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SHAKESPEARE, William (1564--1616)
[Works. 1623]
Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories & tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies.
London: printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623.
[18], 303, [1], 46, 49--100, [2], 69--232, [2], 79--80, [26], 82,81--82, 83--98, [2], 109--156, 257--993 [i.e. 399], [1] p. : illus. (engr. port.) ; 39.0 cm. (2º)

The famous 'First Folio' of Shakespeare's plays. The colophon reads: 'Printed at the Charges of W. Jaggard, Ed. Blount, I. Smithweeke, and W. Aspley, 1623'. Entered at the Stationers' Company to Blount and I. Jaggard 8 November [1623]. The dedication to 'the most noble and incomparable pair of brothers, William Herbert Earl of Pembroke, and Philip Herbert, Earl of Mongomery' is signed by the editors 'Iohn Heminge. Henry Condell'. Pembroke was Lord Chamberlain. With the celebrated title-page portrait engraved by Martin Droeshout in its second state (i.e. with the collar shaded). The title-page is preceded by a leaf containing verses 'To the Reader.' signed 'B. I.' (i.e. Ben Jonson). Includes preliminary encomia and tributes in verse by Ben Jonson, Hugh Holland, Leonard Digges and 'I.M.' (possibly John Milton senior, a trustee of the Blackfriar's Theatre, or James Mabbe). In the present copy the order of the seven preliminary leaves following the title-page is as follows: (1) The dedication; (2) The preface 'To the great Variety of Readers'; (3) Verses 'To the memory of my beloued, ...'; (4) Verses 'To the memorie of the deceased Authour ...'; (5) Verses 'Upon the Lines and Life of the Famous Scenicke Poet, ...'; (6) a heading 'The Workes of William Shakespeare,' etc, ...; (7) 'A Catalogue of the seuerall Comedies, ...'. 'Troilus and Cressida' is not mentioned in the 'Catalogue' but is contained in the volume. The problematic order of the preliminaries and irregularities in the pagination and make-up of the book are discussed at length in Lowndes's Bibliographer's manual and, even more extensively, by Charlton Hinman in The printing and proof-reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (Oxford 1963). Hinman's 'ideal' copy is represented by the Norton facsimile: the First Folio of Shakespeare, prepared by Charlton Hinman, New York: W.W. Norton, 1968. More recent detailed bibliographical studies include P.W.M. Blayney's The First Folio of Shakespeare, published by the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1991, and Anthony J. West's The Shakespeare First Folio: the history of the book (2 v., Oxford University Press, 2003). STC 22273; ESTC s111228; Greg, III, pp.1109--12; Pforzheimer 905; West, op. cit., no.21 (this copy).

Copy Notes The original leaves have been trimmed, rubricated and inlaid throughout to 37.5 x 28.4 cm. Despite this, with a provenance including two Shakespearean editors and two actors, Soane's copy of the First Folio is of special interest as an example of the 'bardolatry' of the age. John Britton bought the book on Soane's behalf for £105 at James Boswell the younger's sale at Sotheby's on 24 May 1825; loosely inserted is an ALs dated 4 June 1825 from Britton to Soane, folded as letter with superscript on separate sheet 'To / John Soane Esq. / J. Britton, recounting the successful outcome of his bidding for the book in terms of an (over-extended) analogy with a staghunt: My Dear Sir, / By extraordinary good luck I just / arrived at the death - The game was started when I / entered the field, – though hot in the pursuit, I was / cool and collected at each leap, and not only was the / first when caught, but immediately bag'd the / prize. - It is now sent for your larder, where it will / long keep, be always in good flavour, and do honor / to the possessor. - It will afford a perpetual standing / dish, on the table of genius & Talent - never create / surfeit, but “increase of appetite” [by] its almost / miraculous qualities. - Hoping to live long, with you, / to participate in “the feast of reason & the flow of soul”, which / such a banquet is calculated to afford, is the sincere / & not unreasonable wish of / Your confirmed friend / John Britton / Benton St / John Soane Esq.. Tipped-in after the front paste-down is an ALs from the celebrated actor John Philip Kemble to Boswell dated Dublin 25 February 1816, turning down an unspecified invitation for reasons of health (my treacherous enemy the gout). Boswell had purchased this copy at Kemble's sale on 26 January 1821 for £112. 7s. The bibliophile Thomas Frognall Dibdin in The library companion, London 1824, refers to George Steevens's assertion that 'the Folio edition of [Shakespeare's] plays ... is now become the most expensive single book in our language, for what other English volume, without plates, and printed since the year 1600 is known to have sold more than once for £35.14.0'. He quotes the former owner of Soane's copy James Boswell to the effect that 'It has become still more expensive; ipse miserrimus, gave a much larger sum at Mr Kemble's sale, but I could not bring myself to a cold calculation of the value of a copy which was at once a memorial of Shakespeare and Kemble' (p. 792). According to Dibdin, Boswell then spent as much as 'three score guineas' on its 'restitution' by having it 'washed white and clean and inlaid in consequence of the edges having been cut very close, after the fashion of the Wynstay Stationer ...'. However, in spite of the book 'having been sumptuously bound in morocco by [John] Mackinlay and inclosed in a case of calf leather', Dibdin still reckoned that 'as a specimen of genuine and tasteful restitution it was a failure ... [since] no first Shakespeare ever could have appeared of such a form' (p. 812). Kemble had acquired the volume for £38 at Isaac Reed's sale on 2nd November 1807. Reed in turn had bought it for a mere 19s. at the sale of John Henderson, actor (late of Covent Garden Theatre) on 25th February 1786 (lot 970). The 1825 sale of Boswell's library has been recently discussed by A. Sherbo in 'From "Bibliotheca Boswelliana", the Sale Catalogue of the Library of James Boswell, the Younger', Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 97:3 (2003), pp. 367--378; rather oddly Soane does not appear to have retained a copy of the 1825 Boswell library sale catalogue.

Binding 19th-century olive green morocco, gilt- and blind-stamped panels, with an architectural fan ornament in gilt in each corner of both upper and lower covers, gilt-tooled bands and lettering. Intercalated with numerous blank leaves at the beginning and end and between parts I and II and II and III. According to Dibdin (see above) this binding was undertaken for James Boswell the younger in 1821 by John Mackinlay, despite the fact that the latter died in June of that year aged 84. Dibdin's account of the so-called 'restitution' that Mackinlay undertook for Boswell may be inaccurate since the volume is already described in the 1821 Kemble sale catalogue (ninth day, lot 1657*), as a 'very fine copy, most carefully inlaid throughout bound in Venetian morocco, in russia'. If so, a more likely explanation is that Mackinlay's 'restitution' had in fact been undertaken for Kemble rather than Boswell.

Reference Number 1526


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