No. 10, May 2007

Tree of Man's Life

  Click the image to enlarge it During the winter of 1637/8 there appeared in English print-shops at least five large and important ‘emblematic’ 1 sheets which attempted to encapsulate all human knowledge or all human understanding of the Creator and His creation in a single definitive and comprehensive ‘unified field’, bearing such alarming titles as The Order of the Universe, A Laurell of Metaphysicke and An Artificiall Table of Moral Philosophy. The appearance of the last is not known, but the first is a diagram of text arranged around the “Philosopher’s Head” (its alternative title), and the second is an elaborately pictorial scene, of the same type as An Artificiall Description of Logick, while a further sheet entitled The Theater of Nature would have been somewhere in between—perhaps we might term it a pictorialised schema.

What unites all five, however—and in addition, the splendidly pictorial Tree of Mans Life, engraved by Goddard the following year 2 —is that a certain Richard Dey is credited with authorship of the texts. He styles himself a Cambridge BA, and so is presumably enrolled amongst the alumni of that university. 3 The most promising candidate is the Richard Day [sic], a scholar from Eton, who was admitted to King's College in 1622, and graduated BA 1625-6, MA in 1629, and BD in 1637, the year of the earliest-known print signed by Dey. He was a fellow of Kings until 1644, and vicar of Prescot, Lancashire, in 1642, where he died in 1650. He followed his father of the same name at Kings (matriculated 1590), and came from a family of theologians, being the grandson of the William Day (1529-1596), who was successively, Provost of Eton, Dean of Windsor, and Bishop of Winchester. That said, it is odd—if he is, indeed, our man—that he styles himself in art bacc: on An Artificiall Description of Logick (late 1637), in Art: Bacca: Cantabri. on A Laurel of Metaphisick, entered in the Stationers Registers on 16th January 1638, and as Batch: in arts on The Tree of Mans Life (not before 1639), seeing that we know that the above Richard Day was already both MA and Bachelor of Divinity by these dates.

Most of these sheets for which Dey provided text—or, rather, translations—are English versions of prints first issued on the continent, yet again testifying to the currency and availability of foreign models to artists in England. By 1659 at least four of the sheets were available from Robert Walton: The Philosophers Head, The Laurel of Metaphysic, An Artificial Description of Logic and The Tree of Mans Life.

The present sheet, entitled in full, The Tree of Mans Life Or an Emblem declareing the like, and unlike, or various condition of all men in their estate of Creation, birth, life, death, buriall, resurrection, and last Judgment, with pyous observations out of the Scriptures upon the severall branches is signed by the engraver John Goddard, and By Ri Dey Batch: in arts. It has recently been discovered that Goddard was not made free of the Merchant Taylors Company until 1639, which (it is therefore assumed) becomes the earliest possible date for the publication of this print. 4 If this reasoning holds, then it is unlikely to have been occasioned by the wedding in 1634 of Susanna Vernatti, to whom it is fulsomely dedicated: To the right worshipfull and virtueous Lady the Lady Susanna Vernatti; R:D: wisheth encrease of the best blessings in this life, and fruition of æternall joyand felicitie in the life to come, humbly dedicating his endeavours, and desyreing favourable acceptance of his best services.

The British Museum impression of the sheet—the only other known impression is in the Beinecke Library of Yale University—bears the imprint, Are to be sould by Ro: Walton at the Globe and Compass in St. Paules church yard betweane the two north dores, but traces of an earlier imprint beneath it are plainly visible, and Griffiths not unreasonably suggests that publisher might have been Thomas Hinde who is known to have published the earlier state of Dey's Order of the Universe (above), and his Artificial Description of Logic. 5

The composition itself takes the form of a massive tree, on the roots and branches of which are inscribed Biblical texts. At the crown of the tree is the irradiated name of Christ. The trunk of the tree divides to accommodate two inset scenes, Dives and Lazarus (B) below, and Death with his scythe, a funeral and burial behind him (D), above. Two further scenes are inset bottom left—a woman with a baby on her knee—and bottom right—a woman breast-feeding a swaddled infant in a bedchamber. 6

Six stages of the tree are labelled A-F from the bottom upwards; they are keyed to six lines printed at the bottom of the sheet:

A Wee are all borne alike, and equall being in our infancie, contented with milke
B Wee live unlike, and after milke not satisfyed with whole kingdomes, and now a dayes there is no end of riches and pleasures
C Wee dye alike, the royall septer haveing noe more prerogatives then the criples crutch
D Though wee be buryed unlike, and covered with purple, or cheaper cloth, yet wee are all alike wormes meate
E Wee shall arise alike, at the last day: stripte of all the lying vanities of fortune
F Wee shall be rewarded unlike, either from Lazarus, or the rich Gluttons table with blessed or cursed estate forever

British Museum 1847,0723.10 [Sat 771]. Dimensions of original: 496 mm x 364 mm


The French Renaissance in Prints from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France catalogue (Los Angeles, 1994) refers to them as "the hieroglyphic plates that were the invention of Martin Meurisse", p. 432, re cat. no. 174. Back to context...
For the suggested date of this sheet, see below. Back to context...
J. Venn (ed.), Alumni Catabrigienses (Cambridge, 1922), vol. 2., s.n. Back to context...
A. Griffiths, ‘The Print in Stuart Britain' Revisited’, Print Quarterly, 17 (2000), 115-22, on p. 118. Back to context...
A. Griffiths, The Print in Stuart Britain 1603-1689 (London, 1998), cat. no.93. Back to context...
A.M.Hind, Engraving in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (3 vols., Cambridge, 1952-64), vol. 3, p. 339; F.G. Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, vol. 1 (London, 1870), pp. 425-6. Back to context...