Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk. by LOCKHART, John Gibson (1794-1854).

imaginary first edition; imaginary advertisement
LOCKHART, John Gibson (1794-1854).

Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk. The Second Edition. Volume the First [-Third]. Edinburgh, Blackwood, 1819.

First Edition. (though styled the second, as part of the satire). Three volumes, 8vo, engraved portrait frontispiece to the first volume and pp. xv, [i], [v]-viii, 64, 61-333; viii, 363; ix, [i], 351, [1], [1] advertsisements, thirteen further engraved plates and one part-page illustration of a Glasgow steam-boat (III, 351), some offsetting and very occasional spotting, in contemporary russia, gilt and blind border to covers, spines gilt in compartments, lettered and numbered in gilt, marbled endpapers and edges, gilt dentelles, with the heraldic bookplate of Westport House (Co. Mayo) in each volume.

An excellent copy of Lockhart’s whimsical tour de force, a satirical picture of Scotland presented as a series of letters from the fictional Dr. Peter Morris, a portrait of whose dignified features stands as frontispiece to the first volume, to his kinsman in Wales, the Reverend David Williams. Alongside this non-existence of the letters’ author and recipient, the whole presentation of Lockhart’s work is jocular, with its ‘Epistle Liminary to the Second Edition’, in which the author specifies minute instructions for the publishing of this ‘second’ edition as a joint venture between Cadell and Davies and William Blackwood: ‘The First Edition being but a coarse job, and so small withal, I did not think of him’ and wishing to discuss Peter’s Letters from Italy and Germany with the publisher. Another little bibliographical joke is the final page of advertisements in the third volume, giving an imaginary list of ‘Works by the Same Author’.
The text gives a detailed view of the Edinburgh of the day: the prominent men and women of the city, the clergy, the booksellers, the dandies; the courts, the coffee-rooms, the balls, dinner parties, dancing and social life; the university versus the English universities; the novels, the buildings, the ladies’ dress; the philosophers, the wits and the blue-stockings. ‘We can hardly be too grateful for so bold and skilful a picture of the social life of the age’ (J.H. Millar, A Literary History of Scotland, pp. 518-519). The writing capitalises on the intimacy of the letter form and no attempt is made to spare any of the dignitaries mentioned. Inevitably, Lockhart’s book caused more than its share of offence, ‘especially to the Whigs, by its personalities, and perhaps, as Scott said, by its truth’ (DNB).

CBEL 2189.

Keywords: English Literature
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