John Ogilby

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John Ogilby (November 1600 – 4 September 1676) was a Scottish translator, impresario and cartographer. Best known for publishing the first British road atlas, he was also a successful translator, noted for publishing his work in handsome illustrated editions.



Ogilby was born in or near Edinburgh in November 1600. When his father was made a prisoner within the jurisdiction of the King's Bench, presumably for bankruptcy or debt, young John supported the family and used some of the money he earned to buy two lottery tickets, which won him a minor prize. This he used to apprentice himself to a dancing master and to obtain his father's release. By further good management of his finances, he was able to buy himself an early completion of his apprenticeship and set up a dancing school of his own. However, a fall while dancing in a masque lamed him for life and ended this career.

Using contacts made among his high-born clients, Ogilby was eventually taken to Ireland by Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, on his appointment as lord deputy there, and became tutor to his children. Ogilby then went on to establish Ireland's first theatre, the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as a consequence of which he was made deputy-Master of the Revels in 1637. For the four years that the theatre was open it was a great success but it had to be closed as a result of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

Having narrowly missed being blown up in the castle he was defending, and after being shipwrecked on his homeward journey, Ogilby arrived back in England penniless and without a patron during the closing years of the Civil War. Finding his way on foot to Cambridge, he learned Latin from kindly scholars who had been impressed by his industry. He then ventured to translate Virgil into English verse (1649–1650), which brought him a considerable sum of money. The success of this attempt encouraged Ogilby to learn Greek from David Whitford, who was usher in the school kept by James Shirley the dramatist.

After his return to London in 1650, he married the widow Christian Hunsdon, who had three children by her earlier marriage. In the following year he published the first edition of his politicised The fables of Aesop paraphras'd in verse, and adorn'd with sculpture and illustrated with annotations, illustrated by Francis Cleyn. The next few years were spent in translating and the opening of a publishing business in London. The Restoration of Charles II brought favour back to Ogilby with a commission to help in the arrangements for the coronation in 1660 with the composing of speechs and songs. In that year too he brought out his translation of Homer's Iliad, dedicated to his royal patron. A year later he was again made Master of the Revels in Ireland and he set about the building of a new theatre in Smock Alley, Dublin.

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