De Tribus Luminibus Romanorum libri sex-decim.

  • Bellenden, William
  • Parisiis [Paris]: Apud Tussanum du Bray 1634


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FIRST EDITION, second issue, folio, pp. [vi], 824 [recte 848], 15, [1]. Contemporary vellum, boards panelled in blind with central decorative lozenge, fore-edge extensions, spine divided by gilt rolls, compartments infilled with repeated spray and dot tools gilt. Toned, some spotting and rustmarks, a few tiny paper flaws. Vellum somewhat soiled and marked, spine label lost, front flyleaf sometime neatly renewed. Armorial bookplate of Thomas Gaisford, Dean of Christ Church, with printed catalogue mumber label (‘1332’), to front pastedown.


The final and most substantial work of William Bellenden (c.1550-1633?), published posthumously and long considered a great rarity: the story repeated in several places is that most of the edition was lost at sea when the ship carrying it from France to Britain foundered in a storm. This may have been a rumour from the period of controversy over Conyers Middleton's Life of Cicero - Middleton was accused of plagiarising Bellenden's work and hoping to escape notice due to the rarity of his source ('it is said that there were not then more than ten copies to be found in all the libraries of England', according to an essay on literary fraud by David Fosdick Jr printed in the American Biblical Repository, No. 29, 1838; the detail of the loss of the edition reappears in the DNB entry for Middleton though is omitted in the ODNB).
It exists in two issues of the same sheets of text with only the title-page and prefatory matter altered: the first, with the privilege dated August 1633, contains a four-page dedication to Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Verneuil, signed by Bellenden, while the second has the privilege dated March 1634, and the dedication is instead two pages to Charles I and signed by the printer, followed by a short letter to the reader which acknowledges Bellenden's death prior to publication.
In fact the old guess about its rarity might have been fairly accurate: there are still only a dozen copies (counting both issues) recorded in UK institutions in Library Hub, and the work is notably rare on the market.
Bellenden, born in Lasswade, studied at the University of Paris and mostly remained there, though he visited James VI in 1584 and was later appointed the king's Master of Requests and overseer of the Scots College in Paris. His writings, Ciceronian in style and Royalist in outlook, kept him in good favour. He spent years in the planning of this major study, which would have told the history of Rome through quotations from its three 'leading lights', but only finished the first part, using the works of Cicero (it is believed Bellenden intended the other two to be Seneca and Pliny).

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