ONE OF THE BEST KNOWN REFLECTIVE POEMS OF THE MIDDLE AGES

The vision of Pierce Plowman newlye imprynted after the authours olde copy.

London, Owen Rogers, 1561.

£23,500

4to. 256 unnumbered pages. [cross]², A-2H⁴, ²I². Without, as nearly always, the Crede, an unconnected second work. Black letter. Title with small woocut ornament, floriated and white on black criblé initials, extensive marginalia in a later hand, bibliographical notes on on front free endpapers in the same hand, “S. Sandes. ex dono p. sherwood **?. 1681” shelf mark above, bookplate of ‘Waldo Bryant’ on pastedown. Title page fractionally yellowed early price mark at head, browning to 4 leaves. A very good copy, crisp and clean, in C17th speckled calf, covers blind ruled to a panel design, blind fleurons to corners, rebacked circa 1900, spine with raised bands fleurons gilt in compartments, red morocco label gilt.

Exceptionally rare copy of the fourth edition of Piers Plowman. The Vision of Piers Plowman is considered the most important work in Middle English with the exception of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and is attributed to William Langland. It is thought to have been written between 1360 to 1399, and describes the vision of the poet set in the Vale of Berkeley and the adjacent Malvern Hills. It reflects, among other things, the author’s concern with the corruption of the Church, the merits of poverty, and the supreme virtue of love. Langland began the poem in about 1370 when he was forty five and continued to update and enlarge the work over the next twenty years. The manuscripts attest to this development and appear first in eleven parts then in twenty and finally in twenty three. It was first published in 1550 during the reign of Edward VI in twenty parts, which this edition copies.

“Practically no aspect of English medieval life passes without comment in Piers Plowman. The text draws upon a number of literary forms—among them the beast fable, sermon, and debate—but Langland is primarily a satirist working within a complex allegorical dream vision. In it Langland grapples with the most serious questions of his generation, so he must be viewed in the context of the religious, social and economic upheavals sweeping mid-to late-fourteenth-century England. Piers Plowman is a series of quests, of searches for answers as the dream narrator Will goes from authority to authority. The object of the search, however, changes as the poem proceeds. First the search is for what is expected of the Christian living in the world, then its object becomes Truth and salvation, and this transforms into a quest for Dowel, Dobet and Dobest (that is, do well, do better, and do best), which becomes in turn a vision of Faith, Hope, and Charity, which at length returns the Dreamer to the human world. The poem concludes with the beginning of yet another quest as Conscience vows to become a pilgrim ‘and walken as wide as the world lasteth, To seken Piers the Plowman’” The Poetry foundation.

“What is truly exceptional about Langland is the kind, and the degree, of his poetic imagination. (…) Sublimity—so rare in Gower, and rarer still in Chaucer—is frequent in Piers Plowman. (…) The great vision wherin the poet beholds ‘the sea, and the sun, and the sand after’ and sees ‘man and his make’ among the other creatures, has in it a Lucretian largeness which, in that age no one but Langland attempts. It is far removed from the common, and beautiful, descriptions of nature which we find in medieval poetry. (…) It belongs rather to what has been called the ‘intellectual imagination’ (…) This power of rendering imaginable what before was only intelligible is nowhere, I think, not even in Dante, better exemplified than in Langland’s lines on the Incarnation.” CS Lewis ‘The Allegory of Love.’

“The crede (…) is as usual laking. Its rarity, about half a dozen copies have survived, is probably due to contemporary proscription because of its Wycliffite doctrine. (…) Except as linked in the title, the Crede has no connection with the Vision” Pforzheimer, 799. A very good copy of this most important work of English poetry. All C16th editions are extremely rare.

ESTC S114908. STC 19908. Pforzheimer, 799. Hayward English poetry no. 12. Lowndes V 1888 “The Crede .. is very seldom found in the volume, though mentioned in the title page.” Ames IV 2845.

L1993

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