“I AM AS FREE AS NATURE FIRST MADE MAN”: THE STORY OF NELL GWYN, EXTRA-ILLUSTRATED WITH OVER 350 PLATES
CUNNINGHAM, Peter. The Story of Nell Gwyn, and the Sayings of Charles the Second. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1852. Two volumes. Folio (12 by 15-1/2 inches), early 20th-century full red morocco, elaborately gilt-decorated spines and boards, raised bands, gilt-decorated red morocco doublures with blue morocco onlays, marbled endpapers, top edges gilt, uncut. $7800.
First edition of this traditional biography of King Charles II’s favorite mistress, this copy extra-illustrated with over 350 engraved plates and magnificently bound in folio format by Matthews.
Long-time mistress of King Charles II of England, Eleanor "Nell" Gwyn (called "pretty, witty Nell" by Samuel Pepys) was the living embodiment of the spirit of Restoration England, and has come to be considered a folk heroine. "Nell Gwyn has never been a lady, nor does she pretend to be. Blessed with impudent wit and saucy beauty, she swiftly rises from the poverty of Covent Garden to become a sensation in the theater. Still in her teens, she catches the eye of King Charles II, and trades the stage for Whitehall Palace… to become no less than the king's favorite" (Susan Scott). Gwyn was "the most famous Restoration actress of all time, possessed of an extraordinary comic talent" (Elizabeth Howe). It was in the new form of restoration comedy that her success came— opposite Charles Hart as the "gay couple," a pair of witty, antagonistic lovers. However, "it was as the mistress of King Charles II, from 1670 until his death, that Nell endeared herself to the public… Her infectious high spirits and amazing indiscretions appealed irresistibly to a generation" (David Nash Ford). On his deathbed, King Charles instructed his brother, "Let not poor Nelly starve." James II paid off most of Gwyn's debts and gave her a pension of £1500 a year. This standard biography of Nell Gwyn has been bound in two sumptuous folio volumes and extra-illustrated with over 350 engraved portraits and views.
A magnificent production in fine condition.