Moriae Encomium: or, a Panegyrick upon Folly by Erasmus, 1709

Forget “needle in a haystack”, I shall now use the phrase “300-year-old Erasmus in 40 boxes of old book club novels”. Except that this one was pretty dang easy to spot.

Moriae Encomium: or, a Panegyrick upon Folly

Written in Latin by Desiderius Erasmus.

Done into English, and illustrated with above Fifty Curious Cuts, Design’d and Drawn by Hans Holbeine. To which is prefix’d, Erasmus’s Epistle to Sir Thomas More, and an Account of Hans Holbeine’s Pictures, &c. and where to be seen.

London: Printed, and Sold by J. Woodward, in Threadneedle-Street. 1709.

This begs the question, where did this old man acquire such an old and impeccable book when 99% of what he had were value-less book club novels from the 1950s? I was tempted to give a dissertation on how to identify a book club edition just to highlight the vast abyss between them and the Moriae Encomium, but maybe I’ll leave that for another post. Did they have book clubs in 1709? I’m gonna have to read up on that, but off-hand I seriously doubt it.

…not to harp on about it, but a couple dozen of those BCEs had water damage and were falling apart! BUT NOT THE ERASMUS.

The Erasmus is in incredible condition, and not just for its age. The red leather binding was probably done much later – my self-educated guess would be mid-late 1800s. The cover has a simple gilt border, with five raised bands on the spine and bright gilt title. On the bottom of the spine is printed “Lond. 1709”. Page edges are gilt, and remain very bright. Endpages are gorgeously marbled in blue, burgundy and light yellow.


The interior is no less impressive. You’d expect foxing and some discoloration at least, but the pages remain bright, neat and clean. The textblock has a very slight waviness only noticeable when the book is closed and viewing the outside page edges, but this may very well be from how it was bound, rather than anything age-related. Includes the original engravings by Hans Holbein.

Seriously, where did the late Mr. Sampson get this thing? Was it just in the family? Did he pick it up on a whim from a thrift store because it was pretty? What?! But of course, it really doesn’t matter. The strangest and most amazing books can pop up in the most unlikely places. Books are especially good for this because people hang onto them and hoard them for decades and lose touch with what they have, or they make their way down the family tree. They are easy to accrue, difficult to part with – often practically as much as emotionally.

This is a gorgeous book, and the more I look into it, the more I’m curious to actually read it.

The ever-convenient wikipedia informs me that Erasmus “was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian” and that the book is “an essay written in Latin in 1509 … and first printed in 1511. Inspired by Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli’s De Triumpho Stultitiae, it is a satirical attack on superstitions and other traditions of European society as well as on the western Church.”

Take a look at the photos. Hans Holbein’s illustrations are great.

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