The mystery of Ben Jonson’s 2nd Folio
In 1616 Ben Jonson gathered a collection of poems, plays and other works that would be published as a collected volume of Works. Jonson worked very closely with the press to execute a uniform work in style and format. This first folio collection, printed by William Stansby in 1616 and sold by Richard Meighen, was an important development in the treatment of English drama as serious literature, and would ultimately set the precedent for the production William Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio and Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s 1647 First Folio.
In 1631, London publisher Robert Allot and Jonson planned a second volume of plays as a follow-up volume to the 1616 “First Folio”. However, it is believed that this project failed and not many copies of this volume circulated. A copy of this aborted edition of three of Jonson’s plays: Bartholmew fayre, The divell is an asse, and The staple of newes was recently uncovered during the cataloguing of the Typographical English section. According to the ESTC, our copy is the fifth recorded in the U.K. and the only copy in Scotland.
The 1640/1641 edition of Jonson’s works, published after his death, muddies the waters somewhat, as the unsold copies of the 1631 edition were reissued with another volume of unpublished works. The 1631 remainders were re-run through the press to add a general title-page on the formerly blank A1, and so the title page of Bartholmew fayre is often found in a fragile state. The 1640/41 “Second Folio” has a troubled history of copyright litigation and business issues, which are detailed in an article by William P. Williams (“Chetwin, Crooke, and the Jonson Folios” Studies in Bibliography, Volume 30 (1977)). A copy of this edition was also rediscovered shortly after the 1631 edition: TypBL.C40DJ, which is wanting seven of the plays originally issued.
All of the plays in both TypBL.C31BJ and TypBL.C40DJ are individually and uniformly bound, probably by a late 19th or early 20th century bookseller, and so it is impossible to tell whether these two items are in fact the same or two different bibliographic items and presents an interesting problem for future research.
Both items were donated to the library in 1989, by Mr. J.B. Kitchin (1st class hons. Chemistry, 1933).