PARSONS, Robert (1546-1610). The Christian Directory, guiding men to Eternall Salvation. [St. Omer: English College Press], 1633.
12° (148 x 95mm). Ruled in red. Contemporary French red morocco gilt, panelled sides with Digby arms at center, spine lettered in one compartment, Digby cipher (KVD) in others, gilt edges (very small wormtrack on lower cover). Provenance: Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-65; binding) – Thomas Wentworth, Lord Cleveland (1591-1667; inscription, given to:) – Humphrey Paynter in 1655 (inscription, see below) – Earls of Macclesfield (bookplate, blindstamp on first 3 leaves; sale Sotheby’s, 25-26 October 2006, lot 2879).
The sweet prettiness of this small volume contrasts starkly with its subversive political and religious content. It is written by a forceful English Jesuit, the contemporary of Edmund Campion, committed to re-establishing Catholicism in England; its text is among the most influential spiritual works of the post-Reformation, whose style and exhortations converted many to his cause and ensured that it remained current for over a century; and its first owners came from noble Catholic recusant families. Following the early death of his beloved wife Venetia (whose initial he incorporated into his cypher) in 1633, Sir Kenelm Digby buried himself deeper into his studies of alchemy and natural philosophy at London and, from 1635, Paris. Here he formed a second library (the first had been donated to the Bodleian in 1634) and joined a network of fellow intellectuals, including Hobbes and Descartes. He presumably gave the book to his acquaintance, the Royalist soldier, Thomas Wentworth, Lord Cleveland, when he joined Charles II on the Continent in 1649. Wentworth returned to England, was captured at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651 and imprisoned at the Tower. His second imprisonment in the Tower as a Royalist is commemorated in the flyleaf inscription from Wentworth to Humphrey Paynter: ‘The Lord Cleveland gave this booke and four others unto Humphery Paynter when the sayd Earle was a prisoner in the Tower of London July 6th 1655’. Allison & Rogers 625; cf. Rubin, Sir Kenelm Digby,…a bibliography (1991).