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Paper's Creatures: Print & Metamorphosis in The History of Four-Footed Beasts, Serpents, and Insects

The History held, its authors thought, all God-made, animal things in its ink and paper. Printed in 1658 by Ellen Cotes at her shop in Aldersgate Street, Barbican, London, and edited by the physician John Rowland, The History records the world’s beasts in some twelve hundred pages of text and woodcut illustrations. The contents were long in collecting—the whole age’s work. Its first two parts reprint Edward Topsell’s 1607 and 1608 treatises The History of Foure-Footed Beasts and The History of Serpents, both redactions of the Züricher Konrad Gesner’s then hundred-year-old Historiae Animalium. The third part, Thomas Moffett’s book of bugs, Theatrum Insectorum, was Englished by Rowland for the occasion. The folio was printed on a shoestring. The paper is too thin; the ink too runny. Its rectos and versos do not completely separate: ink bleeds from one side of the leaf to the other. Shadowing through the paper, into the text’s letters, and into one another, the beasts find new shape; they metamorphose.  


Esei Murakishi