(London: R. Dodsley, 1753). 390 x 275 mm. (15 1/4 x 10 7/8"). 2 p.l., 35,  leaves printed on recto only,  pp. Second Edition (half title reading "Designs, &c."; with an exclamation mark [!] in the row of printer's flowers dividing text on pp. 3 and 4 of the "Explanation of the Prints"; inverted "p" used in place of lower case "d" in last seven occurrences on p. 26).
EXTREMELY ATTRACTIVE DARK GREEN STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO, GILT, BY CLARK & BEDFORD (stamp-signed on verso of front free endpaper), gilt, covers with gilt-rule frame, floral cornerpieces, raised bands, spine panels gilt with large fleuron centerpiece on stippled ground, gilt titling, gilt-rolled turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. With 25 LIVELY ENGRAVINGS, consisting of title page vignette, six historiated initials, six headpieces, six tailpieces, and SIX FULL-PAGE PLATES, all by Richard Bentley. Hazen 42; Hammelmann, p. 14; Ray, English, p. 4; Rothschild 1061; ESTC T75219. Corners a bit worn, light wear to joints, a couple of shallow scratches on covers, persistent but always very minor marginal foxing, but still a very appealing copy, clean and fresh internally, with sharp impressions of the engravings, and in a stately binding with nothing approaching a serious condition problem.
Declared by Hammelmann to be "a turning-point in British decorative art," the splendid illustrations here accompany the first anthology of poems by Thomas Gray, considered to be the foremost English poet of the mid-18th century. Although he was primarily a scholar, and although he never became a professional or even a dedicated poet, Gray (1716-71) was offered the laureateship in 1757, but refused the honor. Known to be highly self-critical, Gray published a total of only 13 poems in his lifetime, six of which appear here: "Ode on the Spring," "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat," "Ode on the Distant Prospect of Eton," "The Long Story" (making its first appearance in print), "Hymn to Adversity," and, perhaps his best known piece, "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard." According to Hazen, there were three distinct editions of this work dated 1753, of which ours is the second. Gray's poetry, while clearly an integral part of this work, is arguably eclipsed in this edition by the magnificent illustrations provided by Richard Bentley (ca. 1708-82). Precociously talented (he entered Trinity College at the age of 10 and became a fellow by 15) but hapless with money, Bentley found at least a modicum of stability when he became friends with Horace Walpole. He produced illustrations for several works published at Strawberry Hill--and even provided architectural drawings for the renovation of Walpole's great estate--but the present work remains his finest. DNB calls his illustrations here "ingenious," saying that his "unique pictorial enrichment of the poems enlarges yet refines traditional articulations of 'ut pictura poesis' ["as the picture so is poetry"] and anticipates the book illustrations of William Blake." Gray himself "felt embarrassed over his small output of poetry and asserted that his verses were "'only subordinate, & explanatory to the Drawings.'" In what Hammelmann calls a "skilful combination of classical river gods, rococo lightness, and Strawberry Hill Gothic," Bentley achieves a sublime fusion of the mythic and the familiar, wrangling a medley of motifs and allusions into a cohesive aesthetic. Playful, detailed, and brilliantly executed, these scenes are a visual delight, and it is easy to see why viewers both then and now regard them as at least equal to--if not surpassing--the estimable poems that they accompany. (ST15925a)
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PJP Catalog: WS21VF.014