2 vols., 8vo., pp. , 385, ; , 404, without the errata slip in volume II, but a very good copy in handsome contemporary mottled calf, spine gilt with sunbursts, red morocco labels.
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Literary Memoirs of living Authors of Great Britain, arranged according to an alphabetical Catalogue of their Names; and including a List of their Works, with occasional Opinions upon their literary Character … In two Volumes …
First edition of a collection of literary biographies, including perhaps the earliest brief life of Coleridge, whose first volume of Poems had appeared in 1796:
‘This gentleman, whose fame as a Poet has lately arisen with such splendour above your literary horizon, is a native of Bristol …’. At Cambridge, ‘he was recognized by the discerning few, as an embryo Genius, likely one day to illuminate the age in which he lived … He founds his present reputation upon a duodecimo volume of Poems, which was first printed at his native place, and his since been augmented and republished in the metropolis … His Monody on his townsman Chatterton … has been particularly admired’. Rivers does note ‘certain marks of haste, negligence, and sometimes affectation’ in the poet’s writing, but ‘Every true friend to Genius and Worth must lament that the early prospects of Mr. Coleridge have been darkened and despoiled of their extent: that he has experienced the discouragement of disappointed hope and felt the anguish of distressful adversity.’ Wordsworth has not yet come on the scene. The only earlier sketch of Coleridge we can trace is a brief satirical notice in The Observer (Bristol, 1795). Rivers’s treatment is far more substantial.
Of Southey, Joan of Arc, to which Coleridge also contributed, receives particular notice, while Poems (1797) ‘abounds in pieces of exquisite beauty’. Female writers in general are well represented, with entries for Fanny Burney (‘the first Novel Writer of the day, as well as one of the most distinguished which this or any other country has produced’), Elizabeth Inchbald, Sophia Lee, Charlotte Lennox, Hannah More, Charlotte Smith, Mrs. Trimmer, Helen Maria Williams (‘A fair Democrat of considerable sprightliness and talent’), etc. There are also entries for the US President John Adams, Captain Bligh, Herschel, Marshall, Playfair, Monboddo, Priestley, Sheffield, and Young.
Rivers is often amusingly critical. Mrs Piozzi’s vanity, for example, ‘is so conspicuous upon every occasion, as to destroy, in most minds, any favourable impression which her abilities, or her attainments might make’, while Isaac d’Israeli is dismissed as a petulant ‘Authorling’. Rivers’s longest entries are reserved for those with whom he has the greatest political disagreements: Godwin’s Caleb Williams is ‘a work of most pernicious tendency!’, Wollstonecraft suffered from a ‘Quixotic Mania’ contrary to natural order, and the ‘notorious’ Thomas Paine is ‘rude, wicked and daring’, and is dismantled over eight virulent pages.
Rivers’s own biography (‘A Dissenting Minister of a small congregation at Highgate’), smuggled into perhaps worthier company, mentions several sermons, a heroic poem and some anonymous pamphlets among his other works.
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PRE-PUBLICATION COPY, INSCRIBED LEWIS, Wyndham.
The Writer and the Absolute …
First edition, inscribed ‘To my dear friend Geoffrey Bridson / Wyndham Lewis / 25 June 1952’. The work was published the following day.
AGNES BEDFORD’S COPY POUND, Ezra.
How to Read …
First edition, a fine association copy. Agnes Bedford (1892-1969) was a lifelong friend of Pound (they first met in 1919 and corresponded until 1963 when he unexpectedly severed contact) and through him of Wyndham Lewis, with whom she had an affair in the 1920s. A vocal coach and accompanist, she provided the music for Pound’s Five Troubadour Songs (1920). After he left for Paris in January 1920, Bedford sublet his flat; she then visited him in Paris the following year, where she was the principal amanuensis for his opera based on Villon’s Le Testament. She was later the rehearsal coach for its first performance in 1931 and her contacts were vital to the casting of singers (Bridson was later involved in the first broadcast of the opera in 1962, for which Bedford was frequently consulted). Laid in here is a copy of a letter of 4 May 1969 from Bedford to Bridson on his retirement – ‘I have been so happy to read all the appreciative things about you on all sides’ – recalling ‘happy times at Studio A’ and Bridson’s ‘kind friendship & affection for Wyndham’.