FIRST EDITION OF CHRISTMAS STORIES, 1823, WITH THREE ILLUSTRATED PLATES BY GEORGE CRUIKSHANK
(CRUIKSHANK, George) [BERENS, Edward.]. Christmas Stories. Containing John Wildgoose the Poacher, The Smuggler, and Good Nature, or Parish Matters. Oxford: W. Baxter, 1823. Slim octavo, 19th-century navy morocco, elaborately gilt-decorated spine and covers, raised bands, marbled endpapers, top edge gilt, uncut. $1000.
First edition of this collection of three religiously themed stories, with three etched plates by George Cruikshank, handsomely bound in full morocco-gilt.
Somewhat lacking in festive holiday spirit, this collection of three Regency-era Christmas tales focuses on capital consequences for poaching; the illegality of smuggling; and the immorality of helping the able poor. This work actually reflects Britain's long conflict over the proper celebration of Christmas. Christmas trees, Christmas stockings, Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, and even Father Christmas all got their start during the Victorian era. Thus, earlier British Christmases leaned heavily on presents, greenery, and traditional foods. During the austere Restoration era, however, great concern arose that feasting and card-playing—two holiday favorites—were an offense to God. A 1644 law banned Christmas celebrations altogether (though, of course, many celebrated in private). In the decades and centuries that followed, Christmas returned. However, the Puritan faction remained a part of British life. The moral concerns that drove the strict Protestants of the Restoration reappeared in later Regency works like this one. To them, the injection of didactic Christian stories into the Christmas celebration was a way of ensuring that the entire holiday retained a spirit of moral rectitude. After all, there was little chance of the holiday ending in an unexpected execution if the celebrants had been duly warned not to go shooting their venison on private land. Likewise, they were sure to divide the contents of the alms boxes "responsibly," rather than spending too much on a single needy person. Thus, these stories serve as a historical record of Christmas past and of a culture that was altered almost beyond recognition by the time A Christmas Carol appeared only two decades later. Cohn 71.
A few spots of soiling to interior, expert repairs to joints and spine ends. Near-fine, beautifully bound.