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This article is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

Vestiges 12: Edward Benlowes Adam Crothers
Portrait of Edwards Benlowes

Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge

No two copies of Edward Benlowes’s religious epic Theophila are quite alike, it is believed. Published in 1652 via the rolling press installed at the poet’s family mansion, Brent Hall (destroyed by fire a year later), the poem manifested in lavish presentation volumes, with unique combinations of illustrations, and finely penned dedications. Visually and acoustically, Benlowes valued a gorgeousness that bordered on confusing excess.
Yet his high standards indicated the kind of perfectionism that becomes self-defeatingly destructive. As the presentation copies of Theophila were completed, he noticed that some elements were not in their ideal state, and so set about, in ink and by hand, graffitiing the books to undo their flaws. Sometimes this was as simple as correcting errors in spelling. But Benlowes was also concerned that the poem’s prosody be at its best, and introduced occasional elisions to guide the reader through his iambic lines. This is another sense in which every copy of Theophila is distinct: in his study of the poet, Harold Jenkins suggests that as the printings of the book were completed in sequence rather than in bulk, they were individually corrected, and the edits were hence subject to fluctuations and ‘momentary caprice’.
One striking bit of caprice, not unique to the copy donated to the poet’s college St John’s but far from standard, is the addition of ...

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