Rare Book of the Month March 2017

John Ogilby's Africa, 1670

The March rare book of the month has been chosen to coincide with a talk by Alan Ereira that took place in the Library on 2 March 2017. Alan spoke about his new book, The nine lives of John Ogilby, which deals with the life and works of John Ogilby (1600-1676), dancer, publisher, cartographer and royal cosmographer. Alan’s book also discusses in depth Ogilby’s Britannia, which was the first British road atlas and was printed in 1675. Intriguingly, the Middle Temple Parliament of 11 February 1675 states that “Mr. Ogilby shall have three ‘ginnys’ for his book of maps presented to the Library”. This must be Britannia, but there is no further mention of the book being present in the Library, and we do not have a copy of the work now. Archive.org has provided a digital version of the work here.

As we do not have a copy of Britannia in the Library, we have decided to feature another of his works: Africa, printed in London in 1670. The book is rich in illustrations and maps and contains the only known contemporary biography of Ogilby, to be found in the preface to the work and dated to 1670.

Ogilby was born in Scotland in 1600 and it is believed that his father was “admitted to the Merchant Taylors’ Company in London in 1606 and that Ogilby himself was likewise admitted, on 6 July 1629” (Dictionary of National Biography). Ogilby is reputed to have won money from a lottery run by the Virginia Company in 1612 which he used to pay off his father’s debts. If this anecdote is true, he would have been 12 years old, which seems remarkable to modern sensibilities. In 1619 he was apprenticed to a dancing master, a career he pursued until 1621, when he was seriously injured in a production of a Ben Jonson masque; he continued to teach dancing, however, until at least 1632. In 1637 Ogilby can be found in Dublin, opening Ireland’s first theatre and being appointed Master of the Revels there. “In 1649 [after having learned Latin at Cambridge] Ogilby published his first translation of Virgil”. He continued to publish his own translations of classical works from 1651 to 1668. These folio books are lavishly illustrated with engraved plates produced by the leading artists of the day: Francis Cleyn, Wenceslaus Hollar, William Faithorn