[RUSTICHELLO DA PISA]. Meliadus de Leonnoys.

Paris, Denis Janot, [1532, but 1533].


Folio. ff. [6], CCXXXII. Lettre bâtarde, double column. Title within charming woodcut border (Renouard 482) with Judgement of Paris, Pyramus and Thisbe, Herod and the Baptist’s Head, Death and the Lovers, Feasting and Revelry, large woodcut of a scholar at his writing desk at head of Prologue, large woodcut printer’s device to last leaf of prelims, decorated initials and ornaments. Early ms annotations probably washed from some outer margins, the odd marginal small light water stain or pencil mark, small clean tear to lower edge of S4 and last. A very good, clean copy in C18 French olive crushed morocco, triple gilt ruled, gilt arms of John Ker (1740-1804), 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, to covers, raised bands, spine gilt, inner edges gilt, marbled eps, a.e.g. Booklabels of Baron Double and K. Rapoport to front pastedown, C19 autograph ‘Thomas Jolley’ to ffep, the odd early ms note throughout and, in the same hand, apparently unrecorded 9-line verse, beginning ‘Lhomme est fol qui…’, on human folly and misery, to last verso (blank).

Splendid copy of the scarce and rarely complete second edition, in luxury folio format, of this influential French chivalric romance – formerly in the fine libraries of the Duke of Roxburghe and Charles Fairfax Murray. The ‘roman’ of the knight-errand Meliadus, Tristan’s father, originates in the Arthurian prose ‘Tristan’. Written by Hélie de Borron c.1235-40 as an answer to the Lancelot-Graal romances, it became a milestone of the genre. It covers the period between Meliadus’s son Tristan’s birth and his remarriage to King Hoel’s daughter. Denis Janot specialised in printing romance and fiction, often in expensively produced editions. ‘This level of investment suggests a strong confidence in the market for romance’ (Rawles, 2018, p.43).

The text is based on the French translation and adaptation of the influential Arthurian compilation of Rustichello da Pisa (fl.C13) – who assisted Marco Polo in writing his travelogue – made at the request of Edward I of England. The name of the French translator remains unknown (cf. Rawles, 2018, n.17). ‘The printed “Meliadus” is set, fictionally, at the very end of the reign of Uther Pendragon, and it provides an immediate prehistory of the world of Arthur and of the prose “Tristan”, […] Lancelot’s father, […] Gauvain’s father, Lac father of Erec, and King Pharamond of Gaul’. It is also the ‘retroactive’ continuation of the roman ‘Guiron le Courtois’, printed c.1501, the narrative of which overlaps with the second part of ‘Meliadus’ (Taylor, p.92). The sundry adventures of Meliadus include witnessing King Arthur’s coronation, becoming the Queen of Scotland’s lover, plotting with King Pharamond (the first Merovingian king) and King Marc of Cornwall, and fighting against the fathers of future knights of the Round Table. It ends with Meliadus’ murder whilst hunting at Leonnoys. The charming title woodcut, produced by an anonymous artist, reprises the style of Geoffrey Tory, and is only found in three other works c.1533-4.

Formerly in the library of the major bibliophile and collector, John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, whose remarkable library was sold in 1812 (lot 6160). ‘The sale […] was a most sensational affair and the total of £23,342 was an extraordinary one at the time […] The Roxburghe Club was inaugurated in commemoration […]’ (de Ricci). Roxburghe also owned several medieval mss of vernacular romances, including Meliadus. Thomas Jolley (fl. early C19) probably acquired this copy at the Roxburghe sale; de Ricci calls him a ‘forgotten collector whose seven sales lasted from 1843 to 1853’ (p.107).

 This copy matches the first of three issues, with Janot’s imprint alone.

Brunet (Suppl.) I, 1000 (mentions this copy); Fairfax Murray 369 (this copy); Pettegree, French Vernacular Books, 37466; Rawles, Janot, n.17; BM STC Fr., p.309; Moreau IV, 773 (ascribes printing to G. de Bossozel). Not in Harvard C16 French. B. Wahlen, ‘Le \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"Roman de Meliadus\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" du XIIIe au XVIIIe siècle’ (unpub. PhD diss., U. of Lausanne, 2009); S. Rawles, ‘Denis Janot, Parisian Printer & Bookseller’ (unpub. PhD diss., U. of Warwick, 1976) and the subsequent book (2018); S. Albert, ‘Recycler Meliadus’, CRMH, 24 (2012), pp. 487-503; J. Taylor, Rewriting Arthurian Romance in Renaissance France (2014); A Catalogue of the library of...John duke of Roxburghe (1812).