Dialogus Creaturarum Moralizatus.
Strasbourg, Jan van Doesborch, c. 1528.
4to, ff. 153 (of 164) (lacks *1, A2-3, B1-3, F and TT4). Gothic letter, more than 100 charming and clearly-impressed 1/3, 1/2 and 2/3 page woodcut illustrations, elaborate 8-line white-on-black woodcut initials, a few contemporary pencil drawings, copying motifs from the illustrations. 11 leaves reinforced at margin, marginal tear to first few leaves affecting last line on three, a few ink spots, marginal finger-soiling to a few leaves, light age yellowing throughout, a few leaves dusty. A good copy in 18th C half-calf with comb-patterned marbled paper boards, spine gilt in compartments with floral motif, red morocco lettering-piece. 19th C armorial bookplate of the Earl of Macclesfield on front pastedown, Shirburn Castle blind stamp to first two leaves.
Early English language edition of this copiously illustrated quintessential book of fables, first printed in Gouda in 1480. Composed in Northern Italy in the late 14th C, the text is a collection of 123 illustrated fables divided into seven themes. Beginning with celestial bodies: Of Saturn and the clowde; the Evyn sterre; hevyn and erthe, it moves on the elements: ayre and the wynde; the se bankys and the see, gemstones and metals: Golde and Sylver; the precyows Topazyon, plants: the Mandrake and the defyios woman; the hyghe Cedre tre, aqueous creatures: the Dolphyn and the Ele; a fysshe or beaste callyd Sturgyon, birds: the owle that wolde hatte had lordeshippe ovyr all byrdes; the Solytari Pellican, and animals: the Tyrant Gryfon; the steere which was a good Cooke. In common with Aesop and Bidpai, each fable relates the interactions of the protagonists pointing to a concluding moral or lesson, charmingly rendered in verse for easy memorizing.
The longevity and popularity of the Dialogus can be attributed primarily to Dutch printer Gerard Leeu, on whose editions both the text and the exceptional woodcuts of this edition are substantially based. While the name of the artist has fallen into obscurity, the iconographic influence of his illustrative cycle of the first edition is clearly apparent in these humorous cuts, which contain many of the same images, with a contemporary and naturalistic twist.
A very attractive recreational reading book and a very rare example of popular illustrated English language text of such an early date. Rare on the market, the work is fascinating artistically and textually.
STC 6815 recording only 5 copies in the UK, two imperfect, and only 5 in north America, one imperfect. Gregory Kratzmann and Elizabeth Gee (editors), The Dialoges of Creatures Moralysed: a critical edition (Leiden, 1988); Carmen Cardelle de Hartmann, Lateinische Dialoge 1200-1400 (Leiden, 2007).