Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, the Baskett "Vinegar Bible," and the Forgotten Art of Extra-Illustration

This is a guest post by Sean Nortz, a PhD student in the Department of English at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

A large open book in front of a light grey background showing a full page sized image on the left and a title page on the right. The black, white and grey frontispiece on the left depicts a religious scene with angels and cherubs at the top and a holy light shining down on a man looking upwards in a rocky crag. The title page contains black and red text and a black, white, and grey engraving of a pillared building. The text above this image reads The Holy Bible containing the Old Testament and the New: Newly translated out of the Original Tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty’s special command. Appointed to be read in Churches. Below the image is text giving information about the printer and publication.

The title page and frontispiece of the 1717 Baskett “Vinegar” Bible, 251.6 B.

I was very pleased to be granted a CUNY Graduate Center fellowship this summer to work on the Morgan Library & Museum’s collection of extra-illustrated books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a junior literary scholar interested in the materiality of print and the history of reading, I have often been frustrated by the fact that, as Roger Chartier has observed, reading is a “practice...which only rarely leaves traces.”1  Along with much more well-studied phenomena like commonplace books and, especially, marginalia, extra-illustration—the practice of inserting separately printed prints, photographs, manuscripts or other items into a bound book—is a promising area of study that has too long been neglected (or even derided) in both academic and bibliographic circles.

The dual neglect has indeed constituted something of a vicious circle: there has been no urgency in undertaking the labor of cataloging these books given the dearth of academic interest, and scholars have overlooked these objects at least partly due to the paucity of information on the distribution and make-up of these works. Consequently, they have been collecting dust. Fortunately this seems to be slowly changing, if the 2017 publication, Facing the Text: Extra-Illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain, 1769–1840, edited by Lucy Peltz, is an indication of things to come. I hope my work on an extra-illustrated copy of a 1717 King James Bible will serve as a useful foundation for further work on a collection that has not to my knowledge been written about since its acquisition by the Morgan over a century ago.

Even without the illustrations, this Bible is a remarkable book: one of twenty-five large-paper copies of John Baskett’s famous English Bible of 1717. Its aesthetic beauty, from the elegant typefaces to the high-quality paper used in printing, was unfortunately not matched by care in composition: it became notorious for its careless errors, becoming identified as “the Vinegar Bible” for a misprint in Luke 20 wherein “the parable of the vineyard” became “the parable of the vinegar.” Already an imposing book of two imperial-folio volumes, it grew to a monumental eight volumes when embellished with some 1,300 prints by Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1776–1857), daughter of King George III (Morgan Library & Museum, 251.6 B).

A large horizontal etching in black, white, and shades of grey. The print shows flames falling from the sky onto a frantic city scene with buildings on fire and people and animals running, some collapsing, while others reach up towards the sky.

Among the most striking of the prints are the large etchings by Jan Luyken taken from a 1729 volume of “Pictures of the Most Strange Stories of the Old and New Testament.” This arresting treatment of the judgment of Sodom (Genesis 19), initially made for a 1704 edition of the works of Josephus, is representative of the volume’s penchant for the more sensational episodes of Biblical narrative. Also typical is the bilingual caption, reflecting the pan-European scope of the market for drawings and prints in the wake of the Reformation.

Two horizontal rectangular prints, one on top of the other, occupying a single folio page, in black, white, and shades of grey. The top image shows several male figures gathered in front of a house, with an angel pulling one towards the house. The bottom image shows several figures, both female and male as well as some angels, in motion outside.

In addition to allowing large prints like Luyken’s to occupy a single folio page, the format of the Gloucester Bible creates frequent juxtapositions of the thematically similar material, as with the two images here, treating Genesis 19. Above: The People of Sodom Surrounding Lot’s House, engraved by Hans Collaert I, taken from the 1639 edition of the Theatrum Biblicum (published by Claude Visscher); a nearly identical print first appeared in Gerard de Jode’s Thesaurus Sacrarum of 1579. Below: Lot and His Family Leaving Sodom, engraved by Philip Galle after Anthonie van Blocklandt, from the series “The Story of Lot,” 1571-2.

My work was a salutary exercise in critical humility and restraint. Much of what literary critics do presupposes a good deal of preliminary scholarship: the texts have been examined and collated, and the exciting business of interpretation can begin. But this book resists interpretation in a manner Peltz identifies as specific to the genre: “The corpus of extra-illustrated books—though based for the greater part on well-known texts and incorporating prints issued as multiples—is remarkably mute.”2 In this case as in most others, there is no explicit record of the compiler’s motivations or the identification or provenance of the prints, and as such the prints have to be studied carefully in consultation with an array of secondary sources. As someone with a background in rare-book cataloging and an interest in pursuing librarianship as a possible career path, the work was a very useful experience, especially since I am becoming more interested in the role of illustration in nineteenth-century literature.

The most compelling aspect of the book, though, has been the spectral presence of the extra-illustrator herself. Mary does not at all fit the stereotype: a (usually male) antiquarian of leisure and means acting out his chronic bibliomania. On the contrary, one of her biographers writes that “once she had finished her formal education, she seems to have given up books for ever.”3  But she had long-standing and deeply personal ties to the practice of extra-illustration. Her mother, Queen Charlotte, was a great book-lover who, with her librarian Edward Harding, took up the craze for extra-illustration with aplomb and enlisted her daughters, Mary included, to assist her.4  Mary does not seem to have relished the work, and in fact “her relations with her mother were the worst of all the sisterhood.”5  The decision, then, to take up this time-consuming and expensive project—which the evidence of watermarks suggests was completed in the early to mid-1820s, shortly after the Queen’s death in 1819—takes on terrific poignancy, which I think future biographers of the princess would do well to consider. It is also a testament that these books are greater than the sum of their parts, however priceless those parts may be in their own right.

  1. Chartier, Roger. The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries (Stanford University Press, 1994), 1.
  2. Peltz 4.
  3. Janice Hadlow, A Royal Experiment: The Private Life of King George III (Henry Holt, 2014), 475. Additional treatments of Mary’s life can be found in Morris Marples, Six Royal Sisters: Daughters of George III (Michael Joseph, 1969); and Flora Fraser, Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III (Bloomsbury, 2013).
  4. See Jane Roberts, “Edward Harding and Queen Charlotte,” in Diana Dethloff et al., eds. Burning Bright: Essays in Honour of David Bindman (UCL Press, 2015).
  5. Hadlow 587.

Sean Nortz is a PhD student in the Department of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, focusing on British literature and culture in the long nineteenth century, with an abiding interest in the history of the book.