Mabbott the Visitor

I’ve finally rebegun my work on collecting licensing statistics for Mabbott’s second term of office.  There are some quirks.  For instance, in Oct. 1647 there is a pamphlet that would appear to be royalist to which Mabbott gave his imprimatur.  The pamphlet contains an argument against allowing parliament to send visitor to Oxford University.  The author asserts that only the king has the right to conduct a visitation.  Considering Oxford’s previous position as royalist capital, as well as its later infiltration by a swarm of parliamentarian intellectuals, it is difficult to understand why Mabbott would license such a polemic.

There is no imprimatur on the actual work.  In the Stationers’ Register, the pamphlet was entered under the hands of Mabbott and [George] Latham.  Latham was a bookseller and would be a master of the Stationers’ Company by 1650 (I haven’t checked, but I assume he was serving as an Under or Upper Warden of the Stationers’ Company at the time, considering that he would be a master in three years time.  Wardens often served as the Company’s own licensers).  As Cyndia Clegg reminds us, entry into the Stationers’ Register does not necessarily mean the granting of a license.  However, I would assume that if the work was entered specifically under a licenser’s hand, that would imply a license.

I can think of five possible explanations.  One: Mabbott did not know what he was licensing.  I find this explanation unlikely.  Two: Mabbott was secretly a royalist sympathizer.  I find this explanation even more unlikely.  Three: he was bribed.  Possible, but one would expect that his regular pay as the army’s agent as well as licensing fees, plus a number of other “perks” that I’ve been finding, would have been enough to keep him loyal.  Four: as reputed, he did believe in a free press.  I do  not have space to discuss this here, but I have elsewhere concluded that this was not the case.  Five: he intentionally saw it published in order to make the author’s position appear foolish.  The text is rather vitriolic, and though I am not yet positive, this fifth explanation is the most likely.  Certainly, with Charles in the army’s custody, the argument that only the king could carry out a visitation was somewhat absurd.

What does this tell us about Mabbott’s licensing?  He at least occasionally engaged in games similar to those of the Laudians in the 1620s and 30s (at least as reconstructed by Anthony Milton).  By publishing an unrealistic royalist argument, he sought to marginalize royalism as a whole.  Or perhaps more simply, if that was the case against an Oxford visitation, airing it could only serve to weaken resistance.  Mabbott has shown other signs of such sophistication, including publishing petitions against free quarter with a related petition by Fairfax to parliament for regular pay, thus placing the blame for free quarter squarely on parliament’s shoulders.  I will have to leave off the full history of Mabbott’s licensing history for my dissertation, but this is what I have been thinking about lately, so I thought others might find it interesting.

On another front, I may have finally solved the mystery of Mabbott’s alternating letter forms.  I noticed in reading his newsletters that while his hand was generally consistent, a few letter forms, particular “t”s, would vary from newsletter to newsletter.  I am currently in the middle of reading Harold Love’s Scribal Publication in Early Modern England, and yesterday I noted a brief mention that personal secretaries might be expected to be able to mimic their master’s italic hand.  It is something I should have thought of earlier, but the explanation for the varying letter forms is as simple as different writers, all trying to write like Mabbott, with varying degrees of success.  I guess I was so confused because the hand was quite consistent besides a handful of letters, but I think that solves that problem.  It also may or may not suggest something about the scope of Mabbott’s newswriting enterprise beyond his currently known recipients, but that is a question for a different day.

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Filed under censorship, Long Parliament, Mabbott

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