"LET ME NOT BE SUPPOSED FOR A MOMENT AS JOINING IN THE POPULAR CRY AGAINST THE LANDLORDS OF IRELAND": FIRST EDITION OF LEVER'S ST. PATRICK'S EVE, ILLUSTRATED BY PHIZ, HANDSOMELY BOUND
LEVER, Charles. St. Patrick's Eve. London: Chapman and Hall, 1845. Small, square octavo, early 20th-century red calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. $850.
First edition of this Victorian novel on the plight of the Irish peasants during the cholera epidemic in County Clare, intended by Chapman and Hall to introduce Charles Lever as direct competition for Charles Dickens at Bradbury and Evans, with frontispiece, vignette title page, three etched plates, and numerous headpieces and in-text illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), handsomely bound.
"Commercially quite successful, St. Patrick's Eve (1845)… [was] inspired by 'the growth of the national sentiment' during the Young Ireland years. Lever went out of his way to conduct research for the novel. The poverty he encountered on his visits to Connemara and Achill distressed him, as did the sense that 'the very waves that thundered along the seashore were less strong than the passions of man beside them.' The novel itself is, in some ways, in the tradition of novels of the land from the early 19th century, though there is also something new… Its recipe for Ireland's troubles is for landlords to return to do their duty at home and to utilize the more than strong residue of feudal loyalty. Tenants look up to their landlords 'with a degree of reverence almost devotional. The owner of the soil was a character actually sacred in their eyes.' Inappropriate landlord behavior can lead to social disruption… Lever ends with the clear message that, at least as far as this novel was concerned, Ireland's difficulties lay in 'social disorganization rather than political grievances'" (Murphy, Irish Novelists and the Victorian Age, 82-3). Chapman and Hall selected Charles Lever to fill the void left by Charles Dickens following the Martin Chuzzlewit payment conflicts. Dickens had been obscenely lucrative for Chapman and Hall, but Lever was a popular comic writer and Chapman and Hall hoped that they had picked a winner in him—one who could compete with Dickens, who had already resettled himself at Bradbury and Evans. St. Patrick's Eve was carefully modeled after The Chimes, both in format and in the selection of a controversial topic. An aggressive 5,000 copies were published. While he did not quite prove to have the enduring fame of Dickens, Lever blossomed into a notable Victorian author and Chapman and Hall sold tens of thousands of his books at substantial profit. Sadleir 1420. Wolff 4103. Bookplate.
Faint scattered foxing to interior, light wear to spinehead, mild toning to spine. A near-fine copy.