WITH A FAIRY TALE BY SAMUEL JOHNSON

Miscellanies in Prose and Verse …

London: Printed for T. Davies … 1766.

Two works in one volume, 4to., pp. [4], 184 (Williams), marginal tear repaired to L3, pp. 48-9 slightly soiled; and [16], ‘312’ [i.e. 231], [1] (Bishop), parallel texts English and Latin; very good copies in contemporary calf, spine gilt morocco label.

£3250

Approximately:
US $4347€3682

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First edition, scarce, of the blind poet Anna Williams’s Miscellanies, bound with the first edition of a volume of fifty Latin poems by Samuel Bishop.

Boswell writes that Johnson ‘published nothing this year in his own name; but … he furnished the Preface, and several of the pieces, which compose a volume of Miscellanies by Mrs. Anna Williams, the blind lady who had an asylum in his house … “The Fountains”, a beautiful little Fairy tale in prose, written with exquisite simplicity, is one of Johnson’s productions’ (II, 25-6). This fairy tale is the most interesting piece in the volume, written in the library at Streatham and describing Johnson’s new friend, Mrs. Thrale, in the character of Floretta. Mrs. Thrale’s own poem, ‘The Three Warnings’, is another piece which Johnson added silently to the volume. He also revised Anna Williams’s contributions, collected subscriptions, engaged the printer (his old friend, Tom Davies), and saw the book through the press.

Blind Anna Williams (as she eventually became) was one of those unfortunates whom Johnson gathered about him for company after the death of his wife, Tetty, in 1752. The daughter of his eccentric Welsh friend, Zachariah Williams, she had been a close acquaintance of his wife; and as early as 1750 he had written a proposal, in the Gentleman’s Magazine, for the publication of her poems by subscription. Apparently, however, there were not enough subscribers, and not enough poems; and nothing more was done for 16 years.

When the project was revived, other contributors had to be recruited to eke out the volume, as Williams’s own output was still too meagre. A list of Johnson’s nine contributions (a couple perhaps doubtful) may be found in Boswell or in Courtney & Nichol Smith (pp. 111-2); full accounts of the book are given by James L. Clifford in Hester Lynch Piozzi (2nd edition, 1952, pp. 61-3), and by Fleeman (II, 1139-42).

The book is now very uncommon, as one might expect from Mrs. Thrale’s statement, ‘I never saw it on any Table but my own’. Her own annotated copy, which Professor Clifford mentions, is now in the Johnson Birthplace Museum at Lichfield.

Bishop’s Feriæ Poeticæ comprises both original compositions (in English and Latin), and parallel-text translations from Prior, Shenstone, Gay etc. He was later headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ School. David Garrick was among the 259 subscribers. Roscoe A156.

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