The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

A Pamphlet War in England, 1641-1643

A guest post by Brittney Washington

Since my time as the 2017-2018 Nadia Sophie Seiler Rare Materials Resident is quickly approaching an end, I’ve been taking some time to look back on what I’ve learned about the amazing collection here at the Folger Shakespeare Library. My work focused specifically on cataloging printed materials found in the Wing bibliography (known formally as Short title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English books printed in other countries, 1641-1700). Given the date range of this collection, it may not be surprising to learn that many of these materials are centered around the events leading up to and during the English Civil War. Pamphlets were being printed and disseminated from every perspective and varied in content and tone. In addition to factual pamphlets meant to keep the masses abreast of the developing situation, a reader could find laws, wrathful polemics, and of course biting satire. All were being produced and disseminated in pamphlet form at this time.

A particularly interesting exchange I came across while cataloging was the pamphlet war between John Taylor and Henry Walker. Taylor, a waterman turned poet and satirist was on the side of the King. Before the English Civil War, Taylor had written such pieces as Sir Gregory Nonsence his newes from no place, a delightful satire which starts off with the address “Most Honorificicabilitudinitatibus….” Walker, an ironmonger and unlicensed preacher, strongly believed in the cause of the Parliamentarians. While the collection at the Folger has more items written by Taylor, they engaged in a brutal pamphlet war against each other on the topic of their differing views of the political climate and it often got personal. The earliest exchange we have evidence of at the Folger is Taylor’s A reply as true as steele, to a rusty, rayling, ridiculous, lying libel. I’ll let you decipher the woodcut on your own, as it had me clutching my pearls when I realized what I was looking at.

Title page for A reply as true as steele, to a rusty, rayling, ridiculous, lying libel

This pamphlet is in response to Walker’s Answer to a foolish pamphlet entitled, A swarme of sectaries and schismatiques, which was yet another response to a pamphlet written by Taylor. The contents, written in verse, disparages not only Henry Walker as a person (and does so with some ferocity), but also his political and religious views. The exchange between the two carries on into 1642, with the last exchange in the Folger collection being Taylor’s A seasonable lecture, or A most learned oration, which features a woodcut illustration portraying Henry Walker preaching in a tub.1 Written as though it were a sermon from Walker himself, it is again a ferocious undermining of the man and his beliefs.

Title page of A seasonable lecture, or A most learned oration. Image downloaded from Luna.

If you’re curious to know what other works we have by these two authors, I encourage you to search either Taylor, John, 1580-1653 or Walker, Henry (Ironmonger). Of course, many of these works were originally published as anonymous or under a pseudonym,2 so as the collection continues to be cataloged, more of these hidden gems will be found in the vault. Time will tell what additional treasures and burning insults this collection will reveal. I’m certainly going to stay in touch with the catalogers here so I can find out.

Brittney Washington is the 2017-2018 Nadia Sophie Seiler Rare Materials Resident at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her professional focus is cataloging hand-press era printed materials and other rare and special collection resources. While at the Folger she has been nurturing a particular fondness for pamphlets and broadsides published in the years leading up to and during the English Civil Wars.

  1. “Tub preacher” was a common pejorative term for dissenting preachers.
  2. For example, John Taylor sometimes signed his work simply as “the water poet” or other times as Thorny Ailo.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)