SPENSER, Edmund. The Faerie Queene - AND - The Second Part of the Faerie Queene. (1596 - THE FIRST COMPLETE EDITION AND ONE OF THE EARLIEST REFERENCES TO VIRGINIA)

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AUTHOR: SPENSER, Edmund. 

TITLE: The Faerie Queene - AND - The Second Part of the Faerie Queene.

PUBLISHER: London: William Ponsonbie, 1596.

DESCRIPTION: THE FIRST COMPLETE EDITION AND ONE OF THE EARLIEST REFERENCES TO VIRGINIA. 2 vols., second edition of the first part and first edition of the second part, small 4to., 7-1/2" x 5-1/4", [i], 590pp; [i], 518pp, complete.

CONDITION: Internally clean and bright, not washed, toning to title page in volume 1, early paper repair to foredge of A2 & A4 not affecting text, some worming to the upper margin/corner of volume 2 nearly throughout, foredge of p.516 in vol. 2 renewed not affecting text, last leaf of vol. 2 with an old closed tear repair replacing some words in a contemporary hand,  bound in 18th C. diced Russia calf, gilt and blind tooled spines, covers ruled in gilt, marbled pastedowns and endpapers, hinges fine, some minor worming to the foot of vol. 2, engraved bookplate of John Blount in each volume, a GOOD copy of a seldom encountered matched set in an early binding.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The work is happily free of the bibliographical points, states, or issues that afflict so many other English works of the period. The best and fullest descriptions are that of the late Prof. Jackson in the Pforzheimer Catalogue. Pforzheimer 970.

This exact set last sold at auction at Sotheby's, in 1951, lot 797 for £34 (pounds).

One of the absolute cornerstones of English literature. Books I-III had been published in 1590, and are here reprinted uniformly with the FIRST EDITION of Books IV-VI; and although Spenser had projected his allegorical poem in “Twelve Books” (as announced on the title) these six books of “The Faerie Queene” are all that were ever published. The present form, then---the second edition of Vol. I and the first edition of Vol. II---together constitute the first edition of the complete work.

It is unnecessary to comment at length on the unique position this poem occupies in the English language. The nine-line stanza in which it is written was invented by Spenser and has been called the “Spenserian stanza” ever since. With the possible exception of Milton, Spenser was the most scholarly and widely read of English poets. His wide reading in the classics and contemporary French and Italian writers reflects itself in his own poetry, which in turn influenced the long line of English poets who succeeded him.

One of the very earliest references to Virginia occurs in stanza 2 of the Second Book:

“Who ever heard of th’Indian Peru?
Or who in venturous vessell measured
The Amazons huge river now found trew?
Or fruitfullest Virginia who did ever view?”

This, of course, reflects Spenser's conversations and friendship with Sir Walter Raleigh, who were sharing “exile” in Ireland in 1589. Raleigh had just returned from his abortive efforts to colonize the new territory, which he named Virginia; and it was during these neighborly meetings between the two men that Spenser showed the first three books of “The Faerie Queene” to Raleigh, and the latter's enthusiasm induced Spenser to return to London the following year to find a publisher.