Abraham Fleming, born in 1552, was a learned proof corrector in the late sixteenth-century book publishing industry, a master rhetorician, an ardent reformist, and a dedicated humanist pedagogue. Fleming's professional contributions included writing original works, compiling, correcting and adding to the work of others, translating Latin works into English, providing indices and addresses to the reader, and writing poetic translations. His literary career virtually ended in 1588 when he took holy orders and served as a chaplain to Catherine Howard and later as a rector of St. Pancras Soper Lane, a small and poor parish in London (Brace). Fleming died September 18, 1607.
Hardly considered a distinguished poet during his own time (Dodson), Fleming was known for his meticulous work as an editor and translator. He published seven original works, but extended his influence to over 55 other texts by being employed as a "learned corrector" by at least 15 different London printing houses from 1570 to 1588. Fleming's employers included the infamous printer Richard Tottel as well as Henry Denham, who was "known for the high quality of his output" (Brace). The highlight of Fleming's career was his involvement in Holinshed's Chronicles (revised edition, 1587). Fleming is generally acknowledged as the general editor of the Chronicles (see Miller) and "probably supervised [the revised edition] through press" (Brace). Many believed that it was Fleming's input that gave the Chronicles its religious leanings: "As an editor and contributor, Fleming had the greatest impact on Holinshed's book.… he altered Holinshed's tone by inserting passages that [gave] the book a more obvious Protestant slant" (Stockard 100).
As a prose writer, Fleming was quite distinguished. True to his classicist and reformist ideology, his devotional works included "models from Latin and Greek literature as well as examples from Continental and English humanist writers … combin[ing] features of humanist education theory and those of self-education …" (Brace). Fleming's first work was published in 1576 and was called A Panoplie of Epistles, Or a looking Glasse for the Unlearned. It has been identified as "the second English epistolary rhetoric" (132) to have been written, and was "Fleming's chief contribution to the history of rhetoric" (132). Many of his other works and translations were "[f]or the merchant familiar with neither classical texts nor the composition of letters …" (133) and contained "proper indices of the principal points of doctrine as well as tables of commonplaces, the latter items indicating one direction toward which publishers were looking" (Donno 205). Fleming's literary acumen is illustrated by his biography of William Lamb (1580: "[u]tilizing only Lamb's will, Fleming was able to spin out a Memorial of his [Lamb's] accomplishments" (Donno 204).
In 1581, in the printing house of Henry Denham, Fleming published a collection of pamphlets called The Diamond of Devotion, Cut and squared into Sixe Severall Points. An example of the increasingly religious tenor of his works, Diamond combined Christian moral instruction with humanist pedagogy; in his introduction, Fleming states that Diamond should be read in two ways: "… at your recreation but also for your instruction." The whole work was split into six playful categories: 1. A Footpath to Felicity, 2. A Guide to Godliness, 3. The School of Skill, 4. A Swarm of Bees, 5. A Plant of Pleasure, and 6. A Grove of Graces. This work acheived some notoriety in the courts. Henry Middleton, the printer of Fleming's The Footepath of Faith, Leading the Highwaie to Heaven (1581), charged that some of the material found in Denham's printing of Diamond had also appeared in Middleton's earlier printing of Footepath. Denham and Fleming were ordered "to leave out all of the material from The Footepath of Faith in further printings of The Diamond of Devotion" (Brace). They did not comply, and all five subsequent editions contained the entirety of the 1581 printing of Diamond; however, no action seems to have been taken against them.
The third division of Fleming's Diamond is entitled The School of Skill and contains "three sententious sequences of the A, B, C." "These principles or rules leading us to the knowledge and practise of a godlie and upright life," writes Fleming, "I have thought good to call The School of Skill." Composed of three alphabetical tables of proverbs, mostly Biblical in origin (see the source table appended to this edition), the School, like the rest of the work, was printed with "an elaborate four-piece border on each page" (Donno 205). School typifies the type of manual readers would expect from a pedagogue, a printing "insider", and a reformer.
Although Fleming's legacy is predominantly in the texts he corrected for others, traces of his personality remain. Scholars have noted Fleming's "pronounced religious fervor, a sense of intellectual superiority, and a truculent mode of expression" (Donno 202). His aggressive preface to the table for Volume 3 of Chronicles reads, "If the reader be not satisfied with this table, let him not blame the order, but his owne conceipt" (qtd. in Donno 208). As little as we know about Elizabethan England proof correctors, it is evident that Fleming's "unflagging industry, his fidelity to sources, and his zeal in promoting certain religious and intellectual principles" (Dodson 51) make his contribution to the sixteenth-century book publishing, rhetoric, and reformist pedagogy an important one.