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Winter, according to Virgil

Engraving indoor winter scene

The Wife and Husband equally conspire,
To work by Night and rake the Winter fire:
He sharpens Torches in the glim’ring Room,
She shoots the flying Shuttle through the Loom:
Or boils in Kettles Must of Wine, and Skins
With leaves, the Dregs that overflow the Brims.

The Works of Vigil: Containing his pastorals…
London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1697
First edition
PA6807 A1 D7 1697

John Dryden, England’s first poet laureate, worked closely with Jacob Tonson to publish his translation of the works of the ancient Roman poet Virgil. Dryden’s translation was not a literal translation, but a reworking of Virgil to appeal to seventeenth-century readers. In his dedication to John, Lord Marquess of Normandy, Earl of Mulgrave, he wrote that his alterations were done with reverence for the poet and his poetry. Alexander Pope called Dryden’s translation “the most noble and spirited translation I know in any language.”

The book was published by subscription, a method of publishing by which the subscriber’s patronage enabled especially lavish productions. One hundred and one persons subscribed for five guineas each, which gave them a full-page illustration with their names and coat of arms. A second subscription list went out after Dryden had completed half the translation. These subscribers paid two guineas for their copy, which did not include plates dedicated to them. Two hundred and fifty copies were printed for this second set of subscribers.

Correspondence between Dryden and Tonson reveal arguments during the publication process. One quarrel evolved over the desire of Tonson to dedicate the book to William III (William of Orange) and Dryden’s refusal to do so. Tonson made sure that the engravings were adapted so that Aeneas sported a hooked nose al la William.

The work was illustrated with one hundred and one engraved plates by Wenzel Hollar (1607-1677), as well as an engraved title-page and a full-page engraving of Virgil reciting the Marcellus passage in Aeneid (Bk VI) to Augustus and Octavia. Hollar, born in Prague, studied engraving in Frankfurt in 1627 with publisher Matthaus Merian. Under the patronage of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, he moved to England in 1637, where he taught drawing to the Prince of Wales. He fought in the ranks of the King, was capture by Parliament and escaped to Antwerp in 1644. He returned to London in 1652, where he died in poverty. A master etcher, he was recognized in his own time and to this day for his work, producing nearly three thousand plates, many of which illustrated books such as this. He is best known for his etchings of London after the Great Fire of 1666. He married and had one daughter, described by a contemporary as “one of the greatest beauties I have ever seen.” A son died of plague. He had several children by a second wife.

Rare Books copy bound in contemporary speckled calf, the spine tooled in gold.

engraving outdoor winter scene
Their jovial Nights, in frollicks and in play
They pass, to drive the tedious Hours away.
And their cold Stomachs with crown’d Goblets cheer,
Of windy cider and of barmy Beer.

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