An Exceptional Copy of the First Edition of Holland’s Pliny. One of the Most Important Elizabethan Science Books

Pliny, the Elder (23-79 A.D.); Holland, Philemon (1552-1637), translator

The Historie of the World. Commonly called, the Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus. Translated into English by Philemon Holland Doctor in Physicke. The first [& Second] tome.

London: Impensis G. Bishop, 1601


Folio: 33 x 22 cm. π6 [par.]4 a-b6 A8 B-3I6 3K4; A-3G6 3H4 3I-3O6 3P8 (lacking blank leaves π1 and 3P8) Complete in two parts; with a divisional title page to the second tome and the errata/colophon on leaf 3P7

FIRST EDITION, second issue with cancel title page.

Bound in contemporary English calfskin, ruled in blind, rebacked and recornered in morocco. An excellent, crisp, bright copy with very minor faults: repaired clean tear with no loss, leaf P4. A few signatures with very light marginal dampstains. Occasional rust spots, marginal tears, or marginal natural paper flaws, no loss whatsoever. Title pages to both volumes. The first with an elaborate architectural border with Solomonic columns. The second with a large woodcut device. An impressive book.

“The ‘Natural History’ of Pliny the Elder is more than a natural history: it is an encyclopaedia of all the knowledge of the ancient world… It comprises 37 books with mathematics and physics, geography and astronomy, medicine and zoology, anthropology and physiology, philosophy and history, agriculture and mineralogy, the arts and letters… The ‘Historia’ soon became a standard book of reference; abstracts and abridgements appeared by the third century. Bede owned a copy, Alcuin sent the early books to Charlemagne, and Dicuil, the Irish geographer, quotes him in the ninth century. It was the basis of Isidore's Etymologiae and such medieval encyclopedias as the Speculum Majus of Vincent of Beauvais and the Catholicon of Balbus. One of the earliest books to be printed at Venice, the centre from which so much of classical literature was first dispensed, it was later translated into English by Philemon Holland in 1601, and twice reprinted (a notable achievement for so vast a text)… Over and over again it will be found that the source of some ancient piece of knowledge is Pliny.” (PMM 5)

“Holland's first book, the first complete rendering of Livy into English, was published in 1600 when he was nearly fifty. It was a work of great importance, presented in a grand folio volume of 1458 pages, and dedicated to the queen. …

“The Livy was followed in the next year by an equally huge translation, of the elder Pliny: The Historie of the World, Commonly called, the Naturall Historie. This encyclopaedia of ancient knowledge about the natural world had already had a great indirect influence in England, as elsewhere in Europe, but had not been translated into English before, and would not be again for 250 years.”(ODNB)

For Shakespeare's use of Holland's Pliny, see (inter alia) Muir, "Holland's Pliny and Othello", Notes and Queries 198 (1953), Muir, "The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays"(London, 1977), 186-90.

Pforzheimer, 496; STC (2nd ed.), 20029