With Fine Paintings We Can Date from the Early 19th Century Hand Identifying their Subjects

POEMS.

(London: J. Johnson, 1806). 165 x 100 mm. (6 1/2 x 4"). Two volumes. A New Edition.

Pleasing contemporary dark green straight-grain morocco, covers with gilt fillet border, flat spines divided into panels by gilt fillets, gilt titling, gilt-ruled turn-ins, all edges gilt. WITH FINE EARLY (PERHAPS CONTEMPORARY) FORE-EDGE PAINTINGS OF MAIDSTONE BRIDGE AND BRADFORD-ON-AVON. Front free endpapers with evidence of bookplate removal. Front flyleaves with 19th century ink inscriptions identifying the subjects of the fore-edge paintings. Corners a little rubbed, spines darkened, boards with minor spots or soiling, a dozen leaves in first volume with minor foxing, but the bindings sound and not unappealing, the text fresh and clean, and the fore-edge paintings beautifully preserved.

Enhanced with contemporary fore-edge paintings, this is an appealing edition, printed by Bensley, of the finely crafted poetry of Cowper (1731-1800), the most notable English poet before the Romantics in terms of a tendency to be confessional in his verse. Given the fact that Cowper was institutionalized and that he several times attempted suicide, these revealing personal poems can easily be seen as a kind of therapeutic experience, and it is testimony to the complexity of his personality that so much of Cowper's verse is light, conversational, and epigrammatic. The works in the first volume here tend toward the religious, having been written after a long period of illness; many in the second volume were apparently created in the aftermath of a request by a lady that Cowper compose blank verse on the subject of a sofa. Of special interest among these is a more serious poem, "Tirocinium," which points out the deficiencies in the schools and recommends private tutors as a remedy. Like other 19th century fore-edge paintings, the ones here are difficult to date with precision, but they seem to have been done when this form of decoration was in its first flush of popularity, driven by the work of the Edwards of Halifax bindery at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. The publication date of the book would obviously not preclude such a dating, and the handwriting that identifies the fore-edge scenes appears to be from the first half of the 19th century--and closer to the beginning than the middle of the century. In any case, both paintings have an arched bridge over a river as the central focus, with its reflection in the water below, but one is a city scene, showing people crossing the bridge as the main route into town, and the other a tranquil view of the countryside, with men preparing to launch a boat from one bank. Our artist was quite accomplished, depicting his scenes in careful detail and in pleasing colors.
(ST16509)

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PJP Catalog: 78.210

POEMS. FORE-EDGE PAINTINGS, WILLIAM COWPER.
POEMS.
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POEMS.
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