The Epigrams of M. Val. Martial, in twelve books: with a comment.

London, Baker and Galabin, 1782.

Large 4to, pp. xxxviii, 574, [2 (printer’s advertisement and blank)]; with an engraved portrait frontispiece after a gem carved by James Caldwell; a little light foxing, generally a fine clean copy in contemporary tree calf, double gilt fillet border, flat spine gilt in compartments to a neo-classical design, black morocco label, small wormtrack at foot of upper joint, a little light wear; armorial bookplate of Lord Camden to front paste-down.


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First and only edition of a disastrous poetical project, the folly of the distinguished educationalist James Elphinston, who nevertheless attracted a host of distinguished subscribers including Samuel Johnson and Adam Smith. ‘Garrick declared it the most extraordinary of all translations ever attempted, and told Johnson, who had lacked the courage to do the like, that he had advised Elphinston not to publish it. Elphinston’s brother-in-law, Strahan, the printer, sent him a subscription of £50 and offered to double it if he would refrain from publishing ... Beattie spoke of the book as “a whole quarto of nonsense and gibberish”, and Burns addressed the author in the following epigram (Letter to Clarinda, 1788): “O thou whom poesy abhors, Whom prose has turned out of doors! Heardst thou that groan? proceed no further, ’Twas laurelled Martial roaring murther!”’ (DNB).

This copy belonged to the Lord Chancellor and politician Charles Pratt, first earl Camden (1714–1794), whose name appears in the list of subscribers.

ESTC T94260; Donald D. Eddy & J. D. Fleeman, A Preliminary Handlist of Books to which Dr. Samuel Johnson subscribed (1993) 40 (‘560 subscribers took 568 copies’).

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