“PLAYFULLY CAPRICIOUS”: LA FONTAINE’S TALES AND NOVELS, WITH 123 HAND-COLORED ENGRAVINGS, HANDSOMELY BOUND
LA FONTAINE, Jean de. Tales And Novels In Verse. London: Printed For The Society Of English Bibiliophilists, circa 1889. Two volumes. Royal octavo, early 20th-century three-quarter crimson morocco gilt, raised bands, marbled endpapers, top edges gilt. $2000.
Limited illustrated edition, one of an unknown limitation, of La Fontaine’s ribald retellings of comic Italian tales, featuring 123 hand-colored engravings (85 by Charles Eisen). Handsomely bound by Root & Son.
"A lover of nature, of keen intelligence, power of observation and poetic genius" (Oxford Companion to French Literature, 386), Jean de La Fontaine, best known for his popular animal fables enjoyed by generations of children, penned stories in a decidedly different vein with his Contes et nouvelles en vers. "The first [of the tales] was published in 1664, the last posthumously. He borrowed them mostly from Italian sources, in particular Giovanni Boccaccio… The essence of nearly all his Contes lies in their licentiousness… The accent of La Fontaine the narrator enlivens the story with playfully capricious comments, explanations and digressions" (Encyclopedia Britannica). "Eisen’s 80 designs for La Fontaine [first published in 1762] are the liveliest and most adroit that he ever drew. Thoroughly at home with the varied action of these lusty stories—their love passages, their intrigues, their practical jokes—he is also expert in choosing the moment in each that will best serve his purpose as an illustrator" (Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book 26). This edition of Tales and Novels is a later English verse translation. With 123 engravings, including 85 by Eisen. A similar edition, also printed for the Society of English Bibliophilists and featuring 123 uncolored engravings, saw print in 1896 in a limited edition of 520 copies; this edition is undated and the limitation is unspecified. Bookplate.
Only occasional very faint foxing, text and plates generally clean. Minor rubbing to extremities of handsome morocco-gilt bindings. An excellent copy of this lovely illustrated work.