Bound by a Famous Social Activist who Trained with Cobden-Sanderson, Then Taught Bookbinding to the Underprivileged in Chicago


(Londres [London]: chez Woodman & Lyon, 1728). 285 x 230 mm. (11 1/4 x 9"). 3 p.l. (including engraved title), 10 (subscriber's list), 202 pp.Prefaced by Voltaire's dedication, in English, to the queen of England. First Illustrated Edition.

ADMIRABLE DARK GREEN CRUSHED MOROCCO, GILT, BY ELLEN GATES STARR (stamp-signed and dated 1905 on rear turn-in), covers framed by four rules, narrow triangles extending from raised bands through frame into central panel, terminating in clusters of seven gilt acorns, spine in gilt-ruled compartments, gilt lettering, gilt-ruled turn-ins with two inlaid red morocco oak leaves and gilt acorn cluster at corners, all edges gilt. In a fine modern green morocco-backed clamshell box. With engraved vignette on title page, engraved frontispiece (expertly laid down), 20 engraved vignette head- and tailpieces, and 10 plates illustrating the 10 episodes of the poem, as called for in Foxon. Front pastedown with bookplate of the City Library of Springfield, Massachusetts, noting the book came from "the Estate of H. Alexander Phillips 1950." Foxon V-112; Brunet V, 1360. Spine evenly sunned to brown, small chip to tail edge of spine, first and last couple of leaves lightly soiled, mildly foxed, and mounted on tabs, B1 with neatly mended two-inch tear to fore edge (barely brushing text on one side), other trivial defects, but an excellent copy, the text fresh and well margined, the plates richly impressed, and the attractive binding showing only very minor signs of use.

This first complete and first illustrated edition of Voltaire's epic poem about French king Henri IV is offered here in a binding by one of T. J. Cobden-Sanderson's most accomplished pupils, Ellen Gates Starr. According to Tidcombe, Starr (1859-1940), an important social activist in Chicago apart from her life in the book world, was "one of the best known of all Cobden Sanderson's pupils" and the one who, more than any other, "shared his high ideals, refusing to sell her bindings or to teach until she felt she was fully proficient." She trained at the Doves Bindery from 1897-98, and returned for a period in 1899, afterwards establishing a bindery at Hull House, the Chicago settlement house she had co-founded with her friend, reformer Jane Addams. She trained both women and men in bookbinding, and taught courses on the history of art. Above all, this master craftswoman "devoted her life to the betterment of the poor, and the protection of working girls and immigrants." (Tidcombe) Voltaire (1694-1778) was nothing if not prolific, and besides his letters, histories, dramas, and essays, he wrote verse, the "Henriade" being one of his two long poems (the other being an account of Joan of Arc). Written in Alexandrine verse and imitating Virgil, the "Henriade" is an epic in 10 cantos recounting the rise to power of Henri of Navarre (later Henri IV). An incomplete version of the poem was clandestinely published in Rouen in 1723 under the title "La Ligue." Voltaire, then living in London, completed and revised the work for the present deluxe, illustrated edition (and an octavo version issued the same year). The poem opens with an imagined account of Henri's mission to Queen Elizabeth where the troubles in France are recounted. Then, the following cantos tell of the Protestant Henri's conversion to Catholicism in order to claim the French throne and describe Henri's dalliance with the dazzling Gabrielle d'Estrées, whose sudden death allows him to return, like Aeneas abandoning Dido, to his political mission. The poem serves as a vehicle for Voltaire's indirect condemnation of civil unrest and religious fanaticism. Bindings by Ellen Gates Starr are not commonly seen: together, ABPC and RBH locate just three others at auction in the past 45 years.