OVID. All Ovids Elegies.

At Middlebourgh [i.e. London, Printed by Thomas Cotes?, ca. 1640].


8vo. pp. [96]. Roman letter, with Italic. Small typographical ornament to title. Title a bit dusty, age yellowing, occasional finger-mark to outer blank margin, lower outer blank corner of F2-3 repaired. A very good, clean, unwashed copy in early C19 crushed green morocco, gilt floral roll to border, spine gilt and gilt-lettered, marbled eps, C19 labels of John L. Clawson and Frederick Locker to front pastedown, and of Kenneth Rapoport and William S. Stone to ffep.

A very good copy of the third edition of Christopher Marlowe’s notorious translation of Ovid’s elegies, with a final section of epigrams by John Davies. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Marlowe (1564-93) is one of the major Tudor playwrights. His life remains the subject of speculation, as he was variously accused of being a government spy, duellist, and man of unconventional ‘mores’ generally. He is most renowned for his plays ‘The Jew of Malta’, ‘Doctor Faustus’ and ‘Tamburlaine’. Shakespeare paid tribute to him in his works.

First written c1580 as a juvenile (and probably his first) work, but published only in 1599, the book, which already included John Davies’ epigrams, was banned by the Bishop of London and most copies burnt. It was reprinted first after 1602, then probably c1630 and, as this copy, c1640 – all with the false imprint ‘Middlebourgh’, a Dutch city with a substantial English population. Ovid’s elegies, originally titled ‘Amores’, are famously devoted to the poet’s adulterous love with a married woman, with a whole poem focusing on male impotence. In Elizabethan England, they provided ground for reflection and poetic experimentation on the subject of women’s excessive sexual activity and on the effeminization and subjugation of men. Together with his translation of Lucan, Marlowe’s Ovid is a ‘watershed C16 translation in a technical sense’, as ‘the first translation of Ovid’s “Amores” into any modern European vernacular’, and as providing a model of heroic couplet which ‘eventually became the standard verse form for non-lyrical love poems written in the vernacular’ (Mann, p.111). Marlowe’s translation originally followed the 48 epigrams by (later Sir) John Davies (1569-1626), who elicited the literary interest of Elizabeth I in the mid-1590s. The epigrams provide fascinating views of Elizabethan London, concealing behind Latin names like Faustus an English aristocrat who rides around the city, from St Paul’s to the brothel, an Englishman who fought in Friesland and only speaks using unintelligible warfare terminology, a law student who spends his time at bear and dog fights, and even what appears to be a scene of masochistic sex, whereby Francus can only enjoy himself if he can whip his ‘whore’. One epigram is entirely devoted to tobacco. A most interesting, racy collection of poetry in English.

The businessman John L. Clawson’s (1865-1933) fine library was sold in 1924, with a catalogue by de Ricci, and 1926. The bookseller Rosenbach described it to Henry Huntington as ‘probably the last opportunity to secure fine English books’. Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821-95) was an English poet and bibliophile, owner of a fine library at Rowfant, Sussex, which he also catalogued. He was acquainted with all the major literary personalities of his time, from George Eliot to Ruskin. His library was ‘unique of its kind’, as Locker sought ‘to secure the masterpieces (and the masterpieces only) of English literature from Chaucer to Swinburne in the first original edition of each work’ (de Ricci, pp.174-5).

ESTC S113688; STC (2nd ed.), 18933; Pforzheimer 641 (2nd ed.); Alden 640/138. Lowndes (mentioned, for Davies). J. Mann, ‘Marlowe’s translations’, in Christopher Marlowe in Context, ed. E. Bartels and E. Smith (2013), pp.110-22.
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