The Lives of the most eminent English Poets; with critical Observations on their Works … in four Volumes …

London: Printed for C. Bathurst [and 35 others] … 1781.

4 vols., 8vo., with the portrait frontispiece of Johnson after Reynolds but wanting the terminal blank in vol. III and the advertisement leaf in volume IV, the leaf of spine labels discarded as usual; extra-illustrated with 25 engraved portraits (pasted on the versos of the divisional title-pages), most being proofs before letters of those which appeared in the Works; contemporary mottled calf, joints and spines rubbed, lower cover of volume III almost detached.


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First separate edition of the biographical and critical prefaces which Johnson had contributed to the 68 volumes of the Works of the English Poets in 1779 81, a project commissioned by the long list of booksellers who appear as partners in the imprint here.

‘The second great work with which Johnson’s name is now generally associated is The Lives of the Poets. It was the simplest in style and expression of all his literary labours, the subject appealed to every man of letters in the three kingdoms, and it abounded in anecdote and criticism ... Much of the charm of The Lives ... lies in the ... reminiscences which Johnson embodied in them’ (Courtney & Nichol Smith). It was his last major literary work.

Fleeman 79.4LP/5; Courtney & Nichol Smith, pp. 129-42; Chapman & Hazen, p. 159; Rothschild 1265; Liebert 105.

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