John Bowle (writer)

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John Bowle (1725 – 1788) was an English clergyman, known today primarily for his ground-breaking, annotated edition of Cervantes's Don Quixote.


Bowle, called by his friends Don Bowle, was descended from Dr. John Bowle, bishop of Rochester. He was born on 26 October 1725, was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, and became M.A. in 1750. He was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1776. Having entered holy orders, he obtained the vicarage of Idmiston (spelt Idemeston in his Don Quixote), in Wiltshire, where he died on 26 October 1788, aged 63.


Bowle was an erudite scholar, acquainted with French, Spanish, and Italian literature, and accumulated a large and valuable library, sold in 1790. He was a member of Samuel Johnson's Essex Head Club. He preceded John Douglas in detecting William Lauder's forgeries. He is the first to whom the term "Hispanist" was applied.

He published in 1765 Miscellaneous Pieces of Antient English Poesie, containing Shakespeare's King John, and some of the satires of John Marston. In 1777 he published a lengthy letter to Thomas Percy concerning a new edition of Cervantes's Don Quixote de la Mancha," to be illustrated by annotations and extracts from the historians, poets, and romances of Spain and Italy, and other writers, ancient and modern, with a glossary and indexes.[1] He gave also an outline of the life of Cervantes in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1781, and circulated proposals to print the work by subscription.

It appeared in 1781, in six volumes, the first four containing the text, the fifth the notes, and the sixth the indexes. (These six volumes as found in libraries today are bound into 2, 3, 4, or 6 volumes.[2]) The whole work is written in Spanish, a language which Bowle did not master. Its reception was unfavourable, except in Spain, where it was praised by es:Juan Antonio Pellicer, among others. In 1784 Bowle complained in The Gentleman's Magazine, in four pseudonymously-signed letters, and in 1785 he published Remarks on the Extraordinary Conduct of the Knight of the Ten Stars and his Italian Squire, to the editor of Don Quixote. In a letter to J. S., D.D.[3] The pamphlet and letters were directed against Joseph Baretti, who retorted in a scathing, bitter book, entitled Tolondron, Speeches to John Bowle about his Edition of Don Quixote, 1786. Today, Bowle's edition is considered the first scholarly edition of the work, and was reproduced in facsimile in 2006. Bowle was the first to consider Don Quixote as a classic author, by which he meant "on the level of ancient Greek and Latin authors", and like them, in need of a scholarly, annotated edition.

Bowle contributed to James Granger's 'History,' George Steevens's edition of Shakespeare, 1778, and Thomas Warton's 'History of Poetry.' In Archaeologia are remarks on the old pronunciation of the French language, musical instruments mentioned in Le Roman de la Rose, parish registers, and playing cards.

Volume 23, No. 2 of the journal Cervantes, published by the Cervantes Society of America (Fall, 2003) is dedicated to John Bowle. On its cover is the only known portrait of Bowle.[4]


  1. ^ John Bowle. "A Letter to Dr. Percy" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2016-09-05. 
  2. ^ DANIEL EISENBERG. "La edición del Quijote de John Bowle (1781) : Sus dos emisiones" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2016-09-05. 
  3. ^ R. W. Truman (2003). ""The Rev. John Bowle's Quixotic Woes Further Explored", Cervantes" (PDF). pp. 9–43. Retrieved 2014-08-29. 
  4. ^ "Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America. Fall 2003". 2010-07-05. Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2016-09-05. 

Further reading[edit]

  •  "Bowle, John (1725-1788)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  • R[alph] Merritt Cox, An English ilustrado: the Reverend John Bowle. Bern; Frankfurt a.M.; Las Vegas: Peter Lang, 1977.
  • R[alph] Merritt Cox, The Rev. John Bowle: the genesis of Cervantean criticism. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press [1971].