Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, and severall Steps in my Sicknes ...

London, Printed for Thomas Jones … 1627.

12mo, pp. [10], 589, [1], with the initial blank A1; a particularly fine copy with generous margins, in a once-handsome binding of contemporary red velvet (crown and shield endpapers), evidence of silver clasps and catches, central boss, and cornerpieces sometime removed, green and red endbands, all edges gilt; the velvet mostly rubbed down to the nap, endcaps frayed, superficial splits to joints; ownership inscription of Margaret Stanhope dated 1677 to front flyleaf; oval stamp to title verso ‘Ex. Lib. Bib. Eccl. Gilb. Burnett Saltonensis’ (see below).


US $17437€16008

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Third (and last lifetime) edition of Donne’s most familiar prose work, composed during his convalescence in 1623–4 from the ‘spotted Feaver’ which nearly killed him. It consists of twenty-three ‘Stationes, sive Periodi in Morbo’, each comprising a meditation, expostulation, and prayer.

Meditation XVII, ‘Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, Morieris’, the tolling of the passing bell, contains the famous passage:

No man is an Iland, intire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as wel as if a Promo[n]tory were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends, or of thine owne were; Any mans death diminishes mee, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tols; It tols for thee.

It was immediately popular, with five editions by 1638, and drew the compliment of an act of plagiarism by Sir Francis Bacon within the year: the celebrated passage from Meditation XVII (‘No Man is an Iland ...’) is incorporated, without citation, in Bacon’s ‘Of Goodness’ (Essaies, 1625).

The first edition has become nearly unprocurable. Since 1975 only two complete copies have appeared at auction (Bradley Martin, Sotheby’s New York, 30 April 1990, lot 2779, bought by Quaritch; and Robert Pirie, Sotheby’s New York, 2 December 2015, lot 266). The second and third editions are also rarely encountered in commerce, and it is extremely rare to find the work in a binding as elaborate as this once would have been. Indeed, we can trace no copies of any edition in a binding other than calf or vellum at auction since at least 1948. Velvet was a luxury binding material, often accompanied by silver furniture, and much favoured in royal libraries up to the Civil War but rarely after. The ghost-impressions of the silverwork here show catches of an identical size and shape to those on a family copy in red velvet of Manchester al Mondo (1633), see Maggs catalogue 1495, item 68, and were therefore probably imported Dutch mould-cast features.

There are two variants of the third edition, with the title-page dated 1626 or 1627, evidently a change made during printing as the 1627 title-page is not a cancel; the colophon in both issues is dated 1627.

Provenance: The Scottish churchman Gilbert Burnet (1643–1715), consecrated Bishop of Salisbury in 1689, left some private bequests of books (mostly Bibles) to his children, but most of his library was sold at auction in 1716 (Bibliotheca Burnetiana), including a Donne Poems but not this copy of Devotions. Burnet also left an allowance of 50 marks to augment ‘the will began for the minister’s house’ in Saltoun, where he had been minister between 1665 and 1669. The Saltoun kirk library was deposited in the National Library of Scotland in 1977.

STC 7035; Keynes 38.