London: Printed for G.G.J. and J. Robinson, Pater-noster Row, 1786. Twelvemo, measuring 6.5 x 4.25 inches: xv, , 367, . Contemporary calf rebacked with original spine laid down, raised bands, red morocco spine label tooled in gilt. Presentation inscription from editor John Walker on verso of front free endpaper. Marginal offsetting to first and last pages.
First edition, presentation copy, of this exemplary selection of English literature for young readers, warmly inscribed by editor John Walker: “To William Dinwoody, Esqr. / in testimony of a long & unabating / friendship this book is presented / by the Author.” Teacher and lexicographer John “Elocution” Walker (1732-1807) had an early career on the stage, playing minor parts in David Garrick’s company at Drury Lane. In 1769, he left the theater and established a successful practice as a teacher of elocution, lecturing and publishing widely. He was friendly with Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke, who introduced him as “Mr Walker, whom not to know, by name at least, would argue want of knowledge of the harmonies, cadences, and proprieties of our language” (ODNB). Walker would be best remembered, however, for his work as a lexicographer. His Rhyming Dictionary (1775) and Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (1791) were hugely influential, and remained in print into the twentieth century. English Classics Abridged provides a carefully expurgated selection of highlights from Addison’s letters in the Spectator, Pope’s Essay on Criticism and Essay on Man, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, along with a critical introduction. Walker explains: “The judicious Mr. Knox, in his Treatise on Education, wishes to confine young ladies to the perusal of only three or four authors; namely, Milton, Addison, and Pope, and this restriction, if applied to the younger students of the other sex, seems equally founded on good sense; as by experience nothing is found more unfavorable to the improvement of youth, than too great a variety of books.” We locate five institutional holdings: the Bodleian, University of Cape Town, Stanford, Ohio State, and University of South Carolina. A near-fine presentation copy of a surprisingly scarce book.