SOMNER, William

SOMNER, William The antiquities of Canterbury. Or a survey of that ancient citie, with the suburbs, and cathedrall…

London, printed by I[ohn] L[egat] for Richard Thrale, 1640


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp.[xvi], 516, [xiv], 3 fldg. plates, one a map. Roman and Italic letter, full page woodcut arms of Canterbury on verso of title, woodcut and typographical headpieces, floriated woodcut initials, early binder’s record and price on front f. e-p. Light age yellowing, pale waterstaining in places, a little heavier on first quire, hole in upper margin of A1 just touching running headline on verso, some soiling on recto and A3 and 4, marginal staining on 3I3 and 4, minor marginal spotting in places, the odd mark or spot. A very good copy, in handsome contemporary calf, covers bordered with a double blind rule, spine with raised bands, blind ruled in compartments, red morocco label gilt, edges gilt ruled, a.e.r. lower corners a little worn.

A handsome copy of the first edition of Somner’s important description of the town of Canterbury and more particularly the Cathedral, finely illustrated with plates and a map. “The Antiquities of Canterbury, true to its title, deals with ‘antiquities’: it is concerned only with that which is the work of civilization, and, its subject being Canterbury, it is not a country description, but an urban description. .. while Somner takes some basic notice of architecture, he does so in order to help determine age rather than to appreciate the impression a building might make on a visitor or resident. It is only in describing his beloved Cathedral that there is some betrayal of such sentiments .. .Somner takes his readers on a veritable guided tour of Canterbury Cathedral, and we may imagine that his text, rehearsing an itinerary which he had often followed in reality, while showing the church to visitors. In touring the building, Somner endeavours to inform his readers of the period of construction of each of the component sections, the benefactor or builder, and changes that may have transpired in form or utilization.” Somner often quotes from Erasmus’ account of the Cathedral in pre-reformation times. Ironically Somner’s book was used by the fanatical puritan preacher Reverend Richard Culmer who, in 1642, bearing a copy of this work, visited the Cathedral with the mayor in order to destroy the ‘Cathedrall Idolls’. He wrote of the book that it was “a card and a compasse to sail by, in that Cathedrall Ocean of Images: by it many a Popish picture was discovered and demolished. It’s sure working by the booke: but here is the wonder, that this booke should be a means to pull down Idols, which so much advaunceth Idolatry.” William Somner worked as an ecclesiastical notary at the Cathedral. “The Antiquities of Canterbury appeared when William was only 34 – widely welcomed but the dedication of the book to his patron Archbishop Laud proved to be unfortunate. Laud was arrested for treason the following year and beheaded four years later. This setback put paid to William’s original plans for a history of the whole county of Kent. When Cromwell’s parliamentary soldiers smashed the cathedral font in 1642, William managed to collect the pieces and hide them. Eighteen years later, with the Commonwealth period at an end, King Charles II returned to England.., and called at Canterbury ..and William was able to offer the king a copy of his history of Canterbury. In that same year, 1660, William returned the pieces of font to the cathedral, and the elaborate apparatus was re-assembled” Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society.

ESTC S121902. STC 22918 (Variant without errata leaf at end). Lowndes VI 2442 “An excellent work” (Nicholson)

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