First Edition of William Watts’ translation of The First Great Autobiography

Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo (354-430 AD); Watts, William (1590?-1649), translator

Saint Augustines confessions translated: and with some marginall notes illustrated. Wherein, diuers antiquities are explayned; and the marginall notes of a former Popish translation, answered. By William Watts, rector of St. Albanes, Woodstreete.

London: printed by Iohn Norton, for Iohn Partridge: and are to be sold at the signe of the Sunne in Pauls Church-yard, 1631


Duodecimo: 14 x 8.1 cm. [12], 1012, [8] p., [1] With an added engraved title page. Collation: A B-2V 2X


A fine copy bound in contemporary vellum, soiled, and with minor faults. Complete with the engraved frontispiece depicting Augustine in his garden in Milan at the moment of his conversion. A small bird is shown uttering the fateful words, “Tolle, Lege” ("take up and read"). The text is complete and has only a little minor staining. The first leaf is soiled and a little loose. There is a natural paper flaw in leaf D6 and a clean tear in leaf Ff3. A nice copy of a book rarely found in its contemporary binding.

First edition of William Watts’ translation, written in part as a response to the “popish” translation of Sir Tobie Matthew (1577-1655) printed at the English College press of St. Omer in 1620. Watts began his translation as a Lenten devotion, but, he tells us, “I quickly found it to exercise more than my devotion: it exercised my skill (all I had): it exercised my patience, it exercised my friends too, for ‘tis incomparably the hardest taske that ever I undertooke.”

The book is dedicated to Lord Keeper Thomas Coventry's daughter Elizabeth, Lady Hare of Stow, Norfolk. "The 'Confessions' were something quite new to literary composition. Their frank description of both emotional and intellectual problems, their acute psychological observations and analysis of complex sentiments, and at the same time their obvious sincerity and humility, account for their immediate and lasting influence. "

The ‘Confessions’ is the first great autobiography in which personal confession and revelations are linked with the spirit of Christian piety and devotion. It was written soon after Augustine became Bishop of Hippo in 397, and none of his other writings, apart from ‘The City of God’, has been more universally read or admired. Its strength of though and confession of weakness have been a constant support to Christians ever since." (Printing and the Mind of Man) "

Augustine is remarkable for what he did and extraordinary for what he wrote. If none of his written works had survived, he would still have been a figure to be reckoned with. However, more than five million words of his writings survive, virtually all displaying the strength and sharpness of his mind and some possessing the rare power to attract and hold the attention of readers in both his day and ours. His distinctive theological style shaped Latin Christianity in a way surpassed only by scripture itself.”(Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition)

"Augustine’s complicated personal journey has enriched his thought with a large number of themes and starting points, which may not have found a definitive systematic placement but precisely for this reason exercise all the greater a fascination upon those periods that, like the present, shun naively integral constructions. A schoolteacher, he was brought up on texts of the classical period, and from these he got to know the best products of Greek and Latin culture. A Manichean, he came into contact with the thought of a sect that was one of the liveliest and most stimulating of the period, a sect whose importance in ancient thought is an object of careful analysis and revaluation today. A Neoplatonist, he learned deeply the lesson of the one who is for him the greatest philosopher of antiquity, Plato, and at the same time he took part in the philosophical developments of the latest current of pagan thought. In the "De Civitate Dei" he reappraises the role of Rome and her empire, yet he does not hesitate to request, in letters of impressive harshness, the aid of the state in repressing the Donatist schism. Profoundly tied to classical culture, he does not hesitate to question it in the "De Doctrina Christiana".

A sophisticated intellectual, he chose to wrestle with the most complex problems, which for some time had agitated the toughest thinkers, and he also focused on new questions, ones no less anxious and difficult than the earlier ones. A man of the Church, he considered it his duty to reach the weakest and least educated of his flock, and he strove to write for all, not only for an elite of scholars. The greatest intelligences of all times have struggled with Augustine, but it is not easy to find one who has been able to interpret and to comprehend his vital difficulty without somehow diminishing it." (Gian Biagio Conte).

STC 912