Folio (285 x 190 mm.), full early mottled calf, gilt ruled boards, rebacked preserving the original spine, with raised bands, extremely ornate gilt compartments, gilt red calf title label. Verses describing the engraved frontispiece, recto blank, engraved allegorical title (with title ‘Poly-Olbion’), verso blank, dedication to Henry Prince of Wales, engraved portrait of Prince Henry at lance exercises in 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], text of the 18 songs by Drayton, each song preceded by its proper map most probably engraved by William Hole. pp. (12), 303. Misprints in pagination 161 for 167, 285 for 258. With light soiling and water staining on the margins, title with small hole, otherwise a good example.
This is a book of songs 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’. Skelton identifies the true first edition of 1612 as lacking a typographic title page as here and with the maps in their first state before the addition of numbers. The date is taken from the date of registration at Stationers’ Hall and of Seldon’s preface. They may in fact be incomplete examples of the 1613 issue as Drayton complained in the enlarged 1622 edition that it was prematurely made available by the booksellers before the preliminary matter was complete. Indeed, it may be that this example is an intermediate example as most notably the maps bear pagination which occurs in the 1613 edition.
The typographic title introduced for the 1613 edition should rightly be found following the engraved one, here it clearly was never present. It should also have a new gathering of 4 leaves of ‘A Table to the Chiefest Passages, in the Illustrations …’, this is also omitted. The engraved portrait of Prince Henry is in the second state with the words ‘Henricus Princeps’. Henry was the eldest son of James I who tragically died of typhoid fever in the same year, 1612. Sales of the first edition were poor as Drayton cites in the preface of the second part of the 1622 edition ‘because it went not so fast away in the Sale’.
The work is illustrated with 18 maps of usually two English counties each. They contain no title, scale or plate number in this their first state. Emphasis is placed on the rivers with much ornate decoration. 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; with manuscript notation on front free endpaper detailing earlier ownership: Thomas George Sheldon, Congleton, died 1903, to his eldest son Dr. Thomas Steele Sheldon, Macclesfield and Chester, to his nephew Oliver Sheldon, York, in April 1926; acquired at Sotheby’s London 27 June 1991 lot 182 by Rodney Shirley. Chubb (1927) 34; Cope ‘The Puzzling Aspects of Drayton’s Poly-Olbion’, ‘The Map Collector’ 17 pp. 16-20; ESTC S121632; Shirley (2004) T.Dra 1c; Skelton (1970) 9; Taylor (1968) II p. 51; Yates (1975).