Not only is the 1836 first illustrated edition of the great poem a significant rarity in itself (very few, if any, copies have seemingly emerged at auction in the last 40 years), this particular quarto copy has 17 original drawings and watercolours, each bound in directly before the applicable stanza to which they relate. These works include three watercolours by John Constable no less, and others by artists such as Charles Landseer, Peter De Wint and Richard Westall.
These influential names were commissioned for the illustrated edition of Gray’s Elegy by the prominent Regency bookseller, librarian and bibliographer John Martin.
The book was published by John Van Voorst, London, and dedicated to and probably funded by the poet and banker Samuel Rogers.
It featured 33 wood engravings in all which aimed to capture the vivid imagery of the poetry and explore themes in the text such as mortality, legacy and remembrance.
Spotted during a routine valuation visit, this was the editor John Martin’s personal copy. It is believed that the book was handed down through the vendor’s family, although it is unclear how they acquired it.
Also found within the red morocco gilt covers were two hand-written letters which will accompany the lot. One letter dated 1835 is from Constable to Martin and includes a sketch of the churchyard at Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire (where the grave of Gray’s much-loved aunt, Mary Antrobus, had acted as the catalyst for his poem). The other letter is from Rogers to Martin but dates from two years later.
The lot will be offered at Gorringe’s sale in Lewes on June 29.