Playing Games with Geo. Wither's Emblems

Next year HM will be publishing a book featuring leaves taken from a broken and incomplete copy of George Wither's A Collections of Emblemes (London, 1635). The book's full title is
A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne Quickened With Metricall Illustrations, both Morall and Divine: And disposed into Lotteries, That Instruction, and Good Counsell, may bee furthered by an Honest and Pleasant Recreation
and those lotteries will be a featured part of our project. The book consists of four parts, each containing 50 "emblemes," which were exhortations in prose on various aspects of living a good and moral life. Each emblem (one per page) was printed beneath a detailed intaglio illustration. The page shown below is from Book 1.


At the publisher's (i.e. booksellers') request, Wither created a game ("recreation") that pointed readers first to one of the four books, and then to a specific emblem. This was done by using two volvelles with spinning pointers, printed on one page and bound into the back of each copy (sounds like something from a Hodgson/Cohen book...). Wither also provided instructions for how to play the lottery. Not surprisingly, most existing copies of the book lack the volvelle, which probably often was torn out for use.

The broken copy that will supply the leaves for HM's project came to us via Rare Books & Special Collections at the University of British Columbia, which received it as part of a donation. As the library already has a complete copy in a lovely early binding, with the volvelles, and has long been a supporter of HM's work, they suggested the broken copy might make an interesting leaf book.

We're still finalizing plans for the HM project, but it will definitely include a facsimile of the volvelle page, presented along with Wither's two introductory notes to the Reader (the first about the book in general, the second an apologetic explanation for how the lottery came to be included - to make the book more appealing to potential buyers!), and his instructions for playing the lottery.

The broken copy's leaves measure about 6 x 12 inches (they were brutally trimmed at some point in time, with loss to the head), so our page will be slightly larger than that. As per usual the edition will hover around 50 copies, with between two and four leaves included in each copy. Claudia Cohen has signed on to bind the edition. We hope to have copies issued before the end of 2012.