881G Gaius Plinius Secundus. (23-79); trans. Philemon Holland Pliny the Elder 1552-1637
The Historie Of the World: Commonly called, the Natvrall Historie of c. Plinivs Secvndvs. Translted into English by Philemon Holland Doctor of Physicke. The first [and second] Tome[s].
London: Adam Islip,1601 $20,000
Folio 294 x 208mm [π]6, ¶4 a-b6 A8 B-3I6 3K4; A-3G6 3H4 3I-3O6 3P8 (lacking blank leaves ?1 and 3P8) First edition. Title pages to both volumes. The first with an elaborate architectural border with Solomonic columns. The second with a large woodcut device. This copy is bound in contemporary English calfskin, ruled in blind, rebacked and recornered in morocco. An excellent, crisp, bright copy with very minor faults: repaired clean tear with no loss, leaf P4. A few signatures with very light marginal dampstains. Occasional rust spots, marginal tears, or marginal natural paper flaws, no loss whatsoever.
An impressive book
“All [of Pliny’s] works have been lost, except for the ‘Naturalis Historia.’ An atmosphere of excess surrounds the work. We know that Pliny claims never to have read a book so bad as not to have any value at all; and Pliny was constantly reading, taking notes, and indexing. The final result was a work in thirty-seven books, intended to inventory the total knowledge possessed by man. The indefatigable Pliny worked his way through impressive numbers: 34,000 notices, 2,000 volumes read, from 100 different authors, and 170 dossiers of notes and preparatory files (‘I have not knowingly omitted any piece of information, if I have found it anywhere.’).“Pliny remained popular in the Renaissance. He was one of the most frequently consulted authorities on many subjects for Valla and many other humanists; there were at least forty-six editions of his work by 1550; and he was translated in Italian by Landino (published in 1501) and into English by Philemon Holland (1601). But gradually the intense philological work of humanist scholars on the one hand and the new discoveries of the scientific revolution on the other began to throw doubt upon Pliny’s reputation as an infallible authority, and in the end his reputation could not even be rescued by blaming the manuscripts. Yet as Pliny has lost his practical value as a reference handbook for the modern period, he had gained in historical importance for the information he transmits concerning ancient art, science, folklore, religion, and material culture. It is precisely Pliny’s intellectual defects—his bland indifference to theoretical rigor, his refusal to engage in systematic analysis and selection—that make him so precious for modern scholars interested in the ancient world. Unlike scholars who had greater intelligence, more self-confidence, or simply more time at their disposal, he preserves everything and passes it on to us.” (Conte)
“Along with the patriotic aims of an Englishman and a literary voyager Holland [the English translator of this volume of Pliny] has a theory of his art, though only hints of it are given in his prefaces. What he calls his ‘meane and popular stile’ might be taken as a generic representative of the best early seventeenth century writing. Holland’s unusual learning and care chastened his prose without robbing it of colloquial energy, concrete amplitude, and metaphorical color. His slight but frequent additions are made in the interest of complete and vivid clarity and emotional effect. And the whole tone of his work reflects his Elizabethan veneration for, and sense of contemporaneous intimacy with, the great men and events and the ethical wisdom of antiquity. Pliny’s philosophy gave him some qualms, but these were satisfactorily quieted. In his life and in his work Holland was a fine example of the Christian humanist.” (Bush)
This is one of the Most Important Elizabethan Science Books.
The Natural History of Pliny the Elder is more than a natural history: it is an encyclopaedia of all the knowledge of the ancient world It comprises 37 books with mathematics and physics, geography and astronomy, medicine and zoology, anthropology and physiology, philosophy and history, agriculture and mineralogy, the arts and letters The Historia soon became a standard book of reference; abstracts and abridgements appeared by the third century. Bede owned a copy, Alcuin sent the early books to Charlemagne, and Dicuil, the Irish geographer, quotes him in the ninth century. It was the basis of Isidore’s Etymologiae and such medieval encyclopedias as the Speculum Majus of Vincent of Beauvais and the Catholicon of Balbus. One of the earliest books to be printed at Venice, the centre from which so much of classical literature was first dispensed, it was later translated into English by Philemon Holland in 1601, and twice reprinted (a notable achievement for so vast a text) Over and over again it will be found that the source of some ancient piece of knowledge is Pliny. (PMM 5) .
Holland’s first book, the first complete rendering of Livy into English, was published in 1600 when he was nearly fifty. It was a work of great importance, presented in a grand folio volume of 1458 pages, and dedicated to the queen. The Livy was followed in the next year by an equally huge translation, of the elder Pliny: The Historie of the World, Commonly called, the Naturall Historie. This encyclopaedia of ancient knowledge about the natural world had already had a great indirect influence in England, as elsewhere in Europe, but had not been translated into English before, and would not be again for 250 years. (ODNB)
Pforzheimer, 496; STC (2nd ed.), 20029