London: Chapman & Hall. Very Good+. 1864. First Edition; First Printing. Hardcover. iv, 306; iv, 285; iv, 338 pages; Three volumes in publisher's cloth: purple with fine horizontal ribs, elaborate pattern stamped in blind on the covers, a pattern on the spine of raised dots in diagonal rows - leading to a "woven" effect. Lettered in gilt on the spines. Yellow glazed endpapers. Covers unfaded, with only trifling rubbing. Some cracking to the inner hinges, and slight "shadow" on the free endpapers: (a brighter rectangular portion where the bookplates on the paste-downs have kept that portion of the facing endpaper from showing the slight effects of the glue used in the book-binding). Bookplates of Augustine Birrell on each of the three paste-down endpapers. Each of the facing free-endpapers has the neat pencil signature of the subsequent owner in the upper corner: "Simon Nowell Smith, July 1936." Each of the three volumes is housed in a matching clam-shell book box -- plum cloth and matching calf spines, with raised bands and lettering on the spines in gilt. Minor rubbing and wear to the boxes. The author, George Meredith (1828-1909) was born in Portsmouth, England, a son and grandson of naval outfitters. Meredith prepared for a legal career, but abandoned that profession for journalism and poetry. He collaborated with Edward Gryffydh Peacock (son of Thomas Love Peacock) in publishing a privately circulated literary magazine, the "Monthly Observer." He married Edward Peacock's widowed sister Mary Ellen Nicolls in 1849 when he was twenty-one years old and she was twenty-eight. He collected his early writings, first published in periodicals, into a volume - 'Poems,' published to some acclaim in 1851. His wife ran off with the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis  in 1858; she died three years later. The collection of "sonnets" entitled 'Modern Love' (1862) came of this difficult experience as did 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel,' his first "major novel". The book offered here - 'Emilia in England' was published in 1864, the same year that Meredith married Marie Vulliamy in 1864 and settled in Surrey. He continued writing novels and poetry. One of his great themes is featured here (as well as his later volume "The Egoist") - the Victorian era subjugation of women. Meredith supplemented his often uncertain writer's income with a job as a publisher's reader. His position as advisor to Chapman and Hall made him influential in the world of letters. One now-famous encounter as a publisher's reader with a would-be author had Meredith meet the young Thomas Hardy. Hardy had submitted his first novel, "The Poor Man and the Lady." Meredith advised Hardy not to publish his book as it would be attacked by reviewers and destroy his hopes of becoming a novelist. Meredith felt the book was too bitter a satire on the rich and counselled Hardy to put it aside and write another "with a purely artistic purpose" and more of a plot. Meredith knew what he was talking about. His first big novel, 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel,' was judged so shocking that Mudie's circulating library had cancelled an order of 300 copies. (The circulating libraries bought most of the expensive three-volume novels of this mid-Victorian period. To find a set like this one that does not have even the slightest tell-tale shadow of the removal of Mudie's labels is most unusual). After a quick start and a long period as a journeyman writer, Meredith rose to the top of the literary world of England in and Anglophone world. His friends in this world included, at different times, William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Leslie Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing and J. M. Barrie. His contemporary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle paid him homage in the short-story "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," when Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson during the discussion of the case, "And now let us talk about George Meredith, if you please, and we shall leave all minor matters until to-morrow." Oscar Wilde, in his dialogue "The Decay of Lying," implies that Meredith, along with Balzac, is his favourite novelist, saying "Ah, Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning". This set has a highly interesting provenance. First, the bookplates represent Augustine Birrell (1850-1933), an English politician, barrister, academic and author. He was Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1907 to 1916, resigning in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising. Although his early training and academic life concerned the law, Birrell always had literary interests. In 1888, after the early death of his first wife, he married Eleanor Tennyson, daughter of the poet Frederick Locker-Lampson and widow of Lionel Tennyson, son of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. They had two sons, one of whom, Francis (18891935) was later a journalist and critic and associated with the Bloomsbury Group. Birrell found significant success as a writer with the publication of a volume of essays entitled "Obiter Dicta" in 1884. This was followed by a second series of "Obiter Dicta" in 1887 and "Res Judicatae" in 1892. The next owner is represented by signatures in each volume -- Simon Harcourt Nowell-Smith, (1909-96) -- writer, collector and librarian: He served on the editorial staff, the Times 1932-44, Assistant Editor, Times Literary Supplement 1937-39; during the Second World War he was a member of the Naval Intelligence Unit. Secretary and Librarian, London Library 1950-56; Secretary, Hospital Library Services Survey 1958-59; President, Bibliographical Society 1962-64. Principally, he will be remembered as a great book collector. His initial interest in novels can be thought to have culminated with his publication of a significant book about Henry James - 'The Legend of the Master' (1947). As a collector, he was widely known for a willingness to sell on his previous treasures in order to accquire yet more books, (particularly when he had managed to complete an author collection). A high point in his life as a collector came in 1983, the year he was asked to exhibit a selection of his books at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. On this occasion he decided to offer his very best and most covetable inscribed volumes, under the punning title "Wordsworth to Robert Graves and Beyond". (A highlight was T. S. Eliot's signed dedication to Virginia and Leonard Woolf who had hand-printed his 'Poems' at their Hogarth Press in 1919). Buxton Forman 10; Sadleir 1693. Michael Sadleir famously remarked that "Few Victorian fictions are more seldom seen than Numbers 1 to 4 below:" [1. Rhoda Fleming. 2. Farina-Harry Richmond. 3. Evan Harrington. 4. Richard Feverel]. Sadleir rated 'Emilia in England' just behind these in scarcity (mainly because its publisher, Chapman & Hall, was a mainstain of the trade in three-volume fiction. For his next novel after this, Meredith turned to the comparatively minor firm of Tinsley for 'Rhoda Fleming.' In an interesting modern test of Sadeir's assignment of relative scarcity, copies of both 'Emilia in England' and 'Rhoda Fleming' (first on Sadleir's list of rarities) were sold last year at Bonhams' dispersal of the Robert H. and Donna L. Jackson Collection. 'Emilia' had an interesting provenance [Andre Raffalovich (bookplate by Austin Osman Spare); Carroll Atwood Wilson (bookplates); Jerome Kern (bookplates); his sale, Anderson New York, Jan 21, 1929, lot 876; Douglas C. Ewing (bookplates); "H.R.S. Jr." (morocco bookplate)]. 'Rhoda' (a decent set in the first issue binding) brought 20 percent less than 'Emilia.' Comparisons of provenance are a matter of taste, judgement and interpretation, but assessment of physical condition is less difficult. Our set is cleaner than the Jackson collection set (no "wax stain to spine vol 3, scuffing to spine vol 1"). 'Emilia' was subsequently re-published using the name of its heroine as 'Sandra Belloni' in 1887. While Meredith's complex style may not be to all modern tastes, his place is secure and likely to remain high for his subtle understanding of the position of Victorian women in society. . (Inventory #: 39189)
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