“THE SPECTACLE OF BEASTS TALKING AND BEHAVING LIKE HUMAN BEINGS HAS ALWAYS FASCINATED CHILDREN”: SCARCE 17TH-CENTURY EDITIONS IN ENGLISH OF THE THREE PARTS OF REYNARD THE FOX, ILLUSTRATED WITH 76 WOODCUTS
[SHIRLEY, John]. The Most Delectable History of Reynard the Fox. Newly Corrected and Purged, from all grossness in Phrase and Manner. Augmented and Enlarged with sundry Excellent Morals and Expositions upon every several Chapter. To which may now be added a Second Part of the said History: As also the Shifts of Reynardine the Son of Reynard the Fox, Together with his Life and Death. ISSUED WITH: The Most Pleasant and Delightful History… The Second Part. ISSUED WITH: The Shifts of Reynardine. London: Edward Brewster (Thomas James), 1694, 1681, 1684. Three volumes in one. Small quarto, 18th-century full brown sheep expertly rebacked with original spine laid down, raised bands, red morocco spine label. Housed in a custom clamshell box.
Mixed first and sixth editions of these three 17th-century continuations of this immensely popular European beast fable, issued together under a general title page, handsomely printed in Gothic type and generously illustrated with 76 delightful woodcuts.
Children love animals, and many of those who love to tell children stories, from Aesop to Walt Disney, have used animals to do so. "Beast fables," starring anthropomorphic denizens of the animal kingdom, have long entertained and instructed young audiences—and more than a few older ones, as well. The trickster folk hero Reynard the Fox has, since as early as the 12th century, proven a particularly popular star of children's tales. In his earliest adventures, which circulated orally throughout Europe (both France and Germany claim the character as their own), Reynard served as a vehicle for satirical, grown-up attacks on the nobility and the clergy. "Satire, of course, means nothing to the very young, yet the spectacle of beasts talking and behaving like human beings has always fascinated them when it is well presented" (Meigs et al., 33). A medieval Latin poem as well as a 1479 Dutch served important early printer William Caxton as sources for the first English translation of Reynard's adventures, published in 1481. Philosopher John Locke, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), commended both Reynard and Aesop as pedagogically valuable volumes, since they contained "stories apt to delight and entertain a child, [which] may yet afford useful reflections to a grown man" (Darton, 17). Scholars generally credit John Shirley with the present version. Shirley produced a History of Reynard "in heroic verse" in 1681 (DNB). The epic tale "is thoroughly amusing with its characterization of the clever animal who outwits all the rest— the resourceful Reynard who keeps getting the better of every creature who is sent against him" (Meigs et al., 33). First published in 1650. Printed in Gothic type, with explanations of the stories' morals and meanings in marginal glosses. The second and third titles in this issue are the first editions of 1681 and 1684, respectively. With 76 woodcut illustrations including a few repeated blocks, signed with initials "E.B." Woodcut on C1r printed upside down. Wing S3513; S3512; S3436. Lowndes 2076. Early owner signature on title page. Armorial bookplate.
Interiors generally clean, with sparse scattered foxing. Light expert restoration to extremities of early sheep. A near-fine copy of one of the earliest obtainable English versions of this popular legend, wonderfully illustrated.