Stultifera Nauis…The Ship of Fooles, wherin is shewed the folly of all States
Sebastian Brant’s Narrenschiff became an international “best seller” immediately after it appeared in 1494, going through fifteen editions in various languages before the end of the 15th century. Profusely illustrated in all early editions, the book tells of a shipload of fools setting sail for Narragonia, the fools’ paradise. It satirically presents over 100 fools representing contemporary shortcomings—serious to trivial. A religious conservative, Brant wrote Narrenschiff to regenerate the church and empire and to elevate his generation’s behavior. His book described ills that fomented the Reformation.
Alexander Barclay translated Ship of Fooles into English “to the felicitie and moste holesome instruction of mankinde, the whiche conteyneth all suche as wander from the waye of truth, and from the open path of holesome understanding and wisdome, falling into divers blindnesses of the minde, foolishe sensualities, and unlaweful delectations of the body.” Not a literal translation, the text is adapted to English conditions, giving an interesting glimpse into contemporary English life. He introduced many new references and allusions, while omitting others found in Brant and Jacob Locher’s Latin translation (Stultifera Navis), the primary source for his translation. Barclay also used Pierre Rivière’s French edition (1497), which was the basis of the woodcuts that appeared in Barclay’s Ship of Fooles. These French illustrations were, in turn, based on those of the first edition, many of which are attributed to have been made or designed by Albrecht Dürer. The first edition of Ship of Fooles was printed by Richard Pynson in 1509; the same year, Wynkyn de Worde published an inferior prose translation.
The present copy is an example of the second edition of Barclay’s Ship of Fools, dated 1570. The late printing of this early Renaissance work coincided with a burgeoning interest in vernacular poetry that led to the literary outburst later during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The volume includes two other pieces written by Barclay. He was a scholar who travelled abroad and absorbed the spirit of the Reformation in Europe, knew several languages, took holy orders, and became a Benedictine monk.
All but three of the 116 illustrations were printed from the blocks used by Pynson in 1509. Fittingly, the “first foole of the whole navie” is a bespectacled book collector in his library that is “busy, bookes assembling…But what they meane do I not understande.”
Chrzanowski 1570b *