London: Printed by T. Plummer… for G. and J. Robinson, 1802. Item #04403
Charles Lamb's First Play Containing Mary Lamb's First Appearance in Print
A Superb Late Nineteenth Century Inlaid Binding by Henry T. Wood
A Presentation Copy Inscribed on the First Leaf of Text by Mary Lamb
[WOOD, Henry T., binder]. LAMB, Charles. [LAMB, Mary]. John Woodvil. A Tragedy. By C. Lamb. To which are added Fragments of Burton, the author of The Anatomy of Melancholy. London: Printed by T. Plummer… for G. and J. Robinson, 1802.
Presentation Copy inscribed on the first leaf of text "S. Rowley, Presented by Miss Lamb". Containing on pp. 106/107 the poem 'Helen' - Mary Lamb's first appearance in print.
First edition. Small octavo (6 1/4 x 4 inches; 159 x 102 mm.). , 128 pp.
Beautifully bound ca. 1900 by Henry T. Wood (stamp-signed in gilt "Bound by Wood, London" on front turn-in. Full crimson levant morocco, both covers with ornamental inlaid green morocco frame enclosing a curvilinear design of gilt flowers and stems with delicate gilt pointille. Spine with five raised bands, decoratively tooled in a floral design and lettered in gilt in compartments. Gilt-ruled board edges, and turn-ins, green morocco inlaid doublures with an inlaid darker red morocco frame which has gilt flowers and stems intertwined, green watered silk endleaves, top edge gilt. A very fine example with the bookplate of celebrated collector W.K. Bixby on verso of front endpaper. Housed in the original maroon morocco slipcase.
The bookbinding firm of Henry T. Wood of London was established in 1875 and although not as well known as Sangorski & Sutcliffe or Zaehnsdorf, they executed a number of spectacular bindings. In the twentieth century, Thomas Harrison and W. Topping were partners in the firm, and under their stewardship Wood of London apparently executed more progressive designs than other major firms from this time; Thomas Harrison (1877-1955) was a bookbinders’ bookbinder. In 1939 the company merged with Sangorski & Sutcliffe.
"Mr. Wood was also with Zaehnsdorf [along with Roger De Coverly], working for him as a finisher for twelve years. He subsequently managed and in the end bought the business of Mr. Kaufman in Soho, which he has greatly expanded. Neither he nor de Coverly have ever sought the heavy expenses and responsibilities of a large undertaking, but have been content with a personal business in which they themselves have always taken an active part" (Prideaux, Modern Bookbinding, p. 18-19).
John Woodvil was Charles Lamb's first play (or dramatic poem), regarded by him at one time as his 'finest effort', a 'medley (as I intend it to be a medley) of laughter and tears, prose and verse, and in some places rhyme, songs, wit, pathos, humour, and, if possible, sublimity' (Lamb to Southey, 28 November 1798). He began it in August 1798 and considered it 'finish't' in May 1799, but continued to tinker with it for nearly three years. John Philip Kemble declined it for production at Drury Lane in 1800, and it was never acted. The style is Elizabethan, the setting seventeenth-century. Of the pieces at the end, an earlier version of the ballad from the German of Schiller had already been published by Coleridge in The Piccolomini, while the Fragments supposedly 'extracted from a common-place book, which belonged to Robert Burton', were by Lamb himself, the idea having been suggested to him by W. H. Ireland's Shakespeare forgeries. The poem 'Helen' (pp.106-7) is by Mary Lamb, and marked her first appearance in print. Southey and Wordsworth were among the first of Lamb's poet-friends to read his play. Lamb sent two extracts to Southey, for publication in his Annual Anthology (Southey did not use them, in the event), and they corresponded about the work-in-progress over several months (see Lucas, ed., Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, i, 138 ff.). To Wordsworth he sent a transcript of the whole, which has been lost, and which elicited a sympathetic critique. In 1801, when Lamb was recasting the play for publication, Southey wrote to Charles Danvers: 'Lamb and his sister see us often. He is printing his play, which will please you by the exquisite beauty of its poetry, and provoke you by the exquisite silliness of its story.'
"Mary Lamb's poem 'Helen' fills pages 106, 107. It was apparently her first appearance in print." (Livingston in Roff, pp. 47-52).
William Keeney Bixby (1857-1931) was an American book collector, a client of A.S.W. Rosenbach and a collaborator with Henry E. Huntington. His career in the railroad industry began with a job as baggageman and concluded with his position as president and chairman of the board of the American Car and Foundry Co. He retired from that company in 1905 at the age of 48. After retirement he pursued his interests in traveling and in collecting first editions, original manuscripts, and works of art. Inevitably he accumulated duplicates of his books, and, in combination with Henry E. Huntington, he disposed of these by auction in 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he sold his English and American autographs to Huntington. Hardly slowed down, he started collecting again in 1920 and in 1929 sold the new collection to Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach. He continued to be active in the community as board member and officer of a number of companies, organizations, and institutions. He was the first president of the Board of Control of the City Art Museum, serving from 1909 until his death in 1931. In 1920, following a trip to Asia, Bixby made a bequest to the Art Museum which established a fund for the purchase of Oriental art. This fund continues to be a source for many of the musuem's Asian art acquisitions.
Ashley Library Catalogue, III, p. 40 ("the book was issued without a half-title"); A. Edward Newton Collection, II, No. 603.