Gray's Highly-Praised "Odes," the First Product of the Best Private Press of the 18th Century


(Strawberry-Hill: For R. and J. Dodsley, 1757). 263 x 204 mm. (10 1/4 x 8"). 21 pp. (16 blank leaves added to fill out binding). FIRST EDITION. One of 2,000 copies.

Contemporary sprinkled calf, expertly rebacked, raised bands, gilt-ruled compartments, gilt titling. Engraved vignette on title page. Front pastedown with book label of "J. E."; front free endpaper inscribed in ink: "Dd, 5:3." Hazen 1; Rothschild 1067; Hayward 174; Day, "English Literature," pp. 195-200; Plomer, pp. 232-34. Extremities a little rubbed, short, thin wormtrail to rear pastedown and endleaf, small hole to first two leaves at gutter, but A FINE COPY, clean and fresh internally, in an appealing binding.

Aside from its substantial importance in the history of English literature, Gray's "Odes" represents a signal event in the history of private press publishing as the first work issued by Horace Walpole at his Strawberry Hill Press. Thomas Gray (1716-71) had begun to write poetry as early as 1742, but it was not until the 1751 publication of "Stanzas Wrote in a Country Church-Yard" (now called "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard") that he gained widespread recognition for his work. Although he thought of himself primarily as a classics scholar and even refused the laureateship when it was offered to him in 1757, Gray was considered the foremost poet of his day, and his poetry is now often cited as foundational to the development of the Romantic movement. The present work consists of two Pindaric odes, the first of which ("The Progress of Poesy") Day considers to be "probably the best true Pindaric ode in English" and the second ("The Bard") "probably the best 18th century attempt at poetic sublimity." It is believed that Walpole had snatched the "Odes" away from the London publisher Dodsley, and that Gray found it awkward to refuse Walpole's request that the poems be the first product of his newly established Strawberry Hill Press. Taking its name from Walpole's beloved estate, the Strawberry Hill Press would occupy a prominent place in the printing history of its period. Walpole said that he modeled his press after that of Aldus, the Estiennes, and the Elzeviers, with results that Plomer says were "far above any of the other private press work of the 18th century." This work is not especially rare, but a copy like ours--with the contents fresh and without any foxing or repairs--is not so easy to find.

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PJP Catalog: 76.171