Milton's Uncommonly Seen Dissection of the "Martyred" Charles II, An Excellent Copy from the Library of Walter Thomas Wallace


(London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1649). 185 x 165 mm. (7 1/4 x 5 1/4"). 6 p.l. (without blank A1), 242 pp. FIRST EDITION.

Pleasant enough 19th century calf, covers panelled in blind, raised bands, spine elaborately gilt in compartments with urn-and-willow tool at center surrounded by calligraphic flourishes, red morocco label. Front pastedown with engraved armorial bookplate of Walter Thomas Wallace and ex-libris of Kenneth Rapoport; front free endpaper with bookplate of Mary Elizabeth Hudson; front flyleaf with ink inscription of John Harding dated Jan. 20, 1840, and with pencilled bibliographic notes and tipped-on clipping concerning a Shakespeare quotation on p. 11 of the text. Shawcross 78; Madan, "Eikon Basilike" 159; Pforzheimer 709; Grolier, "Wither to Prior" 577; Wing M-2112; ESTC R202156. ◆Joints with significant flaking (but no cracking except just at the very top and bottom of front joint), boards and corners a little rubbed, but the binding solid and pleasing, with its gilt spine quite appealing; title leaf with small marginal repair and final leaf with small open tear (both of these well away from the text), faint shadow from turn-in glue on first and last leaves, otherwise QUITE FINE INTERNALLY, the text fresh and clean, with good margins, and with deep impressions of the type.

This is a very appealing copy of an uncommonly seen work written at the request of Oliver Cromwell's government to counteract the effect of the celebrated "Eikon Basilike," a book that had appeared just 10 days after the beheading of King Charles I and that had the effect of turning the late king into a martyr. "Eikon Basilike" (Greek for "Portrait of the King") was purportedly Charles' own record of the prayers and meditations with which he faced his mortality, but was in fact written by his chaplain, John Gauden. It was a runaway bestseller in the months following his death. For the present work, the Commonwealth government turned to the recently hired Secretary for Foreign Languages to the Council of State, John Milton (1608-74), asking him to formulate a response to justify the execution of Charles. Milton turned the full force of his literary criticism on the work, dissected the text paragraph by paragraph--the "Eikonklastes" ("image breaker") demolishing the "Eikon" brick by brick. For example, Milton notes that one of the king's "devout" prayers was a paraphrase of a passage from Shakespeare's "Richard III," and another was "a Prayer stol'n word for word from the mouth of a Heathen Woman," the pagan Pamela in Philip Sidney's "Arcadia." Surely, Milton argues, no truly dedicated Christian would employ "prayers" written for such light entertainments, and one who did so is unworthy of veneration. Denouncing Charles I as a tyrant, our author maintains that England should not be subject to the rule of such an "inconstant, irrational, and image-doting" man. Milton's reply had little impact on the popularity of "Eikon," but it did have the unlooked-for consequence of getting its author into trouble once the monarchy was restored with the ascent of Charles II in 1660. A proclamation in that year ordered the burning of this book by the common hangman; Milton was lucky to be spared a bloody punishment at the hands of that same public servant. The book's destruction seems to have significantly reduced the number of copies that survived, and they are not now readily available on the market. Pforzheimer notes that "copies of this first edition are uncommon and are lacking in several notable Milton collections." Our volume comes from the collection of the scholarly and discriminating American collector Walter Thomas Wallace (1866-1922), whose library was particularly rich in English printing and rarities of English literature. As noted in the catalogue for his sale at the American Art Association in March 1920 (where this item was lot 946), he was "satisfied only with the best literature and [was] exacting in the highest degree about condition and collector's points."

Price: $16,000.00