KNEVET, Ralph (1600-1671)
KNEVET, Ralph (1600-1671)
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KNEVET, Ralph (1600-1671)

Autograph manuscript, a compositional draft of five devotional poems, n.d. [1640s].

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KNEVET, Ralph (1600-1671)
Autograph manuscript, a compositional draft of five devotional poems, n.d. [1640s].
The poems entitled 'Prayer', 'Sicknes', 'The world', 'Preaching' and 'Memory', together approximately 123 lines of verse in two columns, on the blank verso of:

[Abraham ORTELIUS (1527-1598)]. Prebisteri Iohannis, sive, Abissinorum Imperii Descriptio. [Antwerp: 1572 or later].

Double-page hand-coloured engraved map of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, 17-line dedication to the Biblical King David to top-left surrounded by floral strap-like ornamentation, with arms of Prester John above, title within cartouche in Indian Ocean, Latin text on verso, 370 x 435mm (plate mark), 422 x 550mm (sheet).

Autograph devotional poems, on the verso of a finely coloured example of Ortelius's famous map of the kingdom of Prester John. The poetical works of Ralph Knevet are recognised as ‘a part of the great tradition of Herbert, Vaughan, and Crashaw in seventeenth-century devotional poetry’ (Charles, p.5). His greatest poetic achievement is A Gallery to the Temple, a series of 82 devotional lyrics composed during the 1640s but which remained unpublished until the 20th century. The five poems on the verso of this map are apparently the earliest extant versions of numbers 71-75 of this work and contain various corrections and false-starts, while the poem entitled ‘Memory’ appears here with the addition of an entire 6-line stanza not present in the fair copy (BL Add. MS 27447). Although the use of the verso of a coloured Ortelius map for poetic composition seems unusual, not to say extravagant, the survival of at least two other examples (one at the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, the other in a private collection) suggests Knevet may have drafted his entire series of devotional poems on the blank leaves of an atlas. We are unable to trace any examples of Knevet’s autograph manuscripts at auction since 1976, when an Ortelius map of Poland with three devotional poems on the verso was acquired by the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. Amy M. Charles. The Shorter Poems of Ralph Knevet: A Critical Edition. Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1966.

The Ortelius map, first printed in the Additamentum of 1573, depicts the mythical kingdom of Prester John as situated in north-eastern Africa. In the 12th century, a rumour swept Europe that a Christian king, Presbyter Johannes, was waging war against the Muslims from his kingdom in Asia. When it became clear that this was pure myth, popular fancy moved his location to Africa. As a result, the Christian Ethiopian ambassadors sent to Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries were identified with the mythical kingdom of Prester John. Norwich 11; Tooley, p.89; Van den Broecke 175.
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Sophie Hopkins
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