Zeluco. by MOORE, John (1729-1802).

model for Byron’s Childe Harold
MOORE, John (1729-1802).

Zeluco. Various Views of Human Nature, taken from Life and Manners, Foreign and Domestic. In two volumes. Vol. I [-II]. The Second Edition. Dublin, White [&c], 1789.

Second (Dublin) Edition. Two volumes, 12mo (167 x 92 mm), pp. [ii], 288; [ii], [3]-312, wanting the final endpapers, in contemporary calf, flat spines with red and black morocco labels lettered and numbered in gilt, with the contemporary ownership inscription ‘Margaret Reynell, Novbr. 1:91’ and a later pencil ownership inscription crossed out, with one full-page pencil drawing and a couple of part page ones.

An attractive copy of a notoriously unsavoury novel, the first work by John Moore, physician and biographer of Smollet. The eponymous protagonist is an irredeemably evil Sicilian nobleman whose foul deeds are shown to be born out of an indulgent upbringing at the hands of his widowed mother. The story of his cruel tyranny, rise to power and inevitably wretched end is a surprisingly readable one, made all the more so by the author’s enlightened digressions. For Zeluco is much more than just a novel with gothic overtones: it is an enlightenment tale of English and European manners which tackles subjects such as slavery and religious intolerance.
From the first London edition of 1789, Zeluco was a best-selling novel, republished several times in England and Ireland and also translated into French. In contemporary society, it secured Moore a place alongside Richardson, Fielding and Smollett as one of the greatest living novelists. Anna Laetitia Barbauld selected it in 1810 for her series of the best British novels and Byron declared it to have been one of his favourite childhood books. In the preface to Childe Harold, he writes that his hero was intended to be ‘perhaps a poetical Zeluco’.
John Gillies wrote in the Monthly Review: ‘This is not a common novel. The author’s mind is stored with useful knowlege, and adorned with elegant literature. He appears to have read the great book of life with attention and profit... Unlike most modern novels, which have little other merit but that of exciting curiosity, and which are thrown aside as soon as the curiosity is gratified, the story, or fable, in this performance, is to be considered merely as the canvas, on which this skilful observer of life and manners delineates such moral pictures as are likel to excite the attention of his age and country’ (MR 80, June 1789, pp. 511-512).
‘Religion teaches, that Vice leads to endless misery in a future state; and experience proves, that in spite of the gayest and most prosperous appearances, inward misery accompanies her; for, even in this life, her ways are ways of wretchedness, and all her paths are woe... Tracing the windings of vice and delineating the disgusting features of villainy are unpleasant tasks; and some people cannot bear to contemplate such a picture... it is fair, therefore, to warn readers of this turn of mind not to peruse the story of Zeluco’ (Chapter I, pp. 1-2).
Despite the gripping nature of this novel, one reader evidently found her (or his) attention wandering sufficiently to find time for several sketches. A surprising number of pages have also been turned down at the corner, suggesting a laborious approach to reading the text. Perhaps this reader should have taken note of Moore’s warning in the first chapter, and given up in the attempt to peruse the story.

ESTC t180904, listing Cambridge, Dublin City Libraries, NLI, Royal College of Physicians, Cornell, Library Company, Princeton and Texas.

Garside, Raven & Schöwerling 1789:54; Hardy 643; Block p. 165.

Keywords: English Literature
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