“OVERFLOWED WITH ANECDOTES OF LUST, VIOLENCE, AND IDIOSYNCRASY”: 1606 FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF SUETONIUS’ HISTORIE OF TWELVE CAESARS, TRANSLATED BY HOLLAND—THE HOUGHTON COPY
SUETONIUS (HOLLAND, Philemon, translator). The Historie of Twelve Caesars, Emperors of Rome: Written in Latine by C. Suetonius Tranquillus, and newly translated into English by Philemon Holland. London: Matthew Lownes, 1606. Small folio in sixes (7 by 10-1/2 inches), 20th-century full crimson morocco, raised bands. $16,000.
First edition in English of Suetonius’ dramatic biographies of the Caesars, the important Holland translation, scarce issue with the letterpress title page replaced by an engraved title page. The Arthur A. Houghton copy, attractively bound.
"De Vita Caesarum, from Julius Caesar to Domitian, is largely responsible for that vivid picture of Roman society and its leaders, morally and politically decadent, that dominated historical thought until modified in modern times by the discovery of nonliterary evidence. The biographies are organized by topics: the emperor's family background, career before accession, public actions, private life, appearance, personality and death… The earlier lives down to Nero, especially those of Julius Caesar and Octavius Caesar, are much the fullest, perhaps because as an antiquarian Suetonius was drawn to the documentary byways of an earlier age… [it is] exciting reading" (Britannica). "Classical 'lives' became prototypes for later writings about individuals. A rival for Plutarch was Suetonius (flourished A.D. 112-121), whose Lives of the Caesars overflowed with anecdotes of lust, violence, and idiosyncrasy" (Boorstin, The Creators, 586). Holland was considered the "translator general in his age… while the plague raged at Coventry [where Holland lived] in 1605-06, Holland translated Suetonius' Historie of Twelve Caesars" (DNB). The work was Robert Graves' primary inspiration for his novel I, Claudius (1934). With woodcut initials and elaborate woodcut chapter headpieces incorporating medallion portraits. Without first and final blanks. STC 23424, with letterpress title page canceled and replaced by an engraved title page. Brueggemann, 703. Moss II:636. Harris, 145. Palmer, 100. Bookplates, including that of renowned industrialist and bibliophile Arthur A. Houghton, Jr.; old auction lot marker of the 1980 Houghton sale. The Houghton Library at Harvard University, the repository for the University's collections of rare books and manuscripts, is named for him. Of Houghton's impressive collection, "Some parts have gone to major libraries; the unrivaled Keats material was given… to the Houghton Library at Harvard, and the Johnson, Boswell and Thrale books and manuscripts have been deposited there; other important items have been given to the National Cathedral in Washington, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and other institutions. But scarcely a dent has been made in the basic collection, which remains the peer of any private collection today… Condition, association, intrinsic importance, and absolute rarity still are paramount… One can well argue that such copies should remain in the hands of the private collector" (W.H. Bond, Librarian of the Houghton Library, in the Foreword to the 1979-80 sale catalogue).
Faint soiling to title page, occasional faint dampstaining, a few minor marginal repairs. A near-fine copy, attractively bound.