Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Topsell, Edward
TOPSELL, EDWARD (d. 1638?), divine and author, although he designated himself M.A. on the title-pages of his publications, does not figure in the official lists of graduates of Oxford or Cambridge. He took holy orders, and was inducted into the rectory of East Hoathly, Sussex, in June 1596. In the same year he first appeared in print as author of ‘The Reward of Religion. Delivered in sundrie Lectures upon the Booke of Ruth,’ 1596 (London, by John Windell, 8vo). This work Topsell dedicated to Margaret, lady Dacres of the south, and there are prefatory verses by William Attersoll. It proved ciently popular that a second edition appeared in 1601, and a third in 1613. In 1598 Topsell gave up the living of East Hoathly for that of Datchworth, Hertfordshire, where he remained till 1601. In 1599 he issued ‘Time's Lamentation, or an exposition of the prophet Joel in sundry  sermons or meditations’ (London, by E. Bollifant for G. Potter, 4to). This he dedicated to Charles Blount, lord Mountjoy, whom he described ‘as the meane of his preferment.’ Many passages in the volume denounce fashionable vices and frivolities. On 7 April 1604 he was licensed to the perpetual curacy of St. Botolph, Aldersgate (Newcourt, Repertorium, i. 916; Hennessy, Novum Repertorium, p. 105), and retained that benefice till his death. But he accepted other preferment during the period. From 5 Aug. 1602 to 1608 he was vicar of Syresham, Northants; in 1605–6, of Mayfield, Sussex; from May 1610 to May 1615 of East Grinstead, on the presentation of Richard Sackville, earl of Dorset (Sussex Archæol. Collec. xx. 147, cf. xxvi. 69; Stenning, Notes on East Grinstead, 1885). He described himself in 1610 as ‘chaplain’ of Hartfield in ‘The Householder, or Perfect Man. Preached in three sermons’ (London, by Henry Rockyt, 1610, 16mo). Topsell dedicated the volume to the Earl of Dorset and his wife Anne, as well as to four neighbouring ‘householders,’ Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague of Cowdray, Sampson Lennard of Hurstmonceaux, Thomas Pelham of Halland, and Richard Blount of Dedham.
Topsell's chief title to fame is as the compiler of two elaborate manuals of zoology, which were drawn mainly from the works of Conrad Gesner. Topsell reflected the credulity of his age, but his exhaustive account of the prevailing zoological traditions and beliefs gives his work historical value. The quaint and grotesque illustrations which form attractive features of Topsell's volumes are exact reproductions of those which adorned Gesner's volumes. Topsell's first and chief zoological publication was entitled ‘The Historie of Foure-footed Beastes, describing the true and lively Figure of every Beast … collected out of all the Volumes of C. Gesner and all other Writers of the Present Day,’ London, by W. Jaggard, 1607, fol.; this was dedicated to Richard Neile, dean of Westminster. On some title-pages a hyena is figured, on others a gorgon. A very long list of classical authorities is prefixed, but the English writer Blundeville is quoted in the exhaustive section on the horse. Topsell's second zoological work was ‘The Historie of Serpents. Or the Seconde Booke of living Creatures,’ London, by W. Jaggard, 1608, fol.; this was also dedicated to Richard Neile, dean of Westminster. Topsell's two volumes, his histories of ‘Foure-footed Beasts’ and ‘Serpents,’ were edited for reissue in 1658 by John Rowland, M.D. ‘The Theatre of Insects,’ by Thomas Moffett [q. v.], was appended.
Topsell seems to have died in 1638, when a successor was appointed to him as curate of St. Botolph, Aldersgate. A license was granted him on 12 Aug. 1612 to marry Mary Seaton of St. Ann and Agnes, Aldersgate, widow of Gregory Seaton, a stationer (Chester, Marriage Licenses, 1351).[Topsell's Works; Brydges's British Bibliographer, i. 560; authorities cited.]