Because of damage
to the title page, the precise date of this edition of a popular—and
ever expanding—compendium of knowledge is uncertain. The Folger
copy is the only recorded extant copy of this particular edition,
but the popular astronomical treatise for predicting the best times
for planting, growing and harvesting had been published and republished
dozens of times in England since the mid-sixteenth century. As early
as 1619, The Husband-Man's Practice was appended to the
work, though with a separate title page. The general title The
Knowledge of Things Unknowne also tended to incorporate a third
work, The Shepherd's Prognostication of the Weather (complete
with a list of the dates and locations of regional fairs). The wording
on the title page indicates that John Stafford was what we would
call the publisher of this edition. Indeed Stationers Company records
indicate that he had registered the "copy" rights in 1637.
Such a practical handbook must have appeared a good investment as
it constituted something of a deviation from Stafford's more typical
religious fare. For his part, the bookseller Coles (or Coules, or
Cowles) focused primarily on the publication of popular ballads,
works in which woodcuts figured prominently.
woodcut reproduced here illustrates the title page to the second
part of the tri-partite work (which is continuously paginated even
though it is possible more than one printer was involved). The image
depicts two laboring men consulting a book—one by Godfridus,
perhaps? They look to the stars for guidance, while surrounded by
farming implements and livestock. Various appeals to authority collapse
into one another on the page. The ancient originators of the practices
described—Albert, Alkind, Haly, and Ptolemy—are effectively
rendered husbandmen themselves. By the standards of the consumers
of popular "how-to" books, an authority, no matter how
ancient or learned, was deemed good in direct proportion to the
practicality and effectiveness of his advice.
McRrae, Andrew. God Speed the Plough:
The Representation of Agrarian England, 1500-1660. Cambridge:
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Thirsk, Joan. The Rural Economy
of England. London: Hambledon Press, 1984.