A collection of emblemes, ancient and moderne : quickened vvith metricall illustrations, both morall and divine: and disposed into lotteries.

London, by A[ugustine]. M[athewes]. for Robert Milbourne, 1635.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. [xx], 62, [vi], 63-124, [vi], 135-196, [vi], 209-270, [x]. Text within box rule. Roman letter, some Italic. Wonderful engraved title-page by William Marshall (Johnson no. 29), letterpress title-page with woodcut printer’s device (McKerrow 304) within double-ruled border, the second (I4r), third (S4r), and fourth (2D4r) books each have separate title pages dated 1634 with the same woodcut device, fine engraved roundel portrait of Wither. 200 engraved emblems by Crispijn van de Passe the elder, floriated woodcut initials, typographical head-pieces, two woodcut volvelles on recto of final leaf (pointers in excellent facsimile). Light age yellowing, small marginal tear on lower margin of D3 not affecting text, marginal repair to X1, very rare marginal spot. A fine, fresh copy, crisp and clean with superb impressions of the engravings, in very good contemporary (probably Oxford) polished black calf over thick boards, covers bordered with a triple blind rule, blind ruled raised bands compartments hatched at head and tail, surface crackling, edges with gilt rule, all edges blue.

A lovely copy of the first edition of this beautifully illustrated and important emblem book, by the English poet and author George Wither. Wither was employed by the London publisher Henry Taunton to write English verses to illustrate the beautiful allegorical plates made by Gabriel Rollenhagen and Crispin van Passe more than 20 years earlier. Its publication coincided with another famous English book of emblems by Francis Quarles. Wither used the plates of the two hundred engravings of Gabriel Rollenhagen, gathered from his two works, Nucleus emblematum selectissimorum (Arnheim, 1611) and Emblematum centuria secunda (Arnheim, 1613). They are circular picturae that present a symbol or group of symbols in the foreground, while other details and scenes in miniature, emerge from the background. Surrounding the engravings is an inscriptio normally in Latin, but sometimes in Greek, French or Italian, and the emblem completed with very brief texts. In reusing these plates, Wither enriched them literarily by adding an English couplet as the inscriptio and extensive poems, as well as a curious game of roulette at the end.

“Emblem books were popular in Europe throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They contained emblematic woodcuts or engravings with accompanying didactic text. Taken together, their purpose was to pithily communicate a message that usually concerned political, religious, or moral teaching.… The images in this volume are the work of Dutch engraver Crispin van de Passe, and originally appeared in Holland two decades before the publication of Wither’s text. Wither, an English poet and author, believed the engravings to be excellent but their accompanying text “meane.” He added his own moral and religious verses to van de Passe’s engravings and the Collection of Emblemes was published in London in 1635. Wither’s verses were composed for the middle-class reader and consistently promote the Puritan virtues of diligence and thrift, qualities that are to be recognized and imitated. .. This volume is of particular interest because it contains a pair of volvelles in its final pages. .. paper wheels fastened to the pages of a book, allowing them to turn in relation to one another. These simple moving parts could thereby be used as rudimentary calculators and memory aids… Wither included his volvelles for a quite different purpose. Blindly turning these two dials allowed a reader to select an emblem upon which to concentrate his or her attention. He intended for this “Lottery,” to be an entertainment, something he referred to as a “Moral Pastime.” As Rosemary Freeman observes in her English Emblem Books, “it obviously had the same appeal as a Fortune-teller at a party.”” Andrew Belongea, ‘Wither’s Volvelles’ The Newberry library.

A lovely copy of this finely illustrated work.

STC 25900b. ESTC S118586. Praz. p. 124.Not in Pforzheimer or Grolier.


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