CAMDEN, William

Britannia. Newly Translated into English with large additions and improvements.

Published: Oxford: Edmund Gibson. 1695.


Printed by F. Collins for A. Swalle and A. and J. Churchill. Folio. (405x250mm) pp. frontispiece engraved portrait of Camden; title page; [32], cxcvi (in double columns), 832 (double column), 833-848 (single column), 849- 1116 (double column), [18]pp Annals of Ireland, [24]pp index, [2]pp appendix. Fifty double page engraved maps, many by Morden and nine pages of coins and other antiquities, including Stonehenge as required. Contemporary panelled calf, spine with six raised bands and seven compartment. Title in gilt on a red label to second compartment. Covers have wear and stripping. Spine is worn at head and foot with loss. Cracking to hinges. An engraving of Paxton's Crystal Palace in Hyde Park has been stuck onto the front pastedown. The contents are in near fine condition with only one tear (to Xx3) which affects the edge of one illustration but with no loss to the text. This is a very fresh and clean text block. The only map with any damage is a small tear to one of the folds of the map of Norfolk. This is, perhaps, to be expected as the previous owners of this copy were the Bulwer-Long family from Heydon Hall, Norfolk who are kinsmen of the Bulwer Lyttons. The top of the title page has the inscription "Lt Colonel Bulwer from [illegible]". Aside from the condition of the binding, which can be repaired and restored, this is a lovely copy of one of the central works of early-modern British history and with an excellent provenance.

William Camden (1551-1623) began Britannia in 1577. It was conceived as a full topographical and historical survey, his intention being to "restore antiquity to Britaine, and Britain to his antiquity". It was first published, in Latin, in 1586 and was hugely popular running to five further editions over the following twenty years, each one with new material added. By the time of the 1607 edition, maps and illustrations were included. The first English language edition appeared in 1610. Britannia is a work of chorography (Camden calls it a Chorographica descriptio), a genre which owes its origins and definition to Ptolemy. It is distinct from history and geography but includes both. Ptolemy saw chorography as the study of the smaller, constituent parts of the geographical whole. Camden’s work represents probably the fullest example of the Renaissance revival of this branch of classical learning. Camden aimed to show, county by county, how the traces of the past existed in and informed the contemporary landscape. The most important fruit of this method was his detailed picture of Roman Britain, the first such study. Camden worked partly from first hand research, travelling widely in England and Wales (he learnt Welsh and Old English) but he also created a network of assistants who provided material for those parts of the islands he could not visit. The importance of Britannia was immediately recognised throughout Europe with later editions being published in Germany and the Netherlands. It remains a very popular work today, partly for the range of its scholarship and for the beauty and accuracy of the illustrations.