Prince of Abissinia [Rasselas]


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Item#: 126256 price:$8,500.00

Prince of Abissinia [Rasselas]
Prince of Abissinia [Rasselas]
Prince of Abissinia [Rasselas]


[JOHNSON, Samuel]. The Prince of Abissinia. A Tale. London: R. and J. Dodsley, and W. Johnston, 1759. Two volumes. Small octavo, contemporary full calf, raised bands. Housed in a custom cloth clamshell box. $8500.

First edition of Johnson's only novel, now known as Rasselas, one of only 1500 copies printed, exceptional in contemporary calf. The copy of renowned collector Frank Hogan, with his morocco-gilt bookplate laid into Volume I.

On January 15, 1759, Samuel Johnson learned that his mother was gravely ill. To raise money for a visit to Lichfield, he turned to his publisher Strahan who agreed to give him 100 pounds for a philosophical story in the popular form of an "Eastern tale." When he heard just one week later (on January 23) that his mother had already died, he was either finishing or had already finished the book. This work includes Johnson's celebrated definition of "the business of a poet," to write as "the legislator of mankind… presiding over the thoughts and manners of future generations" (chapter 10)—a phrase that anticipated Shelley's arguments in The Defence of Poetry. Rasselas is similar in many ways to Voltaire's Candide, which was published in the same year, though Johnson did not read that work until later. The name Rasselas was not in the title of any edition published in Johnson's lifetime, but the heading on page one of both volumes of the first edition reads "The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia." All the editions published during his lifetime were anonymous; the work proved to be his bestselling title. First state of A2 in Volume II, with heading simply "CONTENTS.", later changed to "CONTENTS / OF THE / SECOND VOLUME" to match the corresponding leaf in Volume I. Fleeman, I, 785-8. Courtney & Smith, 87. Rothschild 1242. The copy of esteemed collector and attorney Frank J. Hogan (1877-1944), with his morocco-gilt bookplate laid in. By the time of his death, the Hogan Library was one of the world's most valuable private collections; the books were dispersed at auction in 1945 and 1946. This copy is described in the auction catalogue (lot 417) from April 24 and 25, 1945, as "A fine copy; apparently in the original binding."

Interiors clean. Spine labels perished, front joint of Volume I and rear joint of Volume II tender, cords holding, bindings slightly scuffed with a bit of restoration to rear board of Volume II but sound. A very good copy, desirable in contemporary calf and with excellent provenance.

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