John Ogilby

Birth: 1600


John Ogilby (1600–1676) was a miscellaneous writer born in or near Edinburgh in November 1600. He was of good family, but his father, having spent his estate, became a prisoner in the king's bench, and could give his son little education. The youth, however, being industrious, saved a small sum of money, which be adventured with success in the lottery for the advancement of the plantation in Virginia. He was thereby enabled to obtain his father s release, and bind himself apprentice to one Draper, a dancing-master in Gray's Inn Lane.

Before long he made himself perfect in the art, and by his obliging behavior to the pupils acquired money enough from them to buy out the remainder of his time. He now began teaching on his own account, and being soon reputed one of the best masters in the profession, he was selected to dance in the Duke of Buckingham's great masque at court, when he injured himself and became slightly lame. At one time he had for his apprentice John Lacy (d. 1681) [q. v.], afterwards well known as an actor and dramatist. Among his pupils were the sisters of Sir Ralph (afterwards Lord) Hopton at Wytham, Somerset, and at leisure moments he learned of Sir Ralph how to handle the pike and musket.

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In 1633, when the Earl of Strafford became lord-deputy of Ireland, he took Ogilby into his household to teach his children, and Ogilby, writing an excellent hand, was frequently employed by the earl to transcribe papers for him. Subsequently he became one of Strafford's troop of guard, and wrote some humorous verses entitled 'The Character of a Trooper.' Appointed deputy-master of the revels in Ireland, he built a little theatre in St. Werburgh Street, Dublin, and was much patronized; but upon the outbreak of the civil war in 1641 he lost everything, underwent many hardships, and narrowly escaped being blown up in Rathfurm Castle, near Dublin.

To add to his misfortunes, he was shipwrecked in his passage from Ireland, and arrived in London quite destitute. Going on foot to Cambridge, several scholars, attracted by his industry, gave him Latin lessons, and he proceeded to translate Virgil. This translation, and another which he made of aesop, brought him in some money. About 1654 he learned Greek of David Whitford or Whitfield, at that time usher to James Shirley, the dramatist, who was keeping a school in Whitefriars. In the version of Homer, which he subsequently undertook, he is said, on doubtful authority, to have been assisted by Shirley.

At the Restoration, Ogilby made himself acceptable to Charles II and his court. In 1601 he was entrusted with the sole conduct of the 'poetical part' of the coronation (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1, p. 668). The device which he exhibited over the triumphal arch in Leadenhall Street was much applauded, and is referred to by Dryden in his poem on the coronation (Works, ed. Scott, 1821, ix. 61). In 1662 he obtained the patent for master of the revels in Ireland in competition with Sir William D'Avenant. His old theatre in Dublin having been destroyed in the civil war, he built a new one at the cost of nearly 2,000l. He got into trouble by decoying away to his theatre John Richards, one of D'Avenant's company of actors, who were nominally servants to the Duke of York, and he had to make ample apology (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1661–2, p. 466). On again settling in London Oguby translated and published books until the great fire in 1666, when his house in Whitefriars was destroyed, along with stock to the value of 3,000l. (ib. Dom. 1666, pp. 171–2).

Immediately afterwards the corporation appointed Ogilby and his wife's grandson, William Morgan, as 'sworn viewers' or surveyors, to plot out the disputed property in the city. They subsequently surveyed the whole city, and their ground-plan was published in 1677 (Overall, Remembrancia, p. 46 n.) Ogilby was soon enabled to rebuild his house, and to set up a large printing establishment; he was besides invested with the ornamental titles of 'king's cosmographer and geographic printer.' He died on 4 Sept. 1676, and was buried in St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street. Contemporary writers represent him as a man of attractive manners, great sagacity, and untiring energy. According to Aubrey his wife was the daughter of Mr. Fox of Netherhampton, near Wilton, Wiltshire, a servant of Lord Pembroke, by whom he had an only daughter, Mrs. Morgan, mother of the William Morgan who assisted him in his business. But from his will (P.C.C. 124, Bence) it is clear that Ogilby married a widow. Christian (? Knight), and it was her daughter by a former husband who was mother of William Morgan. There was another daughter, Elizabeth Knight. Mrs. Ogilby died in Whitefriars in 1681 (Administration Act Book, P.C.C., dated 16 June 1681).

Ogilby printed many splendid books, mostly in folio; several were illustrated, or, as he expressed it, 'adorned with sculpture,' by Hollar and other eminent engravers. On 25 May 1666 the king, on his petition, issued a proclamation forbidding any one for fifteen years to reprint or 'counterfeit the sculpture in them,' an injunction renewed on 20 March 1667 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1664–5, p. 384, 1666–7, p. 674). To facilitate the sale of them Ogilby established about 1664, under royal patronage, a lottery in which all the prizes were books of his own editing and printing or publishing. The plague and the great fire of London seriously interfered with the working of this scheme, and he subsequently opened a new 'standing lottery,' the prospectus of which is to be found in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for 1814 (pt. i. p. 646), wherein he quaintly complains that his subscribers do not pay. Pepys, who collected Ogilby's publications, relates his success in this lottery (Diary, ed. 1849, iii. 159).

Ogilby's translation of Virgil into heroic verse was first published in large 8vo in 1649, and was sumptuously reprinted in 1654 in royal folio, with plates by Hollar, and again in 8vo in 1665. His mastery over the heroic couplet is creditable; his version is sufficiently close to the words of Virgil—much more so than Dryden's—and though he shows no trace of poetical feeling, he writes in fair commonplace English. He was ridiculed, but his version continued to be bought until Dryden's appeared, and the 'sculptures,' which form a prominent feature in this as in his other books, were considered good enough to be borrowed by Dryden. His work heads the list of the 'Lady's Library' in the 'Spectator,' and in our own day was included among the books recommended for examination to those whom Dean Stanley of Westminster brought together with a view to enlisting their services in the production of a new English dictionary.

Ogilby also published in 1658 a beautiful folio edition of the Latin original, embellished with 101 illustrations by Lombart, Faithorne, Hollar, and others. His rhyming paraphrase of aesop's 'Fables' followed in 1651, 4to, being recommended in some verses by Sir William Davenant and James Shirley. In 1665 a second part appeared in folio, which included some fables of his own, called 'aesopics,' composed during his stay at Kingston-on-Thames in the time of the plague. Both parts were issued in folio in 1665–8, and contain engravings by W. Hollar, D. Stoop, and F. Barlow. Another edition, in two vols. 8vo, is dated 1675.

Of his translation of Homer the 'Iliad' appeared in 1660, and the 'Odyssey' in 1665, both on imperial paper, and with plates by Hollar and others. According to Spence (Anecdotes, p. 276) it was this illustrated edition which first allured Pope to read the 'Iliad' when he was a boy at school. With the assistance of Dr. John Worthington and other divines Ogilby brought out at Cambridge in 1660 a noble edition of the Bible (two vols. royal folio), illustrated with 'chorographical sculps' by Ogilby himself, and 107 engravings by N. J. Visscher. Having presented a splendidly bound copy of it to the king on his first coming to the royal chapel at Whitehall, he was commanded to supply other copies for use in the chapel, closet, library, and council chamber, at a cost of 200l. He presented another copy to the House of Commons, for which he received 50l. About August 1661 he petitioned the king to prohibit any one for ten years from printing a folio bible such as his, and to commend his edition to all churches and chapels, that he might thereby be encouraged in his design of printing a polyglott bible (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1661–2, pp. 67, 68, 433). His bible was severely censured by Bishop Wetenhall in his 'Scripture authentick and Faith certain,' 1686. In Acts vi. 3 the word 'ye' was substituted for 'we.'

Ogilby published in ten folio sheets a rough sketch of Charles II's coronation, entitled 'The Relation of his Majesties Entertainment passing through the City of London to his Coronation,' 1661. This was followed in 1662 by the splendid folio known as 'The Entertainment of … Charles II in his Passage through the City of London,' &c. The letterpress was revised by the king's command by Sir Edward Walker, Garter (ib. Dom. 1660–1, p. 606, 1661–2, p. 350); the plates are mostly by Hollar. This work, of which another edition was published by William Morgan in 1685, has proved of great service in similar ceremonies of subsequent date.


During the last years of his life Ogilby devoted himself to the production of books of geography and topography, copiously illustrated with maps and engravings by Hollar and others. These were:

1. 'An Embassy from the East India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham, Emperour of China, delivered by their Excellencies Peter de Gayer and Jacob de Keyzer at his Imperial City of Peking,' fol., London, 1669 (2nd edit., to which was added 'Atlas Chinensis'—also published separately in 1671–2 vols. fol., London, 1673). This work was compiled from the Dutch of Jan Nieuhof, Olfert, Dapper, and Arnoldus Montanus.

2. 'Atlas Japanensis; being remarkable Addresses, by way of embassy, from the East India Company of the United Provinces to the Emperor of Japan,' fol., London, 1670, compiled from Montanus.

3. 'Africa,' fol., London, 1670, translated from Dapper, and 'augmented with observations.' In the preface he gives an entertaining account of his own writings.

4. 'America,' fol., London, 1671.

5. 'Asia. The first part,' fol., London, 1673. The second part was the 'Embassy to the Emperour of China,' already published in 1669, and again in 1673.

6. 'Britannia. Volume the first, or an Illustration of the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales, by a Geographical and Historical Description of the principal Roads thereof, printed on one hundred copper plates,' fol., London, 1675 (2nd edit., revised and apparently abridged, 1698); it was undertaken by the express desire of the king. This 'noble de scription of Britain,' as it is deservedly called by Bishop Nicolson, never proceeded beyond the first volume, although Ogilby in his will earnestly requested William Morgan to finish it. Vol. ii. was to have contained views of English cities; vol. iii. 'A Topographical Description of the whole Kingdom.'

Atlases & Maps

Ogilby also projected the following atlases and maps:

1 . 'A new Map of Kent,' 1670, engraved Dy F. Lamb. 2. 'Novissima Jamaicae Descriptio,' 1671. 3. 'Itinerarium Angliae, or a Book of Roads ... of England and ... Wales,' in which he was assisted by W. Morgan, fol., London, 1675 (abridged as 'The Traveller's Guide' in 1699, 8vo). An 'improved edition' by John Senex was issued in 1719 in two oblong quarto volumes as 'An Actual Surrey,' and other editions, with descriptions of the towns by John Owen and maps of Emanuel Bowen, appeared in 1720, both 8vo and 4to, 1724, 4to, 1731, 4to, 1736, 8vo, and 1753, 4to, under the title of 'Britannia Depicta.' Smaller editions, called respectively 'Pocket-Book of the Roads,' and 'The Traveller's Pocket Book,' were published in 1721 and 1782, 8vo. 4. 'Tables of measur'd Roads (of England and Wales, with Map),' 8vo, 1676. 6. 'London accurately surveyed ... finished by W. Morgan,' eight sheets, 1677. An 'Explanation' of this map was published in quarto during the same year. The copy of this 'Explanation' or 'Key' at the British Museum is believed to be unique. A facsimile has recently (1894) been edited for the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society by Mr. Charles Welch, F.S.A. 6. 'Essex, actually surveyed ... by J. Ogilby and W. Morgan, 1678. 7. 'The Borough or Corporation of Ipswich ... actually surveyed ... Ao 1674, with views, nine sheets, 1698. 8. 'A large and accurate Map of the City of London.' 9. 'Middlesex.' 10. 'Table of the North-West Roads' (of England). 11. 'A new Map of ... England and ... Wales. Whereon are projected all the principal Roads.'

Ogilby's name, thanks to the ridicule of Dryden in 'MacFlecknoe' and of Pope in the 'Dunciad,' has become almost proverbial for a bad poet. He is known to have written two heroic poems called 'The Ephesian Matron' and 'The Roman Slave,' and an epic poem in twelve books entitled 'Carolies' in honour of Charles I, but the first two were never published, and the third was fortunately burnt in the fire of London (cf. preface to his 'Africa '). He was also author of en unprinted play called 'The Merchant of Dublin,' and has lines affixed to a portrait of Charles II, 1661. Though Pope sneered at Ogilby, he did not disdain to borrow from his version of Virgil's 'Eclogues' and translation of Homer.

Ogilby 's portrait, engraved by the elder William Faithorne after a painting by Sir Peter Lely, is prefixed to his translation of Virgil. Another portrait by Lely was engraved by Lombart. A third portrait, by Fuller, was engraved by Edwards; there is also an engraving of him by Marshall. His bust is prefixed to his translation of aesop's 'Fables.'

[Wood's Athenae Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 739-44. 996; Aubrey's Lives in Letters from the Bodleian Library, &c., vol. ii. pt. ii. pp. 466-70 ; Biog. Brit.; Baker's Biog. Dram. 1812; Gough'8 Brit, Topography; Lowndes's Bibl. Manual (Bohn); Notes and Queries, 1st ser. i. 153. 5th ser. xii. 7, 78; Macaulay's Hist. of England (1855), i. 312n; Nicolson's Historical Libraries ; Dryden's Works (Scott, 1821), x. 452 ; Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vol. iv. ; the English Translators of Virgil, by Professor J. Conington, in Quarterly Review for July 1861 ; Brit. Mus. General and Map Catalogues ; notes kindly communicated by J. Challenor Smith, esq. ; Evans's Cat. of Engr. Portraits, i. 253 ; Granger's Biogr. Hist of Engl. (2nd ed.). iv. 65-6.]


Gordon Goodwin, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 42. pg 14-17.

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