VERGIL, Polydore. ~ [De inventoribus rerum. In English]. An Abridgeme[n]t of the notable Worke of Polidore Vergile conteygnyng the Deuisers and first Finders out aswell of Artes, Ministeries, Feactes & ciuill Ordinaunces, as of Rites, & Ceremonies, commonly vsed in the Churche: and the originall Beginnyng of the Same. Compe[n]diousely gathered by Thomas Langley. ‘Imprinted at London within the precincte of the late dissolved house of the grey Friers, by Richarde Grafton printer to the Princis grace, the.xxv. daie of Ianuarie, the yere of our Lorde, M.D.XLVI’. [ 1546].
Small 8vo (138 × 89 mm), ff. , Clvi , ; collates: A⁸ a-h⁸ I⁸ k-v⁸ x⁸(-x8), with colophon, minus final blank leaf. Woodcut arms of Edward Prince of Wales to verso of A8, printer’s device to verso of v4. Some fingersoiling througout, lower forecorner (mostly blank) of M1 expertly torn away and neatly repaired with a just a few letters supplied in facsimile, small wormholes or short tracks to some lower marigns. Title with contemporary inscription at head (cropped) and early annotation to imprint: ‘& likwise printed at London by Jo. Tisdal’, later (probably eighteenth-century) biographical inscription to front free endpaper, one modern ownership inscription. Eighteenth-century blindtooled panelled sprinkled calf, spine with 5 raised bands, red morocco label. Old shelf label to front free endpaper. Recent expert repair to joints.
First edition in English, very rare, of this celebrated treatise on inventions and origins, including accounts of the invention of printing, theatre, mathematics, medicine, magic, religion, law, government (as well as prostitution and warm baths). First published in Latin in 1499 (Venice) and augmented in 1521, it digested a huge mass of classical, biblical and contemporary learning and became a Renaissance bestseller. As many as 30 Latin editions alone appeared before the author’s death in 1555. The English translation, an abridgement by Thomas Langley, did not appear until 1546, by which time the Urbino-born Polydore had been resident in England for several decades. A diplomat, scholar and historian, Vergil counted Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More, Cuthbert Tunstall, Thomas Linacre and Baldessare Castiglione among his acquaintances and correspondents.
Issued no less than three times in 1546, this English edition is remarkably rare. We can find only this copy at auction in the last 50 years. The work is divided into eight books, from which Langley makes succinct abridgements, of which a selection of chapter headings gives a flavour:
I. 9. ‘The begynnyng of Tragedies, Comedies, Satyres, and newe Comedies; 11. ‘Who founde Musyke’; 12. ‘Who found Musicall instruments’; 14. ‘Astrologie’; 15. ‘Who fonde Geometrie, Artihmetike’; 16. ‘Physike’; 17. ‘The inventours of herbes medicinable’; 18. ‘The beginnyng of Magike’; 19. ‘Two kyndes of divination’.
II. 1. ‘The originall of lawes’; 2. ‘Who ordeyned the first gouvernaunces’; 6. ‘Who set furth books fyrst, or made a library, Printyng, paper, parchement, arte of memory’ (which includes the observation: ’Truely the com[m]odite of liberaries is right profitable & necessary, but in co[m]parison of the crafte of printyng it is nothyng, both because one ma[n] may printe more in one day, then many men in many years could wryte: And also it preserveth both Greke & Latine auctours fro the dau[n]ger of corruption. It was found in Germany at Mogunce [Mainz] by one J. Guthenbergus a knight, he found moreover the Inke by his devise that printers used...)’
Among other entries we find treatments of: war, Olympiades, plays, metals, coins, painting, ‘wyne, oyle, honye, chese, and strange trees broughte into Italy’, labyrinths, theatres, prostitution and brothels, and Christian and Moslem origins and customs.
Provenance: Sotheby’s, June 14th, 1965, lot 231 (Traylen, £55); Blackwell, Centenary Catalogue, 1979, item 27, £450; private collection. STC 24654. STC lists two other printings of the same year: 24655 (another edition, reset, with colophon dated 16 April) and 24656 (another issue, portions reset, with both title and colophon dated 16 April). In an article of 1888, John Ferguson suggested that these 16 April editions/issues preceded the 25 January edition, having old style dates in their imprints, but this sequence was not adopted by the editors of STC; John Ferguson, ‘Bibliographical Notes on the English Translation of Polydore Vergil’s work, De Inventoribus Rerum’, 1888, pp. 17 et seq.