(London: William Pickering, 1836; 1835-36). 175 x 108 mm. (6 7/8 x 4 1/4"). Four volumes (the poems in the first volume, the letters in volumes II-IV). Edited by John Mitford.

Attractive late 19th century chestnut brown half morocco over marbled boards, upper covers with a gilt falcon stamped on the leather, raised bands, spines gilt in compartments with Arts and Crafts-style quatrefoil centerpiece surrounded by gilt dots, spade-shaped leaves at corners, marbled endpapers, top edges gilt. With frontispiece portrait in volume I. Keynes, p. 38 (for first volume). A hint of rubbing to joints and extremities, very faint freckled foxing affecting about one leaf in four, but still quite a pleasing set, the bindings bright and with no significant wear, and the text very smooth and clean, showing few signs of use.

This is an attractively bound set of the four-volume Pickering edition of Gray's poems and letters, the latter including many items appearing in print for the first time. Best known for "Elegy written in a Country Churchyard," Thomas Gray (1716-71) was primarily a scholar, a professor of Modern History and Languages at Cambridge, and never became a professional or even a dedicated poet. Still, he was offered the laureateship in 1757, upon the death of Colley Cibber (he refused the honor). Gray had begun to write poetry as early as 1742, but it was not until 15 years later, after the publication of his "Poems," that he had become generally recognized as the foremost poet of the day. In his highly polished verse, one can easily trace the decay of Neoclassical and the development of Romantic strains in English poetry. Among other major works, Day calls his "Progress of Poesy" "probably the best true Pindaric ode in English," and another similar ode, "The Bard," "probably the best 18th century attempt at poetic sublimity." Although some of Gray's letters appeared in 1778 in an edition of his work put out by William Mason, the vast majority of the more than 350 epistolary items contained in these volumes are published for the first time. Volume I here is part of the well-known "Aldine Poet" series issued by Pickering, a publishing project covering more than 20 years and involving the production of 53 volumes (not counting reprints). Each work was carefully edited by one of a group of reputable scholars that included Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, Alexander Dyce, and John Mitford, the last of whom edited these volumes, which include his long biography of our poet and equally long "Essay on the Poetry of Gray." There was a fifth volume containing Gray's correspondence with the Rev. Norton Nicholls published by Pickering seven years after our set, in 1843, not present here.

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PJP Catalog: 63.221


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