RALEGH, Walter, Sir.


RALEGH, Walter, Sir. The Historie of the World.

[London:, Printed for H. Lownes, G. Lathum, and R. Young, 1628].


Folio. pp. [38], 555, [1], 669, [81] + 8 engraved double-page maps, table of contents bound at rear. Roman letter, little Italic. Added engraved architectural title by R. Elstrack with planisphere (incl. Americas) supported by Providence, with allegorical figures; fine engraved portrait of Ralegh to title; 8 double-page engraved maps (1 folding) of Mesopotamia, Asia, middle East, Holy Land, Sicily, and Roman legions; 3 full-page or smaller woodcut genealogies; dozen ll. of ‘Chronological Table’ at end; decorated initials and ornaments. Occasional near contemporary pen trials and autograph ‘Thomas Pursell’, early ms ‘To be bound’ on first blank recto, small repaired tear to outer margin of titles, another towards lower edge of I6, a bit short at head (just shaving head of engraved title), tiny interlinear ink burn to F6, small very light water stain to lower outer blank corner from gathering Vv, tiny worm trail repaired to lower blank margin of gathering Pppp and beginning of next, small intermittent worm hole repaired to handful of ll. afterwards, lower outer blank corner of last leaf repaired, the odd spot and mark. A very good copy in handsome English panelled speckled calf c1700, marbled eps, double gilt ruled, blind-stamped fleurons to inner corners, rebacked, spine richly gilt, remounted, morocco label, all edges sprinkled red. c1800 armorial bookplate RN (Rebecca, Baroness Northwick, cf. Franks 25688) to front pastedown, engraved armorial bookplate of Sir Thomas Littleton, Bart, 1702, to title verso.

A most attractive copy of the fifth edition of Sir Walter Ralegh’s hugely successful world history – the first of its kind in English – illustrated with 8 double-page engraved maps of the ancient empires, here in fresh impression. One of the most renowned English commanders and explorers, Ralegh (1552-1618) played a major role in the colonization of North America and Ireland under Elizabeth I, and served against the Spanish Armada. For his secret marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, they were sent to the Tower. From the 1590s, he explored South America, in search of El Dorado, including Guyana, and sought to establish the first (and short-lived) North American English colony, on Roanoke Island. First published in 1614, ‘Historie’ was completed during his second imprisonment in the Tower in 1603, on suspicion of plotting against the English succession of James VI. Ralegh was eventually executed in 1618.

‘In the Tower, [Ralegh] received visitors, set up a still, and, aided by the collection of over 500 books in his chambers, began working on a universal world history. As was customary, he began with the Creation, intending to proceed to his present in three lengthy volumes. In 7 years of work, he produced only one volume, a massive 1500-folio tome that examined nearly four millennia from the Creation to 168 BC. In 1614, sensing the volatility within James’s regime offered the hope of restoration to the king’s favour, he rushed the “History” into print. Though only a portion of the original project, this book enjoyed immense popularity for a century after its publication’ (Popper, pp.1-2). A temporary suppression ban was enforced in 1614, as James I was allegedly offended by the presence of Ralegh’s portrait on the title (Racin, p.199). The portrait reappeared in the 1617 edition. The initial poem, by Ben Jonson, explains the allegory of the engraved title. Book I covers the Creation to Abraham. Ralegh’s interest in antiquities and explorations surfaces in chapters on Semiramis’ expedition into India and the pyramids of Egypt. Book II spans the birth of Abraham and destruction of the temple of Solomon, with disquisitions on the law of nature, Moses, Hermes Trismegistus and Greek myths. Book III reaches the reign of Philip of Macedon, narrating the deeds of Nabuchodonosor, the Persian wars, Cyrus and Xerxes. The great protagonist of Books IV and V are Antigonus and Alexander the Great, until the final conquest by the Romans. Knowledge of history was considered paramount for a statesman to interpret political scenarios. Ralegh’s monumental work sought to re-establish himself in the eyes of a king who was both a fine scholar and shrewd political writer. For the wider readership, it was a fascinating encyclopaedia crammed with interesting stories.

Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Baronet (1647–1709), of North Ockendon, Essex and Stoke St. Milborough, Shropshire, was a lawyer and Whig politician. He sat in the House of Commons and was Treasurer of the Navy (as specified in this bookplate). Rebecca (1740-1818), née Bowles, was wife of the Whig politician John Rushout, 1st Baron Northwick.

Pforzheimer 820 (1614 ed.); ESTC S116303; STC (2nd ed.), 20640; Alden 628/100; Sabin 67560. Not in JFB. J. Racin, ‘The Early Editions of Sir Walter Ralegh\\\\\\\'s \\\\\\\"The History of the World\\\\\\\"’, British Art Journal, 16 (2015/16), pp.60-7; N. Popper, Walter Ralegh\\\\\\\'s \\\\\\\"History of the World\\\\\\\" and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance (2012).
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