Why Every Copy of a Book is Different

I was recently using the excellent Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive, created by Michael Goodman of Cardiff University, which made me realise for the first time how compelling Victorian depictions of scenes from Shakespeare can be. Among the most varied and entertaining of the major illustrated Shakespeare editons reproduced by Michael in his archive is the Pictorial Edition of Shakspere (a supposedly more correct spelling of his name based on his signatures and preferred by many Victorians), produced by the founder of Local Government Chronicle, Charles Knight (1791–1873), first published in parts between 1838 and 1843, then subsequently reprinted in many different forms thereafter.

One of these derivatives of Knight’s work is an 1888 edition of The Works of William Shakspere, published by Routledge. The frontispiece for this edition is an imposing portrait of Shakespeare drawn by Sir John Gilbert and engraved by the Brothers Dalziel. This dates from 1881 and is different to the earlier portraits produced by Gilbert and the Dalziels in their illustrated Shakespeare included in the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

Portrait of Shakespeare by Sir John Gilbert engraved by the Btotyhers Dalziel, 1881

The title page of the 1888 Routledge edition of Knight’s Shakespeare is decorated with a vignette of Shakespeare’s birthplace, but this is different from the view by W. Pyne in Knight’s Pictorial Shakspere and included in the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

The copy of the 1888 Routledge Knight edition that I used was in the National Library of Wales (PR 3323 K 69). It is still in its austere plain green binding which contrasts with the jaunty red binding of the Pictorial Shakspere or the elaborately decorated binding of the 1860 Pearls of Shakespeare (sic.), illustrated by another of the artists featured in he Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive, Kenny Meadows.

Trade binding of the 1888 Routledge edition of Knight’s Works of Shakspere, in National Library of Wales PR 3323 K 69
Binding of the 1860 Pearls of Shakspeare, illustrated by Kenny Meadows

The 1888 Routledge edition of Knight is an austere and slightly forbidding contrast to the Pictorial Shakespeare. In the National Library of Wales copy, the only illustrations are full page illustrations taken from John Gilbert’s illustrated Shakespeare, as follows:

opp. p.220: full page illustration of As You Like It, with an epithet from Act 5 sc. v: Silvius: The wound’s invisible, That love’s keen arrows make.

opp. p. 294: full page illustration of Twelfth Night, with an epithet from Act 3 sc. iv, Olivia: Why dost thou smile so, and kiss thy hand so oft?

opp. p. 393: full page illustration of King Henry the Fourth Part 1, with an epithet from Act 2 sc. iv: Falstaff, ‘This chair shall be my state, this dagger my sceptre’.

opp. p. 608: full page illustration of Henry VIII, with an epithet from Act 3 sc. ii: Norfolk, ‘He is vex’d at something’.

opp. p. 711: full page illustration of King Lear, with an epithet from Act 5, sc. iii: Lear, ‘Come, let’s away to prison’.

opp. p. 795: full page illustration of Hamlet, with an epithet from Act 5, sc. ii: Fortinbras, ‘Where is this sight?’

The copy of the Routledge 1888 edition of Knight’s Shakespeare in the National Library of Wales were presented to the Library sometime between 1960 and 1970 by Rev. Francis Edward Llewellyn Jones (1883–1982), Rector of Ballingham with Bolstone in Herefordshire.

The Shakespeare edition came to the Library with a number of the Rev. Llewellyn Jones’s notebooks and papers. Here is what the National Library of Wales catalogue says about Rev. Llewellyn Jones:

“The Rev. Francis Ernest Llewellyn Jones was a typical clergyman of his day, who combined his pastoral duties with a keen interest in genealogy, philology and antiquarianism, pursuits which he was able to enjoy in his retirement. He was born on 12 August 1883 at Tal-y-bont, Breconshire, to the Rev. John Harris Jones, curate of Llanfeugan, in the same county, and Hannah, his wife (née Francis). On his father’s death, the family moved to live at Blackmoore farm, Abbey Dore, near Hereford, the home of Francis’s maternal grandparents, Mary and Thomas Francis. Francis was to follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming a deacon in 1910, and serving as curate at Pont-y-pridd, Glamorgan, from 1910–1911. He was at Llowes, Radnorshire, from 1911–1914, receiving a licence to officiate in the Diocese of Worcester, 1916–1919, and for the Diocese of Hereford, 1919–20. From 1921–1925 he was given permission to officiate at Penydarren, Glamorgan. He served at St Mary’s Cardiff, from 1925–1926, as vicar of Kenderchurch, Herefordshire, 1937–1942, and rector of Ballingham with Bolstone, from 1942 to his retirement from the ministry in 1960. On his retirement, he moved from Ballingham Rectory to live at 25 Grandstand Road, Hereford, a home he shared with his housekeeper and companion, Mrs Catherine Whitney. He died in 1982.

The fonds contains papers relating to his career in the church, 1909–1960, and personal papers, including papers relating to various members of his family and papers reflecting his antiquarian interests, [c.1850]-1980".

It is common practice for libraries to separate manuscript papers from printed books which may accompany them. Yet the Rev. Llewellyn Jones’s copy of Knight’s Shakespeare speaks just as loudly about his interests and enthusiasms as his personal papers. At the beginning of the volume he has inserted three newspaper clippings, one of which intriguingly relates to Bacon, suggesting a possible Baconian sympathy. Another concerns Shakespeare and the Bible and shows how Rev. Llewellyn Jones may have regarded his Shakespeare as just as important in his pastoral duties as his Bible.

More poignantly, between pp. 62 and 63, marking Act 2 sc. v of The Merry Wives of Windsor, is a small embroidered bookmark.

There is another printed book mark, between pp. 638 and 639, marking Act 3 sc. iii of Romeo and Juliet. This was issued by the Hereford drapers firm of C. H. Simpson as agents of the Perth Dye Works.

Of course, we do not kinow if these bookmarks are still where the Rev. Llewellyn Jones left them, but they are striking testimony to his egagement with the volume. More direct evidence of his study of Shakespeare is a set of copies of phrases from Shakespeare between pp. 234 and 235.

More mysterious is a folded scrap from some apparently unrelated notes, also used as a marker.

It is frequently assumed that when Google Books has finished its work, we will have copies of all the books ever printed at our disposal on the web, and books like the Rev. Llewellyn Jones’s copy of the unremarkable 1888 edition of Shakespeare will no longer be needed.

This myth has been exploded for books of the hand press period since the craft nature of printing at that time meant that each printed sheet will differ in small details. It is well known that no two copies of the Shakespeare First Folio are exactly the same, but of course this applies to all books of the hand press period up to the early nineteenth century.

But books like the 1888 Routledge Shakespeare are machine printed. Surely we don’t need to keep or study all copies of them. Won’t a digitised version and sample copies in key libraries be sufficient? The example of Rev. Llewellyn Jones’s book illustrates that this is not the case. Each copy of a book bears the imprint in different ways of its previous owners and can act as an archive of the owners’ interests, enthusiasms and preoccupations as much as their personal papers.


Another of the illustrated editions of Shakespeare included in the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive is that illustrated by the caricaturist Kenny Meadows and published in 1843. One of the copies in the National Library of Wales (PE3323 P96) is rather battered, but again illustrates why every copy of a book has its own tale to tale. At the front of this volume are these inscriptions.

These inscriptions read: “These volumes of Shakspear were presented to Mr John Davies by me, as a memento of the late R. B. Thomas, knowing they will be highly prized by him and his family on account of the friendly feeling that always existed between them and my late husband.
Harriett Thomas
February 1847

These three volumes of Shakespere’s Works Comedies Tragedies Historical are given to National Library Wales Aberystwyth Dyfed to the memory of my sister Anne Catherine Morgan from her sister Gwenllian G. Morgan Grandaughters of William Davies Agent, Llynir [?Llyndir]Mineral Works, Maesteg, Glamorgan Jan 20th 1976".

Inscriptions such as these provide eloquent evidence of the way in which illustrated editions suh as these helped popularise Shakespeare and how tyhey became prized possessions.