“HOW FAR MAY BE PRACTICED THE LIBERTY OF CHRONICLING CONVERSATIONS?”: BEAUTIFULLY BOUND LARGE-PAPER FIRST EDITION OF SPENCE’S ANECDOTES, THE BERLAND COPY
SPENCE, Joseph. Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, of Books and Men. Collected from the Conversation of Mr. Pope and other Eminent Persons of his Time. London: W.H. Carpenter (Chiswick), 1820. Folio (11 by 14-1/2 inches), contemporary full English tan morocco, raised bands, elaborately gilt-decorated spine and cover borders, brown morocco spine label, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. $1200.
Large-paper first edition of this famous chronicle of private conversations with such 18th-century notables as Alexander Pope and Isaac Newton — their “unpremeditated thoughts, negligent assertions, and playful deceptions,” with frontispiece portrait of Spence, beautifully bound.
In 1726, Joseph Spence wrote an essay on Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey, which gave rise to their lasting friendship. Two years later, Spence was elected the Oxford Professor of Poetry. Upon retiring, he was frequently invited to accompany distinguished persons on their tours through Europe, during which he kept his ears open and his pen in hand. “Cultivating literature and the arts with the ardor and the playfulness of a lover” (Isaac Disraeli), Spence lived “mainly by the ‘briefs’ which he made in his notebooks— in other words, by the Anecdotes of the Literary Men of his age, which, when occasion offered, he jotted down from the conversation of Pope, Young, Dean Lockier, and other notabilities into whose company he came” (Austin Dobson). “How far may be practiced the liberty of chronicling conversations… When our heart moves with our lips, or circulates with the warmth of wine, are our unpremeditated thoughts, our negligent assertions, and our playful deceptions… to be permanently recorded?” (Disraeli). Spence’s Anecdotes is “made up of shreds and patches, and not cut out of the entire piece; something like the little scraps into which the tailor in Don Quixote cut his cloth, and held them up at his fingers’ ends” (William Hazlitt). For example, he recorded Sir Isaac Newton out of context: “I don’t know what I may seem to the world,” Newton said shortly before he died, “but, as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Even Spence himself worried about the effect of his casual jottings. “Not only had his own friends protested against their publication, (for they were then treading on ashes whose fires were not extinct,) but even some of the editors of Pope have vented their outcries against opening this box of Pandora. ‘I tremble for every character when I hear anything of Spence’s Anecdotes, wrote William Lisle Bowles. ‘Neither friend nor foe are spared” (Disraeli). Bookseller’s label. Armorial bookplate of Sylvain van de Weyer and bookplate of distinguished bibliophile and member of the Grolier Club, Abel E. Berland. “Mr. Berland kept none of his books behind glass to be venerated. They were all on open shelves in his library, to be lived with, touched and enjoyed. ‘The most important thing I can say to you about these books is that I never take them for granted… I am nothing more than their temporary keeper. It is my privilege to visit with them every day, and to be in their company” (New York Times).
A near-fine copy, with foxing to first few leaves. Beautifully bound.