TALES OF AN ANTIQUARY: CHIEFLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE MANNERS, TRADITIONS, AND REMARKABLE LOCALITIES OF ANCIENT LONDON. Richard Thomson.

TALES OF AN ANTIQUARY: CHIEFLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE MANNERS, TRADITIONS, AND REMARKABLE LOCALITIES OF ANCIENT LONDON. London: Henry Colburn, 1832. 12mo, three volumes: pp. [i-iii] iv-vi [vii-viii] [1] 2-360; [i-iv] [1] 2-72 73*-84* 73-393 [394: blank] [395-396: ads]; [i-iv] [1] 2-353 [354: printer's imprint] [355-356: ads], original marbled boards with brown cloth shelf back, printed labels affixed to spine panels. First edition, later issue. A reissue of Colburn's 1828 edition with preliminaries reprinted and "Legends of London" added above "Tales of an Antiquary" on the title pages. A substantial portion of this collection of short fiction is supernatural or criminous. A highlight is "The Wehr Wolf: A Legend of the Limousin," one of the few tales in the collection set outside London, a genuine werewolf story and an early use of this motif in English fiction. "Written by Richard Thomson (1794-1865), an English librarian and antiquary who was the primary compiler of the four-volume catalogue of the London Institution Library (1835-1852), TALES OF AN ANTIQUARY is narrated by Sylvanus Beauclerk, a fictitious author who refers to himself as a 'Civic Antiquary.' Beauclerk's goal is to 'illustrate and adorn his beloved London,' and in his preface, he states the tales he's compiled are 'neither strict historical truth, nor yet entirely romantic fable; but partake of both. . . Sometimes they are pictures of ancient manners and places, and sometimes they are merely the history of what might have been.' Born in a hackney-coach, Beauclerk claims the particular distinction of 'traversing the streets long before he could speak,' and over the course of the three volumes of TALES OF AN ANTIQUARY, he is as fully developed and entertaining a fictional narrator as any reader could wish for. Prone to long digressions on various historical subjects pertinent to his stories, Beaucleark often details the trustworthy sources from which he's compiled his narratives, including interviews he's conducted with individuals such as Mattias Goosegrinder (an attorney), Abraham Buckskin (a currier), and Thady Nightlight (a night watchman). The stories, which are arranged chronologically from 1100 to 1769, are ingenious mixtures of history, folklore, and fiction. Containing witty humor and poignant tragedy, the tales are structured as narratives within narratives in which characters tell stories, sing ballads, and recite poems that often have thematic similarities to the main stories, but sometimes do not. A number of the tales are distinguished by strong supernatural content. 'The Wehr Wolf: a Legend of the Limousin' is the story of Gaspar de Marcanville, a poor huntsman banished from the court of Francis I; de Marcanville, a werewolf, eventually gets his revenge against Count de Saintefleur, a nobleman who has framed him for trying to murder the king. 'The Paradise of Bears: a Legend of Berne' recounts how the mild, peaceful shepherd Michel Scheppengart becomes an honorary citizen of Bernelandt, the hidden kingdom of Prince Bardoph Waldebaar in the Oberland Mountains, an enchanted land where all the bears in the world gather each winter to live as men in perfect harmony until the spring when they return to their native lands as bears again. Best of all are the six stories set in the mid to late 1700s featuring Ptolemy Horoscope, an astrologer, who resides at the Globe and Comet, No. 141, Little Britain, with Titus Parable, his unscrupulous and foolish servant. Widely known throughout London as 'the Astrologer of Little Britain,' Ptolemy prefigures the consulting detective, that defining staple of Victorian crime fiction that bursts onto the literary scene with the publication of Arthur Conan Doyle's A STUDY IN SCARLET in 1887. Ptolemy receives guests in his study who seek his advice about various mysteries and wish to know the outcome of difficult situations in which they find themselves. The details of the stories are drawn from Ptolemy's papers, which Sylvanus Beauclerk reveals he has purchased from Ptolemy's former landlady Bathsheba Pendulum, along with a number of the astrologer's actual instruments and charms. A former practitioner of occult arts such as geomancy, scrying, and conversing with spirits, Ptolemy abandoned such pursuits because of the negative effect they had on his body and soul. Instead, he uses astrology, which he considers a pure science, to aid those who come to him for help. Titus, his servant, is in reality a fugitive poacher named Timothy Wirewell who only assists his master because he is constantly threatened with being exposed to the authorities if he does not. As fascinating as they are as characters, Ptolemy and Titus are not the focus of any of the stories in which they appear except for the final tale in the sequence, 'Junius, the Veiled Politician: a Legend of Aldersgate,' a story of political intrigue involving 'Junius,' the pseudonymous author of a series of letters published in Henry Sampson Woodfall's PUBLIC ADVERTISER from January 21, 1769, to January 21, 1772, all aimed at undermining the reign of George III. Instead, Ptolemy and Titus typically appear only in a single scene in each tale with the actual adventures undertaken by those individuals who have sought Ptolemy's assistance. In 'The Possessed One: a Legend of Lombard Street,' Edmund Bezant, the son of a banker, returns from living abroad in Salem, Massachusetts, possessed by the evil spirit of Alexander Corsegrave, a Puritan minister involved in the Salem witch trials. In 'Killcrop the Changeling: a Legend of Pickaxe Street,' Noah Fluke, an old sailor, seeks Ptolemy's help in rescuing Basil Hartwell, the orphaned son of the seaman's former commander, who has been abducted by fairies. The most remarkable of the Ptolemy tales is 'The Cock Lane Ghost: a Legend of Snow-Hill,' an excellent story in which Penelope Webber, a duplicitous housekeeper, attempts to discredit Clara Fortescue, the orphaned ward of a wealthy gentlemen Penelope hopes to marry, through a fake haunting that nearly drives Clara insane. The events of the story occur at the same time as the actual historical investigation of the haunting known as the Cock Lane Ghost, a fraud perpetrated by Richard Parsons and his daughter Elizabeth. Thomson skillfully interweaves an account of a séance hosted by Parsons and attended by Samuel Johnson with the plight of Clara Fortescue and Ptolemy's intervention as Penelope Webber suffers a genuine supernatural retribution. While Thomson's stories vary widely in quality, TALES OF AN ANTIQUARY is a fascinating work, highly entertaining, engaging, and original, filled with terrific period detail. It deserves to be much better known." - Boyd White. Locke, A Spectrum of Fantasy, p. 11 and A Spectrum of Fantasy Volume III, p. 156. Not in Bleiler (1948; 1978) or Reginald (1979; 1992) Hubin (1994), p. 25. Block, The English Novel 1740-1850, p. 236. See Wolff 6712. Bindings worn at edges, paper labels darkened, a sound, good copy. An uncommon book, especially in its original binding. (#165326).

Price: $750.00

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