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Shakespeare’s sonnets

SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent.

London: Printed by Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by Iohn Benson, 1640

Engraved frontispiece of the author by Marshall. A complete copy, minor staining and occasional browning, notations to front blank. Contemporary English sheep, triple fillet on boards, red morocco spine label. Rubbed, rebacked ca. 1700 in Italian black calf gilt, red lettering piece, a small defect at foot of spine. An exceptional copy.

First collected edition of Shakespeare’s poems and the earliest obtainable edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

This celebrated book includes more than one hundred of Shakespeare’s sonnets (omitting only eight). It also features “The Passionate Pilgrim,” “A Lover’s Complaint,” “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” and a supplement of “Excellent poems by other Gentlemen.” Writing of the sonnets, William Wordsworth suggested, “with this key, Shakespeare unlocked his heart.”

Shakespeare’s verse has become part of everyday English, from oft-repeated lines (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) to unforgettable phrases (“the remembrance of things past”) to countless readings at wedding ceremonies (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds …”).
Shakespeare’s 1640 Poems is extremely difficult to obtain in collector’s condition, complete and in a contemporary binding. For decades even the most renowned collectors have often settled for inferior copies. For example, the catalogue of the Pforzheimer Library, one of the greatest collections of pre-1700 English literature, excused the modern binding on its 1640 Poems by noting that “most copies are in poor condition, although three or four are known in contemporary sheep.”

The 1640 Poems is one of the most sought-after of all English books. No other complete copy in a contemporary binding has appeared at public sale since the recased Berland copy was sold in 2001.

The 1640 Poems is the earliest edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets that will ever become available for sale as the first edition of the Sonnets (1609) has long been unobtainable. This is one of the finest copies remaining in private hands.

The publisher, John Benson, evidently wanted his book to do for Shakespeare’s poems what the First Folio had done for the plays: to preserve the works and memory of one of England’s greatest authors.

In his Dedicatory Epistle addressed “To the Reader,” Benson remarks that he presents “some excellent and sweetly composed Poems,” which “had not the fortune by reason of their Infancie in his death, to have the due accommodation of proportionable glory, with the rest of his everliving Workes.”

The printer of the 1640 Poems, Thomas Cotes also printed the Second Folio. Cotes had been an apprentice to William Jaggard, printer of the First Folio. This volume is an important relic of the early spread to the Continent of one of England’s greatest intellectual and artistic achievements. This book, carried by an Englishman to Rome in 1664/5 and soon thereafter owned by a Dutch artist in Italy, is likely the earliest evidence of the arrival of Shakespeare’s poetical works on the Continent.

Like the First Folio, this volume opens with an engraved portrait. The frontispiece portrait by William Marshall is a reduced and reversed version of Martin Droeshout’s engraving from the First Folio. In Marshall’s engraved portrait, Shakespeare’s hand is visible hand holding the laurels due to a great poet. And like the First Folio, this little volume contains several dedicatory epistles and poems. John Milton’s “Epitaph on the Admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare,” first printed in the Second Folio (1632), appears here for the first time with authorial revisions.

This is a rare opportunity to obtain a superb copy of one of the defining achievements of Western civilization. The sonnets of Shakespeare are universally acknowledged to be the greatest sequence of love sonnets ever published. This copy has a 17th- century provenance demonstrating the unique place of Shakespeare’s sonnets in world culture.

The 1640 Poems is a cornerstone of any collection representing human imagination, love and achievement. Like the First Folio, this volume is essential to any collection of the world’s greatest books and is increasingly rarely available.

Provenance: “I. B[ent]” blind-stamped on the contemporary English sheep binding; William Bent, Rome 1664/5 inscription on front pastedown; Giovanni Remigio, signed twice (late 17th century), 20th-century inscriptions to and by Patricia Galvin (presumably Patricia Galvin-de la Tour d’Auvergne Lauragais). Giovanni Remigio, also known as John van Leemput, was an artist in Rome. He was the son of the Dutch painter and art dealer Remigius Van Leemput (1607-1675) who had a studio in London. Remigio “seems to have befriended many English visitors to Rome, and to have been patronised by them” (Montagu, “Edward Altham as a Hermit,” in England and the Continental Renaissance, p. 277). He seems to have adopted his Italian name when he came to Rome to establish his own studio. Remigio’s extensive connections with English patrons of the arts accounts for this volume’s extremely early appearance in Italy.

STC 22344.

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