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John Ogilby
portrait of a seventeenth-century gentleman with long hair
Portrait from a 1660 edition of Homer's Iliad
Born(1600-11-17)17 November 1600
Kirriemuir (Angus, Scotland)[1]
Died4 September 1676(1676-09-04) (aged 75)
London, England
Notable work

John Ogilby (also Ogelby, Oglivie; 17 November 1600 – 4 September 1676) was a Scottish translator, impresario, publisher and cartographer. He was probably at least a half-brother to James Ogilvy, 1st Earl of Airlie, though neither acknowledged this overtly. His more noted works include translations of the works of Virgil and Homer and his version of the Fables of Aesop. He established Ireland's first theatre on Dublin's Werburgh Street and, after the Restoration, its Theatre Royal. He also played a significant part in arrangements for the coronation of King Charles II. His large-scale map of the City of London in the wake of its Great Fire of 1666 was founded on precise survey work. His Britannia, the first road atlas of England and Wales to be based on actual surveys and measurements and drawn to scale, is noted among cartographers for these innovations.


Childhood and youth (1600−1618)

Ogilby's birthplace and parentage is historically uncertain. Most older biographies of Ogilby rely on the notes of his assistant, John Aubrey, made for Brief Lives (an unpublished biography of Ogilby and others).[2] The accuracy of Aubrey's account is questionable:[3] Aubrey himself noted that Ogilby was being evasive about his origins,[4] saying only that he was born "near Edinburgh" in 1600 "of a gentleman's family".[5] Later scholarship has discovered that in 1653, Ogilby consulted Elias Ashmole, the noted astrologer,[6] and that subsequently Ashmole included Ogilby's horoscope in a personal collection of his horoscopes of notable people.[7] This required precise data and it is Ashmole who gives the exact location as "Killemeure" (Kirriemuir near Dundee[a]) and the exact date and time as 17 November 1600 at 04:00.[1][b]

Ogilby believed himself to be at least a half-brother to James Ogilvy, 1st Earl of Airlie,[9][c] given at birth to John Ogilby (senior), a well-to-do gentleman's tailor in Edinburgh, to be adopted.[9][d] He was most probably educated at the Merchant Taylors' grammar school in London.[13][e] At eleven years old, Ogilby was indentured as an apprentice to John Draper, one of only three licensed dance masters in London.[16] At the time, a dancing master had expertise in "grammar (elocution), rhetoric, logic, philosophy, history, music, mathematics and in other arts":[17] ability to dance in "Old Measures" was considered an essential skill for the upper classes.[18] In 1617, Draper became a barrister at Grey's Inn and released Ogilby – who by then was highly accomplished as a dancer and a teacher – from the apprenticeship, allowing him to set up as a master in his own right and to take part in theatrical performances.[19] However, a fall while dancing in a masque in February 1619 (aged 18) lamed him for life and ended his career as a dancer (though not as a teacher).[1]

Early adulthood (1619−1633)

Information about this period of his life is limited. Ashmole's horoscope records that, in 1625, Ogilby suffered from a "double quotidian ague" (a form of malaria),[20] most probably contracted while fighting in the Low Countries under Colonel Sir Charles Rich.[21] In May 1626, he is recorded as holding the rank of lieutenant in the army of Count Mansfield, subsequently becoming a prisoner of war in Dunkirk from July 1626 to June 1627.[22] From June to November 1627, he was one of the few survivors of the ill-fated English Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, returning to England as acting Captain of a supply ship.[23]

Ireland (1633−1646)

In August 1633, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, newly appointed as Lord Deputy of Ireland, invited Ogilby to Ireland to be dancing tutor to his wife and children and a member of his troop of guards.[24][25] While in Dublin, Ogilby established Ireland's first theatre, the Werburgh Street Theatre.[26] As a consequence of this enterprise (and to discourage competitors), in 1637 Wentworth appointed him Master of the Revels for Ireland, with power to permit and forbid performances.[27] For the four years that the theatre was open, it had mixed success, but it had to be closed as a result of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.[28] With theatre and dancing ruled out, Ogilby spent his time first on learning Latin and then on translating the complete works of Virgil.[29]

Writer and publisher, marriage (1647−1660)

Ogilby returned to England in January 1647, being shipwrecked on his homeward journey.[30][31] Carefully placed in waterproof wrapping,[32] the manuscript of his Virgil translation survived the episode and was published in October 1648, with the sponsorship of Royalist gentlefolk and nobility.[33]

In 1650, he married a rich heiress, Christian Hunsdon,[34] a widow in her sixties about 17 years his senior.[35] In the following year, he published the first edition of his The fables of Aesop paraphras'd in verse, and adorn'd with sculpture[f] and illustrated with annotations, illustrated by Francis Cleyn.[36][37] Ogilby's version was very successful, running to five editions in the following 15 years.[38]

The next few years were spent on learning Greek, with the intention of creating and publishing a new translation of Homer's Iliad, planned to be a magnificent undertaking with an estimated production cost of £5,000.[39][g] The venture required sponsorship for each of the engraved illustrations (given that each would cost about £10[h]), but he succeeded in securing just 47 sponsors; when published in March 1660, it ran to 600 pages but was substantially less illustrated than he had planned.[40] With his known Royalist sympathies,[41] he was a risk to potential patrons who needed to avoid offending the Puritan Commonwealth government.[42]

Restoration of the monarchy, the Great Fire and Royal Cosmographer (1661–1676)

Detail from Ogily and Morgan's "most accurate Survey of the City of London and Libertyes therof"

The Restoration of Charles II brought favour back to Ogilby. In 1661, he was granted the (unpaid) title of "Master of the Royal Imprimerie" (King's Printer).[43] With the coronation scheduled for 23 April 1661 (St. George's Day), the Common Council of the City of London contracted him to "compose speeches, songs and inscriptions" for the coronation procession from the Tower of London to Whitehall.[44]

A year later he was again made Master of the Revels in Ireland,[45] and he set about the building of a new theatre in Smock Alley, Dublin.[46] The libretto of the musical play Pompey, by Katherine Philips, performed at Smock Alley in 1663, credits him as the composer of the tunes.[47] His second sojourn in Ireland was not long: in July 1664, he returned to (plague-stricken) London, leaving his step-son to take his place.[48] In 1665, he published a second, revised edition of The Fables of Aesop, this time illustrated by Wenceslaus Hollar's prints.[37]

In the Great Fire of 1666, his house in Shoe Lane, together with its print-works and most of his stock, was destroyed – he estimated that he had lost £3,000.[49][i] After the Great Fire, the Corporation of London appointed Ogilby and his wife's grandson (William Morgan) as "sworn viewers", members of a group of just four trustworthy gentlemen directed by Robert Hooke,[50] to plot out the disputed property in the city.[51] Subsequently, he made (he declared) "the most accurate Survey of the City of London and Libertyes therof that has ever been done".[52] By 1668, he had a new house in Whitefriars and was ready to resume his printing and publishing work.[53]

His next major venture was a series of atlases of China, Japan, Africa, Asia, and America. The first of these was An Embassy from the East India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China, published in 1689. This book was substantially a translation of Johan Nieuhof's Dutch original of the same name (with English copies of the Dutch engravings).[54] Ogilby's Africa appeared in 1670, followed in rapid succession by Atlas Japanennsis (1670), America (1671), Atlas Chinensis (1671) and Asia (1673).[55] In response to his proposal to make a detailed survey and atlas of Great Britain, the King appointed him Royal Cosmographer in 1671.[56][j] Thus, at about the age of 70 and with the scientific advice of Robert Hooke,[58] he began work on the project for which he is perhaps best known among cartographers, Britannia.[59][60]


A surveyor's wheel in use (detail from the frontispiece of Britannia)

In 1675, Ogilby issued his Britannia atlas, in the form of a strip map for each major route. One hundred strip road maps are shown, accompanied by a double-sided page of text giving additional advice for the map's use, notes on the towns shown, and the pronunciations of their names.[61] The roads were measured using a surveyor's wheel (his "way-wiser") and plotted at one inch to the statute mile (1:63,360), an Ogilby innovation.[62] The maps include such details as the configurations of hills, bridges, and ferries and the relative size of towns.[61] It is for these innovations that Ogilby is noted in cartography.[60]

The actual cost of the survey and the resulting maps is not known but in a prospectus, Ogilby quotes a preiminary estimate made by the "Lords Referees" (advisors to the Privy Council), as £14,000 (equivalent to about £2.4 million today).[63] With assistance from Robert Hooke lobbying on his behalf, with multiple petitions to the Crown, to the Court of Common Council and Court of Aldermen of the Corporation of London, and to various noble families as well as holding lotteries, Ogilby worked hard at trying to raise this considerable sum.[64] Writing in 1925, geographer Sir Herbert Fordham remarked that "twice only [...] has there been such [measurement of roads]: that of John Ogilby, in 1671-5, and that of John Cary, quite at the end of the following century. In neither case, singularly enough, did the Government take any steps for the publication of the results of the survey, everything being left, in this respect, to private and commercial enterprise".[65]

Death (1676)

Ogilby died in September 1676 and was buried in the vault of St Bride's Church, one of Sir Christopher Wren's new London churches.[66] In his will, dated 27 February 1675, he bequeathed his entire estate to "my deare wife Christian Ogilby and to William Morgan, her grandchild".[67] The value of his estate is not recorded but the British Museum has a copy of an announcement by Robert Morden, a factor, of a sale of "undisposed" books and maps from Ogilby's collection with an asserted value of £517.50 (equivalent to about £97,000 today).[68]

Literary reputation

In the years that followed, Ogilby's reputation as a poetic translator was to suffer from the attacks made on him by John Dryden in his satirical MacFlecknoe, and by Alexander Pope in The Dunciad. Following their lead, the Scottish philosopher David Hume used Ogilby's work to illustrate the idea that common sense frequently appeals to a "standard of taste" in aesthetic matters: "Whoever would assert an equality of genius and elegance between Ogilby and Milton, or Bunyan and Addison, would be thought to defend no less an extravagance, than if he had maintained a mole-hill to be as high as Teneriffe, or a pond as extensive as the ocean".[69] Other writers were even more critical: his entry in the Encyclopaedia Londinensis (about 1800) reads "The chief merit of his Homer consists in a commendable and uniform fidelity to the sense of his author. As a poet, his pretensions to praise of any kind can scarcely be supported : he has neither animation of thought, accuracy of taste, sensibility of feeling, nor ornament of diction."[70]

Such judgements stuck, and it is only recently that Ogilby's work has again been given scholarly attention, particularly his versions of Aesop's Fables.[71][72][73] These, according to a short biography published by Theophilus Cibber in 1753, were "generally confessed to have exceeded whatever hath been done before in that kind".[74] They renewed interest in the fable as a literary medium and arguably led the way in suggesting their adaptation to the troubled politics of the time.[75][76]



  1. ^ Kirriemuir is about twenty statute miles (eighteen Scottish miles, 32km) north of Dundee and the nearest town (about five miles (8 km) northwest) to Airlie, seat of the lairds of Airlie.
  2. ^ Van Eerde reads the location given on the horoscope as "Kellemeane" and is unable to identify any place of that or similar name on any maps of the time.[8]
  3. ^ In the second edition of Virgil, Ogilby signed himself as Johannes Ogilvius, with the Ogilvy coat-of-arms in a cartouche, charged with a heraldic star that indicated "younger son": the final plate of the book was dedicated to the Garter King of Arms, in effect (Alan Ereira says) to assert the validity of his use of the arms.[10] However, neither Ereira nor Van Eerde was able to find any evidence of an overt claim to direct family connection and Van Eerde questions strongly whether such a connection ever existed.[11] In 1625, John Ogilvie (1587 – 1625, second brother to the Earl) affirmed in his will that he was "brother german" (full, unquestioned brother) of the future Earl, seemingly to distinguish himself from John Ogilby.[12]
  4. ^ There are no records of the circumstances of his fostering and adoption by John Ogilby (senior), at the time a well-to-do tailor in Edinburgh and kinsman to the noble Lord Ogilvie. Ereira suggests two possible reasons.[9] The first is that his (claimed) father, Lord Ogilvie, had engaged in pitched battle with the neighbouring Lindsay clan and as a result was subjected to severe sanctions by the Privy Council (of Scotland). This put the family in very difficult circumstances: the eldest son, the future Earl of Airlie, was sent to the continent; perhaps a foster-family in Edinburgh was the safest place for a tiny baby. The second is that his mother, Jean Ruthven, may have conceived while her husband was engaged in the battle with the Lindsays.
  5. ^ In 1606, the Ogilby family followed King James I and VI when the court transferred to London and Ogilby Sr was admitted to membership of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors.[14] This meant that attendance at the school was his right. Ereira notes that Ogilby's name does not appear on the school register but that this is not surprising as the register is only of those pupils taking an examination called the "probation".[15]
  6. ^ perspective illustrations
  7. ^ The modern equivalent of £5,000 in 1660 is about £800,000.
  8. ^ The modern equivalent of £10 in 1660 is about £2,000.
  9. ^ The modern equivalent of £3,000 in 1666 is about £500,000.
  10. ^ Parker gives 1674;[28] according to Ereira, this is the date when his title was upgraded to "His Majesty's Cosmographer and Royal Printer".[57]


  1. ^ a b c Ereira (2016), pp. 50–52.
  2. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 5, 6.
  3. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 6.
  4. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 15.
  5. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 6, 7.
  6. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 164.
  7. ^ Ashmole, Elias (c. 1680), Ms. Ashm. 332, f.35°, cited in Ereira (2016), pp. 50–52
  8. ^ Van Eerde (1976), pp. 15, 16.
  9. ^ a b c Ereira (2016), pp. 150–161.
  10. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 152–155.
  11. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 16.
  12. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 157, 158.
  13. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 11–12.
  14. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 9–10.
  15. ^ Ereira (2016), page 420, footnote 11..
  16. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 32–33.
  17. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 36.
  18. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 40–41.
  19. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 42–43.
  20. ^ Josten, C H (1967). Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) : his autobiographical and historical notes, his correspondence, and other contemporary sources relating to his life and work. Vol. II. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 655. ISBN 9780191759932., cited in Ereira 2016, p. 64 It was Josten who decoded Ashmole's cryptic notes.
  21. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 64.
  22. ^ State Papers Domestic 16 v. 66 (63), cited in Ereira 2016, p. 70
  23. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 72.
  24. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 76.
  25. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 20.
  26. ^ Fletcher, Alan J. (1999). Drama, Performance, and Polity in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 261–264. ISBN 9780802043771.
  27. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 83.
  28. ^ a b Parker, Philip (25 October 2022). The Atlas of Atlases. Ivy Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780711268050. OCLC 1292066597.
  29. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 109, 111.
  30. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ogilby, John" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.(1646/7)
  31. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 119.
  32. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 121.
  33. ^ Ereira (2016), pp. 126, 167.
  34. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 27.
  35. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 141.
  36. ^ Lindner, Jennifer N. (2002). "From the Collection: Stylistic Influences and Design Sources: An Examination of Winterthur's Fox and the Crane Fireback". Winterthur Portfolio. 37: 74. doi:10.1086/376343. S2CID 142101773. A particularly elegant yet unusual example may be seen in an engraving by Francis Cleyn in John Ogilby's Fables of Aesop Paraphras'd in Verse and Adorned with Sculpture (fig. 9).
  37. ^ a b Dundas, Judith (1995). "The Masks of Cupid and Death". Comparative Drama. 29 (1, Spring): 48–49. doi:10.1353/cdr.1995.0038. JSTOR 41153732. S2CID 190303904. The illustration that accompanies the first edition of the Fables, by Francis Cleyn, shows a youth who prays with clasped hands to Cupid in the sky (fig. 3).
  38. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 143.
  39. ^ Clapp, Sarah (May 1933). "The subscription enterprises of John Ogilby and Richard Blome". Modern Philology. 30 (4): 365–379. doi:10.1086/388058. S2CID 161593172.
  40. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 184.
  41. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 43.
  42. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 183.
  43. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 64, 91.
  44. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 49.
  45. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 65.
  46. ^ "Research Guide for Archival Sources of Smock Alley theatre, Dublin" (PDF). Smock Alley Theatre. October 2009. (Smock Alley is beside Blind Quay.)
  47. ^ Boydell, Brian (2001). "John Ogilby". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56159-239-5.
  48. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 226.
  49. ^ Ogilby, John (1670). Africa. cited in Ereira (2016), p. 245
  50. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 247.
  51. ^ Fordham (1925), p. 159.
  52. ^ Hyde, R.; Fisher, John; Cline, Roger (1992). The A to Z of Restoration London. London Topographical Society. p. x. ISBN 9780902087323. cited in Ereira (2016), p. 247
  53. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 124.
  54. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 254.
  55. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 260.
  56. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 310 "He received a letter from the King on 24 August [1671] addressing him by the novel title of 'Royal Cosmographer'".
  57. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 374.
  58. ^ Van Eerde (1976), pp. 126, 127.
  59. ^ Fordham (1925), p. 1.
  60. ^ a b Mary Sponberg Pedley; Matthew H. Edney, eds. (15 May 2020). "Ogilby, John". The History of Cartography. Vol. 4: Cartography in the European Enlightenment. University of Chicago Press. p. 1071. ISBN 9780226339221.
  61. ^ a b Fordham (1925), p. 164–166.
  62. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 346 "These pages established the 8-furlong mile as the national unit of distance and the one-inch-to-a-mile mapping standard, which was used by the British Ordnance Survey until the 1970s"..
  63. ^ Ereira (2016), p. 349.
  64. ^ Van Eerde (1976), pp. 130–134.
  65. ^ Fordham (1925), p. 157.
  66. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 139.
  67. ^ Van Eerde (1976), p. 137.
  68. ^ "Proposals for the last general sale of Mr Ogibly's Books, Maps and Roads &c". British Museum. 1691. Retrieved 12 August 2023.
  69. ^ Hume, David (1757). "Of the Standard of Taste". Four Dissertations (1st ed.). London: A. Millar in the Strand.
  70. ^ Chapman, John; Jones, G.; Jones, John; Pass, J.; Wilkes, John (eds.). "O'Gilby, John". Encyclopaedia Londinensis or, Universal dictionary of arts, sciences, and literature. Vol. 17. p. 430.
  71. ^ Eames, Marion (1961). "John Ogilby and his Aesop". Bulletin of the New York Public Library. 65: 73–88.
  72. ^ Patterson, Annabel M. (1991). Fables of Power: Aesopian Writing and Political History. Durham NC: Duke University Press.
  73. ^ Acheson, Katherine (2009). "The Picture of Nature: Seventeenth-Century English Aesop's Fables". Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies. IX (2, Fall/Winter): 25–50. doi:10.1353/jem.0.0032. S2CID 159954541.
  74. ^ Shiells, Robert (1753). The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, to the Time of Dean Swift. Vol. 2. London: R. Griffiths. p. 268.
  75. ^ Williamson, Karina (1997). "The English Fable: Aesop and Literary Culture, 1651-1740 by Jayne Elizabeth Lewis". Translation and Literature. Edinburgh University Press. 6 (2): 244–249. doi:10.3366/tal.1997.6.2.244. JSTOR 40316860. (book review)
  76. ^ Daniel, Stephen H. (Spring 1982). "Political and Philosophical Uses of Fables in Eighteenth-Century England". The Eighteenth Century. University of Pennsylvania Press. 23 (2): 151–171. JSTOR 41467265. Occasional authors such as John Ogilby published Aesopic fables (in 1651 and again in 1667) with what might be recognized as political motives; however, the applications of such fables are questionable and, in any event, do not approximate to the developed political positions found in later collections.

Principal sources

See also

Further reading

External links

4 Annotations

First Reading

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Though Ogilvy was one of the worst poets of his time, he was without a rival in point of industry. This virtue alone, if he had had no other merit, would entitle him to some respect. He began to study at an age when men usually think of leaving off all literary pursuits; and quickly made an astonishing progress. He could scarce construe Virgil, when he entered upon a translation of that poet; and he was no less eager to translate Homer, though he was far from being a competent master of English or Greek. That he had no success in these great attempts is not to be admired; the attempts themselves are matter of admiration. I shall pass over his "Esop's Fables," and several other folios which he published, to mention his "Carolies," an heroic poem, in twelve books, in honour of Charles I. on which he had been long labouring. This, which he tells us, he had "resolved to be the pride, divertisement, business, and sole comfort of his age," was burnt in the fire of London. His fortune was reduced, by that conflagration, to 5 1. only; but he, in a few years, retrieved his loss, by undertaking and finishing several voluminous works. His last and greatest undertaking was his "Atlas," which was alone a sufficient task for a man's life. Three or four volumes, in folio, have been published of this work, which he did not live to finish. It is well known that he was employed by Charles II. to take a survey of the roads of the kingdom; and I have been informed, that the posts were regulated according to that survey. Ob. 4 Sept. 1676.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

Bill  •  Link

OGILBY, JOHN (1600-1676) author and printer; in early life taught dancing; employed by Strafford in Ireland, where he became deputy-master, and afterwards master of the revels; entrusted with 'poetical part' of Charles II's coronation, 1661; his house and booksellers' stock destroyed in fire of Loudon, 1666; afterwards set up large printing establishment and became 'king's cosmographer'; published verse translations of Virgil, AEsop's 'Fables,' and Homer, with plates by Hollar, and printed an edition of the bible (Cambridge, 1660), a folio Virgil, 'Entertainment of Charles II,' and many geographical works. He was ridiculed by Dryden and Pope, but utilised by the latter.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"Terry Jones’ Great Map Mystery" is four excellent investigations into some of the Welsh maps included in John Ogilby's BRITANNIA of 1675 and was, for me, an eye opener as to what Charles II is concluding from the shenanigans of the 1660's.

At school I learned Ogilby employed hundreds of people using the first mileage calculators to measure 20,000 miles of "British" roads (think mostly tracks). Previous maps were measured in one day's journey by coach or horseback, so visitors knew where they would be sleeping. As Pepys tells us, those old maps were not easy to follow, and the "roads" were rough. You'll see how rough in these shows.

This enormous book cost the equivilent of tens of millions of pounds today, but was sponsored by Charles II who went to great lengths to make sure rich people bought it, and he even used them as prizes for lotteries, although it rarely showed how to get to those rich peoples' houses or anything particularly useful they didn't already know.

It's fascinating ... and I won't spoil Terry Jones' big reveal at the end of why Charles wanted this information so badly. It's outside the Diary times anyways.

The shows are available free on BritBox in the USA right now ... poke around; you'll find them. They are too esoteric for pay TV.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.