Aphra Behn

Stephen Bernard (ed.), The Literary Correspondences of the Tonsons

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Letter 5aphra behn1 to tonson2[London] 1684

1684 | DEARE MR. TONSON, | I am mightyly obleg'd to you for the service you have done me to Mr. Dryden; in whose esteeme I wou'd chuse pg 86to be rather than any bodys in the world; and I am sure I never, in thought, word, or deed, merritted other from him, but if you had heard what was told me, you wou'd have excus'd all I said on that account.3 Thank him most infinitely for the honour he offers, and I shall never think I can do any thing that can merritt so vast a glory; and I must owe it all to you if I have it. As for Mr. Creech,4 I would not have you afflict him with a thing can not now be help'd, so never let him know my resentment.5 I am troubled for the line that's left out of Dr. Garth, and wish your man wou'd write it in the margent, at his leasure, to all you sell.6

As for the verses of mine, I shou'd really have thought 'em worth thirty pound; and I hope you will find it worth 25l.; not that I shou'd dispute at any other time for 5 pound wher I am so obleg'd; but you can not think what a pretty thing the Island will be, and what a deale of labor I shall have yet with it: and if that pleases, I will do the 2d voyage, which will compose a little book as big as a novel by it self.7 But pray speake to yor brother8 to advance the price to one 51b more, 'twill at this time be more than given me, and I vow I wou'd not aske it if I did not really believe it worth more. Alas I wou'd not loose my time in such low gettings, but only since I am about it I am resolv'd to go throw with it tho I shou'd give it. I pray go about it as soone as you please, for I shall finish as fast as you can go on. Methinks the Voyage shou'd com last, as being the largest volume. You know Mr Couly's Dauid is last, because a large poem,9 and Mrs. Philips her plays for the same reason.10 I wish I had more time, I wou'd ad something to the verses that I have a mind too, but, good deare Mr. Tonson, let it be 51b more, for I may safly swere I have lost the getting of 501b by it, tho that's nothing to you, or my satisfaction and humour: but I have been without getting so long that I am just on the poynt of breaking, especiall since a body has no creditt at the playhouse for money as we usd to have, fifty or 60 deepe, or more;11 I want extreamly or I wo'd not urge this. | Yours, A. B.

Pray send me the loose papers to put to these I have, and let me know which you will go about first, the songs and verses or that. Send me an answer to-day.12

A. BEHN

manuscript: Whereabouts unknown. Text taken from 'Memorials of Literary Characters—no. XIV. Letters of Mrs Aphra Behn, the Poetess, to Tonson the Bookseller', The Gentleman's Magazine, 5 (1836), 481–2.pg 87pg 88

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1 Aphra Behn (1640?–89), writer, was a prolific playwright who had, after the reopening of the theatres in 1660, nineteen plays performed, including The Rover (1677–81); in the 1670s she acted as a Tory propagandist, turning in the 1680s to the publication of what has been called the earliest of English novels: Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684) and, later, Oroonoko (1688). In 1684, at the time of this letter, Behn was preparing for publication Poems upon Several Occasions, with A Voyage to the Island of Love (1684). For a discussion of this letter, see Maureen Duffy, The Passionate Shepherdess: the Life of Aphra Behn, 16401689, 3rd edn (Phoenix, 2000), 236–7, who dates the letter to late 1683, and Janet Todd, The Secret Life of Aphra Behn (Andre Deutsch, 1996), 324–5. For a discussion of Tonson's relationship with Behn, see Lynch, 99–100.
Editor’s Note
2 It should be generally noted about Tonson's writers that they afford him the same degree of politeness as they do their aristocratic patrons (see S. Fitzmaurice, 'Servant or Patron? Jacob Tonson and the language of Deference and Respect', Language Sciences, 24:3–4 (2002), 247–60).
Editor’s Note
3 Duffy identifies 'Upon these and other Excellent Works of the Incomparable Astræa' (Poems on Several Occasions (sig. bv–b5r)) as being by Dryden (Passionate Shepherdess, 236), and it might be for the solicitation of such a dedicatory poem that Behn thanks Tonson. However, no editor of Dryden's poetry has ever accepted Duffy's attribution to Dryden of this poem; Tonson was not above passing off his own work as dedicatory poetry he attributed to Dryden, and may have done so in this case (for a caveat to which, see Letter 134).
Editor’s Note
4 Thomas Creech (1659–1700), translator and classical scholar, was educated at Wadham College, Oxford. A commendatory poem, 'To Mr. DRYDEN, on Religio Laici' (1682) was preceded, that year, by the translation which established Creech as a philosopher and a poet: T. Lucretius Carus the Epicurean Philosopher, His Six Books De Natura Rerum Done into English Verse, with Notes (Oxford: 1682), the first almost complete translation, in heroic couplets, to be published in English. Its success was as immediate as it was sensational. It was reprinted in quick succession in 1682–3, in both London, by Tonson, and Oxford, by Anthony Stephens, and the translation won Creech a fellowship at All Souls College in 1683. Less well received were his translations in the following year of Theocritus, Virgil, and Ovid. Especially poorly received too was The Odes, Satyrs, and Epistles of Horace, dedicated to Dryden. The two men continued to work alongside one another, on Plutarch's Lives, but by this time Creech was considered a spent force in English translation.
Editor’s Note
5 The poem by Thomas Creech, 'To the author on her Voyage to the Isle of Love' (sig. b2v–b3v) may be the cause for Behn's resentment (see Duffy, Passionate Shepherdess, 236). 'In its way it's a small erotic masterpiece itself' (Duffy, Passionate Shepherdess, 237), and as such may have been too close to Behn's own work for comfort.
Editor’s Note
6 Dr (later Sir) Samuel Garth was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1693. He is perhaps best known for The Dispensary, A Poem (1699) about the opening of the College dispensary in 1697–8. It had appeared in three editions by the end of that year; he was a Kit-Cat.The reference to Garth is obscure. It cannot be to the commendatory verses—none of which is incomplete, and, so far as I have seen, none contains marginal corrections, nor did Garth produce anything in this year. Montague Summers was not the first to note that 'This [the reading 'Garth'] . . . cannot be correct but it is so transcribed. In the transcript of this letter made by Malone . . . over the word "Garth's" is written "Q", and at the foot of the page a note by Mitford says "This name seems to have been doubtful in the MSS"' (The Works of Aphra Behn, ed. Montague Summers, six vols (Heinemann, 1915), 1.xlvn).
Editor’s Note
7 Though bound with Poems on Several Occasions, with A Voyage to the Isle of Love, the Voyage is separately paginated and runs to 128 pages; the Second Voyage is incomplete.
Editor’s Note
8 Richard Tonson, Tonson's elder brother and partner in the publication.
Editor’s Note
9 The Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley (1680) indeed publishes the Davideis (1656) last.
Editor’s Note
10 Poems by the Most Deservedly Admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda; to which is Added Monsieur Corneille's Pompey & Horace, Tragedies; with Several Other Translations out of French (1667) also publishes her plays last.
Editor’s Note
11 Behn's next play, The Luckey Chance, Or, An Alderman's Bargain: A Comedy (1687), lamented 'Dire is the Death and Famine on the Stage' (sig. a2r), see The Works of Aphra Behn, ed. Janet Todd, seven vols (W. Pickering, 1992), 1.xxi. In Restoration London there had been two theatrical companies: the King's and the Duke's. By the 1670s, the King's Company was failing, and in 1682 it had merged with (and was to some extent subsumed by) the Duke's to form the United Company, which had effectively become the only theatrical enterprise in the capital. The opportunities for new theatrical productions were thus greatly diminished (see Peter Thomson, The Cambridge Introduction to English Theatre, 16601900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 17). Behn's comment contrasts with her famous proclamation in the Preface to The Luckey Chance that she was 'not content to write for a Third day only. I value Fame as much as if I had been born a Hero; and if you rob me of that, I can retire from the ungrateful World, and scorn its fickle Favours' (Todd, Works, 7.217).
Editor’s Note
12 This letter does not survive.
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