Feature of the month: seventeenth-century prophecies

In 2016 Senate House Library is commemorating the quartercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare. This year’s Features of the Month celebrate books published in the same year as Shakespeare’s first four folios: 1623, 1632, 1664 and 1685. This is the second of three books featured from 1664.

The Prophecies of Christopher Kotterus, Christiana Poniatovia, Nicholas Drabicius …
Johann Amos Comenius
London: R. Pawlet, 1664
[H.P.L.] Kotter (RBC)

Cover of Kotterus' "Seventeenth-Century Prophecies"
The Prophecies of Christopher Kotterus, Christiana Poniatovia, Nicholas Drabicius

This small book from 1664 is the translation of a Latin work, Lux in tenebris, published as an illustrated quarto in Amsterdam in 1657. It collates the work of three prophets who portrayed the approaching ruin of the House of Austria and the speedy downfall of the Pope. Two of the three suffered thereby. Christoph Kotter (d. 1647) began a series of visions in 1616, with his prophecies assuming an increasingly concrete character from the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. Taking imagery from the book of Revelation, he predicted victory for the Protestant lion over the Catholic Habsburg eagle, was consequently imprisoned and then exiled, and died in hunger and poverty. The Polish writer and prophetess Krystyna Poniatowska (1610-1644) started prophesying in 1627 and used plant imagery to demonstrate that a power would come from midnight (the north) to conquer and destroy the mid-day, or southern, Roman Emperor and Pope. Mikuláš Drabik (1588-1671), a priest in the Bohemian Brotherhood who from the 1630s onwards prophesied the defeat of the Habsburg Empire and the Popes, the liberation of Bohemia and Moravia and the return of the exiles, was executed brutally for his prophecies and his corpse was burned publicly.

It is through this book’s compiler, Johann Amos Comenius (1592-1670), that the prophets are immortalised. Comenius was a Moravian philosopher, pedagogue and theologian. He is best represented at Senate House Library through his extremely popular educational works aiming to teach Latin to children, Janua Linguarum Reserata (“The Door of Languages Unlocked”; a textbook transposing Latin sentences about all sorts of subjects next to their vernacular equivalents) and Orbis Sensualium Pictus, a bilingual picture dictionary. The Prophecies was a more controversial volume, which upon its first appearance attracted fierce opposition from Calvinist theologians, who regarded Comenius as a dangerous heretical thinker connected with chiliasts. However, the prophecies remained unfulfilled, such that, as Pierre Bayle recorded in his dictionary, the work was forgotten after a few years. In 1683 the Turks besieged Vienna. This validated the book’s prediction of a Turkish invasion of the German empire and ensuing events, such that it was prodigiously sought after, with copies being taken out of garrets and sold at a high prices.

The English version was translated by Robert Codrington (1602/2-1665?), whose career as a translator spanned thirty years and covered the translation of literature, sermons and history from French, Latin and Spanish. It went through two editions, both in 1664. Both are scarce, with only seven copies of the first edition (one a variant issue) recorded on ESTC (the Senate House Library copy constitutes the eighth), and two copies of the second. Our copy is one of over 150 books, printed from 1553 onwards, comprising or discussing prophecies and held in the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature.

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