“OUTSHINES ALMOST EVERY OTHER ENGLISH CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE PERIOD”: FIRST EDITION OF THE LAMBS’ TALES FROM SHAKESPEAR, 1807
LAMB, Charles [and LAMB, Mary]. Tales from Shakespear. Designed for the Use of Young Persons. London: Printed for Thomas Hodgkins, at the Juvenile Library, 1807. Two volumes. 12mo, 19th-century three-quarter dark green morocco gilt, later red morocco spine labels, raised bands, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Housed in a custom half-morocco clamshell box.
First edition, first issue, of the first version of Shakespeare prepared especially for children, illustrated with 20 copperplate engravings by William Blake after drawings by Irish genre painter William Mulready.
The Lambs' Tales from Shakespear "belong to a type of literature requiring gifts which are seldom found in perfect proportion… It is not too much to say that the collection forms one of the most conspicuous landmarks in the history of the romantic movement. It is the first book which, appealing to a general audience and to a rising generation, made Shakespeare a familiar and popular author and, in doing so, asserted the claims of the older literature which, to English people at large, was little more than a name" (Rosenbach 37:385). In 1805, essayist Charles Lamb met influential philosopher and children's book publisher William Godwin (the father of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein), who convinced Lamb to adapt the plots of Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies for young readers (particularly girls, "because"—as the Lambs' preface explains—"boys are generally permitted the use of their fathers' libraries at a much earlier age than girls are…"). Charles drafted adaptations of the tragedies while his sister Mary wrote those of the comedies. The result, immediately popular upon publication, was "one of the most useful and agreeable companions to the understanding of Shakespeare which have ever been produced. The youthful reader who is about to taste the charms of our great bard is strongly recommended to prepare himself by first reading these elegant tales… Even those who are familiar with every line of the original will be delighted with the pleasing and compendious way in which the story of each play is here presented to them" (Allibone, 1049). "They are written in a clear, vigorous style… The literary quality of the Tales makes them outshine almost every other English children's book of this period" (Kunitz & Haycraft, 515). First issue, with imprint on Vol. I, page 246 and Hanway Street address in Volume II advertisements. Rosenbach 37:385. Kunitz & Haycraft, 514-15. Muir, 130. Pierpoint Morgan, Children's Literature 199. Lowndes, 1300. Evidence of removal of dealer description from endpaper.
Occasional light foxing, frontispiece plate tipped in, and a few leaves with minor marginal paper repair in Volume I, skillful repair to joints. A handsome copy, scarce and desirable.