(London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1868). 222 x 143 mm. (8 3/4 x 5 5/8"). Second volume lacking final blank. Two volumes.

Lavishly gilt contemporary black half calf by Bain (stamp-signed on verso of front free endpaper), raised bands decorated with gilt roll, spines in six compartments, two of these with titling labels of red or black, the other four quite intricately gilt with a large central filigree ornament framed by scrolling leafy cornerpieces, marbled boards, edges, and endpapers. With four plates, each with four engraved portraits, for a total of 16 portraits. Boards slightly chafed, a hint of wear (only) to joints and extremities, leaves faintly yellow at edges (no doubt as in all copies), but an excellent set, clean and fresh internally, and with solid bindings that make a most attractive appearance on the shelf.

The son of a Windsor publisher who kept a bookshop, Charles Knight (1791-1873) was an author, journalist, and publisher of books and periodicals. He edited several "Half-Hours" books in addition to the present set, including one on English history (see next item) and another featuring the "Best Letter Writers." Many of his works, including these series and his "Penny Cyclopedia," "Pictorial Shakespeare," and "Popular History of England," were designed to make history and the classics more available to the "plain Englishman" who did not have the benefit of a public school education. "Best Authors" is divided into 365 chapters designed to give the reader an overview of great literature in half-hour chunks over the course of a year. Each chapter contains an excerpt from a famous work, along with Knight's brief biographical and critical notes. He began work on "Best Authors" in 1847, revising and adding to it over a number of years, and it remained a popular favorite.