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You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  An account of the remains of the worship of Priapus, lately existing at Isernia, in the kingdom of Naples: in two letters; one from Sir William Hamilton, K.B. His Majesty's minister at the court of Naples, to Sir Joseph Banks, Bart. President of the Royal Society; and the other from a person residing at Isernia: to which is added, a discourse on the worship of Priapus, and its connexion with the mystic theology of the ancients. By R.P. Knight, Esq.
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KNIGHT, Richard Payne (1750--1824)
An account of the remains of the worship of Priapus, lately existing at Isernia, in the kingdom of Naples: in two letters; one from Sir William Hamilton, K.B. His Majesty's minister at the court of Naples, to Sir Joseph Banks, Bart. President of the Royal Society; and the other from a person residing at Isernia: to which is added, a discourse on the worship of Priapus, and its connexion with the mystic theology of the ancients. By R.P. Knight, Esq.
London: printed by T. Spilsbury, 1786.
195, [1] p., engr. frontis., [12] pl. : [6] engr. illus. ; 27.2 cm. (4º)

Knight was an archeologist and poet who lived a long time at Naples where he laid the foundation of a collection of antiquities, later bequeathed to the British Museum. The present work, his first publication, includes Sir William Hamilton's account to the Society of Dilettanti dated 30 December 1781 of a collection of phallic wax votive offerings from the festival of St Cosmas and St Damian at Isernia, which was presented to the British Museum in 1784, and Knight's discourse 'On The Worship Of Priapus' (p. [21]--195) in which he examined the survival of phallic worship in Christian ceremonies and religion generally. The work was subsequently censured by Thomas James Mathias in his anonymous, vitrolic and widely read Pursuits of literature, 1797 (q.v.), where it is described as 'One of the most unbecoming and indecent treatises which ever disgraced the pen of a man who would be considered as a scholar and a philosopher'. Knight's entry in the Biographical dictionary of living authors, 1816 (q.v.) reads '... a gentleman of fortune, and of rich classical attainments which he has not always applied to the best of purpose, for his first performance was a sacrifice to the most filthy of the heathen deities, in a style so gross that the author himself seems to have felt an inward fear of public reprehension; for though the book was handsomely printed it was never exposed to sale'. See Michael Funnell, 'The symbolic language of antiquity', in Michael Clarke and Nicholas Penny (eds.), The arrogant connoisseur: Richard Payne Knight 1751--1824 (Manchester 1982), pp. 50--64; see also Colette Grossman, 'Priapus in Park Street: revealing Zoffany's subtext in Charles Townley and Friends', British Art Journal 6:1 (2005), pp. 71--80. The engravings, some signed by James Newton, are numbered I--XVIII, pl. I being the frontispiece and plates II--VII printed as illustrations; the final plate is unnumbered. ESTC n2172; Clarke and Penny, op. cit., cat. no. 79.

Copy Notes Bought from T. & W. Boone for £5 12s. plus a commission of 11s. on 23 April 1822. (Priv. Corr. XVI.E.4.5).

Binding C19th green straight-grained morocco, concentric gilt and blind triple-ruled borders, blind-tooled corner-pieces and blind-stamped hexagons with two masks in strap-work ornament on upper and lower covers, concentric gilt and blind triple-ruled spine compartments with gilt-stamped false bands, gilt edges, direct-lettered in gilt. Bound by Boone 14 July 1822 for £1 8s. (Priv. Corr. XVI.E.4.6).

Reference Number 1540


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