Plutarch’s Morals: Translated from the Greek by Several Hands
London: Printed for John Gellibrand/ Printed for R. Bently, 1684-1690. First edition. Hardcover. Very good. THE ONLY KNOWN COMPLETE SET OF FIRST EDITIONS OF A MONUMENT OF ENGLISH CLASSICS… Five volumes. Bound in contemporary full speckled calf double-blind fillet border with blind floral roll at spine-edge. Blind roll on edges of covers. On the spine, five raised bands. Panels triple-gilt bordered with gilt corner- and central-ornaments. Title in second panel, with triple-gilt border. Number in third panel with triple-gilt border and gilt corner-ornaments. Edges of text-block speckled red... A sober and handsome set, with the joints generally strong. Corners lightly rubbed, worn in places. There are excellent margins throughout, with many deckle edges, both lower and fore, preserved. Scattered marginal pencil notations, especially in the first volume. Tail-piece worn from voll. I and V. Front joints of voll. I, II and V starting; rear joints of II, III and V starting. Scattered worm (or other) holes to covers. Text block bright, tight, and fresh, with very limited foxing. Entirely unsophisticated in a contemporary binding. Bookplate of Howard Robinson... This large-scale collaboration on the translation of the vast Plutarchan and pseudo-Plutarchan corpus seems to have been led by no man, although Matthew Morgan was initially chosen as the voice of the collaboration. The first full English Morals had appeared some eighty years previous (see our item 300001... And so, it seems, a group of largely Oxford men — there are contributors from University, Balliol, Queen’s, New, Christ Church, St John’s (Morgan’s college) and Wadham — along with some others, including Cambridge men — set out to make a better English translation than had previously been available. Their aim was to complete the publication within a year, come what may. This did not quite pan out. The projected four volumes became five, and the publisher, John Gellibrand, who brought out volumes I-III, was sacked, and replaced by R. Bently, who did rather finer work (he brought out his own vol. III, riddled as the first edition was with errors) — although not until 1790. Morgan wrote the preface to the first volume, and the dedication. George Tullie, fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford, wrote the dedication to volume two, and Morgan did not contribute at all (though this may simply be that his contributions were all brought out in the first volume). The dedication of the fourth volume was made by Robert Midgley, and the fifth by Samuel White. There is little continuity past the title-page... The work itself is in a nearly random order, and does not contain (doubtless by design) three treatises: Sayings of the Spartan Women, the summary of On the Birth of the Spirit in the Timaeus (which had been integrated to the corpus) and On the Opinions of the Philosophers (which is pseudo-Plutarchan)... The translation was popular enough to have gone to five editions by 1718. The whole of the work was edited by William Goodwin in 1871 (with an introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson, no less), who incorrectly refers to the first edition as 1684-1694. After many years’ thorough search, we have not been able to locate a single complete first edition in institutional libraries or in auction records. The uniformity and age of the bindings suggests very strongly that the set was bound soon after 1690. Thus it is exceptionally rare; neither the British Library nor the Bodleian have a complete set of firsts. Consequently, the item does not appear — presumably for lack of access — in Brunet, Lowndes, etc. It represents a high-water mark of Restoration classical studies... Howard Robinson (†1977) was professor of history at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and a noted collector of antiquarian books, on the front end-paper of each volume. We have confirmed that this item was not in his personal catalogues of 1971 or 1972; the curator of special collections thinks it likelier that he sold the item before 1971 than that he acquired it after 1972. Antiquarian
(Inventory #: 300004)
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