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

scarce illustrated It-novel featuring Laurence Sterne - unrecorded variant
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, by G. Woodfall, no. 22, Pate

First Edition? Unrecorded in Roscoe. 16mo (108 x 74 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, small tears on G8 (pp. 111-112) and H7 (advertisement leaf), both through text but without loss, in contemporary Dutch gilt boards, the spine at some point replaced with plain calf, now rather worn but a sympathetic restoration.

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.
Roscoe identifies and gives details of four variants of the Elizabeth Newbery printing of this scarce title, not including the present one. There are small details (noted below) in the cited use of capitals, square or round brackets and length of rules, but the most significant difference is the presence in this edition of the printer’s identity on the title-page, which has an extra line in the imprint, reading ‘by G. Woodfall, no. 22, Paternoster-Row’. Roscoe dates the first Elizabeth Newbery edition to between 1787 and 1789, based on the contents of the final advertisement leaves. 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 italic caps, 1.3 cm long (including colon); ‘Price 6d.’ in round brackets and in italics; A6r: double below ‘Preface’, 2.5 cm long; B2r: double rule below caption, 2.5 cm long; p. 121: ‘The End.’ in roman caps, 1.5 cm long.

ESTC t117748 does not differentiate between the variants given by Roscoe and therefore probably includes all the early Elizabeth Newbery editions. Copies listed 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 of one of the early variants. Without further detailed research it is impossible to know if this is a unique copy of this variant.

Roscoe J190; Gumuchian 3787; not in Osborne.

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