The English “Ship of Fooles”, Illustrated with 116 Large Woodcuts

Brant, Sebastian (1458-1521); Barclay, Alexander (1475?-1552) and Locher, Jacob (1471-1528), translators

Stultifera Navis… The Ship of Fooles, wherin is shewed the folly of all States, with divers other workes adioyned unto the same, very profitable and fruitfull for all men. Translated out of Latin into Englishe by Alexander Barclay, Priest.

London: in Paules Churchyarde by John Cawood printer to the Queenes Maiestie, 1570


Folio: 28 x 19 cm. ¶6, ¶¶6, A-Z6, Aa-Uu6, Xx4, A-G6, A-D6. [12], 259, [3]; [42]; [24] leaves

SECOND EDITION (first printed in 1509).

Bound in contemporary, ornately blind-tooled, calf over wooden boards, rebacked, later gilt rule to the outer edges of the boards, contemporary clasps but probably reused from another book, later catches. The text is in overall fine condition with minor faults as follows: The title and dedication leaves expertly re-margined at inner and lower margin, occasional marginal stains, final leaf washed with residual staining, a single clean, closed tear. Provenance: André Louis Simon (1877-1970, a notable wine merchant and bibliographer; bookplate).  "There are 116 woodcuts in the text of which 8 are repeated twice and 1 once. These illustrations are from the blocks cut for Pynson's edition, 1509, and, with the exception of two or three are very well preserved. These blocks were not copied directly from the original Basel blocks (1494) but from the Parisian copies made for the French translation of Pierre Riviere."(Pforzheimer) The Latin text is set in Roman type while the English text is in black letter. The title page has the well-known woodcut showing four ships laden with fools.

Sebastian Brant's celebrated “Ship of Fooles” ("Narrenschiff"), here in the English translation of Alexander Barclay, printed together with the Latin version of the poem by Jacob Locher. The first edition of Barclay’s translation (1509) is unobtainable. In this second edition there are also additional works by Barclay, “The Mirrour of good Maners” and “Certayne Eglogues", which did not appear in the 1509 edition. "The present edition is of considerable interest and value because of the 'Eclogues' appended, the original editions of which are exceedingly rare." (Pforzheimer) Brant first published his "Narrenschiff", in German, in 1494 at Basel; a second, enlarged German edition appeared the following year and this served as the basis for Jacob Locher's Latin translation, "Stultifera Naus” of 1497. In producing his English "Ship of Fooles", Barclay worked from Locher's Latin translation and the French paraphrase of Pierre Riviere. However, Barclay's "Ship of Fooles" is no mere translation; the English "Ship" is four times as long as Locher's Latin version. The result is a truly English poem, reflective of the life and culture of early 16th century England. "The year of the accession of Henry VIII was the meeting-point in England of three periods of literature. The Middle Ages were passing away. The new Italian Renaissance gave its first literary product to England when Erasmus wrote his Praise of Folly, which owes its very name to the fact that it was written under the hospitable roof of Sir Thomas More in 1509. And in between there is that curious Interregnum, known as the Early Renaissance, initiated by the Council of Basel and Aeneas Sylvius in Germany; by strange coincidence it was just in 1509 that its chief literary production, the 'Ship of Fooles', was translated into English…. "Barclay's 'Ship of Fooles' is not only important as a picture of the English life and popular feeling of his time, it is, both in style and vocabulary, a most valuable and remarkable monument of the English language…. In the long, barren tract between Chaucer and Spenser, the 'Ship of Fooles' stands all but alone as a popular poem, and the continuance of this popularity for a century and more is no doubt to be attributed as much to the use of the language of the 'coming time' as to the popularity of the subject. As a graphic and comprehensive picture of the social condition of pre-Reformation England, as an important influence in the formation of our modern English tongue, and as a rich and unique exhibition of early art this medieval picture-poem is of unrivalled interest." (T.H. Jamieson)

STC 3546; Pforzheimer 41; Langland to Wither, 18; Wilhelmi, Sébastian Brant (Bibliography) 218; Brant ("500e anniversaire" Exhibition catalogue, Basle 1994), 109