III. GRAPHIC WIT...
The Elzevier-Mathys Mark
Yet, as I discovered, with the generous direction of Giles Barber of Oxford University, and of antiquarian book specialists, Dr Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern of Rostenberg & Stern Rare Books, New York, the butterfly-swords device was not unique to Lady Mary's book project of 1679, but rather emanated from the seventeenth-century Dutch printing firm of Severin and Adrian Mathys. Édouard Rahir's great catalogue of the imprints and book ornaments of the Elzevier dynasty of printer-publishers and other leading Dutch printers of the seventeenth century (Elzevier, 1896) includes, in facsimile, the identical device which appears on the title-page of "Ephelia"'s Female Poems (1679): it appears in facsimile in Rahir's catalogue as fleuron number 203 (Image 9a). Rahir's catalogue also identifies two (and, evidently, the only two) locations of this ornament, both printed in 1670 by the Mathys firm of Leiden: a variorum edition of Friedreich Spanheim's Oratorio and Isaac Casaubon's Polybii (Rahir 465) (Image 9b). As I demonstrated in 1999, Mathys's device, classified by Rahir as a calligraphic line device of the cul-de-lampe variety, does not appear among Rahir's Elzevier ornament facsimiles, nor in Gustaf Schlegal Berghman's Elzevier catalogue (1911); but it clearly emulates several characteristic styles of Elzevier book ornaments, so much so that the Mathys ornament in books by Spanheim, Casaubon, and Mary Villiers (Ephelia) may be correctly identified as one of many contemporary imitation-Elzevier book ornaments. (Transmission of Book Ornaments.)
It is entirely probable that Mary Villiers, whose reading tastes, as her verse shows, were broadly eclectic, and whose exposure from childhood to a variety of books would have been privileged, saw the Mathys-Elzevier device in the Casaubon or the Spanheim, or that she was directed to this device by an alert member of her inner circle, who grasped its potential use in her special project of 1679. In line with my case, 'Mall' Villiers, doubtless through a trustworthy conduit, directed the printer of her book, William Downing, to replicate the Mathys-Elzevier mark on the title-page of the first edition of Female Poems in 1679, as its configuration suggested to her a butterfly and two dueling swords. (To date, I have not located any additional locations of Rahir 203 after the Ephelia of 1679 nor before the two Mathys imprints of 1670.)
By using a device so obviously characteristic of the Elzevier style, Mary Villiers conferred upon her book the Continental cachet of Elzevier. She, moreover, associated her book with a special class of unusual, pseudonymous and clandestine imprints of the century which also bore butterfly-shaped ornaments, such as those identified by Giles Barber in his recent work on the wood-engraving firm of Jean Papillon (1639-1710) and the subversive religious imprints I discussed in 1996.