Two Fine Paintings on an Exceptionally Rare, Beautifully Bound Dyspeptic Travel Book

MINUTES OF REMARKS ON SUBJECTS PICTURESQUE, MORAL, AND MISCELLANEOUS: MADE IN A COURSE ALONG THE RHINE, AND DURING A RESIDENCE IN SWISSERLAND AND ITALY IN THE YEARS 1822 & 1823.

(London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; Dublin: William Frederick Wakeman, 1827). 220 x 135 mm. (8 5/8 x 5 3/8"). Two volumes. FIRST EDITION.

VERY PLEASING CONTEMPORARY SEA GREEN STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO, ELABORATELY GILT, covers with gilt floral frame enclosing a central blind-stamped arabesque, raised bands, spine compartments densely gilt with floral tools and volutes, turn-ins with decorative gilt roll, light blue watered silk endleaves, all edges gilt. EACH VOLUME WITH AN ANIMATED FORE-EDGE PAINTING SET IN THE ITALIAN LANDSCAPE. Front pastedown with armorial bookplate of John Thornton Down. Spines slightly and uniformly sunned, joints with just a hint of rubbing, corners a little bent, volume I lacking free endleaf at the back, trivial imperfections internally, but an extremely pretty set in essentially fine condition, the bindings entirely solid, with especially lustrous covers, and the text clean and fresh.

This is the travel memoir of a rather dyspeptic Englishman who frequently finds himself appalled by the discomforts and immorality of locations abroad; but in contrast to the author's somewhat deprecatory comments here, our attractive bindings feature fore-edge paintings that offer an idyllic view of Italian shores. In one, we see fishermen at work with their nets in large, drifting boats, a shining white city on the shore beyond, surrounded by green hills. The other depicts a busy dockside, with a man on horseback directing workers. A walled fortress rises along the rocky shore in the left middle ground, with washerwomen in the foreground at the left, and rugged, towering hillsides in the background to the right. These paintings have been executed with very considerable skill, are full of surprisingly well-realized detail, have very pleasing colors (with blues predominating), and bring a wide, deep, and convincing area into play. Although the paintings represent the most valuable aspect of this item, the book's contents are of some interest as well. Little is known of the author, who served as Deputy Commissary General for the British army in Dublin, but a contemporary contributor to the "Quarterly Review" called the present work "a very singular performance, wherein a great deal of sound feeling and excellent observation is presented in a most peculiar style. The matter and the manner are frequently in curious contrast; but both are original." Webb takes a cosmopolitan view of political and religious matters but (to our amusement) reverts to shocked provincialism when confronted with "respectable" Italian women who discuss in mixed company "female matters" that an Englishwoman would not mention to her husband or even close confidantes. "Minutes" seems to be extraordinarily rare, with just a handful of copies in OCLC (where this sort of work ought to be much better represented) and no trace at all in ABPC (back to 1975) or in Rare Book Hub. Not even considering the Dublin firm in the imprint here, the significant publishing house of Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy might well have been expected to issue a book like this in a substantial press run, but perhaps an exception was made with the present work. Our very decorative volumes would seem to constitute presentation bindings, and it may be that only a few copies were ever printed, with the intention to give all or most of them to friends and associates.
(ST12936)