The Hoe Copy of One of the Most Important Emblem Books of the 17th Century


(Lugduni Batavorum [Leyden]: Ex officina Elzeviriana, 1626). 193 x 145 mm. (7 1/2 x 5 3/4"). 6 p.l., 235 pp. Second Edition.

Attractive late 19th century brown crushed morocco, gilt, raised bands, spine compartments with floral spray at center, volutes at corners, gilt titling, gilt-rolled turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Engraved frame to title page, frontispiece portrait of the author, and 74 EMBLEMS BY CRISPIN VAN DE PASSE THE YOUNGER. Front pastedown with morocco bookplate of Robert Hoe and wood-engraved bookplate of E. Bern. Landwehr, "Low Countries," 728; Praz 493; Rahir 223; Willems 261. Leaves lightly pressed (but, perhaps apart from the title, probably not washed), a couple of minor stains, but a very attractive copy, the binding with only trivial wear, and the text clean and fresh, with excellent impressions of the engravings.

This is the first Elzevier edition of one of the most influential emblem books of the era, with the same fine van de Passe engravings used in the 1618 Gouda first printing. Attorney and humanist Floris van Schoonhoven (1594-1648) drew inspiration from the emblem books of Alciato, but departed from his predecessor by giving the commentary greater prominence and a purpose beyond identifying classical sources for the images. Schoonhoven scholar Karl Enenkel notes that the commentary here is "a philosophical essay, a diatribe, against civil war, with a special warning against its major cause, theological debate," and likens it to Seneca's "Moral Essays." The marvelous engravings are a mixture of classical subjects from Ovid and Aesop and scenes from contemporary life, including an alchemist in his laboratory. They are the work of Crispin van de Passe the younger (ca. 1594-1670), scion of a Dutch family of printers and engravers, who was noted for his remarkably fine detail work using a burin. The tasteful binding here was no doubt done for former owner Robert Hoe (1839-1911), founding member and first president of the Grolier Club. According to Beverly Chew, Hoe's library was "the finest [America] has ever contained." He acquired illuminated manuscripts, early printing (he owned a Gutenberg Bible on paper and one on vellum), fine bindings, French and English literature, and Americana. When his library was sold in 1911-12, it fetched nearly $2 million, a record that held until the Streeter sale more than 50 years later.