Why? Glad you asked… This book came to mind so readily because while previously cataloging it, I realized that I’d seen this illustration before – at least reproductions of it — in several modern editions of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. This woodcut first appeared in the 1616 quarto edition of the play and was subsequently recycled in a number of seventeenth-century editions of the play. Somewhere along the way, it seems to have become something of a visual icon of the play. Faustus is depicted in the middle of his magic circle, book in hand, at the moment when his conjurations have summoned Mephistopheles, depicted as a horned demon with a forked tail, emerging from the infernal depths through the floor of Faustus’ study. In the background we can see some of his scholar’s books and, ironically, a cross, symbol of all Faustus is abjuring.
The woodcut used for Dr. Faustus in the 1620,1624, and 1631 quarto editions (and possibly others) are all essentially identical, suggesting that the same woodcut may actually have been reused for them all. (The woodcuts in the later quartos don’t crop off the right side of the illustration, but I think this is a printing aspect of a cheap book for which a printer was less likely to reprint an imperfectly-printed page, rather than a variation in the actual woodblock. But take a look at the copy of the 1624 title page below and decide for yourself.) But the cut appearing in A Timely Warning is a bit different, as we can see looking at the two woodcuts side-by-side, suggesting that a new block had been cut at some point, using the original one as a guide. Compare the Timely Warning cut to the one used in original 1616 version of Dr Faustus. Mephistopheles has become larger relative to Faustus and rendered somewhat differently, Faustus’ library has acquired more books, and the window of his study is now open, revealing the natural world he has forsaken with his “unnatural” conjuring. But despite these differences, I think it’s remarkable that essentially the same illustration was still in use some one hundred years after it first appeared in the 1616 quarto. This suggests that the illustration must have resonated strongly with readers and also that it had evolved into an evocative symbol of the Faustus / Faust story, at least in England.A very similar, but new version of the Faustus illustration graces the circa 1700 version of The Damnable Life printed by “C. Brown” and sold by “M. Hotham, at the Black Boy on London-bridge.” This version is more like the original woodcut from 1616 than the one used in the 1721 Timely Warning, but there are clear differences when we look at all three cuts together. Faustus, the devil, and the cross are all packed more tightly together in this version than in the cut used for Marlowe’s play. The symbols in the magic circle are different, and there are a number of other small variations, all of which suggest that this cut was made by yet another woodblock.
Although the story of Dr Faustus is strongly associated with Marlowe (accused by some of being a blasphemer himself, who “died swearing” and a believer in the dark arts), the Faust legend predates Marlowe’s play. The basic outline involves a learned man and scholar of theology who becomes bored and disenchanted with his studies — “a greater subject fitteth Faustus’ wit,” in Marlowe’s words — who arrogantly makes a pact with the devil and exchanges his soul for knowledge and power. As such, it’s often presented as a cautionary tale: Faustus forsakes religion and God, makes a deal with the devil, cannot repent, and is himself forsaken to damnation; the mortal sinner gets what he deserves. As an early printed version of the Faust story, the 1592 Historie of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor Iohn Faustus used by Marlowe as a source, phrases the story’s conclusion:
Then came the Devill [sic] and would have me away…as I turned against God, he would dispatch me altogether … [then was heard] a mighty noyse and hissing as if the hall had been full of snakes and adders … Faustus began to crie for help … but shortly [he was] heard no more.
Much like the woodcut of Faustus and Mephistopheles, the (non-Marlovian) language in this first translation of this version of the Faust story into English was also remarkably long-lived, as I was surprised to discover (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
The moral of the story seems intended to be clear to us, as does its title: Damnable Life, and Deserved Death! But Marlowe used the outline of the story and reworked it as the basis of a tragedy, titled accordingly: The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (or The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus in the 1604 quarto; both were published after Marlowe’s 1593 death, so neither title was necessarily his choice). Marlowe’s protagonist Faustus suffers as a result of a “fatal flaw” — arrogance, pride, and susceptibility to trafficking with the devil — in a way more like Tamburlaine, King Lear, or Macbeth than the main character in Damnable Life, and Deserved Death. Faustus suffers the same hellish fate — “Faustus is gone, regard his hellish fall, / Whose fiendful fortune may exort the wise” says the speaker of the Epilogue — but most audiences’ response to the “moral” of Marlowe’s play is is more nuanced and complex, as the playwright no doubt intended.
Historically, hellfire, brimstone, and eternal damnation in the cauldron of Hell has given pause to both adults and children through the ages. But would worldly power over kings or having Helen of Troy as a paramour be the sorts of temptations that might hit home to children? That moral and plotting dilemma was resolved by the author of A Timely Warning by framing the story as one of an overly indulged prodigal son — “a young gentleman ” — who sells his soul to the devil to get revenge against his father and mother because his father denied him some money. While that’s an extreme reaction, for sure, what child hasn’t felt some degree of anger, resentment, and even a desire to “get back at” parents who won’t give him / her what’s wanted? The resentful, demon-trafficking youth undergoes “a sad and deplorable condition” and eventually forfeits his soul on a “dreadful night,” a fate meant to provide a vivid cautionary warning “against temptation.” This is one of those remarkable earlier titles where essentially the whole story is outlined in the title and sub-title, perhaps just in case a young reader is tempted not to read the whole book.
The moral is once again meant to be clear. Added to the usual Faustus moral about blasphemy and dealing with the devil is another familiar moral often found in children’s books from this era: the punishment of a disobedient child. Moral works of the time didn’t flinch in scaring children about the possible consequences of disobedience to parents or teachers. So added to a message about God-faring or moral behavior here is the forceful reminder to be an obedient child. And at least one later version sought to extend the didactic beyond children: A Timely Warning to Rash and Disobedient Persons, which appeared in a number of editions as did the the A Timely Warning to Rash and Disobedient Children; judging from the number of editions, the Timely Warnings were popular books — at least with adults, generally the ones doing the actual book buying.
Versions of the Faust story remained popular in England well into the nineteenth century, appearing in the form of books, chapbooks, and updated versions of the play.
Fairly typical of the chapbook-stye publications is a twenty-four page Glasgow publication, apparently from the 1840s, titled: History of Dr. Faustus: Shewing his Wicked Life and Horrid Death, and How He Sold Himself to the Devil, to Have Power for 24 Years to Do What He Pleased… with the Assistance of Mephistopheles; with an Account of How the Devil Came to him at the End of 24 Years and Tore Him to Pieces. That’s a mouthful of a title once, again more or less summing up the whole story.The cover title is undated and has only “printed for the booksellers” in terms of an imprint, but this Faustus was apparently published as part of a series of popular folk- and fairy-tales, such as Beauty & the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. The woodcut illustration is relatively uninspiring, and I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to depict Faustus or Mephistopheles; it may just be a “stock” woodblock that the publisher had on-hand and used to provide a visual element to spice up the text and get potential buyers’ attention?
More visually striking is Dean & Munday’s six pence version of: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus: Relating the Diabolical Means by which He Raised the Devil to Whom He Sold his Soul and Body on Condition that Lucifer Should Give Him Unlimited Power for Twenty-four Years… Unlike the demonic depiction of the soul-claiming devil in some earlier versions we’ve looked at, this frontispiece presents Mephistopheles as he first appears to Faustus, deceptively clothed “like a Gray Friar.” But also clearly visible in the background are flying demons, which the reader can readily see, unlike the duped Faustus perhaps.While this edition seems to have been aimed at a general audience, Dean & Munday was a prominent publisher of short children’s books of the time, in particular “toy books” aimed at children, which typically combined numerous hand-colored illustrations like this one with abridged text. (The publsher’s advertisement on the lower wrapper lists Dr Faustus under “six-pence each titles,” not under “children’s books, colored plates, 6 d each.”) The text of this version presents an abridgement of the original 1592 text from The History of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus over 250 years after the original publication, the feat of textual longevity I alluded to above. As so often was the case with children’s literature, essentially the same content was repeatedly repackaged and “freshened up” with new illustrations to appeal to the market.
But some aspects of the text were jazzed up a bit over time, often adding more “theatrical” elements and details, and some sensational details, often not meant for children (although no doubt enjoyed by some). After the 1592 version’s concluding “they heard him no more” lines, Dean & Munday’s Remarkable Life and other some nineteenth-century versions add the lines:
But when it was day, the students… arose and went into the hall in the which they left Doctor Faustus, where notwithstanding they found no Faustus, but all the hall lay besprinckled with blood, his brains cleaving to the wall; for the Devil had beaten him from one wall against another. In one corner lay his eyes, in another his teeth, a pitiful and fearful sight to behold… Lastly, they came into the yard where they found his body lying on the horse dung, most monstrously torn, and fearful to behold, for his head and all his joints were dashed in pieces.
In terms of delightful garishness of illustration, my favorite of Princeton’s Faustus illustrations might have to be the one used as a fold-out frontispiece in Thomas Richardson and Son’s The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus, a German Astrologer and Enchanter: Relating the Means Adopted by Him to raise the Devil, Who Gave him Extraordinary Magical Powers, on Condition that He Should Have his Soul and Body at the End of Twenty-four Years... That mouthful of a title — not even the full version! — is more than matched by the hand-colored engraved fold-out, I think.A terrifying horned devil with fabulous scaly-looking wings sizes Faustus (now an “astrologer,” not a scholar) by the neck, while a serpent twines itself around Faustus’ body, and a chorus of demons worthy of Hieronymus Bosch cheers on the devil in fiendish delight. Advances in printing technology technology allowed larger and more detailed illustrations in cheap nineteenth books than in the earlier publications ones we’ve already looked at. And perhaps the sensational presentation here was also meant to cater to a public taste fed by theatrical spectacles in the nineteenth century, when far more elaborate costumes, lighting, and special effects were possible than in Marlowe’s time, when special effects at the relatively plain, outdoor public theater stages were limited to trapdoors, smoke-pots, and rumbling metal thunder, and perhaps a few fireworks. By the nineteenth century, audiences and readers expected more than plain text and simple woodcuts. But the message was much the same as in the seventeenth-century The History of the Damnable Life and indeed the text was much the same in this nineteenth-century version too.
And in case you’re wondering the full title of this edition is: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus, a German Astrologer and Enchanter: Relating the Means Adopted by Him to Raise the Devil, Who Gave him Extraordinary Magical Powers, on Condition that He Should Have his Soul and Body at the End of Twenty-four Years; his Various Conversations, Interviews, and Wonderful Events with his Deputy, the Spirit Mephostophiles [sic]; with his Journey to Mount Caucasus, Particulars of his Conjurations and Enchantments; with the Ceremonies Belonging to the Operations of Necromancy; the Bonds; and the Horrible Death Inflicted on Him by the Devil at the Expiration of the Term. With a title like that, it’s a wonder that the printer had any type left in his case to print the rest of the book!