London: Printed for C.S. Arnold, 1825. Item #03780
"Acting is the Perfect Idiot's Profession" (Katherine Hepburn).
"The Art of Acting Consists in Keeping People from Coughing" (Benjamin Franklin).
EGAN, Pierce. LANE, Theodore, illustrator. The Life of an Actor… Dedicated to Edmund Kean, Esq. The Poetical Descriptions by T. Greenwood. Embellished with Twenty-Seven Characteristic Scenes, Etched by Theodore Lane. Enriched also With Several Original Designs on Wood, Executed by Mr. Thompson. London: Printed for C.S. Arnold, 1825.
First edition. Royal octavo (9 3/4 x 6 1/8 in; 247 x 158 mm.). xvi, 272 pp. Hand-colored aquatint frontispiece, woodcut vignette title-page, twenty-six fine hand-colored aquatint plates and eight woodcuts in the text.
Bound ca. 1920 by Mercier Sr. de Cuzin (stamp signed on verso of front free endpaper) in three-quarter red morocco over marbled boards ruled in gilt. Spine elaborately tooled and lettered in gilt marbled endpapers, top edge gilt, others uncut. A spectacularly clean and large copy (Abbey's copy measured 9 3/8 x 5 3/4 inches) with the original printed paper covers and spine bound in. With the small leather bookplate of Bibliophile Réne Descamps-Scrive (1853-1925) on front blank.
Originally published in nine parts, the work follows the vicissitudes of actor Peregrine Proteus, who quits his apprenticeship with a printer in a quest for thespian greatness. He achieves a modicum of success, falls prey to 'excesses and dissipation' and ends up in prison. Suitably chastened by adversity, he eventually rises, through his own character and talent - not to mention a fortunate matrimonial match and subsequent inheritance, to a position of eminence and prosperity in the theatrical community. The popular reception of Pierce Egan's Boxiana let to the serial publication of his famous Life in London, the success of which is described in the Dictionary of National Biography as "instantaneous and unprecedented', and the Life of an Actor is a derivative wok no doubt meant to capitalize on the popularity of its predecessors. It is the chief work of Theodore Lane (1800-1828), who subsequently produced illustrations for other books by Egan.
The woodcut engravings by John Thompson (1785-1866) are highly esteemed by Abbey. "The book contains nine woodcuts… all by John Thompson, perhaps the ablest exponent of the style of wood-engraving; he cut, in 1839, Mulready's design for the penny postage envelope, and in 1852 designed the figure of Britannia still in use on Bank of England notes; he engraved on wood many designs of Grandville, Johannot &c. for the great Paris publishers." (Abbey).
Tooley 195. Abbey, Life 414. Prideaux. p. 308.