THE MOST SUCCESSFUL LITERARY HOAX OF THE 18TH CENTURY: 1732 EDITION OF THE MASTERPIECE OF AN UNKNOWN, IN LOVELY CONTEMPORARY ARMORIAL CALF BINDINGS
(SAINT-HYACINTHE, Themiseul de). Le Chef d’Oeuvre d’un Inconu, Poëme heureusement découvert & mis au jour, avec des remarques savantes & recherchées, par M. le Docteur Chrisostome Matanasius. The Hague: Husson, 1732. Two volumes. 12mo, contemporary full sheep gilt, blind armorial stamp on center of each upper board, raised bands, tan morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers. $850.
Sixth edition of the popular “Masterpiece of an Unknown,” first published in 1714.
This literary hoax and satire was designed to lampoon the pedantic variorum editions of the enlightenment period, in which editorial matter outweighed the actual texts, by surrounding a simple 40-line poem—the “chef d’oeuvre” in question—with great volumes of commentary that often verges on the absurd. With a comic sense inspired by Cervantes, the book opens with a set of gratulatory verses in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. On closer inspection, however, the “Hebrew” turns out to be transliterated French, the Greek letters actually sound out a Scottish ditty and the noble Latin tones carry ignoble thoughts. Volume I includes a full-page woodcut frontispiece portrait of Matanasius, a full-page woodcut portrait of Judith Beseraige (“She who by this beautiful masterpiece/ is saved from the hands of oblivion”), and a folding plate of the music to accompany the purported lyric. Volume II collects Matanasius’ writings on Homer, Chapelain, and Aristarchus Masso, and his translation of Cervantes’ preface to Don Quixote, the last two of which are here published for the first time, and also features a folding plate illustrating an urn featured in the author’s discourse. Text in French. Bookplates, owner ink signature on title pages and notation on verso of front free endpaper of Volume II, ex-libris National Library of Vienna ink stamps on front and rear free endpapers.
Text and plates clean and bright. Contemporary bindings quite handsome; gilt on spine almost completely darkened, leaving attractive blind-tooled appearance. An extremely good copy.