The Chatsworth Copy of a Volume with Early Concrete Poems, Including Ones in the Form of a Syringx, a Pelekys, a Ptergion, and a Bomos


(Paris: Chrestien Wechel, 1543). 228 x 162 mm. (9 x 6 3/8"). 142 pp., [1] leaf.

Contemporary sprinkled calf, rebacked preserving most of original backstrip, raised bands, panel at head of spine with the initial and coronet of the duke of Devonshire, second panel with brown title label, other panels with gilt lyre centerpiece. Printer's Pegasus device on title page and verso of final leaf, decorative woodcut initials, four poems printed within representations of their subject matter: a wind instrument, a battle axe, a pair of wings, and an altar. Front pastedown with bookplate of the duke of Devonshire's library at Chatsworth. Hoffmann III, 665; Schweiger I, 309; USTC 149010; not in Adams. For the printer: Greswell I, 110-12. ◆Boards a bit rubbed at edges, first quire browned at head edge, occasional mild marginal foxing, more pronounced on last two quires, but an excellent copy, the text generally clean and fresh with comfortable margins, the restored binding firm and appealing.

From the library of a noted connoisseur, this is an uncommon edition of the greatest of pastoral poets and an early example of "concrete poetry," printed in the elegant Greek type of Christian Wechel. In "concrete poetry," type is set in the shape of the poem's subject matter. Here we have poems in the form of a bagpipe-like instrument known as a syringx; of a pelekys, a double-bladed battle axe; of ptergion (a pair of wings); and of an altar (bomos). A Greek living in Sicilian Syracuse in the third century B.C., Theocritus prospered under the beneficent Ptolemy II, who encouraged scholars, poets, and scientists gathered at the Alexandrian Museum. His 36 "Idylls" present the world of shepherds sheltering in the shade and singing to the music of panpipes. Their songs are by no means artless, but, instead, are highly wrought compositions which often meditate on the poetic craft itself. These poems provided the model for Virgil in the writing of his "Eclogues." Born in Basel, printer Christian Wechel operated a press in Paris from 1522 until his death in 1554, publishing works in French, Latin, and Greek. Greswell notes that he "was remarkable for publishing select parts of Greek authors of every description," and Conrad Gesner considered him "worthy of being numbered among the most renowned typographers of the age." Our copy was bound for William George Spencer Cavendish (1790-1858), sixth duke of Devonshire, a famed collector of art and books, as well as a noted horticulturist. Known as the "Bachelor Duke," he was free to spend his fortune as he pleased, without constraints of wife and family. According to DNB, Devonshire "acquired a number of important libraries, including those of Thomas Dampier (bishop of Ely), the duke of Roxburghe, and John Kemble." This is a rarely seen edition: we found two copies in North American libraries and could trace no copy at auction.

Price: $3,500.00