In 1657, London stationer William Lee issued the fifth (sixth) edition of Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives. of the Noble Greeks and Romans. In addition to the usual suspects, Lee added twenty biographies of people Plutarch never wrote a word about, including (in translations mostly by the playwright George Gerbier d’Ouvilly) Aristotle, Homer, Sappho, Charlemagne, Tamburlaine, Atabalipa King of Peru, and Johann Gutenberg, with a two-page paean celebrating his life and "the Excellency of the Art of Printing."
"Amongst the rarest and laudablest Inventions which were derived by the Ingenuity of man, we must needs confess, The Art of Printing may at present justly claim the best and highest esteem; whereby all the other Arts and Sciences are so plainly and accurately rendered unto us; and whereby two men, in one day, may dispatch and Print off more Books then several men could before have written in a whole year. This Art (as it is generally believed) was first invented in Moguntia, or Mentz, a City in Germany, in the year of our Lord one thousand four hundred forty and two, by John Guttemberg, a German Knight from honorable Family; who first of all did there make the experiment of the said Art, so did also make the first trial of that Ink which to this very day is used by the Printers: Although some other Writers do affirm that John Faustus, and Yves Shefey, two years before invented this said Art, and so gave them praise of it; And only say that this John Guttemberg, John Mantel, John Pres, Adolph Rusch, Peter Shesser, Martin Flache, Uldric Hen, John Froben, Adam Peter, Thomas Wolff, and others did all at once very much perfect this said Art of Printing, which they did spread throughout all Germany and the adjacent Countries. And indeed Conradus did use this Art at Rome, in the year fourteen hundred. In the beginning of which Profession on the grounds of it were known but to a very few persons; for at such times as they had any thing to Set, they brought their Characters with them in bags, and when they had done, they carried them back again. And in those daies, both the Printers, and such as did make the Letter-Moulds, were in great repute, wealthy and opulent, and reverenced as Noble personages, making a vast profit by the said Art. But at present, by reason of the infinite multitude of Books which are printed, and that all men are permitted to profess that Science, although they have never so little insight in it; it so fals out, that both the composers and Printers, reap thereby neither profit no praise, but only imply their labour and time to the benefit of the Publick, with a very little profit or Thanks to themselves…"
Encouraged "to venture upon a new and fifth impression," Lee, desirous to render it "both acceptable to the present Age, and famous to Posterity," added the "quintessence" of André Thevet’s Pourtraits et vies des Hommes illustres Grecz, Latin, et Payens (Paris, 1584), as they were "the very marrow of his observations during his twenty three yeers travails and Peregrinations, throughout the chiefest and remotest parts in the world … (never as yet extant nor seen in English)."
Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch, first appearing in 1579 and immediately celebrated, was a major resource for Shakespeare, providing the background material for Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus. More than that, however, North's "long passages of … magnificent prose" were so impressive that Shakespeare rendered them "into blank verse with little change" (F. E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion). Halliwell-Phillipps asserts of North's translation that “it is one of the books that can positively be said to have been in [Shakespeare's] own hands.”__________
PLUTARCH. The Lives of the noble Grecians & Romans, compared together by that grave learned Philosopher & Historiographer Plutarch of Chæronea. Translated out of Greek into French by James Amiot … With the Lives of Hannibal & Scipio African; translated out of Latin into French, by Charles del’Escluse, and out of French into English by Sir Thomas North, Knight. Hereunto are added the Lives of Epaminondas, of Philip of Macedon, of Dionysius the Elder, Tyrant of Sicilia, of Augustus Cæsar, of Plutarch, and of Seneca: with the Lives of nine other excellent Chieftains of Warre: collected out of Æmylius Probus, by S. G. S. and Englished by the aforesaid Translator. And now also in this Edition are further added, the Lives of twenty selected eminent Persons, of ancient and latter Times; translated out of the Work of that famous Historiographer to the King of France and Poland, Andrew Thevet … London, Printed by Abraham Miller, and are to be sold by William Lee … 1657.
Folio, mostly in sixes, pp. , 443, 446-1031, , 76, , with an engraved title, dated 1656, designed by Francis Barlow, and integral engraved portrait vignettes. Title printed in red and black. Separate title pages for ‘The Lives of Epaminondas [etc.]’, dated 1656, and for ‘Prosopographia: or some select Pourtraitures and Lives … by Andrew Thevet’, dated 1657 (mistakenly bound before the ‘Notes and Explanations’ at 3T1); with an advertisement leaf and thirty-four pages of index.
Wing P 2633.
Image courtesy of Bernard Quaritch Ltd, currently offering this title, with our thanks.