Though not our oldest book, Sir Walter Raleigh’s Historie of the World, in five books is a favorite item to share with visitors. Folio format, it is quarter bound (33 x 22 cm) with raised bands, title, and original publication date (1614) tooled in gilt on spine. It includes two title-pages: the original copper-engraved pictorial title-page by Renold Elstrack (1570-1630?), and a second with full title and frontispiece featuring the author, engraved by Simon van de Pass (1595?-1647). The poem, “The Mind of the Front,” by Ben Johnson, is thought to interpret the frontispiece, and was likely selected by Sir Walter Raleigh himself. Together, the two pages fall within the emblematic tradition, which was popular in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Approximately 1300 pages, the book includes a chronological table, maps, and other illustrated matter. Our copy was printed in London in 1634, for George Latham and Robert Young.
Sir Walter Raleigh was a soldier, colonist, explorer, poet and scholar. He had been a close confident of Queen Elizabeth I, but fell out of favor following his marriage to one of her maids of honor. While the Queen herself was somewhat forgiving, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, following her death in 1603, where he began composing The History of the World. Being well read, it is thought that Raleigh had a library of over 500 books with him during his imprisonment in the Tower, which provided the secondary material from which to compose his work. Published as five books in one volume, the story covers the period from Creation to the rise of the Roman Empire. Raleigh intended to complete the work with two more volumes, but politics intervened and Raleigh was beheaded on October 29, 1618, before he was able to finish the work. The book serves as a kind of ambassador, bringing seventeenth century England to us today and showcasing important elements of publishing from that time.
The book was donated to Western Libraries by Mrs. C. X. Larrabee in February 1938.
Special Collections Manager