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The Publishing Policy of the English Jesuits at St Omer, 1608–1759

  • Michael J. Walsh (a1)


The Annual Letters of the college of the English Jesuits at St Omer record the visit to the college in 1608 of the town’s fourth bishop, the Franciscan Jacques de Blaze. He was taken on a tour of inspection. In a frequently-quoted passage the Letters recall that he was impressed by all that he saw, ‘but most of all by a certain little house, equipped with a printing press and all the accessories of printing, which we have lately fitted up, and very handsomely too’. In 1660, apparently with the assistance of the college press, Thomas Geubels published the Historia Missionis Anglicanae Societatis Iesu by a former provincial superior of the English Jesuits, Fr Henry More. According to More’s account Robert Persons had established the printing house to produce books which might ‘both feed piety, and expose the ravings of heretics’.



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1 ‘Sed prae omnibus domunculam quamdam habentem in se prelum cum omnibus aliis rebus ad illud spectantibus, quam nuper ad illum finem accomodavimus, certe pulcherrime admirabatur’, cited by Newdigate, Charles, Notes on the seventeenth century printing press of the English college at Saint Omer (London 1920) p 9 . The translation is taken from Chadwick, [Hubert], St Omers to Stonyhurst (London 1962) p 141 .

2 ‘Tum ad alenda pietatem, tum ad Haereticorum deliria detegenda’, p 248.

3 ‘Pour leur livres de classes et leur missions en Angleterre’, Lepreux, [Georges], Gallia Typographica 2 vols (Paris, 1909-14), vol 1, p 292 . The quotation is from a letter of bishop de Brunes, document n 201, dated 17 September 1759.

4 ‘. . . il est intervenu un arret du Conseil qui ordonne la vente des vis, presses et autres ustensiles d’imprimerie saisis dans le collège des Jésuites de St Omer et que le prix qui en proviendra leur sera remis; par le meme arret on leur fait défense d’avoir, á l’avenir une imprimerie chez eux’, Lepreux, Gallia Typographica vol 1, p 293.

5 The fortunes of the press were closely related to the history of the college, for which see Chadwick, St Omers to Stonyhurst.

6 Alston, R.C. and Janetta, M.J., Bibliography, Machine Readable Cataloguing and the ESTC (London 1978) pp 173 . The press also printed playbills and, quite possibly, devotional pictures, but discussion in this paper will be limited to books and pamphlets.

7 A[llison], [A. F.] and R[ogers, [D.M.], A catalogue of catholic books in English printed abroad or secretly in England 1558-1640] (Bognor Regis, 1956) and Clancy, [Thomas H.], [English catholic books 1641-1700] (Chicago 1974).

8 Newdigate, Charles, ‘Birchley or St Omers’, Tlte Library fourth series 7 (London 1927) P 312 .

9 p 14.

10 A and R n 775. For Montagu’s letter, see C[atholic] R[ecord] S[ociety] 22 (London 1921) pp 161-5.

11 A and R n 589 and Clancy n 89.

12 See More, Henry, Historia Missioni; AngUcanae Societatis lesu (St Omer, 1660) p 248 .

13 STC 1651 and A and R n 76 respectively. For Baynes see Southern, A. C., English recusant prose (London 1950) p 53 , and Williams, M. E., The venerable English college, Rome (London 1979) pp 378 .

14 A and R n 34.

15 A and R n 412, where the whole book is attributed to the college press.

16 A and R nn 711, 779 and 867. A and R also attributes n 625 (the 1633 edition of Persons’s Christian directory) to the college press, but I understand that these attributions will be altered in the forthcoming revision and expansion of A and R.

17 (London, 1624) p 93.

18 Ibid. The whole list is printed on pp 91-100. Gee, even more than Owen, seems to have been remarkably well informed.

19 Rostenberg, Leona, Minority presses and the English crown (Nieuwkrop 1971) p 205 . This is a useful book in that it takes account of both catholic and puritan presses, but it has to be treated with considerable caution.

20 A and R nn 803 and 748. The Spanish translation, of course, is not included in A and R. The funding of the press during its second decade has been discussed by Allison, A. F. in his article entitled ‘The later life and writings of Joseph Cresswell’, published in Recusant history 15 n 2 (London, 1979) pp 79144 .I am particularly grateful to Mr Allison for the assistance he has given me in preparing this paper, and in particular for showing me an early draft of his article on Cresswell.

21 Chadwick, Hubert, ‘Saint Omer. 2—Le collège Anglais’ in Les établissements des Jésuites en France ed Delattre, Pierre 5 vols (Enghien 1949-57) vol 4, col 905 . He is more cautious in his St Omers to Stonyhurst, p 274.

22 Plomer, Henry H., A dictionary of printers and booksellers who were at work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1668 to 1725 (London 1968) p 155 .

25 Clancy n 865.

24 Foley, Henry, Records of the English province of he Society of Jesus 8 vols (London 1877- 83) vol 7, p 327 .

25 Clancy 665. It is clear from the letter book kept by Lewis Sabran when he was rector that the college at St Omer acted as an agent for supplying books, as well as printing on its own account. See, for example, the letter book entry for 26 February 1715 (CRS 62 [1971] P 230).

26 Ibid p 94.

27 Ibid p 174. The entry is dated 12 October 1714.

28 Above, p 221 n 2.

29 See Alegambe, P., Bibliotheca scriptorum Societatis lesu (Antwerp, 1643) p 305 , where Alegambe remarks ‘quod impressum quidem, sed hactenus bonis causis suppressu est’. For the possible ‘bonae causae’ see Clancy, Thomas H., ‘English catholics and the papal deposing powerRecusant history 7 (London 1963) p 2 .

30 A and R n 94 for the Bellarmine, and n 365.

31 A and R nn 190 and 248.

32 Above, p 224 n 10.

33 Clancy n 294.

34 Clancy n 309, where the book is dated as 1667. This, however, is the date of the original French edition. The Preface, signed by the printer, suggests that the English version came out much later.

35 Duffy, Eamon, ‘A rubb-up for old soares’,JEH 28 (1977) p 311 .

36 Above, p 212 n 3.

37 Walsh, M. J., ‘An eighteenth-century English Jesuit bibliographyHeythrop Journal 20 (London, 1979) pp 4456 . The bibliography is important in tracing the history of the press because it suggests that there are very few eighteenth-century books by English Jesuits which still await identification. Since, as is indicated above, the press rarely printed books which were not by Jesuits, then it would seem that not many St Omer press books remain to be found which were printed between the turn of the century and 1759. So far some thirty have been identified.

38 Above, p 223.

39 Clancy n 843.

40 On this see Newdigate, Charles, ‘The 163 5 edition of the institute S.J.Letters and Notices 38 (Roehampton, 1923) pp 1314 . For Vitelleschi’s proposal see Rome Jesuit archives Epp. Gen. Anglia I/II fol 391. The edition was eventually printed in sixteen volumes by Meursius of Antwerp. In his article Newdigate remarks that the printing was complete by 1638, but all volumes of that edition bear the date 1635, and a letter from Vitellesch, to More of 26 January 1636 suggests that the printing had just been finished (Rome Jesuit archives Epp. Gen. Anglia I/II fol 427).

41 A and R. nn 260, 303, 559, 560, 579 and 580, all of which are discussed by A. F. Allison in the article referred to on p 226 n 20. In that article Allison describes them as ‘fiercely anti-Calvinist, anti-Dutch and favouring a firm Anglo-Spanish alliance’ (Ibid p 130>). To these titles must now be added .A true relation of the late cruell and barbarous tortures and executions, done upon the English at Amboyna in the East Indies, by the Hollanders there residing (STC 7454). There is no doubt at all that this little pamphlet came from the English college press, and I am grateful to Miss Anna Simoni of the British Library for having brought it to my attention. In his article Allison comments that in May 1624 Cresswell was ‘asking for a papal pension to enable him to continue to publish works against the Calvinists’ (ibid p 131) : it may be that A true relation was the sole outcome of his new proposal.

42 Above, p 228.

43 Clancy n 16, which is undated, and n 17 dated 1677.

44 Only the first two volumes of the four were published in the seventeenth century. See Clancy nn 376-9 for the various editions of these.

45 The only work which might be described as a larger undertaking is the folio edition of More’s Historia missionis mentioned above, p 221. This has many of the hallmarks of an English college publication, but carries the imprint of Thomas Geubels.

46 Clancy nn 835-7. John Warner’s responsibility for the translation is established by the manuscript bibliography mentioned above, p 230 n 37.

47 A and R 732-40.

48 There were several other editions of the Warner translation in the nineteenth century.

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