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Topsell, Moffett, and Rowland

After his studies at Christ’s College, Cambridge, the Kentish Edward Topsell (1572-1625), spent a decade shuttling between provincial curacies before his installation at St. Botolph in London (note 1). Topsell was no naturalist, and in his redactions, as Katherine Acheson notes, “he leans toward the attitude maintained in medieval bestiaries, in which animals provide instructive examples for improving moral conduct in human beings and society” (note 2). In this sense, The History is of a piece with Topsell’s other published works, collections of lectures and sermons, The revvard of religion (1596) and Times lamentation: or An exposition on the prophet Ioel (1599), and The house-holder (1609), a book of advices. This last came, as the 1607-1608 edition of The History had, from the presses of William Jaggard. Unlike Topsell, Thomas Moffett (1553-1604) was a naturalist. He took degrees from Gonville Hall and Trinity College, Cambridge before completing an M.D. at the University of Basel in 1579 (note 3). Much of the Theatrum’s contents were collected by Thomas Penny (c. 1530-1588) with whom Moffett worked jointly from 1584 (note 4). A network of Continental contacts, Gesner included, with whom Penny exchanged observations, descriptions, drawings and specimens enabled their study (note 5). Indeed, “that community,” as Janice Neri observes, “was brought into existence as part of Penny and Moffett’s efforts to establish insects as a subject matter for a book” (note 6). The two seem to have consulted a manuscript version of Topsell’s History of Serpents as well (note 7). Penny died, and Moffett completed the treatise in March of 1589 (note 8).No doubt the manuscript benefited from the pen of Moffett, who, as Charles Raven writes, “has a touch of fancy, a flair for telling phrases, a literary gift”  (note 9). He secured—but never made use of—a license to publish in The Hague (note 10). Insectorum sive Minimorium Animalum Theatrum was finally printed in 1634 by Thomas Cotes of London. Moffett’s translator John Rowland remains obscure. He too was a physician: The History’s title-page records him as “J.R. M.D.” Rowland is not known to have authored any original compositions, though he did translate two treatises more, An History of the Wonderful Things of Nature and An History of the Constancy of Nature, both by the Polish naturalist John Johnston, both printed by John Streater in 1657. In the epistle dedicatory addressed to Edward Montagu, second earl of Manchester, which opens the former, Rowland reports that he “was fromerly a schollar at Eaton Collegde, and contemporary with your Honour; and that I once hade the happinesse to be domestick Servant unto your Honours Noble Father” (note 11). One of the few Roundhead peers, Manchester commanded Parliamentarian forces at the Battle of Martson Moor.



note 1. G. Lewis, “Topsell, Edward (bap. 1572, d. 1625),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eds. H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, January, 2008. <>. 

note 2. Katherine Acheson, “Gesner, Topsell, and the Purposes of Pictures in Early Modern Natural Histories,” Printed Images in Early Modern Britain: Essays in Interpretation, ed. Michael Hunter (Burlington: Ashgate, 2010), 129.

note 3. Victor Houliston, “Moffet, Thomas (1553-1604),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eds. H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, January, 2008. <>

note 4. Janice Neri, The Insect and the Image: Visualizing Nature in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1700 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 44-45.

note 5. Ibid. 46.

note 6. Ibid. 53.

note 7. Charles E. Raven, English Naturalists from Neckam to Ray: A Study of the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947), 180.  

note 8. Neri, Insect, 45.

note 9. Raven, Naturalists, 189.

note 10. Neri, Insects, 55.

note 11. John Rowland, “To the Right Honorable Edvvard Lord Montague,” An History of the Wonderful Things of Nature (London: John Streater, 1657), sig A1R.

Topsell, Moffett, and Rowland