The Wardington Copy of one of the Great 15th Century English Poems: A 1550's Printing of Lydgate's 36,000 Lines of Boccaccio's "Fall of Princes"


(London: Iohn Wayland, at the signe of the Sunne oueragainst the Conduite in Flete-strete. Cum priuilegio per septennium, [1554 or 1555]). 340 x 220 mm. (13 1/4 x 8 3/4"). 9 p.l., clxiii, xxxvi, xxxv-xxxvii, [1] leaves (complete, including "A Memorial of such Princes" leaf, often lacking, at the end; collates as ESTC). Translated from the French version of Laurent de Premierfait by John Lydgate. Third or Fourth Edition of the First English Translation of "De Casibus Illustrium Virorum."

Attractive 19th century honey-brown morocco by Francis Bedford (stamp-signed on front turn-in), covers gilt with French fillet frame, oblique bouquets at corners, raised bands, spine compartments with central fleuron framed by geometrical compartments filled with floral tooling, gilt lettering, gilt-rolled turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Title page and Gg4 recto (title page of a suppressed supplement dealing with English notables) with woodcut title border, the top compartment with the Royal Arms, termini at sides, the pedestal at base with a tablet showing one boy waking another with the motto "Arise for it is day" (McKerrow & Ferguson 76a), A4 recto with woodcut depicting the Creation of Eve, flanked by terminal side-pieces, woodcut historiated and floral initials throughout. Printed in black letter. Front pastedown with engraved bookplate of Christopher William Beaumont Pease; rear pastedown with bookplates of John William Pease and Lord Wardington. Chrzanowski 1555b; Pforzheimer 73; Luborsky & Ingram 3178; STC 3178; ESTC S107087. ◆Spine somewhat sunned and dulled, extremities very lightly rubbed, boards with a couple of faint scratches, but the once very handsome binding still attractive. Title leaf and final leaf extended at foot, first few and last couple of leaves (excluding title and final leaf) with small minor repair at upper corner, probably pressed and perhaps lightly washed at the time of binding, isolated trivial stains, but the text still surprisingly fresh, remarkably clean, and entirely smooth.

This is a desirable copy of an important 16th century translation of Boccaccio's study of the vicissitudes of fortune, prepared by John Lydgate, a poet much influenced by Chaucer. Educated in the Benedictine monastery where he eventually served as prior, Lydgate (ca. 1370 - 1449/50?) was a respected poet whose works, DNB tells us, "bear the mark of a pious and learned mind." And an indication of his importance is reflected in Chrzanowski's statement that "well into the 16th century, the premier poets of England were considered to be Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and Lydgate." Undertaken ca. 1431 at the request of the duke of Gloucester, the 36,365 lines here, divided into nine books, required a massive effort that took until 1438 or 1439 to complete. In the text, a parade of notable historical figures pass before "Bochas" (Boccaccio), telling of the turns of fate that brought their careers and reputations crashing down from a pinnacle. According to DNB, Lydgate's interpretation of the work "urges the traditional doctrines of moderation, the avoidance of pride, and the pursuit of virtue, and demonstrates the horror of discord and strife between kinsfolk. This advice, though couched in general terms, was highly relevant to contemporary princes." This relevance led to popularity: more than 30 manuscripts of the work survive, and it was printed previously in 1494 and in 1527. The final leaf here (Gg4) contains the title page for "A Memorial of Such Princes, as since the Tyme of King Richard the Seconde, Haue Been Unfortunate in the Realme of England," intended for issue with "Fall of Princes" but suppressed by Queen Mary. It was finally published, as the famous "Mirrour for the Magistrates," in 1559, after Elizabeth I had ascended the throne. The binding here is by the eminent West End bindery of Francis Bedford (d. 1883) and was owned by three generations of the Wardington family, who created one of the finest private libraries in England. It contains the bookplates of Northumberland banker John William (Beaumont) Pease (1869-1950), who began the collection; a grandson, Christopher Henry Beaumont Pease, 2nd Baron Wardington (1924-2005), who was, successively, Chairman, Vice-President, and then President of the Friends of the British Library; and a great-grandson, the Hon. Christopher William Beaumont Pease (b. 1970). The Wardington sales at Sotheby's in London were major bibliophilic events in 2005 and 2006. The very expert extension at the bottoms of the title leaf and the (rare) final leaf would seem to suggest that these come from another copy (the leaves are not facsimiles). In any case, every recent copy sold at auction (according to RBH) lacked one or both of these leaves or had other leaves supplied. This fact, plus the fine state of preservation of our copy and its distinguished provenance surely are more than enough to compensate for the volume's one appreciable shortcoming.

Price: $25,000.00