The phoenix of these late times: or the life of Mr. Henry Welby, Esq: who lived at his house in Grub-street forty foure yeares, and in that space, was never seene by any, aged 84.
London, N. Okes for Richard Clotterbuck, 1637.
FIRST EDITION. 4to. 25 unnumbered ll. . *Š A-E4 F3. (without last blank). Woodcut initials, typographical and woodcut head and tail pieces, engraved portrait frontispiece of Welby, trimmed and mounted (probably from the 1794 reprint). Title and verso of last dusty, light age browning, upper margin cut close, running headline just trimmed in places, the odd marginal mark. A good copy in excellent C19 blue morocco gilt by Ramage, covers triple gilt ruled to a panel design gilt fleurons to outer corners, spine richly gilt in compartments, inner dentelles gilt, all edges gilt.
A rare and most interesting account of the life of the famous recluse Henry Welby of Grub Street, with epistles and epitaphs by Shakerly Marmion, John Taylor the water poet, Thomas Brewer, and Thomas Heywood himself, who was most probably was the author of the main text. Heywood (?1574-1650), actor and dramatist, one of Shakespeare’s colleagues in the Admiral’s men in the 1590’s, composed principally for the stage but wrote also a small number of works unconnected with the theatre. In this work he relates the life of Welby, a wealthy land owner, who became a recluse living in his house in Grub Street for forty four years with no contact with the outer world except through his elderly maidservant. He retreated to this solitude after a quarrel, in which a younger brother traumatised him by trying to murder him (attempting to shoot him with a double-charged pistol, which only ‘flashed in the pan’). Up to this point, Welby had been a student, had travelled abroad, married, had a daughter, and seen the daughter married. As a result of this incident he took ‘a very faire house in the lower end of Grub Street, near unto Cripplegate,’ and passed the rest of his life in absolute seclusion, never leaving his apartments.
Heywood gives detailed description of his abstinence, his diet, his daily routine; he asserts that at Christmas and Easter, all the food for a proper feast would be served into Mr Welby’s outermost room, where he dined, which he would then carve, and send out to be distributed to his neighbours, without his eating any of it himself. Heywood also states that Welby was a scholar and a linguist, and always bought the best books available, English and foreign. He particularly admires him for his piety and charity seeing in him him something of a biblical figure living in London. “what retirement could be more? In my opinion it far surpasseth all the Vestals and Votaries, all the Ancresses and Authors that have beene memorized in any Hystorie.” Despite the extraordinary nature of the events described the work nonetheless gives an interesting insight into ordinary lives in Stuart London. Shakerly Marmion spoke of Heywood as writing “all history, all actions, Councils, Decrees, man, manners, State and factions, Playes, Epicediums, Odes and Lyricks, Translations, Epitaphs, and Panegyricks” (DNB). He was indeed a translator, primarily of Lucian, and Kirkman (his bookseller) reports of him that “many of his plays were composed in the tavern, on the backside of tavern-bills” (ibid.). Curious and uncommon.
STC 25227. Lowndes VI 2826. Grollier II 446.