London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington, et al. 1821. Two octavo volumes, contemporary full straight-grain red morocco, boards elaborately stamped in gilt and blind, spine panels lettered and decorated in gilt, brown coated endpapers, gilt dentelles, all edges gilt. Occasional light toning to text blocks, page 246 of Volume I mispaginated 426, front board of Volume II lightly scuffed. Nineteenth-century ink presentation inscription to first flyleaf of both volumes (“E dono sociorum”), later pencil inscription to first flyleaf of Volume I.
Early nineteenth-century edition of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, first published between 1779 and 1781. The major work of his final years, these virtuosic character sketches are now recognized as a turning point in literary biography. Led by “the honest desire of giving useful pleasure,” Johnson drew on decades of reading and conversation to sum up the English poets of the previous century, including Milton, Dryden, Gay, Pope, Young, and Gray. Sharp and straightforward, Johnson invites his readers to debate, as in his pointed account of Jonathan Swift: “He pays no court to the passions; he excites neither surprise nor admiration; he always understands himself; and his reader always understands him.” The characteristically effusive James Boswell calls this work “the richest, most beautiful, and indeed most perfect, production of Johnson's pen.” A near-fine early edition, in a stunning contemporary binding.