[Eight works by and relating to him].

London, 1715-1720.

One volume containing eight works (listed below), 8vo; occasional light foxing; very good copies in 18th-century vellum, ‘Steele’ inked to spine, edges sprinkled red. Provenance: Sir Thomas Clarke (1703-64), with his ownership inscription ‘Th Clarke’ to front free endpaper; Macclesfield South Library bookplate to front pastedown and armorial blindstamp to first three leaves.


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A splendid collection of pamphlets by and relating to Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), army officer, playwright, theatre manager, essayist, editor of the Tatler, Spectator and Guardian, Whig MP and propagandist, covering many facets of his diverse career. This volume belonged to Sir Thomas Clarke, a protegé of the first earl of Macclesfield, who left his library and fortune to the family.

The first two items are examples of Steele’s Whig journalism during the Jacobite Rising of 1715. An account of the state of the Roman-Catholick religion was intended to assist the Protestant cause in the face of the Old Pretender’s attempt to regain the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland for the House of Stuart.

The third item, A letter to the Earl of O-d, relates to the unsuccessful Peerage Bill of 1719, which sought to limit the king’s ability to create peerages and to replace Scottish elected peers with hereditary ones. In opposing the Bill, Steele found himself in an unusual position: on the same side as Robert Harley, first earl of Oxford, under whose ministry he had been expelled from the Commons and whom he subsequently ridiculed and upbraided in print, and against his great friend and collaborator Joseph Addison. The letter opens with Steele making placatory noises towards Oxford: ‘I transgress’d, my Lord, against you ... I ask your pardon, when you are a private nobleman’. When Steele accused Addison, who was on the side of the government on this issue, of masquerading as a Whig, their famous friendship, and one of literature’s most celebrated collaborations, came to an end.

Items 4 and 5 relate to Steele’s opposition to the South Sea Bill, which provided for the conversion of the national debt into the capital of the South Sea Company and which passed into law in April 1720. Steele wrote and spoke vigorously and fearlessly against the Bill, which within the year brought widespread ruin. His views were unpopular and stirred up much adverse criticism. There is no evidence Steele himself ever speculated in South Sea stock although he was notoriously bad at managing his financial affairs.

In item 6 we find Steele arguing against elegant dress for women made of imported cloth, at the expense of the domestic wool industry, and in item 7 challenging the legality of his dismissal as governor of the Drury Lane playhouse.

The final item in our volume is Steele’s An account of the fish-pool, a description of his invention of a vessel to deliver live fish to the London market and a journal of the experiments made during its construction. The project occupied Steele for almost ten years and is important as a contemporary attempt to make a practical application of experimental science and in its parallels with the South Sea Company speculations. Having attracted the interest of Sir Isaac Newton, Steele’s fish pool sloop was patented, constructed and launched at Rotherhithe in 1718. In his plans to develop the fish pool project into a joint-stock company, Steele even solicited the patronage of John Law, then at the height of the Mississippi Scheme’s success. The project survived competition from numerous other joint-stock fishery companies, and the South Sea disaster, but the Fish Bubble, as the wags called it, burst and Steele’s project had floundered by late 1722.


1. CERRI, Urbano. An account of the state of the Roman-Catholick religion throughout the world. Written for the use of Pope Innocent XI ... Now first translated from an authentick Italian MS. never publish’d. To which is added, a discourse concerning the state of religion in England. Written in French, in the time of K. Charles I. and now first translated. With a large dedication to the present Pope; giving him a very particular account of the state of religion amongst Protestants; and of several other matters of importance relating to Great-Britain. By Sir Richard Steele. London, for J. Roberts, 1715.

8vo, pp. [ii], lxxviii, viii, 197, [1], x; with a few contemporary marginal annotations. First edition. ESTC T57998.

2. ERSKINE, John. A letter from the Earl of Mar to the King, before his majesty’s arrival in England. With some remarks on my lord’s subsequent conduct. By Sir Richard Steele. London, for Jacob Tonson, 1715.

8vo, pp. [ii], 19, [1, blank]; wanting the half-title; the variant with ‘and’ as the first word of the last line of p. 4. ESTC T37932.

3. STEELE, Richard. A letter to the Earl of O-d, concerning the Bill of Peerage ... The second edition. London, for J. Roberts, 1719.

8vo, pp. 32. ESTC T38249 (‘In fact a reissue of the first edition, with a new titlepage’).

4. STEELE, Richard. The crisis of property: an argument proving that the annuitants for ninety-nine years, as such, are not in the condition of other subjects of Great Britain, but by compact with the legislature are exempt from any new direction relating to the said estates. London, for W. Chetwood, J. Roberts, J. Brotherton, and Charles Lillie, 1720.

8vo, pp. 30, [2, publisher’s advertisements]. ESTC T144485 (only 7 copies recorded); Goldsmiths’ 5874.

5. STEELE, Richard. A nation a family: being the sequel of the crisis of property: or, a plan for the improvement of the South-Sea proposal. London, for W. Chetwood, J. Roberts, J. Brotherton, and Charles Lillie, 1720.

8vo, pp. 32. First edition. ESTC T39607; Goldsmiths’ 5875.

6. STEELE, Richard. The spinster in defence of the woollen manufactures. To be continued occasionally. Numb. I. London, for J. Roberts, 1719.

8vo, pp. [ii], 16, [2, advertisement and blank]. ESTC P6329; Goldsmiths’ 5538.

7. STEELE, Richard. The state of the case between the lord-chamberlain of his majesty’s houshold, and the governor of the Royal Company of Comedians. With the opinions of Pemberton, Northey, and Parker, concerning the theatre. London, for W. Chetwood, J. Roberts, J. Graves, and Charles Lillie, 1720.

8vo, pp. 31, [1, advertisements]. ESTC T147110.

8. STEELE, Richard and Joseph GILLMORE. An account of the fish-pool: consisting of a description of the vessel so call’d, lately invented and built for the importation of fish alive, and in good health, from parts however distant. A proof of the imperfection of the well-boat hitherto used in the fishing trade. The true reasons why ships become stiff or crank in sailing; with other improvements, very useful to all persons concern’d in trade and navigation. Likewise a description of the carriage intended for the conveyance of fish by land, in the same good condition as the fish-pool by sea. London, H. Meere, J. Pemberton, and J. Roberts, 1718.

8vo, pp. vii, [1], 60; with woodcut illustrations. ESTC T18823; Kress 3076.

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