“The Beginning, Progress and End of Man:” Rare Harlequinades of Emblems Acquired

The title page of the J. Deacon edition, a recent purchase by Cotsen, is printed parallel to the folds of the harlequinade. Adam is wearing a fig leaf. (Cotsen unprocessed)

Among the earliest moveable books are harlequinades, whose illustrations metamorphose when the flaps at the upper and lower edges are opened up and down.  The most familiar examples illustrated key scenes in popular pantomimes staged in the late 1760s and early 1770s and a list of these “turn-ups” appeared in the 1775 catalogue issued by print seller Bennett and Sayers, where they were described as “moral and instructive Emblems for the Entertainment of Children” rather than promoting them as the novelties they were.

Calling them “emblems” might have been a tactic to reassure prospective customers that turn-ups  extracted morals from plays regarded as less than improving. This language may also alludes to their sober ancestor that had no connection with the stage, The Beginning, Progress and End of Man, a small illustrated collection of  emblems or “speaking pictures” from the 1650s.  The license of May 30 1650 called it  “a small tract of several foulded pictures…in verse.” Probably written to fit the panels and flaps, neither the illustrations or verse was polished enough to get the attention of print curators or literary critics.  Nevertheless, it has  survived (see below), while the Sayers edition,  “Adam and Eve,” the title presumably taken from the first panel’s subject has not.

Cotsen has acquired another early edition of The Beginning, Progress and End of Man at the  Justin G. Schiller Ltd. Sale at Heritage Book Auctions in Dallas, Texas  December 16 2020.   It is the stated third edition of the text in five panels and the only one with contemporary hand-coloring.   The five  metamorphosing subjects are Adam (to Eve, to mermaid), Abel (to Abel, to Cain killing Abel), the lion (to griffin, to eagle and child) the youth (to heart, to money bags), and man (skeleton).  The block of the rampant lion faces right and has the face of a man that could be Charles I..  Below  is the back of sheet with all the flaps open, followed by a shot of the other side with center five images visible.Dating the Cotsen copy more precisely than between 1671 and 1704 is not possible, given the available information about the publisher.  Two J. Deacons traded from the Angel in Gilt spur street.  The publisher could be either  Jonah Deacon, a broadside ballad monger, who teamed up with P. Brooksby,  J. Blare, and and J. Back to undercut the five Ballad Partners, or John Deacon who also dealt in cheap print from the Angel as well as the “Rainbow, Holborn, a little above St. Andrews Church.”  For now not possible to assign priority to this or the J. Deacon edition at the Bodleian Library

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The Beginning, Progress and End of Man has only begun to attract attention within the last fifteen years.  Malcolm Jones reproduced the British Library’s 1650 edition with flaps closed and a transcription of the text in The Print in Early Modern England: An Historical Oversight (2010) as an early example of “lift-the-flap” pictures.  He correctly connected it to the better known genre of anatomical sheets, but passed over its ties with emblem literature for children.  It seems to have been unknown to the authors of  classic studies on  17th-century English children’s books like William Sloane’s 1955 bibliography, Warren W. Wooden’s Children’s Literature of the English Renaissance (1986), and  C. John Sommerville’s The Discovery of Childhood in Puritan England (1992).

Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s articles and monograph Interactive Books: Playful Media Before Pop-ups (2018) on the long history of genres like the harlequinade which are hybrids of books, toys, and games, has put Beginning, Progress, and End of Man on the map. The union catalogue on her website Learning as Play: An Animated, Interactive Archive of 17th– to 19th-Century Narrative Media by and for Children has the most complete census of surviving copies: the one in four panels published by B. Alsop and T. Dunster (1650) at the British Library in the Thomason Tracts and at Pennsylvania State University Library; the five-panel E. Alsop and T. Dunster edition of 1654 at Harvard; and  the five-panel J. Deacon edition ca. 1688  purchased by antiquarian Anthony à Wood at the Bodleian Library.   The details of the Cotsen copy will be sent along shortly.

Reid Walsh’s research also shows that The Beginning, Progress, and End is an intriguing but little understood text that must have been wider circulation than the census of printed editions can possibly would indicate. We know this because of the survival of manuscript copies made by boys and girls in England, North America, and Scotland, none of them labored copies, all of them individual as their creators, who might be considered outsider artists…

Elizabeth Winspear’s four-panel version with a polka-dotted lion (Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, Duke University Library).

A Scottish boy’s handiwork from the 1820s.   His lion’s eyes seem to glow.  The bouquet is entirely his.   The baby in the eagle’s claws in the detail below is particularly well-dressed. (Cotsen unprocessed manuscripts)

1 thought on ““The Beginning, Progress and End of Man:” Rare Harlequinades of Emblems Acquired

  1. Oh how marvellous to obtain another five-part and coloured! Beginning, Progress and End Of Man. I look forward to being able to exam it when the rare books library is open to readers!

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