Abdallah; an Oriental Poem: in Three Cantos.
With other pieces.London: J. M. Richardson, 1824 Stock Code: 141341
First and sole edition of this very scarce collection of verse by the flourishingly named James Augustus St John, born James John (1795-1875), the son of a shoemaker, in what would become Dylan's Thomas stamping ground of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. Abdallah is an interesting contribution to the Romantic oriental verse epic, a form popularisd by Tom Moore's wildly successful Lalla Rookh (1817) and Byron's equally fashionable quartet, The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, and Lara. It is dedicated to the traveller James Silk Buckingham and opens, "Fair Asia's harp, whose sacred chords have given / Airs as the bulbul's sweet".
Educated at the local charity school, in classics and modern languages by a neighbouring vicar, and an autodidact in literature, philosophy, and politics, John's "childhood poverty and an artisan background at the time of the Welsh corn riots led him into radical politics" (ODNB). Around 1818 he went to London, where he married, and was employed by the radical press. Following a move to the West Country he became editor of the radical newspaper, The Patriot, first in Plymouth and then at Exeter. Returning to London he "quietly became respectable" and for more than thirty years "contributed to the leading periodicals, mainly on politics and foreign affairs. He also published numerous original works, novels, biography, and history among them but amassed no fortune from his considerable literary labours and died in relative poverty" (ibid.).
Abdallah seems to have been his single attempt at a large scale poetical work; it was not a success and "led him to relinquish his long-held ambition to dedicate himself to poetry" (ibid.). An online search of institutional libraries traces just four locations: British Library, Cambridge, Oxford, and Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.
This attractive copy is from the library of Charles William Vane, third marquess of Londonderry (17781854), with his elaborate bookplate; his arms, with hussar supporters, including his many military awards. A brave but not particularly brilliant soldier - Sir John Moore described him as "a very silly fellow" - Vane served with variable distinction throughout the Peninsular War. His Narrative of the war (1828), based on his correspondence with his half-brother Lord Castlereagh, was not uncontroversial. His dashing and dandified portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence is at the National Portrait Gallery.
Octavo (210 x 130 mm). Contemporary moderate blue half calf, smooth spine divided by paired gilt fillets, blind central quatrefoil to compartments, red label, marbled sides, speckled edges.
A few minor abrasions to binding, corners only very slightly bumped. An excellent copy.
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