The Life and Adventures of a Fly. by JONES, Stephen…

scarce illustrated It-novel featuring Laurence Sterne
JONES, Stephen (1763-1827).
BEWICK, John (1760-1795), illustrator.

The Life and Adventures of a Fly. Supposed to have been written by Himself. Illustrated with Cuts. London:printed for E. Newbery, At the Corner of St. Paul’s Church-yard. [Price 6d.], circa 1787-1789

First Edition. 16mo (106 x 72 mm), woodcut frontispiece by John Bewick and pp. [iii-xviii], [19]-121, [7] advertisements, frontispiece printed on A1, with twelve further woodcut illustrations by Bewick in the text, in the original Dutch floral boards, spine chipped and joints a little weak, text sprung between gatherings F and G, otherwise an excellent copy, with what appear to be two contemporary ownership inscriptions on the front free endpaper (but which may be repeats of the same), of John Benj?? Ing?? of Hallam House, Doncaster?’ and ‘John Salmonds, Baissing?’.

A delightful ‘It-Novel’ narrating the adventures of the eponymous fly, at one point attributed to Oliver Goldsmith but now generally catalogued as by Stephen Jones, a hack writer associated with Elizabeth Newbery, author of A natural history of birds, 1793, A natural history of fishes, 1795 and Rudiments of Reason, 1793 (although Roscoe still treats this attribution as uncertain, listing this and several other works as by ‘S., J.’.). Chapter IV, ‘Hints to those who are fond of Fly-catching’, acquaints the reader with the fly’s initial inspiration for writing the book. A little four year old boy called Tommy Pearson is visited by his eight year old cousin, Master Laurence Sterne and the two boys demonstrate ‘a perfect pattern of benevolence’. Our hero the fly lands on Tommy’s hand while he is at dinner and Tommy catches it lightly and asks ‘Lorry’ what he should do with it. Laurence recommends that Tommy should carry the fly to the window and set it free, for it would be an enormous crime to take away its life and ‘very hard indeed’ if in the wide world there were not enough room for both of them to live. ‘Here is an excellent lesson of humanity! thought I. What a pity ‘tis, that all the little fly-catching folks in Great Britain cannot hear it! - But, continued I, they shall hear it, if it lie in my power; and now it was that I first laid the plan of this little work’ (p. 66).
With a wonderful shaggy dog story of a preface, in which the ‘editor’ tells of his fall from opulence to deprivation, his decision to turn author and his discovery in the corner of his garret of the present manuscript, ‘neatly folded up, and carefully tied round with a piece of silk ribbon. Before the preface is a charming dedication: ‘To those Young Ladies and Gentlemen who are Good and Merit Praise; and also to Those who, by a contrary Conduct, prove there is room for Reformation in them, This Book (As tending equally to confer Honour on the first, and assist the latter in becoming good) is most humbly dedicated by the Editor’. The text is followed by seven leaves of advertisements for works printed by Elizabeth Newbery.
This is thought to be the first of only two London editions of this title, both very scarce. Roscoe dates the present edition to between 1787 and 1789. The other London edition, with no publisher’s name in the imprint, appeared in 1790 (ESTC n19104, at Morgan only). ESTC also records two American printings of this title, both in Boston, the first ‘printed and sold’ by John Norman in 1794 (ESTC w6599 at American Antiquarian Society and Yale) and the second by Samuel Etheridge in 1797 (ESTC w11317, at American Antiquarian Society). A Newcastle piracy was published in 1798 by Solomon Hodgson under the imprint ‘London: printed in the Year 1798’ (ESTC lists Alexander Turnbull Library only).
Details on this edition: LONDON: in TP in roman caps, 2.3 cm long (including colon); d.p. rule above imprint, 5 cm long; ‘Price 6d.’ in square brackets, not in italics; A6r: no rule below ‘Preface’; B2r: a line below caption, 4 cm long; p. 121: ‘The End.’ in upper and lower caps, 2 cm long.

ESTC t117748, at BL, Bodleian, Reading, Columbia, Harvard (2 copies) and the Morgan (2 copies); OCLC adds Vassar and American Philosophical Society; Princeton also has a copy.

Roscoe J190, closest to C (see above); Gumuchian 3787; not in Osborne.

Keywords: Children
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