SUPERB WOODCUT DECORATION BY HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER
Basle, J. Froben, 1520.
FIRST EDITION thus. 4to. pp. 115 (i). Roman letter, some Greek. Fine white on black woodcut historiated initials (one eight line), superb woodcut title border by Hans Holbein the younger, “at head, boys playing, and at foot, the story of C. Mucius Scaevola and King Porsenna. On the right hand Mucius, a young Roman who had made his way into the Etruscan camp, is represented slaying the secretary of Porsenna in mistake for the king himself; on the left he is seen thrusting his hand into the fire in order to show his indifference to the order that he should be burnt alive. In the background is Rome, during the siege of which by Porsenna the incidents are said to have occurred. [Livy ii 12]” (McKerrow and Ferguson 8, on the copy used in England.) Froben’s large woodcut Asclepius device on verso of last, some contemporary marginalia, two contemporary manuscript ownership inscriptions on verso of last, “Edmund Pulleyn … his book,” and “codicis estis possesor nomine dritos,” Chatsworth library bookplate on pastedown. Some light, mostly marginal water staining, large light oil splash on two leaves, verso of last browned and dusty, occasional marginal thumb mark. A very good, well margined, copy in English mottled calf c. 1800, covers bordered with double gilt rule, spine with raised bands, richly gilt in compartments, inner dentelles gilt, all edges red.
First separate, best, and definitive edition of the Epigrams of St. Thomas More, beautifully printed by Froben with superb woodcut decoration by Hans Holbein the Younger. More translated epigrams from the ‘Greek Anthology’ of Maximos Planudes into Ciceronian Latin which, after circulating in manuscript, were collected by Erasmus and twice printed by Froben in 1518, with the third edition of More’s Utopia and a different collection of epigrams of a more sober and religious nature by Erasmus. They were first published separately in 1520 in this edition which was substantially revised by More for its first independent appearance and presents quite a different text. Three of the epigrams which appeared in the 1518 printing are omitted and thirteen new ones added.
This is the edition on which all subsequent editions were based. More’s ‘Epigrammata’ is divided into two parts; in the ‘Progymnasmata,’ the first part, he vied with Lily for the aptest rendering of epigrams from the ‘Greek Anthology’ into Latin, and in the ‘Epigrammata’ proper he composed his own epigrams. In the dedicatory letter to the German humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, Beatus Rhenanus (a well known editor of classical texts, an associate of Froben, and a friend of both Erassmus and Pirckheimer) writes glowingly about More and his epigrams praising his wit, language, style, learning and ability as both translator and composer. Little is known about when and why the poems were first written or how they first circulated though they seem to have been written over a period of as much as twenty years. In them More reworks material from many classical writers and weaves in biblical texts, adapts traditional jests, Aesopic fables, and translates two near contemporaneous English love lyrics.
His topics are extremely diverse and his range much broader than his fellow humanists, though he eschews a favorite renaissance type, the erotic epigram. At one extreme, he writes about foolish astrologers, prostitutes, cuckolds, a frenchified courtier; at the other, there are reflections upon kingship, government, the brevity of life, and death. In mood, too, the epigrams vary tremendously. There are jokes, slapstick comedy, scatology, satiric jabs, expressions of friendship, ironic reflections, lyric moments, and epitaphs. More also enjoyed writing variations upon a theme as in his seven epigrams upon two beggars, one blind and one lame, who are each others’ support.
There are a wide range of addressees including several to Henry VIII, humanist friends, his children, a fat priest, a woman More loved long ago, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury and in some instances himself, along with dramatic dialogues and monologues. The epigram on Wolsey is remarkable as a dedicatory epigram by proxy, begging the Cardinal’s acceptance of Erasmus’ New Testament of 1516. They were frequently reprinted over the next two hundred years and indeed long rivalled More’s ‘Utopia’ in popularity. “(it is the) vivid interest in life in all its aspects that makes More’s Epigrammata incomparably the best book of Latin epigrams in the sixteenth century” Leicester Bradner. A very good copy from the Duke of Devonshire’s great library at Chatsworth.
BM STC C16 Ger. p. 860. Adams M 1753. Gibson 57. Lowndes IV 1606.