London: J. Brindley and S. Wright, 1751. Three quarto volumes, measuring 11 x 9 inches: , iv-lxiii, , ii-xxxvii, , 453, ; , 450; , 440. Contemporary full calf rebacked, gilt acorn and foliate border to boards, raised bands, spine compartments ruled and decorated in gilt, red and green morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers, all edges marbled. 32 double-page engraved plates, tab-mounted. Plate 12 bound before plate 11. Occasional faint foxing and toning to text, light shelfwear to boards.
First complete illustrated edition of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, originally published in 1590 (Books 1-3) and 1596 (Books 4-6), printed here with Spenser’s fragmentary Mutabilitie Cantos, posthumously published in 1609. Inspired by Virgil’s achievement in the Aeneid, Spenser set out to glorify the English nation by writing an epic in a new poetic form: a dazzling synthesis of classical mythology, Arthurian legend, Christian morality, and Elizabethan politics. Dense with allusions, The Faerie Queene also works as a straightforward tale of adventure: “His Lady, sad to see his sore constraint, / Cride out, Now, now, Sir knight, shew what ye bee; / Add faith unto your force, and be not faint; / Strangle her, else she sure will strangle thee.” The preliminaries in this edition include Spenser’s letter to Walter Raleigh; a series of commendatory and dedicatory verses; a collation of the first and second editions; a glossary; Thomas Birch’s Life of Mr. Edmund Spenser; and an errata leaf. The 32 engravings are the work of prolific artist and designer William Kent (1686-1748), Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George II, best remembered for pioneering the “natural” English style of garden architecture. Kent’s fascination with landscape effects is evident in these double-page panoramas. ESTC T35152. A very handsome edition of a landmark in English literature.