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Spence, (Joseph)

Polymetis: or, an enquiry concerning the agreement between the works of the Roman poets, and the remains of the antient artists, being an attempt to illustrate them mutually from one another. In ten books.

London, for R.Dodsley 1747.

Reference: 6839
Price: £680 [convert currency]

Full Description

Large folio. Engraved portrait frontispiece (by Vertue after Isaac Whood), xiii + 362pp, 41 engraved plates. Contemporary full panelled reversed calf, spine very worn and cracking at hinges. From the library of Peterhouse, Cambridge, with their 19th century armorial bookplate, and an 18th century ink ownership inscription, “Library of St.Peter’s Coll.” (it was discarded long ago, presumably as a duplicate, for it carries a late 19th century or early 20th century pencil price of 10/6). Also recent booklabel of Peter and Linda Murray. Two plates neatly repaired for marginal tears, without loss, some minor worm damage in outer margin of first six text leaves.

First edition of Spence’s Polymetis, the most widely read English book of the mid eighteenth century on the relationship between the art and the literature of classical Greece and Rome. Spence (1699-1768), successively Professor of Poetry and Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, had been in Italy for five and a half years in the 1730s and early 1740s, as travelling tutor with the Earls of Middlesex and Lincoln, and had a thorough grasp of the classics and of the published literature on classical antiquity, enabling him to correlate literary references to Roman deities with visual representations of the same gods on gems and coins. This remains the chief value of his book, written in the form of twenty-one “dialogues” between his imaginary narrator Polymetis and two friends, although the later dialogues include interesting observations on paintings by Raphael and Rubens, the poetry of Edmund Spencer and the merits or otherwise of Dryden’s translation of Virgil. There are ample accompanying indices and the volume’s forty-one plates, engraved by L.P. Boitard, illustrate sculptures, gems and coins referred to in the text. A lengthy list of subscribers includes the names of most of the English peerage and higher clergy, and of many other leading figures in English public life (his former pupils Lords Middlesex and Lincoln subscribed for twelve copies each, and Horace Walpole for five).