FIRST EDITION OF WILLIAM GODWIN’S LIVES OF THE NECROMANCERS, 1834, WITH AUTOGRAPH LETTER FROM HIM TO AMERICAN DRAMATIST JOHN HOWARD PAYNE
GODWIN, William. Lives of the Necromancers: Or, An Account of the Most Eminent Persons in Successive Ages, Who Have Claimed For Themselves, Or To Whom Has Been Imputed By Others, The Exercise of Magical Power. London: Frederick J. Mason, 1834. Octavo, early 20th-century three-quarter russet morocco gilt, raised bands, marbled boards and endpapers, top edge gilt. $2800.
First edition, with an etching of the author and an autograph letter from him to American playwright John Howard Payne tipped in.
The husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and father of Mary Shelley, Godwin was “a Calvinist minister [who] soon adopted the principles of the Enlightenment… Godwin shared with other radicals an optimism founded upon their confidence in the power of human reason” (Baugh et al., 1113, 1113n). Appropriately, then, he states in his preface that he wrote this, his final book, “to exhibit a fair deliniation of the credulity of the human mind… to contemplate man in all his honours and in all the exhaltation of wisdom and virtue… [but also] to look into his obliquities, and distinctly to remark how great and portentious have been his absurdities and his follies.” Godwin explores the history of necromancy, witchcraft and magic, drawing upon examples from the Bible, Greece, Rome, the East, Europe and America; and including specific articles about Merlin, Medea, Thomas Aquinas, Joan of Arc, Richard III, Faustus and Nostradamus, among others. The tipped-in autograph letter reads: “Dear sir, Ten thousand thanks to you for your successful negociation [sic]. But I shall consider the kinship as imperfect unless you will confirm it by consenting to take a mutton chop with me tomorrow or Thursday at four. If I do not hear from you by post by twelve tomorrow, I will expect you on the first of these days. Yours very sincerely, Wm. Godwin. Thursday, July 7.” The verso indicates the recipient was John Howard Payne, American actor and dramatist whose tragedy Brutus (1818) “solidified Edmund Kean’s preeminence and remained a staple for all tragedians for half a century” and whose musical play Clari (1823) introduced the song “Home Sweet Home.” In 1825, while living in England, Payne courted “the widow Mary Shelley until she made clear her interest in [Payne’s frequent collaborator, author Washington] Irving… Payne was the best known of several early Americans who promoted and spread culture by their dedication to the popular arts, serving them diligently and skillfully, and more for love than money” (ANB). Despite Payne’s unsuccessful pursuit of Godwin’s daughter, the two men remained friends and correspondents. Kernot, 19. CBEL II:655. Lowndes, 906. Allibone, 686. Armorial bookplate.
A near-fine copy, attractively bound.