The Dancing Master in Print

I have just begun a new topic of research, which has taken me in an old direction. It has returned me to the point of intersection between dance history and book history – I am, of course, both a dance historian and a rare books curator.

My new research involves John Essex, who is well known to almost everyone interested in baroque dance as the translator of both Feuillet’s 1706 Recüeil de contredances and Rameau’s 1725 Le Maître a danser. For the Furthur Improvement of Dancing was published in London in 1710 and The Dancing-Master followed in 1728. I did quite a lot of research on Essex when I wrote his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I’ve just gone back to my notes and, with a bit of additional work, I’ve made some interesting discoveries. I don’t know whether what I have found is already out there (some of it definitely is), but here is a summary of the publication of history of each of Essex’s translations. In both cases, this can only be described as convoluted!

For the Furthur Improvement of Dancing was first mentioned in the Tatler on 25 March 1710 and again on 30 March. Here is the advertisement from 30 March.

Tatler 30 Mar 1710

As you can see, the volume was offered for 5 shillings (at least £16 at today’s values, and probably more like £40 or even £50). Another advertisement in the Spectator for 5 March 1712 referred to the ‘3d Edition’, although there seems to be no record of a second edition and I don’t know of a surviving copy of either a second or a third edition. (The English Short Title Catalogue shows that there were at least two different editions, or issues, but I’m not going to get into the arcane niceties of historical bibliography here).

There is, however, another very different edition of this text. This survives in a single copy which is now in the British Library. I have not been able to find an advertisement for this, which tends to confirm that it was made as a presentation copy for Caroline, Princess of Wales around 1715. Essex’s original 1710 edition is an octavo, a quite small book. The later edition is a much larger folio, with additional country dances and a ‘new French Dance Call’d the Princess’s Passpied’ choreographed and notated by Essex himself. Here is the title page of the 1710 edition.

Essex Further Improvement 1710

Here is the title page of the later edition.

Essex Further Improvement 1715

The plates for the country dances in the original edition are printed four to a page in the new edition, as here.

Essex Further Improvement 1715 Trip

Essex added four new country dances, which follow that same convention but were obviously engraved on single plates. Here is the first plate of one of them.

Essex Further Improvement 1715 Liberty

I knew that the publication history of The Dancing-Master was complicated, but my additional research has managed to add to the confusion. The title page of Essex’s original edition is dated 1728. Here is the advertisement in Mist’s Weekly Journal for 13 January 1728

Mist's 13 Jan 1728

I haven’t been able to track down a later advertisement confirming that it was indeed published the following week. However, the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 22 November 1729 has another advertisement for the self-same book, which says ‘This Day in Published’ albeit with a different list of booksellers. The paper ran another identical advertisement on 27 December 1729.

On 24 December 1730, the Grub Street Journal declared ‘This Day is published, the second edition’ of The Dancing-Master, with the added enticement that it appeared ‘With the Approbation of Mr. Pecour, Master of the Opera at Paris, and Mr. L’Abee, Court Master to the present Royal Family’. The next advertisement I have been able to find is in the Country Journal or the Craftsman again, on 1 January 1732, saying the same thing (minus the ‘Approbation’) and with different booksellers. All of these ‘editions’ are evidently the same, including the ‘Figures for their better explanation. In sixty Draughts. Done from the Life, and engraved on copper plates’, all signed ‘G.A.’ or ‘G. Alsop’ in the surviving copies. There is a second edition of Essex’s The Dancing-Master dated 1731 on the title page.

On 5 May 1733, the Country Journal and Craftsman announced ‘Just Published, The Dancing Master. Third Edition with Additions, all the Figures newly done from the Life, and engraved by G. Bickham’. Yet another advertisement in the Grub Street Journal for 8 November 1733 declared ‘Just Publish’d, the Second Edition with Additions’ of The Dancing-Master, with some further information:

‘N.B. The Figures in the first Edition being ill design’d, are all entirely new drawn from the Life, and engraved by G. Bickham, jun. Those Gentlemen or Ladies who have clean Books, shall have them changed for this new Edition gratis, if they please to send to Mr. Essex in Roode-Lane, Fenchurch-street.’

It would be interesting to know who posed for these ‘Figures … drawn from the Life’ (the same claim was made for Alsop’s drawings). The story does not end there, for the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 5 January 1734 advertised ‘This Day is Published’ The Dancing-Master, with no mention of an edition.

Here are the title pages from the 1728 and 1731 editions.

Here is one of Alsop’s plates, beside the corresponding plate by Bickham, so you can verify the truth of the assertion in the Grub Street Journal advertisement.

I have to be a resourceful if I am to find suitable illustrations – the Bickham one on the right is actually taken from Cyril Beaumont’s 1931 translation of Rameau’s Le Maître a danser (Beaumont chose to make his own translation of that text, but used the Bickham plates from Essex’s edition).

There was just one more ‘Second Edition’ of The Dancing-Master, announced in the Daily Advertiser for 12 January 1744.

Daily Advertiser 12 Jan 1744

Look particularly at the foot of the advertisement, which tells us that ‘There are but very few left of this Second Edition’. I know of two surviving copies, which has 1744 on the title page and uses Bickham’s plates. This final ‘edition’ appeared very shortly before Essex’s death. He was buried in St Dionis Backchurch in the City of London on 6 February 1744.

So, what was going on with all these ‘editions’? In fact, apart from the new plates, they were not really new editions at all but reissues. Close examination of the surviving copies, by several researchers independently, indicates that all have the same setting of the text and so were all printed in one run. Essex’s The Dancing-Master was expensive. One guinea approximates to at least £100 today, more likely to between £200 and £300. The original print run was evidently too ambitious for the market, as the book was probably of more interest to provincial dancing masters than to the aspiring metropolitan ballroom dancers it was principally aimed at. The advertisements thus represent a series of increasingly ingenious (or desperate) marketing ploys to sell the rather too many remaining copies.

There is much more to say about John Essex and his two translations, not least in relation to rival dancing masters and to the ingenious George Bickham junior, but I will leave it there – for now at least.

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