"IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF PYRATES, HE WHO GOES THE GREATEST LENGTH OF WICKEDNESS, IS LOOKED UPON WITH A KIND OF ENVY AMONGST THEM": A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE LIVES AND ADVENTURES OF THE MOST FAMOUS HIGHWAYMEN, MURDERERS, STREET-ROBBERS, &C, 1736, WITH 26 FOLIO COPPERPLATE ENGRAVINGS
JOHNSON, Charles. A General History of the Lives and Adventures of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-Robbers, &c. From the Famous Sir John Falstaff in the Reign of K. Henry IV, 1399 to 1733. To Which Is added, A Genuine Account of the Voyages and Plunders of the Most Noted Pyrates. Interspersed with diverting Tales, and pleasant Songs. London: Olive Payne, 1736. Folio (9-1/2 by 14 inches), early 20th-century full brown morocco, boards and spines decorated with gilt skulls, raised bands, watered silk endpapers, all edges gilt.
Second—and often preferred—edition of this scarce pirate history, with frontispiece and 25 copper-engraved plates, wonderfully bound by Zaehnsdorf in full morocco with gilt skull motifs.
"Nothing is known of the author who called himself Captain Johnson, and the name may be an assumed one. Beginning in 1724, and continuing to the present day, books on pirates have appeared under his name. There is no evidence to support the idea that Johnson was an actual pirate, even though his accounts seem remarkably accurate. There also appears to be little substance to the coincidence that a contemporary dramatist of the same name wrote a play, The Successful Pyrate, about the popular hero Captain Avery" (Hill). "Nothing is known of Captain Charles Johnson… that he was accurate, even to the smallest particular, has been repeatedly proved" (National Maritime Museum). "Johnson can still be read with pleasure and delight, not only for the sake of the exciting deeds he recounts, but for the quaint and characteristic style in which he wrote" (Gosse, 11). "J.R. Moore identified Captain Johnson as Daniel Defoe, but this was contested by P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens in 1988" (Hill). Although related in part to the 1724 General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, this present work is based on Captain Alexander Smith's 1714 The History of the Lives of the Most Noted Highway-men: according to Gosse, "Johnson took this and to it added a number of his pirates" (Gosse, My Pirate Library, 49). The section on pirates includes chapters on Avery, Martel, Blackbeard, Bonnet, England, Vane, Rackam, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, Davis, Roberts and Morgan. The first edition was published in 1734 with the name A General and True History of the Lives and Adventures…; it was the first of the many similar works to be published in folio format. "Very scarce and seldom found in good condition. Interesting to the American collector, as some of their exploits were in this country" (Sabin 36194 on the 1734 first edition). According to Sabin, this 1736 edition is "the same edition" as the 1734 first edition "with a new title page and some additional plates" (Sabin 36194). See Hill, 892; Gosse, My Pirate Library, 49. Sabin 36195. Bookplate of Sir David Lionel Salomons, from the Salomons family of Tunbridge Wells, notable politicians and advocates of Jewish Emancipation.
Plates and text fine, expert paper repairs to title page and final text leaf, front inner hinge expertly reinforced; striking binding with minor toning to spine, small mark to front board. Quite rare.