The Garden Copy of the First English Edition of Plutarch's "Morals"


(London: Printed by Arnold Hatfield, 1603). 330 x 215 mm. (13 x 8 1/2"). 4 p.l., 1363, [1] pp., [32] leaves (including errata).Translated by Philemon Holland. FIRST COMPLETE EDITION IN ENGLISH.

Mottled calf by Riviere & Son (stamp-signed on verso of front free endpaper) raised bands, two brown morocco labels, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt (rebacked, preserving original backstrip). Woodcut initials and headpieces. Rear pastedown with armorial bookplate of American travel writer James Hale Bates (1845-1901) and with the ex-libris of the Garden Collection, both pasted in upside down (see below). STC 20063; Harris, p. 116; Lowndes III, 1891. Extremities a bit rubbed, spine somewhat crackled and with half a dozen small abrasions, but the well-executed sympathetic binding quite sound and very pleasing. First and last leaves lightly soiled, title page with small chip to fore edge, occasional mild yellowing or minor marginal foxing, isolated rust spots, a couple of trivial paper flaws, but clearly a fine copy internally--clean, fresh, and altogether pleasing.

This is an excellent copy, with distinguished provenance, of an important text that was part of a memorable series of Elizabethan translations. The "Moralia"--various writings of Plutarch exclusive of his famous "Parallel Lives" of the Greeks and Romans--deal with such diverse topics as fortune, exile, animal intelligence, health, advice for newlyweds, the education of children, benefitting from one's enemies, the value of having few or many friends, how to recognize a flatterer, and many other topics that give scholars insight into Greco-Roman society and obscure cults. Although individual treatises had been previously translated into English, this is the first translation of the entire sequence of essays that make up the "Moralia." The value of the collection is enhanced by the fact that Plutarch borrows liberally from lost Greek works, some of which would otherwise be unknown to us. The great Elizabethan translator Philemon Holland (1552-1637) was a physician whose love of the classics prompted a devotion to rendering ancient authors into the language of Shakespeare. His output was prodigious. His first project was a translation of the Roman historian Livy, published in 1600; the next year, Holland tackled Pliny's massive "Natural History." He also created English versions of the historical works of Suetonius and (in the same year as "Morals") Ammianus Marcellinus. The modern provenance here is outstanding. It is not too much to say that the collection of The Garden Ltd., assembled by Haven O'More with funding from Michael Davis, was the most outstanding library of notable books put together in America in the second half of the 20th century. When it was auctioned by Sotheby's in 1989, the sale brought in $16.2 million. The library included high spots from all periods (the four Shakespeare folios, the first of "Don Quixote," and Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" brought in more than $5 million alone), and the collection was breathtaking in its impeccable condition. We can find no reason for the unusual position of the bookplates; perhaps the first owner unknowingly had the book upside down when affixing the bookplate, and the second just decided to keep the marks of provenance together. The Holland Plutarch appears with some regularity in the marketplace, but it is usually in notably unappealing condition.

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PJP Catalog: SE19BF.054