“THE MOST AMUSING ROMANCE EVER WRITTEN”
BARCLAY, John. Argenis. Amsterdam: Elzevir, 1671. Thick 12mo, contemporary full brown calf rebacked at an early date, raised bands. $350.
1671 Elzevir edition in Latin, with engraved title page.
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. In 1629 Bonaventura and Abraham Elzevir expanded the family business, initiating their famed pocket editions of Latin classics. The aim was to ensure wide circulation of accurate texts for everyday use; the books were printed, as here, with engraved title pages, narrow margins and a distinctive font of type, cut by Christoffel van Dijck, that had a great influence on subsequent printers through the centuries. Early ink annotations to front flyleaf.
Interior quite clean, binding with light expert restoration. A very good copy.