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Book Description:

[BARCLAY, John]. Barclay His Argenis: or, the Loves of Poliarchus and Argenis : Faithfully translated out of Latine into English, by Kingesmill Long, Gent. Folio, (6),

404 pp. Woodcut vignette on title, head piece, initials etc.. Modern polished calf, raised bands, upper joint repaired at head. London: Henry 

Seile, 1625.

First Edition of this translation; tear at foot of title and first leaf of dedication affecting a few letters, bound without the first (?blank) leaf.

This Roman A clef was enormously popular in its time; it was the first published in Latin in 1622. 
STC 1392.

First English edition. John Barclay's Argenis was said to be written in Rome and completed eleven days before his death by fever?

 The Argenis is a political romance; actual figures of the times play a role in it, such as Argenis (Margaret of Valois), 

Nicopompus (Sir Francis Bacon),

Meleander (Henri III), Licogenes (Duke of Guise), 

Queen Elizabeth (Hyanisbe), Archombrotus and Poliarchus (Henry IV), and Radirobanes (Philip II).



The first edition of the "Argenis" in Latin was published in 1621. The authority to the publisher, Nicholas Buon, to print and sell the "Argenis" is dated the 21st July, 1621, and was signed by Barclay at Rome. The Royal authority is dated on the 31st August following.


Barclay’s death took place between these dates, on the 12th of August, at Rome. It is reported that the cause of death was stone, but in an appreciation of him, published by his friend, Ralph Thorie, his death is attributed to poison.


The work is an example of the highest type of Latinity. So impressed was Cowper with its style that he stated that it would not have dishonoured Tacitus himself. A translation in Spanish was published in 1624, and in Italian in 1629. The Latin version was frequently reprinted during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--perhaps more frequently than any other book.








In a letter dated 11th May, 1622, Chamberlain, writing to Carleton, says: "The King has ordered Ben Jonson to translate the ‘Argenis,’ but he will not be able to equal the original." On the 2nd October, 1623, Ben Jonson entered a translation in Stationers’ Hall, but it was never published. About that time there was a fire in Jonson’s house, in which it is said some manuscripts were destroyed; but it is a pure assumption that the "Argenis" was one of these.


In 1629 an English translation appeared by Sir Robert Le Grys, Knight, and the verses by Thomas May, Esquire. The title-page bears the statement: "The prose upon his Majesty’s command." There is a Clavis appended, also stated to be "published at his Majesties command." It was printed by Felix Kyngston for Richard Mughten and Henry Seile. In the address to "The understanding Reader" Le Grys says, "What then should I say? Except it were to entreate thee, that where my English phrase doth not please thee, thou wilt compare it with the originall Latin and mend it. Which I doe not speak as thinking it impossible, but as willing to have it done, for the saving me a labour, who, if his Majesty had not so much hastened the publishing it, would have reformed some things in it, that did not give myselfe very full satisfaction."


In 1622 King James ordered a translation of the "Argenis." In 1629* Charles I. was so impatient to have a translation that he hastened the publication, thus preventing the translator from revising his work. Three years previously, however, in 1625--if the date may be relied on--there was published as printed by G. P. for Henry Seile a translation by Kingesmill Long. James died on the 25th March, 1625. The "Argenis" may not have been published in his lifetime; but if the




* One copy of this edition bears the date 1628.








date be correct, three or four years before Charles hastened the publication of Le Grys’s translation, this far superior one with Kingesmill Long’s name attached to it could have been obtained from H. Seile. Surely the publisher would have satisfied the King’s impatience by supplying him with a copy of the 1625 edition had it been on sale. The publication of a translation of the "Argenis" must have attracted attention. Is it possible that it could have been in existence and not brought to the notice of the King? There is something here that requires explanation. The Epistle Dedicatorie of the 1625 edition is written in the familiar style of another pen, although it bears the name of Kingesmill Long. The title-page states that it is "faithfully translated out of Latine into English," but it is not directly in the Epistle Dedicatorie spoken of as a translation. The following extract implies that the work had been lying for years waiting publication:--




"This rude piece, such as it is, hath long lyen by me, since it was finished; I not thinking it worthy to see the light. I had always a desire and hope to have it undertaken by a more able workman, that our Nation might not be deprived of the use of so excellent a Story: But finding none in so long time to have done it; and knowing that it spake not English, though it were a rich jewell to the learned Linguist, yet it was close lockt from all those, to whom education had not given more languages, than Nature Tongues: I have adventured to become the key to this piece of hidden Treasure, and have suffered myselfe to be overruled by some of my worthy friends, whose judgements I have always esteemed, sending it abroad (though coursely done) for the delight and use of others."




Not a word about the author! The translations, said to be by Thomas May, of the Latin verses in the 1629 are identical with those in the 1625 edition, although Kingesmill Long, on the title-page, appears as the translator. Nothing can be learnt as to who or what Long was.








Over lines "Authori," signed Ovv: Fell:* in the 1625 edition is one of the well-known light and dark A devices. This work is written in flowing and majestic English; the 1629 edition in the cramped style of translation.


The copy bearing date 1628, to which reference has been made, belonged to John Henry Shorthouse. He has made this note on the front page: "Jno. Barclay’s description of himself under the person of Nicopompus Argenis, p. 60." This is the description to which he alludes:--




"Him thus boldly talking, Nicopompus could no longer endure: he was a man who from his infancy loved Learning; but who disdained to be nothing but a booke-man had left the schooles very young, that in the courts of Kings and Princes, he might serve his apprenticeship in publicke affairs; so he grew there with an equall abilitie, both in learning and imployment, his descent and disposition fitting him for that king of life: wel esteemed of many Princes, and especially of Meleander, whose cause together with the rest of the Princes, he had taken upon him to defend."




This description is inaccurate as applied to John Barclay, but in every detail it describes Francis Bacon.


A comparison has been made between the editions of 1625 and 1629 with the 1621 Latin edition. It leaves little room for doubting that the 1625 is the original work. Throughout the Latin appears to follow it rather than to be the leader; whilst the 1629 edition follows the Latin closely. In some cases the word used in the 1625 edition has been incorrectly translated into the 1621 edition, and the Latin word re-translated literally and incorrectly in view of the sense in the 1629 edition. But space forbids this comparison being further followed; suffice it to say that everything points to the 1625 edition being the original work.


As to the date of composition much may be said;




* Probably Owen Felltham, author of "Felltham’s Resolves."








but the present contention is that "The French Academie," "The Argenis," and "Love’s Labour’s Lost" are productions from the same pen, and that they all represent the work of Francis Bacon probably between the years 1577 and 1580. At any rate, the first-named was written whilst he was in France, and the others were founded on the incidents and experience obtained during his sojourn there.



December 13, 2012 in Books | Permalink