Southey, Robert.


John Murray, FIRST EDITION, 2nd issue, 2 Vols., 1813. Vol. I : viii + 253 + 1 (advert) pp ; engrv. port. frontis. Vol. II : viii + 280 (incl. 5 advert) pp ; frontis. Of Nelson’s signatures. BOTH volumes in contemporary full calf ; gilt tooled spines ; blind tooled borders to boards ; speckled edges. 16 x 11cm. Joints worn (but hinges sound) ; surface of leather rubbed away on parts of boards, o/w V.G. Armorial bookplates of Horace Noble Pym, (1844-1896), confidential solicitor, renowned book collector, and editor of the best-selling private journal of Quaker writer, Caroline Fox : Memories of Old Friends published in 1881. Pym had an excellent library at his beautiful home, Foxwold, near Sevenoaks in Kent. Some of his books are now in the British Library. Robert Southey (1774–1843) produced a great piece of English literature when he wrote this biography of Nelson in 1813 – it has hardly been out of print since. Historically it is seriously flawed in some places and has in fact done Nelson’s reputation some harm, although no doubt this would have distressed Southey to have thought so as he admired his subject greatly. He confessed to having little knowledge of nautical matters in general. "I walk among sea terms as a cat does in a china pantry, in bodily fear of doing mischief, and betraying myself." Nevertheless, his biography is a highly readable and entertaining book and, in that respect, it has never been equalled. In 1922 Professor Callender brought many of the errors to notice and corrected them in his edition of the work. The biography was an immediate success for Southey, and its fast-moving narrative is as fresh and as appealing today as when it first appeared over 200 years ago. This first edition has two frontispieces : the first being a steel engraved portrait of Nelson after a pencil sketch by Simon de Koster in 1800. Nelson thought this was the most accurate likeness of himself. The second frontispiece provides five examples of Nelson’s varying signatures. A slim volume was envisaged both by the publisher and by the author who wanted it in a format fit to be carried in the sailor’s pocket, but this plan was thwarted by an error at the time of printing, resulting in a work of two volumes. Sir Humphry Davy, a personal friend and admirer of both Nelson and Southey, declared that the work was an "immortal monument raised by genius to valour." Macaulay said of the biography "It would not be easy to find an instance of a more exact hit between wind and water." Even Byron, no friend of Southey, described it simply as "beautiful." First Edition copy, originally from the library of the bibliophile, Horace Pym.

Share this book