This week’s book was part of a mixed “pick” lot I obtained at an ephemera auction back in October. The book is volume two of The Poetical Works of Mark Akenside. With The Life of the Author; it was published in Philadelphia, 1804, by Benjamin Johnson (31 High Street), Jacob Johnson (147 High Street), and Richard Johnson (2 North Third Street). It was printed by Benjamin.
Benjamin Johnson (1776-?), fifth of Anne Alexander and Abel Johnson’s fifteen children (possibly sixth: he and his brother Joseph were twins), was publishing and selling books in Philadelphia as early as 1792 and continued up until 1807. In 1795, his older brother Jacob entered the trade on his own, but, as this book shows, they often collaborated on certain projects (as early as 1802). I can find less information about “Robert Johnson”, though he seems to have still been active as a Philadelphia publisher in at least 1806 and collaborated with Benjamin and Jacob as early as 1805. I can find no immediate evidence that he was related to Benjamin and Jacob.
Akenside (1721-1770; right) was an English physician who found a second calling in the writing of both pastoral and didactic poetry as well as lyrical odes that never really pushed the boundaries or experimented, either metrically or thematically (Edmund Gosse described him as “a sort of frozen Keats”). His early outspoken dissenting political views and non-conformity in the way of religion (he was an Enlightenment era deist) attracted ridicule and scorn from many established writers in English society. But later in his life, his politics changed and he came to embrace the Tory perspective; this conversion earned him favor late in his career and he ended up as personal physician to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. He continued to write poetry throughout his life, however, and was still laboring at revising a new version of The Pleasures of Imagination when he died of fever at the age of 49.
The earliest collected edition of Akenside’s poetry was published in two volumes by the Martins at the Apollo Press, Edinburgh, in 1781. All subsequent collections of his poetry were derived from that Apollo edition. A London edition followed from J. Bell in 1782 and an “embellished” edition (that is, containing engravings) from C. Cooke of London in 1795. Further London editions from other publishers appeared in 1805, 1806, 1811, 1818, and throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, into the early twentieth.
Rather bizarrely, the normally reliable WorldCat catalog reports the first American edition as the jointly published Little, Brown, and Company (Boston) and Evans & Dickerson (New York) of 1854. This is off by half a century. As far as I can tell, the Johnsons’ Philadelphia edition of 1804 is the first American edition of the book (though not the first appearance in America of Akenside’s poetry; according to the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, his Pleasures of Imagination collection had been published in 1794 and 1795 and his Poems of Established Reputation in 1803). No dealers are currently selling a copy of the Philadelphia edition, so I’m not able to estimate its value. Even more bizarre is that no where can I find evidence that the Johnsons published an accompanying Volume I -- it is not listed on WorldCat, AAS, or Google Books.
The book is bound in tan cloth that has been finished to emulate the look and feel of leather. An elaborate raised decorative pattern is on the front and back boards: at the center, there is a bee hive surrounded by a garland of flowers (a reference, perhaps, to an image that Akenside uses in several of his poems) and surrounded again by laurels (a reference to poetry); atop this device sits the classical figure of the Caduceus (a reference to Akenside’s profession as a medical doctor). The gilded name “Akenside” appears on the spine. There is some chipping and bumping to the edges of the boards; the most egregious damage to the binding, however, is a large chip taken out of the lower portion of the spine (though this does not reduce the binding’s integrity).
The page edges are gilded and each page measures 9cm x 14cm; the paper is of a middling quality and some foxing can be found throughout. The endpapers at front and back are marbled. Collationally it may expressed as 12o: [#3] [*] A6-H6 [I6] K6-N6 [O6] Q6 [π3]: $1 & 2 . In addition to the signature, the first page of each gathering includes “Vol. II.” in the lower inside corner; [I1] erroneously records “Vol. I.”, however. There are no catchwords and no errors in pagination or the running-titles (though the title given on p. 92, 180, and 186 expands the usual formula for the versos -- “Pleasures of” -- and gives “Pleasures of &c.”); “D2” is mis-signed as “L2”. Page numbers appear in the upper outside corner on all numbered pages, with the exceptions of 94, 95, and 98, on which the numbers are centered in square brackets at the top of the page.
The contents begin, after three blanks, with a heavily-foxed illustrated frontispiece (a stippled engraving by W. Haines -- a known Philadelphia engraver and artist whom Benjamin Johnson frequently employed -- illustrating a passage from Book I of The Pleasures of Imagination). Following this: the title-page; an anonymous essay on “The Design” of Pleasures (-8) and the text of the original, 1744 version of Akenside’s long, philosophical poem The Pleasures of Imagination, including Book I (9-33); Book II (-65); and Book III (-92). The second half of the volume contains a revised, or “Enlarged”, version of the poem from later in Akenside’s life; the two texts juxtaposed -- the original and the revised -- makes it possible to see how Akenside’s ideas and language changed over time.
This half begins with a “General Argument” (-95) and then proceeds with a version of Book I dated 1757 (-127), a version of Book II that is undated (-157), a version of Book III dated 1770, the year of Akenside’s death (-180; the final page concludes with a line of asterisks after the text), and then “The Beginning of the Fourth Book”, also dated to the year of Akenside’s death in 1770 (-186, also concluding with a line of asterisks). This is followed by a table of contents (which erroneously assigns the “General Argument” to page 97, while, at the same time, grouping it with the original version of the poem given in the first half of the volume) and Johnson’s simply, unadorned colophon. Throughout, each Book begins with a brief “argument” in prose; the first Book in the first half also begins with a Greek epigram from Epictetus. Line numbers are given every five lines (restarting in each book) and occasional footnotes provide assistance in explaining uncommon allusions (whether these are authorial or editorial is unclear).
Astute readers will note that the shift in pagination style, the modified running-title, and the errors in signatures appear only in the second half of the volume. I suspect that (at least) two different compositors in Johnson’s shop were responsible for assembling the book and the worker in charge of the second half was not fully in step with the worker in charge of the first half (it was not uncommon for printers to split up books into parts to be printed concurrently so that their production could move more quickly).
The title-page of my copy has been purposefully damaged: the “Vol. II.” designation has been carefully torn out. It was done sufficiently long ago that some acid damage from the frontispiece has leeched onto the recto of the leaf behind the title-page. I’m not sure why someone would deface the book like this, but I’m guessing it had something to do with an effort by an unscrupulous dealer to sell the book without revealing that it was part of a broken set. The only other indication that this is part two of two volumes is the “Vol. II.” component of the signatures, noted above. Without seeing that, I wouldn’t have noticed that it was incomplete (though it only contains one of Akenside’s poems); the copy on Google Books has an intact title-page that shows the missing text from my copy.
I’m particularly intrigued by the two bits of marginalia in the book. Both are written in a cursive hand with light pencil. On the recto of the second blank at the front is written:
Henry Hubbell’s Book,
He died June 11th 16yr.
This book given his 9th year to
The same hand has written -- very faintly, as if whispering -- vertically up the outer edge of the verso of the third blank at the back of the book:
“Henry suffered but his sufferings are over”
I haven’t had much luck tracking down these individuals, and I’m not even entirely certain about the “16yr.” part of my transcription; the pencil is very faded and the cursive isn’t entirely clear at that point.
Nonetheless, I find this sad, quiet tribute moving: a young boy giving a girl (his sister? a childhood crush?) a small book of poetry and then, upon his too early death, she quietly records his memory into the volume. Though the pencil has faded, along with the story of who these people were, the physical book has become a small memorial or tombstone, marking the passage of a life from long ago.