The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVIII. The Book-Trade, 1557–1625

§ 23. Illustrations

The illustrations to be found in English books of the period are greatly inferior to contemporary continental work. The woodcuts, when not the worn-out blocks which had seen service since the days of Pynson and Wynkyn de Worde, were generally unskilful copies of foreign work, or, occasionally, still less successful original designs. Woodcut illustrations of a pictorial character are used in the Bishops’ Bible (1568), Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Holinshed’s Chronicles and a few other books. The edition of Barclay’s Ship of Fools, printed by Cawood in 1570, was also illustrated by a series of woodcuts, but these were only a resuscitation of those which had appeared in Pynson’s edition of 1509. Woodcuts are also to be found in many books on practical subjects, but the use of them for pictorial illustration of imaginative works was not common. To John Day is due some improvement in the art, and portraits of himself and of William Cunningham, the author of The Cosmographical Glasse (1559), are among his more notable examples.

The use of copperplate engravings, first introduced into this country in 1540 but not much employed until some years later, doubtless contributed to the disuse of woodcuts, and most of the more ambitious books relied on the new art for their adornment. The first edition of the Bishops’ Bible, printed by Jugge in 1568, contains, besides woodcut illustrations, engraved portraits of the earl of Leicester and lord Burghley printed in the text, and an elaborate emblematic title-page which includes a portrait of the queen. Sir John Harington’s Orlando Furioso, issued by Field in 1591, is illustrated with forty-six full-page engravings; Sir William Segar’s Honor Military and Civill (1602) has eight engraved portraits; and Sandy’s Relation of a Journey, which appeared in 1615, contains many engravings illustrative of scenes and costumes. This art was also used for topographical illustrations in such works as Camden’s Britannia (1607), Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1613) and captain John Smith’s General History of Virginia (1624).

For the decoration of their books, as apart from illustration, the earlier printers relied chiefly on ornamental initial letters. A border round the title-page was soon discovered to be an effective adornment to a book, and in a few instances every page of the book is thus treated. The designs of these borders took various forms, such as scroll work, arabesques, or architectural framework, and some contain the device of the printer. Occasionally, borders were emblematic of the subject of the book, and these were afterwards used quite indifferently for other works without relation to the subject. One of the best of these specially designed borders is that which is seen in the 1593 and 1598 editions of Sidney’s Arcadia. Another form of border, both graceful and effective, which has been aptly called a lace border, is built up of small ornaments of homogeneous character. When copper engraving had come into use, a frequent form of embellishment was an engraved title-page of emblematic or symbolic design, such as those in Drayton’s Poly-Olbion of 1613, and Bacon’s Instauratio magna of 1620.