DEFOE "GAVE LITERARY HISTORY THE DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NOVEL": DEFOE'S HISTORY OF THE GREAT PLAGUE OF LONDON, 1754, RARE SECOND EDITION OF HIS 1722 WORK, ISSUED FOR THE FIRST TIME WITH JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR AT MARSEILLES, IN THE YEAR 1720
(DEFOE, Daniel). The History of the Great Plague In London, in the Year 1665… By a Citizen, who lived the whole Time in London. To which is added, a Journal of the Plague at Marseilles, in the Year 1720. London: Printed for, and Sold by F. and J. Noble, 1754. Octavo, period-style full speckled calf-gilt, red morocco spine label, raised bands; pp. (iii), 1-376. $4200.
Elusive 1754 edition of Defoe's 1722 anonymously issued account of the 1665 Great Plague, a fictional yet largely accurate record—"his most journalistic novel"—that compares the Black Death in London to "a great Fire." This timely second edition is the first printing of Defoe's History issued with the early English translation of a French work documenting the 1720 Marseilles Plague—"the most virulent to enter Europe since the Black Death of 1347"—a devastating outbreak that sparked fresh terror among English men and women who feared a resurgence of the deadly 1665 plague.
Journal of the Plague Year "may be Defoe's most under-appreciated great novel." Writing as "H.F.," he raises questions about "ethical conduct, public policy and human limits. In this new way… Defoe has, in the words of Maximillian Novak, created an innovative character distinguished by his 'general sympathy for the human condition'… James Joyce described the style of Journal of the Plague Year as 'masterly' and even 'orchestral', and countless other novelists have cited Defoe's influence. That Joyce would select for special praise what is perhaps Defoe's most journalistic novel is fitting" (ODNB). While Defoe's fictional narrator presents Journal as an eyewitness account of London during the Great Plague, he was barely five years old in 1665, so it is likely based on journals by his uncle. In a letter to the London Journal published January 9, 1722, Defoe wrote: "I cannot think that a Dissertation upon the Plague (when all Europe seems apprehensive of it…) can be very foreign to the province of a News-Monger.'" His anonymously issueD Journal was published that March. At the time, given writing was "now his sole means of support… Defoe surely must have intended that Journal should make money. For long before Edgar Allen Poe, Defoe had discovered what sells books" (Ellis, in Review of English Studies).
In vivid prose Defoe writes of "the dying Groans of many a despairing Creature." He describes a mother's discovery of the "fatal Tokens" on her daughter's body, causing the woman to suddenly shriek "out in such a frightful Manner, that it was enough to place Horror upon the stoutest Heart in the World." As the disease continues to rage, Defoe's largely factually accurate work notes that "Dead-Carts began to go about… the Plague is like a great Fire… the best Physick against the Plague is to run away from it… many fled too late" (emphasis in original). "Defoe's fictions gave literary history the defining characteristics of the novel… No history or discussion of the English novel is now written without considerable space devoted to Defoe's work… Again and again Defoe seems not just timely, but prescient" (ODNB).
This first expanded edition of Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year contains the complete printing in English of a rare Journal of the Marseilles Plague of 1720: translated from the French first edition, which first appeared in English in 1721 as A Brief Journal of What Passed in the City of Marseilles… extracted from the register of the Council-Chamber of the Town House, kept by Monsieur Pichatty de Croissante. While the 1665 London plague would resurface in the city throughout the 17th century, the 1720 Marseilles Plague, which spread throughout Provence, was "the most virulent to enter Europe since the Black Death of 1347-49… in England the alarm was such as to provoke Parliament into lengthy sessions devoted to the defense of the realm against a recurrence of the disease which had dealt such a deadly blow only 55 years earlier (1665) and was still vivid in the recollections of many Englishmen" (Hammond & Sturgil, "A French Plague"). It contains terrifying descriptions of people who wandered the streets, "light-headed by the Force of the Venom which rages in them," and were left to die "among the putrefied dead Bodies." With printed initials "H.F" (287). Containing general title page, half title for "Journal of… Marseilles." General title page imprint price of "Five Shillings in Boards"; continuously paginated; with front advertisement leaf. ESTC T70343. Moore, 449. See ESTC T70342. Small owner signature.
Interior very fresh with scant marginal edge-wear to two rear leaves not affecting text. Beautifully bound.