HAMILTON, Anthony, Count. ~ Histoire de Fleur d’Epine, conte… Paris: Jean Fr[ançois] Josse, 1730.
12mo (161 × 90 mm.), pp. [iv], 275, . Woodcut ornaments. Contemporary mottled calf, gilt panelled spine, red edges. Later ownership inscription. A very good copy.
First edition of the best of Hamilton’s marvellous parodies of exotic fantasies and fairy-tales. Histoire de Fleur d’Epine (’the story of Mayblossom’) purports to be the tale of the 1001st night, told by Dinarzade ‘because she cannot bear to hear another of her sister Scheherazade’s interminable tedious yarns’ (Warner). The tale draws playfully on the motifs of fairy-tales and is full of all the bizarre transformations and magical occurrences that readers of the contes de fées of Perrault and Madame d’Aulnoy might expect. All is delivered in a charming if almost entirely nonsensical narrative.
The reception of Hamilton’s story is intriguing. When first printed in 1730, some time after the author’s death, the vogue for the conte arabe was at its peak and it presumably raised a knowing laugh in literary circles. The story, however, had been written for private circulation in 1695, a good while before Galland’s translations of the Arabian Nights appeared and this fact emphasises that the fashion for the conte Arabe was not simply an invention of Galland, despite his pre-eminence in the field.
Hamilton was an Irish catholic exile in France, who composed his fantasies for the amusement of his friends at the court of James II in exile. He was a remarkable figure who moved with ease between the anglophone and francophone worlds, composing literature in French in a style few Frenchmen could match.
Cioranescu 33453. The work has been extensively studied by Marina Warner (see Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, 2004 and lectures).