“ONE OF THE MOST DISTINGUISHED WRITERS OF ANY AGE”: FIRST EDITION OF SAMUEL JOHNSON’S IRENE, 1749
JOHNSON, Samuel. Irene: A Tragedy. As it is Acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane. London: Printed for R. Dodsley, 1749. Octavo, early 20th-century full brown calf gilt, raised bands, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Housed in a custom slipcase. $4000.
First edition of Johnson’s historical tragedy, written early in his career and produced at Drury Lane Theatre in February 1749, handsomely bound by Bedford.
Recognized as "one of the most distinguished writers of any age or country," Samuel Johnson wrote Irene early in his career, in the years from 1736-7, but it was not published until 1749 (Allibone I:971). At that time, when Johnson's friend and former pupil David Garrick was "firmly established in a position of power in the theatrical world, Johnson's thoughts naturally began to turn back towards his own long-buried ambitions as a dramatic writer." Johnson decided to trust Irene to Garrick, who then produced the play for the Drury Lane Theater in February 1749, under the title Mahomet and Irene. Based on a story from Knolles' General History of the Turks, Irene's final act has the Turkish Sultan Mahomet execute his favorite mistress so that he "can prove to his followers that he has not gone soft under the influence of his love for a Christian." For Johnson, the play's production was a cause "to celebrate… in style. Perhaps it was a reaction from the long, dusty hours of work on the Dictionary, but he was at the time in a mood to go into society, to appear in public, even to act the part of a celebrity in that gay and rather raffish world of 'players and painted stage" (Wain, 69, 143, 147). With half title and rear advertisement leaf. Featuring woodcut-engraved vignette on title page, engraved ornamental initials, head- and tailpieces. Courtney & Smith, 24. Rothschild 1231. Lowndes, 1218. Bookplate of noted collector Frank Brewer Bemis.
Interior fine, expert repairs to joints and spine ends, A beautiful bound copy.