Man as He Is. by BAGE, Robert (1728-1801).

uncut lending library copy in the original boards
BAGE, Robert (1728-1801).

Man as He Is. A Novel. In four volumes. Volume I [-IV]. London, William Lane at the Minerva Press, 1792.

First Edition. Four Volumes, 12mo (c. 190 x 100-115 mm) pp. [iv], vii, [i], 288; [iv], 243, [1] advertisements; [iv], 275, [1] advertisements; [iv], 272, with the half-titles, small tear on I, 9, just touching text but with no loss, light dampstain in Vol. III, gathering B and some of C, small marginal tear without loss III, 275, uncut throughout in the original publisher’s boards with white paper backstrip, the blue boards fairly dusty, the spines considerably chipped but with enough remnants of spine to preserve most of the original ink numbering, some of the covers, particularly to Vol. IV, precariously attached, but holding, the front pastedowns all with a printed lending library slip as pastedown, completed in ink in a contemporary hand, with an early, possibly eighteenth century, playing card (9 of hearts) marking the page at IV, 153,

A delightful copy of what is generally considered to be Bage’s most accomplished novel. Uncut throughout and in the original boards, this copy comes from the English reading society in Groningen. Each volume has for its front pastedown the printed lending library slip which reads, ‘No. __ / Sending Bill / of the English reading Society / Groningen the __ 17__’. A contemporary hand has completed as follows: ‘Man as he is Vol. 1 [-IV]. [No.] 23 Turn of Books. [the] 20th Jan [17]96’.
The first of Bage's two great novels, less well known than Hermsprong; or, Man as he is not, 1796 but thought by many (such as Tompkins, who calls it simply ‘Bage’s best book’) to be the better of the two. Bage, 'the most distinguished novelist ever connected with the Minerva Press', was a paper manufacturer from the midlands who wrote six novels, three of which were printed at the Minerva Press. Influenced by the ideas of the French revolution, his novels are satirical and revolutionary in tone and are reminiscent of the writings of William Godwin and Thomas Holcroft. Apart from his incisive satire of the social follies of the time, Bage must also be noted for the brilliant lightness of his perceptions of character, for 'that half-acid, half-tolerant revelation of the permanent foibles of human nature in which Bage anticipated Jane Austen' (Blakey p. 64).
According to the publisher's advertisement in The Star, June 26, 1792, Man as He Is 'has been pronounced the first-rate novel in the English language'. However, although three of Bage's earlier novels were included by Scott in Balantyne's Novelists' Library, he included neither Man as He Is nor Hermpsrong, objecting mainly to 'the mad philosophy'. Bage's political opinions were too extreme for Scott who objected to his tendency to locate virtue and generosity too exclusively in the lower classes. Bage also applied equal standards to men and women and his heroines enjoy a measure of sexual as well as intellectual freedom. All of which made the novels too subversive for Scott, whose censorial selection procedures may have done their bit to keep Bage out of the main-stream.
'In their keen perception of the absurdities of society, and their shrewd strokes of character, Bage's novels are far superior to the common run of Minerva publications. The whole tone of his work, also, is particularly refreshing after the inflated sentiment or perfervid horrors of young ladies and their 'first literary attempts', for Bage had a vigorous and original mind, packed only with first-hand knowledge of men and affairs. Yet it is not only by contrast that he holds a distinguished place. His sound judgement of character, and the pleasing irony of his style, give him at least a place in the company of Fielding, Austen and Thackeray' (Blakey, p. 65).
'What Bage brought to the novel was a great increase of intellectual content. His active, liberal and independant mind had ranged through a variety of subjects, and his books are full of thought... Bage's tolerance, his readiness to live and let live, is marked in all his books. It is the necessary and far from exhorbitant price paid by a man in order that he may enjoy to the full the company of his fellow-beings' (Tompkins, p. 203).

Garside, Raven & Schöwerling 1792:29; Blakey p. 159; see also pp. 62-65; J.M.S. Tompkins, The Popular Novel in England, 1770-1800, pp. 196-197.

Keywords: English Literature
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