“THE MOST AMUSING ROMANCE EVER WRITTEN”: 1636 FIRST ILLUSTRATED ENGLISH EDITION OF JOHN BARCLAY’S ARGENIS, HANDSOMELY BOUND
BARCLAY, John. Barclay His Argenis. Or, the Loves of Polyarchus & Argenis. London: Henry Seile, 1636. Square octavo, early 20th-century full chestnut brown levant morocco gilt, raised bands, all edges gilt. $1250.
First illustrated English edition of “the most amusing romance ever written” (Cowper), with engraved allegorical title page, engraved portrait of Barclay, and 23 full-page copper-engraved illustrations by Leonard Gaultier and Claude Mellan. Handsomely bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe.
Written in the elegant style of Petronius, Argenis is “a political allegory, pronounced by the poet Cowper to be the most amusing romance ever written” (Lowndes, 112). Barclay wrote this early novel “to admonish princes and politicians, and above all to denounce political faction and conspiracy, and show how they might be repressed… Fenelon’s Telemachus is considerably indebted to it, and it is an indispensable link in the chain which unites classical with modern fiction. It has equally pleased men of action and men of letters; with the admiration of statesmen like Richelieu and Leibnitz may be associated the enthusiastic verdict of Coleridge, who pronounces the style concise as Tacitus and perspicuous as Livy” (DNB). Barclay based his characters on “distinguished personages in history and real life”—the prefatory “Key to Unlock Argenis” identifies to whom the characters correspond. Cardinal Richelieu was “very fond of perusing this work, and it is thought from thence he drew many of his political maxims” (Allibone I:117). Barclay died of suspicious causes a few days after finishing the manuscript of the work, and did not live to see it published. First published in Paris, in Latin, in 1621. Kingsmill Long’s English translation first appeared in 1625; this is the second edition of Long’s translation (as stated on the title page) and the first edition in English to appear with Gaultier and Mellan’s illustrations, which were first used in the French edition of 1623. In between the 1625 and 1636 editions of Long’s translation, publisher Seile issued a different English translation by Le Grys, in 1628 and again in 1629, making this the fourth edition in English overall. Embellished with decorative woodcut headpieces and initials. STC 1392.5.
Occasional faint embrowning; a few minor spots to text. Morocco-gilt binding fine and quite handsome.