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Rare Books

British Literature, 1550-1700

Compiled by Michael Taylor, 2012

Poetry

First editions of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590) and John Donne’s Poems (1633) are the Rare Book Collection’s most notable examples of English Renaissance poetry. The second edition of Donne’s Poems (1635) contains 37 additional works. See also Donne’s Letters to Severall Persons of Honour (1654) for context on his life and writings.

Selected sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney, including the Astrophel and Stella sequence, are available in a 1638 edition of The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia. Other important works include Francis Quarles’s Divine Poems (1638) and Emblemes (1639); Ben Jonson’s Works (1640); Michael Drayton’s Poems (1637); and the first collected edition of the works of Abraham Cowley (1668)

Poets of the Restoration have been collected as part of the library’s holdings of literature from the “long” eighteenth century. Major authors represented include John Dryden, Samuel Butler, Edmund Waller, and the Earl of Rochester. Women writers are a current collecting focus, with recent additions of works by Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, and Jane Barker. Of related interest is George Ballard’s Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain (1752), a collection of biographical sketches focusing on women poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

Several important translations of classical poetry are held. The earliest is Gawin Douglas’s Eneados (1553), a translation into Scots dialect of Virgil’s Aeneid and the first metrical translation of a classical work to appear in English. The copy bears contemporary manuscript annotations regarding Douglas’s word choices. Among other important translations are: Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding (1593) and George Sandys (1640), John Ogilby’s translation of Homer’s Iliad (1660) and Odyssey (1665), and Dryden’s Works of Virgil (1697). For further suggestions, see the separate rare book guide to Classical Studies.

Theater

One of the highlights of the Rare Book Collection is the 1632 Second Folio edition of William Shakespeare’s plays (which includes an epitaph by John Milton, his first published work).

Another important early anthology is Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Comedies and Tragedies (1647) and Fifty Comedies and Tragedies (1679), known as the first and second Beaumont and Fletcher folios. Ben Jonson’s plays were collected in his Works (1640).

Many eighteenth-century editions of the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries are available, reflecting the revival of interest in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama at that time. See the separate guide to Eighteenth-Century British Literature.

The Works of Sir William D’Avenant (1673), John Dryden’s Comedies, Tragedies and Operas (1701), and William Wycherley’s Works (1713) are among other first or early collected editions of seventeenth-century drama. Aphra Behn’s popular play The Rover (1677) is held, as is a stage adaptation of her novel Oroonoko, published in The Works of Mr. Thomas Southerne (1713).

A few titles, such as George Ridpath’s The Stage Condemn’d (1698) and Jeremy Collier’s A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698), are of interest as examples of works on the debauchery of the Restoration-era theater. 

Fiction

English fiction prior to 1700 is not currently a strength of the Rare Book Collection, but a few important examples are held. These include Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave (1688) and Lady Mary Wroth’s The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania (1621). The LSU Libraries’ copy of the latter work belonged to Dorothy Long, a woman of letters described by John Aubrey in Brief Lives as “a most elegant beautie and witt.”

Other items of interest are a 1638 edition of Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia; John Barclay’s Argenis (1628), a popular roman à clef dealing with French political history; and various editions of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Philosophy

The Rare Book Collection contains works by most of the major English philosophers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

A highlight is the first collected edition of The Workes of Sir Thomas More, published by his nephew William Rastell in 1557. The volume contains More’s writings about William Tyndale, his “Tower Works,” and his “History of Richard III,” the main source for Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Holdings of Sir Francis Bacon’s works include Sylva Sylvarum (1621), Essayes, or Counsels Civill and Morall (1639), and Of the Advancement and Proficience of Learning (1640).

Works on medical philosophy range from Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica [and] Religio Medici (1672) to Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1676).

Among important works of political philosophy are second and third editions of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), James Harrington’s The Common-Wealth of Oceana (1656), and two seventeenth-century English translations of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.

Other major works are John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (5th ed., 1706) and Works (1714) and the Earl of Shaftesbury’s Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friend in the Country (1675), a discussion of the right to resist royal power.

Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694) and An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex (1696) are two early works on feminism and women’s education. Also held is Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1663) by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, thought to be the only seventeenth-century English work on natural philosophy published by a woman. 

A related “curiosity” is a 1537 edition of the works of Juvencus and Arator from the personal library of John Locke. The volume bears his distinctive library markings. 

Conduct of Life Manuals

Works in the Rare Book Collection on courtesy and courtly behavior include Richard Brathwaite’s The English Gentleman (1633) and Richard Allestree’s The Gentleman’s Calling (1673). The latter work is bound with Allestree’s The Ladies Calling. The Works of Francis Osborn (1673) includes his popular Advice to a Son, famous for its warnings about women.

Of related interest are Edward Cooke’s translation of Jacques Boileau’s A Just and Seasonable Reprehension of Naked Breasts and Shoulders (1678) and Richard Brathwaite’s Ar’t Asleepe Husband? A Boulster Lecture (1640), a satire on marriage and the lust of women.

Thomas Fuller’s The Holy State [and] The Profane State (1642) consist of inspirational biographies and cautionary tales about real and imaginary characters, including women and contemporary political figures.

Other works on the education of princes are Sir Thomas Elyot’s The Boke Named the Governour (1565) and an early English translation of Machiavelli’s The Prince, published in The Works of the Famous Nicolas Machiavel (1694).

Search Tips

Searching for literature in the library’s catalog can be difficult, since subject headings denoting literary genres are rarely provided in catalog records. If you are not looking for works by a specific author, try limiting your search to the Rare Book Collection as a location, entering a range of publication dates (e.g., 1660-1690), limiting the language to English, and using the “wildcard” search feature. By truncating the ending of a search term with the $ sign, you will increase your search results. For example, the keyword or title search “poe$” will locate records containing the words poem, poems, poetry, poet, poets, etc.

You may also try a call number search, but beware that because of irregularities of formatting, some call numbers may file out of order. Also note that the Rare Book Collection has been cataloged using both the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal systems.

For personal assistance searching the catalog or identifying materials, please contact the library.

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