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Bodenham [Bodnam], John (c.1559–1610), literary patron and grocer, was born in London, perhaps in the parish of St Stephen Walbrook. He was the eldest son in a family of five children of William Bodnam (d. 1580), grocer, and his wife, Katherine Wanton (d. in or before 1598), eldest daughter of Thomas Wanton of York. On 3 December 1570 he was admitted to the Merchant Taylors' School, London, and was also educated by a tutor, a ‘Mr Thackam’. Bodenham was admitted to the Grocers' Company in 1580, of which both his father and paternal grandfather, John, were free, his father having been elected junior warden in 1563 and senior warden in 1570. Bodenham attained his majority in 1580, and having been left a substantial paternal inheritance, he apparently was not very active in the Grocers' Company. He owned income-producing property in the grocery colony in the parish of St Mary Woolchurch and in Bucklersbury, in the parish of St Stephen Walbrook, including a dwelling at the latter known as The Woolsack, the family home; a tenement called The Lamb; and a warehouse. Bodenham may have obtained the coat of arms depicted in the front matter of Belvedere (1600) and of Englands Helicon (1600), though this may have been fabricated to honour him as the books' patron.

Bodenham's historical importance is as the initiator, projector, and patron of a series of five printed prose and poetical commonplace books, material for which he gathered from his extensive reading before handing it over to others for final arranging and editing. Three of the five are dedicated to Bodenham: Politeuphuia, Wits Commonwealth (1597), edited by Nicholas Ling; Belvedere, or, The Garden of the Muses (1600), a collection of 4482 one- or two-line poetical citations arranged, like the prose compilations, under commonplace headings, edited by Anthony Munday and dedicated to Bodenham, who is called:
Arts lover, Learnings friend,
First causer and collectour of these floures
and Englands Helicon (1600), edited by Nicholas Ling, with a dedicatory poem by A. B. (possibly the editor), ‘To his loving kinde friend, Maister John Bodenham’, that praises Bodenham for collecting the poetry and projecting the previous works. Francis Meres's Palladis tamia, Wits Treasury (1598) was dedicated to Thomas Eliot, but, Rollins points out (Rollins, 47–8), it was conceived as the second of a series of three prose compilations projected by Bodenham. The fifth text, Wits Theater of the Little World (1599), was edited by Robert Allott and published by Ling.

Politeuphuia and Wits Theater are commonplace-book compilations of prose aphorisms, sententiae, and reading notes, representing a practice widespread in manuscript culture, the material arranged under set headings facilitating their subsequent use in speech and writing. To this end, as Crawford has shown (Crawford, 199), the compiler, presumably Bodenham, rewrote some poetical selections as prose to fit the general format. These popular publications went through many editions through the next century. In Belvedere the one- and two-line pentameter excerpts are arranged under commonplace headings—many prose excerpts actually being reformulated as verse. Its ballad-writing editor (Anthony Munday), the patron, and the collection itself are mocked in the contemporary Cambridge satiric comedy The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus (I.ii.173–335). A reprint of Belvedere was published in 1875 by the Spenser Society.

Englands Helicon, perhaps the finest of the Elizabethan poetical miscellanies, is a rich collection including such authors as Breton, Barnfield, Chettle, Drayton, Dyer, Greene, Lodge (Bodenham's relative through his mother's family), Marlowe, Munday, Peele, Ralegh, Sidney, Spenser, Surrey, Watson, and Young. It prints for the first time Marlowe's ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his Love’, with Ralegh's reply. This pastoral anthology contains some non-pastoral pieces modified to give them a pastoral flavour or setting. A second edition, with an additional nine poems, was published in 1614, and a modern critical edition was produced in 1935 by Rollins. At his death on 16 July 1610 Bodenham was unmarried and childless; he bequeathed his estate to his sister Mary, the financially distressed widow of the grocer Thomas Vesey.

Arthur F. Marotti


H. Rollins, ed., England's Helicon, 1600, 1614 (1935), 1.184–6, 2.41–70 · F. Williams, ‘John Bodenham, “Art's lover, learning's friend”’, Studies in Philology, 31 (1934), 198–214 · C. Crawford, Englands Parnassus (1913) · J. B. Leishman, ed., Three Parnassus plays (1598–1601) (1949), 230–47 · C. T. Wright, ‘Anthony Mundy and the Bodenham miscellanies’, Philological Quarterly, 40 (1961), 449–61 · C. Crawford, ‘Belvedere, or, The garden of the muses’, Englische Studien, 43 (1910–11), 198–228 · C. T. Wright, ‘Young Anthony Mundy again’, Studies in Philology, 56 (1959), 150–68, esp. 165–7 · M. T. Crane, Framing authority: sayings, self, and society in sixteenth-century England (1993), 183–56 · M. A. Shaaber, ‘The third edition of Wits commonwealth’, Library Chronicle, University of Pennsylvania, 15/2 (summer 1949), 56–8