THE MOST DISTINGUISHED MINERVA PRESS NOVELIST

Hermsprong; or, Man as he is not. A Novel … By the Author of Man as he is.

London: Printed for William Lane, at the Minerva Press … 1796.

Three vols., 12mo., lacking half-titles but with four pages of advertisements at rear of vol. I (including a long review of Man as he is), and single leaf of advertisements at rear of vol. II; small hole in L6, vol. III, loss of one letter; contemporary tree calf, morocco lettering and numbering-pieces; slight crease to back cover of vol. III, slight cracks to joints but not weak, a very good copy.

£2400

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First edition of Bage’s last and finest novel.

In Hermsprong, Bage contrasts the deficiencies of English society with the beauties of the utopian community among the ‘aborigines’ of North America. ‘There is occasionally a little tincture of the new philosophy, as it is called, and a shade of gloom is thrown upon human life’ (Critical Review); but his philosophical tendencies never obscure his powerful characterisation and style. The plot turns on the wooing of a peer’s only daughter by an American ‘incognito’ who settles in Cornwall.

Despite a considerable contemporary reputation, Bage remains one of the lesser-known novelists of the revolutionary and philosophical school led by William Godwin and Thomas Holcroft. Strongly influenced by Voltaire, Paine, and Rousseau, Bage used his novels to express his ideas about social equality and the rights of man. But Hermsprong is also ‘rich in that half-acid, half-tolerant revelation of the permanent foibles of human nature in which Bage anticipated Jane Austen ... [Bage’s] sound judgement of character, and the pleasant irony of his style, give him at least a place in the company of Fielding, Austen, and Thackeray’ (Blakey, p. 65).

Black, The Epistolary Novel, 357; Garside, Raven and Schöwerling 1796:21.

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