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Edward Gibbon; [James Bruce].
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
London: Strahan and Cadell, 1788-1790. Twelve octavo volumes, full contemporary
polished calf. Frontispiece portrait of Gibbon, 3 folding maps. Armorial bookplate of
“Bruce of Kinnaird” in all volumes; label reading “From Kinnaird 1897” in Volume I.
$5000.
Early octavo edition of Gibbon’s monumental history, first issued in quarto
format from 1776 to 1788, following the trajectory of the Roman Empire from the
death of Marcus Aurelius to the fall of Constantinople thirteen centuries later.
Gibbon’s narrative drive and pointed analysis found an immediate readership at
home and abroad: “Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor
was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to
slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their
ancient freedom.” This set belonged to Scottish explorer James Bruce, Laird of
Kinnaird, who traveled widely throughout North Africa in the 1760s and 1770s.
Bruce was one of the first Europeans to trace the Blue Nile to its Ethiopian
source, in 1770, and the first to follow the Blue Nile to its confluence with the
White Nile in Sennar (now the Sudan). In 1790, the year that the final volumes of
his Gibbon set were printed, Bruce published his own
Travels to Discover the Source
of the Nile
, a classic of African exploration. A near-fine set, with an excellent
association, bridging the Roman and British empires.
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John Clare; [Fenwick Skrimshire]. The Village Minstrel and Other Poems.
London: Taylor and Hessey, Fleet Street; and E. Drury, Stamford, 1821. Two 12mo volumes
bound in one, modern dark green calf over marbled paper boards. Frontispiece portrait of
Clare in Volume I, ownership signatures of Fenwick Skrimshire to title of Volume I and
half-title of Volume II. $5500.
First edition of “peasant poet” John Clare’s second book, following the surprise
success of
Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery
in 1820. A Northamptonshire
farm laborer whose personal struggles were compounded by mental illness, Clare
produced hundreds of closely observed lyrics that remain startling in their immediacy
and detail: “Bees in every peep did try, / Great had been the honey shower, / Soon
their load was on their thigh, / Yellow dust as fine as flour.” This copy bears the
ownership signature of Clare’s sympathetic longtime doctor, Fenwick Skrimshire,
who first treated Clare in 1820, and eventually admitted him to the Northampton
General Lunatic Asylum, where Clare spent his final years, still writing: “He lives
the Crusoe of his lonely fields / Which dark green oaks his noontide leisure shields.”
When Skrimshire and Clare arrived at the asylum, the doctor was asked if Clare’s
madness had been “preceded by any severe or long continued mental emotion or
exertion.” Skrimshire replied: “after years addicted to Poetical prosing.” The
doctor’s copy of
The Village Minstrel
is accompanied by a first edition of his own
1838 treatise,
The Village Pastor’s Surgical and Medical Guide
, in which he advises on
the treatment of the insane. A near-fine copy, with a moving personal association.
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