Essays on Physiognomy for the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind.LAVATER, J.C.
Essays on Physiognomy for the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind. Written in the German Language by J.C. Lavater and translated into English by Thomas Holcroft. Illustrated by Three Hundred and Sixty Engravings
London: Printed for G.G.J. and J. Robinson. 1789.
First edition of Holcroft's translation. Three volumes. 8vo. 220x135mm. pp. Vol. I. ,vi, 241; Vol. II. [vi], 324; Vol. III. [viii], 314, [10, index]. 360 engravings by James Heath and others. A beautiful Irish contemporary binding, green goatskin, rolled leaf and flower border in gilt to covers, spine ruled in gilt, red goatskin labels lettered and decorated in gilt, edges of boards tooled with gold diagonal lines of alternate widths, edges of the leaves marbled. Some superficial marking and scuffing. The contents are in superb condition and the engravings are particularly fine. Ownership inscription of Marcus Gage on the title page of all three volumes.
A superb binding by William McKenzie. Mirjam Foot has described McKenzie as a "very remarkable" binder and he was one of the leading Dublin binders, printers and booksellers of the late eighteenth century. He sometimes signed his bindings with a label but certainly not in every case. Foot describes how McKenzie often used green goatskin, sewed his endbands in red and white silk and marbled the edges of the leaves. These elements are all present. This is an extremely handsome contemporary binding of the highest quality in excellent condition.
Johann Caspar Lavater’s celebrated study of human personality as expressed through physical, principally facial, features was so popular at the end of the eighteenth century that it was translated into English twice in 1789 alone. Henry Hunter published his version that year, but it is Holcroft’s that quickly established itself as the more popular and was reissued at least eighteen times over the following eighty years. Lavater’s work was heavily influenced by della Porta and Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici. Although physiognomy was recognised as quackery by many leading minds, it was taken seriously by many educated readers (hence, fine copies such as this one). Part of the attraction was no doubt the entertaining illustrations showing a huge variety of facial characteristics but a factor must also have been Lavater’s aphoristic style amusingly captured in Holcroft’s translation: “A woman with a beard is not so disgusting as a woman who acts the free-thinker”. No wonder Hannah More and Maria Edgeworth called Lavater a “mountebank”.