“THERE IS NO PRODUCTION OF MAN THAT DISPLAYS MORE VARIOUS AND VIGOROUS TALENT THAN THE CANTERBURY TALES”: GODWIN’S FOUR-VOLUME LIFE OF CHAUCER
(CHAUCER) GODWIN, William. Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Early English Poet. London: Richard Phillips, 1804. Four volumes. Octavo, contemporary full brown calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, red and black morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers. $1350.
First octavo edition (second edition overall) of Godwin’s highly esteemed biography of the English language’s first great poet, with three engraved frontispiece portraits, handsomely bound in contemporary calf-gilt.
Author and philosopher William Godwin was the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and the father of Mary Shelley. “In the three years which Godwin devoted to the book… he did a great deal of original historical research. He read extensively at the British Museum going there nearly every day. He delved into public records then preserved at the Tower of London and uncovered references to Chaucer that had not previously been known… He tried to give a sense of how the world might have appeared in Chaucer’s day. He explained the workings of the law, the role of the church, the distribution of political power, the position of women, and how changes in the economic background affected his subject’s finances and behavior. The Life of Chaucer was not only a biography but a history of the cultural, social, and political background of Chaucer’s England” (St Clair, The Godwin’s and the Shelley’s, 266-67). “It is both entertaining and instructive” (Lowndes, 905). First published in quarto in 1803. Engraved armorial bookplate of Robert Smyth of West Meath in each volume, with ownership signature of one or both of his parents on each title page.
Marginal traces of worming in first half of Volume II, not affecting text; minor rubs to extremities. A very handsome set in contemporary calf-gilt.