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[WALPOLE, Horace]

The Castle of Otranto, a story.

Translated by William Marshall, Gent. From the original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto.

London: for Tho. Lownds, 1765 [but 1764] Stock Code: 139678
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"Its influence on Poe is manifest, and it has survived in such novels as Bram Stoker's Dracula and in modern mystery stories and horror films" (PMM)

First edition of this mock tale of medieval horror which initiated the vogue for Gothic romances. "Impressive theatrical effects included a gigantic heavenly helmet with magical powers, a bleeding statue, a sword that could only be borne by fifty men, an anchorite whose flesh had melted away to leave only an animated skeleton, and a portrait that strode out of its frame. The fascination with the fantastic was the same that created Strawberry Hill, but unrestrained by the requirements of bricks and mortar. It caught a tide of interest in exotic evocations of ancient and medieval cultures" (ODNB). The first edition was disguised as the translation, by one 'William Marshal, Gent', of an Italian work discovered in the library of an old Roman Catholic family in the north of England, but the reception was so favourable that within six months of publication Walpole issued a second edition in which his authorship was revealed. The poet Thomas Gray wrote to Walpole that the novel made "some of us cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o'nights."

Printed on Christmas eve 1764, in a small edition of 500 copies on fine laid paper, the first edition has long been a choice item for collectors. This copy, handsomely bound by Zaehnsdorf in the late 19th century (preserving generous margins), has the bookplate of the American book collector Thomas Jefferson McKee (1840-1899), whose vast library was sold after his death, this copy appearing as item 5574 in his catalogue. It then appeared in the sale of John A. Spoor's library (his bookplate here engraved by Emery Walker), selling in 1939 for 52.50. The last copy to appear at auction was that of Pierre Bergé, selling in 2016 for 7,519.

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Octavo (178 x 109 mm). Handsomely bound by Zaehnsdorf in late 19th-century dark green morocco. spine in compartments with raised bands, blind rules, and gilt titles direct, blind-ruled border to sides, gilt rule to board edges and turn-ins, attractive marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Housed in a black morocco backed bookform folding case.


Some trivial scuffs to extremities but the binding sound and in excellent condition, ownership inscription erased from head of title page, mild marginal offsetting to title and A2, occasional and minor marginal stains at lower edge through signatures H-N, a very good copy overall.


Bleiler, Supernatural Fiction 1651; PMM (211); Hazen Walpole, 17; Lowndes IV, 2820 ("a very limited number of this edition were printed"); Rothschild 2491.


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