Nn6-8) Oo-Bbb8 Ccc2 Ddd-Rrr8 Sss6 ∗A-∗L8 ∗M4 [$4]. 311 leaves, pp. [201], [2], blank, [234], [184]. Vol. II begins with Isaiah. New Testament with its own title page (Ddd1). Apocrypha begin on ∗A1.