'Coffee Table Book' 400 Years Old

Trevlyon's illustration of "Malice" is takend directly from a ca. 1595 engraving from the workshop of Jacques de Gheyn the younger. The first part of the text is a series of proverbs warning against the malice and wickedness of women. The second part of the text consists of scriptural quotations on proud, rich, and distrustful men.
A nearly 400-year-old manuscript on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library is probably a prototype of the coffee table book, its richly illustrated history providing a glimpse of the world from Adam and Eve to a plot to blow up King James I and his Parliament.

The 600 pages of pictures and text - only 87 are in the display that opened Wednesday - was compiled by Thomas Trevelyon and known as the Trevelyon Miscellany.

Little is known about Trevelyon himself. Researchers failed to find any clear record of his birth, death or anything else about him. A similar collection he made eight years later indicates that he was 60 years old when he did the first one.

The page with that information says of his work: "It is a miscellany and no otherwise to be respected, not learned and therefore the easier to be pardoned. All I hope that see it are my friends and accept it friendly."

Scholars at the Folger think this statement and nearly everything in the two volumes has likely been copied from a printed source - as was generally done in such collections, which were popular at the time. The exhibit includes many of the printed sources though the sources for this item and a number of others have not been found.

The library considers the collection "a prototype coffee table book," according to the exhibit, "created for the entertainment, education and edification of his friends and family."

Trevelyon compiled his first collection at the time William Shakespeare was writing his last plays. But the surviving 594 pages do not mention him. Trevelyon may have considered the London theater and other popular entertainment beneath his notice.

One of Trevelyon's portrayals of women, though, recalls Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," and the sequel by his friend John Ford, "The Tamer Tamed," which the Royal Shakespeare Company played earlier this month at Washington's Kennedy Center. Trevelyon illustrates the sin of malice with a vivid drawing of a strong-faced woman, hands on hips and keys dangling from her waist, berating a meek husband seated on a stool.

The manuscript also depicts the 1605 "gunpowder plot," in which loyal officials foiled the plot by Catholics seeking to take power from the Protestant king. Guy Fawkes was caught with barrels of gunpowder in a coal cellar under the Parliament building.

That's why Parliament began the practice, which still continues ceremonially, of searching its cellars before each session. Fawkes is burned in effigy - with fireworks - on Nov. 5, the anniversary of the day the barrels were due to explode.

This was the period when the king was organizing what would become the standard Protestant translation of the Bible into English - the King James version. There's a portrait of James, his predecessor Queen Elizabeth I and other British monarchs back to the mythical Brutus, said to have come from Homer's Troy to found the line.

By Carl Hartman