Folio (290 x 195 mm.), two parts bound in one. Full eighteenth century calf, blind ruled boards, ribbed spine with blind ruled compartments, gilt title, original blank endpapers. Verses describing the engraved frontispiece, recto blank; engraved allegorical title (with title Poly-Olbion), verso blank; typographic title page worded as above, verso blank; ‘A Table to the Chiefest Passages, in the Illustrations …’ pp. 8; Dedication to Henry Prince of Wales, verses on the verso; engraved portrait of Prince Henry at lance exercises in its second state, verso blank. Address by Michael Drayton ‘To the Generall Reader’ [A1]; ‘From the Author of The Illustrations’ [John Selden] dated 9 May 1612 [A2r-A4v]; (the previous two addresses repeated); Text of the 18 songs by Drayton, each song preceded by its proper map most probably engraved by William Hole; misprint in pagination of 285 for 258 still present; without ‘Finis’ sometimes found between the two woodblocks at the end of the first part on p. 303; typographic title to the second part without Drayton’s name present; Dedication to Charles Prince of Wales, verso blank [A1]; Drayton’s Preface [A2]; Commendatory verses [A3r-4v]; text of the 12 further songs by Drayton, each song preceded by its proper map most probably again engraved by William Hole. pp. (22), (8), 303; (10), 168. The third map of the Somerset area shaved slightly lower corners, front free endpaper with repaired tear, otherwise a good example.
This is a book of poems by the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631) and his magnum opus. He was born in 1563 at Hartshill, near Atherstone, Warwickshire. He began working on his longest poem at least 14 years before publication in 1612. It comprises a series of thousands of twelve syllable rhyming couplets divided into 18 songs or books in praise of the English and Welsh countryside each with accompanying allegorical map. Despite the nature of the text the work is full of antiquarian and historical detail relating to events and people related to localities. It is relied upon by historians and many of the references are not recorded by William Camden in his opus the ‘Britannia’. This 1622 issue is the first complete edition, containing all thirty sections, each with a highly attractive engraved map. The notes to the songs were written by the polymath John Selden. The nineteenth song, the first in the additional work, is of particular note as it celebrates English voyages to northern Europe, the East Indies, the North West Passage and Virginia. American references name Fenton, Jackman, Forbosher [Frobisher], Davies, Gilbert, Drake, Rawleigh [Raleigh], Amadas, Barlow, Greenvile, Hawkins, Candish [Cavendish] and Sir Robert Dudley [pp. 8-9].
The newly engraved maps for the second book also contain page numbers engraved near the upper margin and are therefore found in only one state. The new maps as stated in the title to the second part cover the area ‘betwixt the two famous Riuers of Thames, and Tweed’. The general title page replaces the original one found in the earlier editions. In this example the engraved portrait of Henry Prince of Wales is found in the second state. Henry was the eldest son of James I who tragically died of typhoid fever in the year, 1612. The title page to the second part is known in two forms, either with or without Drayton’s name. Their priority is unknown and in this example his name is not present.
Yates argues that the ‘Poly-Olbion’ was one of the most important attempts during the Stuart era to connect them with the Tudor myth of ‘British’ history. This is best seen in the allegorical title page which displays both the Stuarts and the Tudors as descendants of Brut. It depicts a virginal Albion wrapped in a cloak resembling a map of England. The symbolism suggests that the descriptive ‘maps’ in the work have a serious historical context. Yates asserts that the graceful nymphs displayed on many of the maps recalls the masque of the Tethys Festival given at court in June 1610 on the occasion of the creation of Henry as Prince of Wales. Drayton died 23 December 1631 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. Provenance: hard to read manuscript ownership inscription on first blank endpaper possibly that of (Sir) Christopher Wyvill (1614-1681) MP for Richmond in 1659 and 1660; private English collection. Carroll (1996) 8; Chubb (1927) XXXV; ESTC S121639; Hodson (1974) Supp I.ii; Kingsley (1982) IV 1.ii,3; Shirley (2004) T.DRA-1d; Skelton (1970) 13; STC (1986) 7228-30; Taylor, EGR (1968) ‘Late Tudor and Early Stuart Geography’ p. 51; Yates ‘Shakespeare’s Lost Plays’.