Samuel Simmons and Milton

Simmons, Matthew

(b. in or before 1608, d. 1654), bookseller and printer, was the son of Thomas Simmons (d. in or before 1624), a husbandman from Middleton, Warwickshire. Thomas Simmons, the Quaker bookseller and husband of Martha Calvert, was not the brother of Matthew, as has sometimes been supposed. Matthew Simmons was apprenticed to the London printer John Dawson senior on 20 November 1624 and was freed into the Stationers’ Company, when he would have been at least twenty-four, on 14 January 1632. He was active as a bookseller at a shop near Moorgate in London in 1634, when he took the first of six apprentices, and had moved to the sign of the Golden Lion in Duck Lane by the following year. In November 1637 he was in the Netherlands meeting Dutch booksellers; in the same year imprints locate his house in the Barbican near the Red Cross, and in 1640 he was in Goldsmiths’ Alley in Red Cross Street. Most of the items he published before that date had been produced with his former fellow apprentice Thomas Paine, and in 1640 he became a partner in Paine’s printing shop in the same street.

Simmons was married by 1639 as that year he baptized a son, Lazarus, in St Giles Cripplegate; his wife was Mary Simmons (d. 1686/7). (An earlier baptism of Mary, the daughter of Matthew and Mary Symons at St Olave, Silver Street, in September 1634 probably does not refer to the same couple.) The parish registers record the burial of another son in 1640 and the baptism of two more children, including Samuel Simmons (1640–1687) who, although he was apparently born on 8 April 1640, was not baptized until 15 October 1643. At some point the family moved to Aldersgate Street; a daughter of theirs was baptized in St Botolph, Aldersgate, in February 1646. Simmons was made a liveryman of the Stationers’ Company on 12 April 1647.

Simmons was a favoured printer for independents and radicals during the civil war period. Most notably, in 1643 he printed Milton’s Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, beginning a professional association between the poet and the Simmons family that would last over thirty years. Simmons himself printed Milton’s The Judgement of Martin Bucer (1644), Articles of Peace (1649), Eikonklastes (1649), and The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), and he may also have been involved in the production of Areopagitica (1644), Of Education (1644), Tetrachordon (1645), and Colasterion (1645). Curiously, he entered Eikon basilike in the Stationers’ register in March 1649, although this was crossed out two years later. The registers of St Botolph, Aldersgate, record the death of Simmons on 19 May 1654; the administration of his estate was granted to his wife, Mary, although the date given (6 May) must be erroneous.

Mary Simmons succeeded to Simmons’s printing business and proved an active printer, entering titles in the Stationers’ register and binding apprentices. Samuel was sent to the Merchant Taylors’ School, London, in 1656 before formally joining his mother’s business, with his freedom by patrimony into the Stationers’ Company on 3 March 1662. The two seem to have operated in partnership until at least 1673, with Mary being evidently in charge for at least part of that time. The hearth tax of 1666 noted that her establishment had thirteen hearths, making her printing house the largest such recorded on the tax roll, and a census made two years later of London’s printing houses listed her as operating two presses with five workmen and one apprentice.

Although Samuel’s name appears as a printer on imprints from 1662 onwards, he did not enter a work in his own name into the Stationers’ register until 1667. The work in question was Paradise Lost, the first Milton work the Simmons family had printed for nearly two decades. The publication was also notable for one of the earliest survivals in England of a detailed contract between author and printer, in which Milton received £5 in advance with a further £5 (and 200 copies) payable at the end of the first three impressions. Samuel also printed Milton’s Accedence Commenc’t Grammar (1669) and the second and third editions of Paradise Lost (1674 and 1678). He became a liveryman in July 1669. Jacob Tonson, writing later in the century, described Simmons as someone who ‘was lookt upon an able & substantial printer’ (Dobranski, 194). Simmons was also responsible for the ambitious attempt to publish by subscription a complete edition of Joseph Caryl’s Exposition with Practical Observations upon the Book of Job, a work that his parents had published in parts from 1650. Mary assigned all her interests in Caryl’s work to her son in 1673 and Samuel announced the proposed publication that same year; however, although the work appeared in two volumes during 1676–7, by 1677 Simmons acknowledged that the project had been ‘long a doing … to the great vexation and loss of the Proposer’ (Lindenbaum, 184). By 1690 the work was being remaindered.

Mary Simmons died at some point between 24 December 1686 when she collected her annual dividend from her husband’s share in the Stationers’ Company’s joint-stock venture and 11 May 1687 when the share was transferred to a new stationer. In her will, drawn up on 27 May 1684 and proved on 7 July 1687, she described herself as living at a farm in Dagenham, Essex, suggesting that she had retired from the printing business, probably about 1675. She left her estate principally to her son Samuel, who was to act as executor; however, although he was alive on 11 May, he too had died by the time the will was proved.

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