ONE OF THE GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS OF 16TH-CENTURY SCHOLARSHIP: CAMDEN'S BRITANNIA, 1695 GIBSON EDITION, WITH 50 DOUBLE-PAGE MAPS, THE FIRST EDITION WITH THE MAPS BY ROBERT MORDEN
CAMDEN, William (GIBSON, Edmund, translator). Britannia, Newly Translated into English: with Large Additions and Improvements. London: A. Swalle and A. & J. Churchil, 1695. Tall folio (10 by 15 inches), 18th-century full tree calf rebacked, raised bands, red morocco spine labels. $8500.
First edition of Edmund Gibson's translation of this great historical work by William Camden, the first comprehensive topographical, geographical and historical study of Great Britain, with frontispiece portrait, 50 superb double-page maps by Robert Morden, eight engraved plates of coins, and numerous in-text illustrations.
As Elizabeth's reign drew to an end, there was a concerted effort to document the achievements of her age, as well as the English experience in general. "William Camden's Britannia can be seen as an attempt to depict the English landscape, monumentalize its topography, and to show how the events of national history are inscribed onto this landscape in painstaking, town-by-town detail" (Dana F. Sutton). In 1582, Camden, the greatest Renaissance historian of England, contemporary of Shakespeare and schoolmaster of Ben Jonson, traveled throughout England, gathering bits of folklore and teaching himself Welsh and Anglo-Saxon in order to study ancient accounts of Great Britain. He collected a wealth of information on its languages, the origins of names and surnames, puzzles, money, arms, costume, and poetry, and hundreds of anagrams, proverbs, epigrams, epitaphs, "wise speeches," and other intriguing tidbits of history. Britannia was intended not only to glorify Elizabeth, but to satisfy the curiosity of an Oxonian audience about unfamiliar parts of their own nation, with the distant regions being quite foreign to the average Englishman's experience. His stated purpose was "to restore antiquity to Britaine, and Britaine to its antiquity." For Camden's contemporaries, Britannia seemed to acquire a monumental status and provided some reassurances that England's place in the world would not be forgotten by future generations. "Its success was great; nothing of the kind had been attempted since the days of Leland, and by him only in briefer outline" (DNB). Britannia was first published in Latin in 1588. Several editions appeared during Camden's lifetime, each with his own revisions, the last being in 1607 with additional plates and maps. The first editions in English were translated and published by Philemon Holland in 1610 and 1637. This is the first edition of Edmund Gibson's translation, and the first to appear with Robert Morden's excellent maps. Morden created the county maps for this edition, which were "'all new engraved either according to surveys before publish'd or according to such as have been made and printed since Saxon and Speed.' They were sent to 'Knowing Gentlemen' in each county to be rectified, and are finally described as 'by much the fairest and most correct of any that have yet appear'd'… Moreover, they are the only large county maps of this period" (Tooley, 71). They were also "the first collection of county maps to use the prime meridian of London throughout" (Skelton, 71). With woodcut initial letters, type-ornament headpieces, eight full-page engravings of coins, large in-text engravings of Stonehenge and Cumberland antiquities, and numerous in-text woodcut illustrations. Wing C359. Early owner ink signatures on title page and frontispiece verso, some inked over.
Devonshire map bound upside down; Hampshire map with two closed tears to lower edge, each approximately two inches, and small professional repair to fore-edge; Norfolk map creased along edge. Text quite clean. Corners rounded. A beautiful fresh copy in nicely rebacked 18th-century tree calf.