London: Printed for R. Dodsley, 1751. First Edition. First edition, first printing with line 4, page 10 reading "hidden Spirit," later corrected to "kindred spirit," with the "S" of "FINIS" partly punched through the paper and the last letter of the catchword on p. 9 in alignment. Quarto, tall copy (10 1/16 x 7 9/16 inches; 256 x 192 mm.). 11, [1, blank] pp. Woodcut mourning rules on title-page and repeated as head-piece.
Bound by Riviere & Son in full green morocco. Spine lettered in gilt. Board edges gilt. Elaborate gilt dentelles. Marbled endpapers. All edges gilt. Some minor soiling to title-page. Provenance: The Currie-Webster copy, owned by esteemed collector Barton Currie and appearing in his book Fishers of Books before being purchased for the library of Oscar winning musician Paul Francis Webster. A very good, clean copy of one of the most famous poems in the English language and an important precursor of the Romantic movement.
Gray had circulated his Elegy in manuscript among his friends, but had resisted publication until Horace Walpole inadvertently let the text fall into the hands of William Owen, who intended to print the poem, identifying Gray as the author, in his Magazine of Magazines. Gray advised Walpole in a letter of 12 February 1751 to “make Dodsley print it immediately...from your Copy but without my Name, in what Form is most convenient for him, but in his best Paper & Character...& the Title must be, Elegy, wrote in a Country Church-yard.” The first edition, with an anonymous prefatory “Advertisement” by Walpole was published 15 February 1751, one day before the unauthorized edition appeared in the Magazine of Magazines. The short time allowed for the printing of the poem accounts for the faulty press work that affects the final word of virtually all copies.
The book was immensely popular. Four more Dodsley editions, as well as several unauthorized journal printings appeared the same year. In his book Fishers of Books, Barton Currie expresses extreme pride in this, his own first edition of the Elegy which remains "taller and wider than most." Of this copy, Currie wrote "Now for a little mild boasting. Not half ten years had passed when I refused an offer of ten thousand dollars for the book...I proclaim that I could sell my Gray's Elegy in the present period of economic depression for as much as ten thousand dollars." After acquiring the copy for his own library in 1963 from the Barton Currie sale, Paul Francis Webster not only included his personal bookplates on the front and rear pastedowns, but inserted a handwritten note that he had selected this copy of Elegy as an upgrade to his library: "My first copy of Gray's Elegy -- originally the John Gribbel copy -- measured 9 5/6" x 7 1/4". I sold it in 1947 and in 1963 I bought the present, larger copy which measures 10 " x 7 1/4" at the Barton Currie Sale..." This exceptional copy with a distinguished provenance remains one of the largest known on the market.
Ashley II, p. 159. Grolier, 100 English, 49. Hayward 173. Hazen 41. Northrup 492. Rothschild 1056. Tinker 1165. (Item #2307)