Parthenissa, that most Fam’d Romance.

BOYLE Roger, 1st Earl of Orrery (1676.)


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The Six Volumes Compleat. Composed by the Right Honourable the Earl of Orrery.


First Collected Edition. Folio. [305 x 195mm]. Title-page printed in red and black. [4], 403, [3], 485-808 pp. Title-page a little browned at the edges and with a small tear in the blank inner margin (crudely repaired with tape), some spotting and marking in places throughout, small hole in the blank fore-margin of B2. Contemporary calf, covers ruled in blind (rebacked with a new spine, new red morocco label).


London: by T[homas]. N[ewcomb], for Henry Herringman, 1676

Wing O490. Scarce: ESTC lists copies at Bodley, All Souls & Worcester Colleges Oxford, Cambridge UL, National Library of Ireland, Winchester College; Huntington, Smith College [imperfect], Toronto UL, Yale. The first part was published in 4to in 1651 (printed at Waterford in Ireland) and the sixth in 4to in 1669. See: C. William Miller, "A Bibliographical Study of 'Parthenissa' by Roger Boyle Earl of Orrery", in Studies in Bibliography, Vol. 2 (1949/50), p. 115-137.


One of the earliest original English romances from the private library of Cary Coke (1680-1707) with her bookplate.


The first collected edition of Roger Boyle’s (1621-1679) prose historical Romance, set (unchronologically) in the days of Ancient Rome, “which yields not either in Beauty, Language, or Design to the Work of the famous Scudery, or Calpranede, however Eminent they may be amongst the French, for Pieces of this nature.” (Gerard Langbaine, An Account of the English Dramatic Poets, 1691, p. 29.


The six volumes or parts of Parthenissa are subdivided into ‘Books’ (Part 1 has six books, Part 2 has two books and Parts 3-6 have four books each. They were then joined into three sections with dedications to important women, giving an indication of Boyle’s intended readership. Parts 1-2 were dedicated to the Countess of Northumberland, parts 3-5 to the Countess of Sunderland, and part 6 to Princess Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans, the youngest child of King Charles I at whose command it was written: “Ten or twelve years after the appearance of the first volume, she was curious to know what Parthenissa was doing in the wood, and begged Roger Boyle to bring her out of it.” (J. J. Jusserand, The English Novel in the time of Shakespeare, 1894 edn., p. 386, with a plot synopsis).


Boyle explained in a preface to the 1655 edition (not printed here) that his love of romances was formed during his Grand Tour to France and Italy in the late 1630s when reading them helped cure his long-standing “Detestation to Readeing and Studdy” –


“In the perusal of those Bookes, I mett with the names, & some of the Actions, of those Hero’s, whome I had heard off, in the Scoole; This gave me a passionate desire to separate the Truth from Fixion, in the effecting whereof, I became as much a Freind to readeing, as I had bin an Enemy.”


He went on to justify his historical setting: “Yet I may say that this way of writing Romances is lesse ill, than any I have yet seen Originaly in our Language; for all that have bin presented to the World First in English have been Purely Fabulous.”


Dorothy Osborne (1627-95) was reading Parthenissa on 11 February 1654 when she wrote to her future husband (Sir) William Temple:


“… Parthenissa is now my company, my brother sent it downe and I have almost read it. tis handsome Language, you would know it to bee writ by a person of good Quality though you were not tolde it, but in the whole I am not very much taken with it, all the Story’s have too neer a resemblance with those of Other Romances, there is nothing new or surprenant [surprising] in them, the Ladys are all so kinde they make noe sport, and I meet only with one that tooke mee by doeing a handsome thing of the kinde. …” (G. C. Moore Smith, ed., The Letters of Dorothy Osborne to William Temple, 1928, p. 145).


Dorothy Osborne may not have appreciated Boyle’s new approach but the author of this anonymous poem published in Dublin in 1663 certainly did:


“I once Romances dis-esteem’d,

And full of ill forg’d miracles they seem’d;

The Heroes they describ’d were such,

As either did too little or too much.

But when I once read Parthenissa o’re

(Weeping, because I read it not before)

There, I saw natures restauration,

I saw, and I saw it on a Throne:

There, if what’s Noble, shall unpractis’d be

The guilty Word should blush, not he:

The Greek and Roman Authors are more classic grown,

And give soft charming pleasures to the World

O’re which those Empires, Blood and Rapine hurl’d:

And there the fires, and stings, and wounds of love,

Sweeter than Life, and than death stronger prove:

Thence Kings unborn shall learn to love and fight,

And noble things to do, and noble things to write.


(Anon., Poems, by Several Persons, Dublin, 1663, p. 34).


Parthenissa may have been popular in its day but this 1676 first collected edition was also the last and by Horace Walpole’s time it was unread:


“His Biographer says, three volumes folio, & seems to think that the performance is not read, because it was never completed; as if three volumes in folio would not content the most heroic appetite that ever existed!” – Horace Walpole, A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England (2nd edn, 1759, Vol. II, p. 238).


Provenance: Cary [or Carey] Coke (1680-1707) (née Newton), with her engraved armorial bookplate (dated 1701) on the blank verso of the title-page and her signature and ?catalogue number “C Coke / 168 /” in ink on the front pastedown. The bookplate specifically describes her as “wife of Edward Coke of Norfolk Esq” and has her arms impaled with his (he had a matching plate made for his own collection). Cary Newton, daughter of Sir John Newton, 3rd Baronet, of Barrs Court, Gloucestershire, and Mary Heveringham, was 16 and worth £40,000 when she married the 20-year-old Edward Coke in 1696. They lived at 5 [later 8] St James’s Square, London and at Hill Hall, Holkham, Norfolk, the site of what would later be the great Palladian mansion of Holkham Hall. The bookplate and ownership marks in this and other volumes suggest that it was part of a smaller library of books selected by Cary for her own reading pleasure and presumably kept in her private closet.


C. W. James in his “Some notes upon the Manuscript Library at Holkham” noted that Cary, “took pleasure in a few of the illuminated manuscripts [in the library at Hill Hall]; she had them rebound and pasted her book-plate dated 1701, inside their covers.” (The Library, March, 1922). See, for example, the illuminated manuscript of Pseudo-Aristotle, Secretum Secretorum (British Library Add. MS 47680) written by Walter of Milemete before 1327 for presentation to the young Prince Edward (later Edward III) - it has the inscription “C Coke / 122” (digitised online).


In his history of the Holkham Library, D. P. (‘Sam’) Mortlock noted that, “Over a hundred of Cary’s books are still at Holkham, and one of the nicest is a copy of the first edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron in English printed by Isaac Jaggard in 1620, the two volumes bound as one. Her library contained some books that she had inherited from her grandfather, the regicide William Heveningham, whose history the family quietly put aside. ... The young couple’s passion was undoubtedly for the stage, and Cary had a play dedicated to her - Mary Pix’s Queen Catherine published in 1698. Together they quickly formed a collection of contemporary plays and bound them into a uniform set of thirty volumes. It is a matter of deep regret that such an interesting and valuable contribution to the family’s literary history was allowed to pass into the keeping of the Bodleian Library in 1945 [for death duties]. ... Sadly, in 1707 this bright and lively young couple died within months of each other and disastrously in debt. In consequence, all their personal property had to be sold, but the guardians and trustees of their three young children fortunately took the decision to buy all the books that had previously been at Holkham, as well as those held at St. James’s Square. At £193 this was a decided bargain, and for the time being the library was moved to Sir John Newton’s house in Soho Square.” (Mortlock, The Holkham Library: A History and Description, Roxburghe Club, 2006, p. 32).


Beyond Holkham Hall and the Bodleian Library, Cary Coke’s books are elusive. Her copy of Francis Quarles, Emblemes (1690) is in the Huntington Library (ex Francis Bacon Foundation) and, intriguingly, has “ms. Annotations on front flyleaf tracing provenance from 1700-1846.” Her copy of Madame de Scudery’s novel Artamenes: or, the Grand Cyrus (12mo, 1690) was offered by the Norfolk bookseller Edward Jeans, A Catalogue of Books (Norwich, 1860), item 4243. But many examples must have fallen victim to removal by bookplate collectors as it is frequently cited in bookplate literature from the late 19th Century onwards as both a rare dated example and a rare female owner. The same rarity applies to her husband Edward’s matching bookplate. It was not the harmless hobby it may seem.


In the dedication to Queen Catharine: or the Ruines of Love. A Tragedy (1698) to “The Honorable Mrs Cook of Norfolk”, Mary Pix wrote:


“Madam, Did not some of the brightest and best of our Sex can boast of Incourage Attempts of this kind, the snarling Cynicks might prevail and cry down a diversion, which they themselves participate, though their ill nature makes them grumble at the Entertainment, but when they shall see this Glorious name in the Front, when they shall know a Lady belov’d by Heaven and Earth, Mistress of all Perfections, the bounteous Powers give, or human nature is capable to receive when, I say they understand you protect, and like Innocent Plays, they must Acquiesce and be forc’t to own so much goodness, cannot choose amiss. ...”


The volume has what appears to be an older shelfmark “Yw2” crossed-through on the front pastedown which may suggest that Cary selected this book from the main library at Hill Hall (she also inherited a number of books from her mother’s family) and re-shelved it in her own private library. Cary Coke’s son Thomas (1697-1759) would go on to build Holkham Hall and fill it with an astonishing collection of Grand Tour antiquities, art and manuscripts and printed books. He was created 1st Earl of Leicester (of the 5th creation) in 1744.


There is an early ink bookseller’s cost/price code “KsY” on the front pastedown and some later booksellers’ pencil markings.


Also see: Sarah Lindenbaum’s post for this volume (then in possession of The Brick Row Bookshop, San Francisco) on the Early Modern Female Book Ownership Blog (28 January 2019) and David Pearson’s entry for her on Book Owners Online.


Stock Code: 239733

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