Origins of the Pilgrim Press, three years before the Mayflower Voyage

[Pilgrim Press]. Dod, John (ca. 1549-1645) [and Cleaver, Robert (fl. 16th-17th century)].

A plaine and familiar exposition of the tenne commandements. With a methodicall short catechime, containing briefly all the principall grounds of Christian religion. According to the last corrected and inlarged copie by the authour, Mr. Iohn Dod. To which is now prefixed three profitable tables. [Leyden, William Brewster], 1617.

[Pilgrim Press]. Dod, John (ca. 1549-1645) [and Cleaver, Robert (fl. 16th-17th century)] A plaine and familiar exposition of the tenne commandements. With a methodicall short catechime, containing briefly all the principall grounds of Christian religion. According to the last corrected and inlarged copie by the authour, Mr. Iohn Dod. To which is now prefixed three profitable tables. [Leyden, William Brewster], 1617.

4° (200x150 mm). Collation: A4, a4, B-Z4, Aa-Kk4, Ll2, 2Ll2, Mm2 (Gg1 signed H; Mm2v blank). Complete (with a total of 144 leaves). [xvi], 260 (numerous misnumberings, the pagination as follows: pp. 1-56, 75-97, 100-133, 138-139, 136-137, 142-143, 140-157, 162-163, 160-161, 158-159, 164-228, 231, 234-238, 241, 240-241, 244-284), [12] pages. Roman and italic type. Title with ornamental border and the famous woodcut ornament depicting a bear. Woodcut headpieces, decorated initials and five tailpieces. Recased in old vellum, renewed flyleaves. An excellent copy with good margins. The first leaves slightly browned with minor waterstaining, a few blank margins frayed, old flaw to title-page, without any loss, staining to the final two leaves, upper forecorner of final leaf torn away, just touching a couple of letters, with old repair.

Rare first Pilgrim Press edition of one of the most influential primers on Puritan religious beliefs, printed by William Brewster, who three years later would lead an intrepid band of English religious 'separatists' to America on the Mayflower. Published during Brewster's Dutch exile, the work is not only relevant to the history of the Pilgrims prior to their emigration to America, but as a printed document aptly embodies the cardinal principles of American life: freedom of expression, and freedom to dissent.

The story of William Brewster and the English Separatists and their emigration to Holland constitutes an important chapter in the pre-history of America. Persecuted for their religious beliefs in England, the community took refuge at Leiden, where Brewster began printing books with Thomas Brewer in a workshop in Kosteeg in 1617.

Some of their productions were seditious books that could never have been printed in England, but among their very first production were English and Dutch editions of Dod and Cleaver's Exposition of the tenne commandements, a keystone of Puritan piety, first printed in London in 1603. At the instigation of the English government, the press was disbanded and the type confiscated in 1619, just as the community was preparing to depart for America. Brewster was actually forced into hiding, before joining the first group of Separatists aboard the Mayflower in 1620. As the only university-educated immigrant and by force of character and charisma, Brewster assumed the role of spiritual leader and acted as preacher for the Plymouth colony until his death in 1644. Copies of this edition – as documentary evidence indicates (see below) – were taken to America by the Pilgrims, and the book was therefore among the first ones to arrive in the New World (see no. 91).

Brewster's Leiden press (known later as the 'Pilgrim Press') is known to have printed at least eighteen titles between 1617 and 1619, most now extant in only a handful of copies. Dated 1617, Dod and Cleaver's A plaine and familiar exposition of the tenne commandements was one of the earliest, the third item in the standard bibliography of Rendel Harris and Stephan K. Jones. The press soon attracted the attention of the English authorities when it became clear that some of its polemical books were re-entering the Kingdom. The English version of the work the title is dated but unsigned because of the danger assumed by the individual publishing the book. It was first identified as a product of the Pilgrim Press by Harris & Jones, and this attribution is unanimously accepted. It is “a typical 'Brewster' book, which the 'acorn' border to the title-page, and other 'Brewster' ornaments, initials and types [...] it is found possible to place it, chronologically, with apparent exactness. The compositor is already using the small 'bear' with the break which appears throughout 1618” (Harris & Jones, no. 3). Recently Ronald Breugelmans has argued that the publication might have been issued in partnership with the Leiden printer Govert Basson.

While the text is competently printed, the many confusions in pagination evoke the rushed nature and sloppiness of occasional or stealth printing. Unlike other Pilgrim Press productions, which were identified by contemporaries such as the English Ambassador Sir Dudley Carleton as prohibited, the present title was not in itself a clandestine text. On the contrary, it had already become one of the backbones of Puritan piety especially with the appended Catechism 'containing briefly all the principall grounds of Christian Religion'.

At the behest of the English government, the Pilgrim Press and its types were destroyed by Dutch authorities in 1619; the voyage to America commenced the following year. At least some copies of the present edition came to America with the Pilgrims. William Brewster himself owned three copies (noted in Harris & Jones), and according to Briggs other copies are listed in the inventories of Samuel Fuller (the Pilgrims' physician and Deacon of the Plymouth church), Godbert Godbertson and Governor William Bradford.

A rare artifact of North American history, this edition by the Pilgrim Press provides essential background for the first book published in America, the Bay Psalm Book of 1640.

Census of this edition: ESTC lists copies at the British Library, Birmingham, Glasgow, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library, Lincoln College (Oxford) and American copies at Dartmouth College and Folger. OCLC adds copies at Princeton, Michigan and Toronto (Thomas Fisher Library, defective, wanting all after p. 273). The only other copy of this work found at auction in the past hundred years is of the Dutch translation, sold on 22 March 1921 for the sum of $280.

STC Low Countries 1601-1621, D-66; ESTC 6973; R. Harris - S. K. Jones, The Pilgrim Press: A Bibliographical & Historical Memorial of the Books Printed at Leyden by the Pilgrim Fathers, Cambridge 1922 (reprint ed. by R. Breugelmans, Nieuwkoop 1987), no. 3; R. T. Briggs, “Books of the Pilgrims as Recorded in their Inventories and Preserved in Pilgrim Hall”, Old-Time New England 61 (1970-71), pp. 41-46; R. Breugelmans, “The Pilgrim Press: A Press That Did Not Print (Leiden 1616/17 - 1619)”, Quaerendo 39 (2009), pp. 34-44; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 186.

$ 75.000