The Muses Library; Or a Series of English Poetry, from the Saxons, to the Reign of King Charles II
London: J. Wilcox in the Strand; T. Green at Charing-Cross; J. Brindley in New-Bond-Street; and T. Osborn in Gray’s-Inn, 1737. Octavo, measuring 7.75 x 4.5 inches: xvi, 400. Contemporary marbled boards, expertly rebacked in calf; raised bands ruled in gilt; red morocco spine label lettered in gilt. Early owner signature and pricing notes to front endpapers; expert paper repair to margin of G6.
First edition of the first English poetical miscellany edited by a woman, the actress and playwright Elizabeth Cooper, who collaborated with the antiquary William Oldys on the historical notes. The Muses Library was “one of the earliest attempts to give a historical survey of the elder English poets by exhibiting specimens of their work in a chronological series” (Bronson, Modern Language Quarterly). In her subtitle, Cooper promises to provide “a General Collection of almost all the old valuable Poetry extant, now so industriously enquir’d after, tho’ rarely to be found, but in the Studies of the Curious, and affording Entertainment on all Subjects, Philosophical, Historical, Moral, Satyrical, Allegorical, Critical, Heroick, Pastoral, Gallant, Amorous, Courtly, and Sublime.” Cooper includes no table of contents, chapter headings, or index. The anthology opens before the Norman invasion, with a surprisingly lyrical land conveyance written by Edward the Confessor, and offers a fluid survey of changing poetic styles and subjects from Chaucer to Spenser to Shakespeare, with only Cooper’s colloquial remarks to punctuate the rush of verse. Although the title page states “Volume I,” this was the only volume of The Muses Library published; Cooper’s miscellany would be reissued twice with a reset title page, and “Finis” on the final page, rather than “The End of the First Volume.” A very good example of an uncommon first edition, a precursor to historical anthologies by Henry Headley, Robert Southey, and A.H. Bullen, who successfully borrowed Cooper’s title.