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John Ogilby
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
near Dundee, Scotland
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
John Ogilby is remembered today as a publisher of atlases and illustrated translations of classical literature, but during his wide-ranging career he was also a dancer, theater impresario, author, translator and printer. His career was remarkable for his ability to recover from adverse events and re-establish himself. A 17th-century biographer, John Aubrey (1626-1697), wrote that Ogilby was born on November 17, 1600 near Dundee, Scotland. Little is known about his parents or education, other than Aubrey’s report that Ogilby obtained his father’s release from debtors’ prison by paying his debts with lottery winnings and in around 1619 he was apprenticed to a dancing master. He may have taught dancing during the next few years, but apparently injured himself dancing in a masque in 1621. The next record of him lists his admission to the London Merchant Taylors’ Company in 1629. In 1633 he went to Ireland in the employ of Thomas Viscount Wentworth (later the 1st Earl of Strafford) as a dancing master, and as master of the revels created Dublin’s New Theater in 1637. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 ended the theater, and Ogilby returned to England, apparently penniless. By 1644 he was in Bristol, then in Cambridge where he apparently learned Greek and Latin. He was probably back in London by 1648, and in 1650 married a wealthy widow, Christian Hunsdon. Ogilby’s next career was publishing translations. His first was a translation of Virgil’s Eclogues, Georgics and the Aneid published in 1649 for members of the Merchant Taylor’s Company, without illustrations except for a frontispiece. Then Ogilby began publishing lavish works of translation, illustrated with engravings, printed on good quality paper and issued with the help of sponsors. Aesop’s Fables in 1651 contained eighty plates of etchings by Francis Clein. In 1654 Ogilby issued a large-format folio edition of Virgil, essentially the same translation as the 1649 edition, but with 99 plates of engravings by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) and Pierre Lombard (1612-1682) to designs by Clein. This volume was followed by editions of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Aesop’s Fables and Aesopics and another volume of Virgil during the 1660s. In 1661 to celebrate the coronation of Charles II (1630-1685) Ogilby wrote and printed The Entertainment of his Most Excellent Majestie Charles II, with illustratons eetched by Hollar. That year he was again appointed master of the revels for Ireland, and around 1662 moved to Dublin to build another theater, but returned to London after a few years. The Great London Fire of 1666 destroyed much of his inventory of books. Again landing on his feet, Ogilby obtained an appointment as an assistant surveyor to re-establish the boundaries of properties destroyed by the fire and create a property map. With his step-grandson William Morgan and others he did so; the map was published after his death. He also embarked on a new project to create atlases of the world, compilations of the works of others. The atlas of Africa was published in 1670, followed by Japan, America, China and Asia over the next three years. He had been appointed the king’s cosmographer in 1671, and began a project to create a comprehensive atlas of England. One book of the project was completed, a national road map with strip maps of 73 major roads at a scale of one inch to a mile, incorporating a standard measure of 1,760 yards to the mile. Commercially-successful, republished and widely copied, Britannia of 1675 revolutionized cartography. Ogilby died on September 4, 1676; his cartographic work was continued by William Morgan. (TNB 3/2013) Selected Bibliography: Griffiths, Antony and Robert A. Gerard. The Print in Stuart Britain 1602-1689. Exhibition catalog, pp. 184-188. London: British Museum Press, 1998. Van Eerde, Katherine S. John Ogilby and the Taste of his Times. Folkestone, 1976. Charles W. J. Withers, ‘Ogilby, John (1600–1676)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, Oct. 2007.