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ROWE, NICHOLAS - Rare autograph of the English poet laureate who coined the term 'lothario'
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ROWE, NICHOLAS - Rare autograph of the English poet laureate who coined the term 'lothario'

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ROWE, NICHOLAS. (1674-1718). English writer, poet laureate and Shakespeare scholar. ALS. (“N. Rowe”). 1p. Oblong 8vo. N.p., September 29, 1716. To the bookseller and publisher of Dryden and Milton (and founder of the literary “Kit-Kat Club”), JACOB TONSON (1655/56-1736).


I send you here about half the Fifth Book & desire you will send me twelve guineas by Naylor. In a fortnight you shall have the other part. in [sic.] the newspapers Last night & this Day they have degraded me from a Land=Surveyor to a landwaiter between whom there is a pretty materiall Difference. I desire you will take Care that matter may be Rectify’d in the Papers to morrow & you will oblige Yr very humble Servant… 


Although he followed his father into the study of law, Rowe pursued his literary passions while serving in several governmental positions including undersecretary to the duke of Queensberry, secretary of state for Scotland, and in 1714, with the accession of King George I to the throne, land-surveyor of the customs of the port of London. It is this position that he is discussing in our letter, clarifying that he is not merely a landwaiter, a customs officer in charge of enforcing import and export regulations and duties. 


Rowe’s literary accomplishments were recognized in 1715 when he was appointed the fourth “official” poet laureate of England (John Dryden being the first). Among his numerous works are The Ambitious Stepmother, The Fair Penitent, The Tragedy of Jane Shore, and The Tragedy of Lady Jane Grey. In 1709, Rowe made a significant contribution to Shakespearean studies when he edited, in six volumes, the first modern and complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays, The Works of William Shakespeare, published by Jacob Tonson, the recipient of our letter. It was based on the flawed Fourth Folio (from whose publishing heirs, Tonson had acquired the copyright to Shakespeare’s works) and became the source of subsequent 18th-century editions. Interestingly, it was Rowe who first introduced the term “lothario” (a seducer of women) into the language, taken from a character so named in The Fair Penitent.


In 1718, Rowe’s translation of the ancient Roman Lucan’s epic work Pharsalia, with a preface by Rowe’s friend and biographer, Dr. James Welwood, was published posthumously by Tonson. This epic poem chronicled the conflict between Julius Caesar and Pompey. In this translation, Lucan’s work is spread over five books and it is likely that Rowe sent Tonson a part of this manuscript with our letter. Doctor Samuel Johnson, who included Rowe in his own great work, Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, praised Rowe’s Pharsalia saying: “[Rowe’s] version of Lucan is one of the greatest productions of English poetry; for there is perhaps none that so completely exhibits the genius and spirit of the original. Lucan is distinguished by a kind of dictatorial or philosophic dignity, rather, as Quintilian observes, declamatory than poetical; full of ambitious morality and pointed sentences, comprised in vigorous and animated lines. This character Rowe has very diligently and successfully preserved. His versification, which is such as his contemporaries practised without any attempt at innovation or improvement, seldom wants either melody or force… The Pharsalia of Rowe deserves more notice than it obtains, and as it is more read will be more esteemed,” (Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, Johnson).


Slightly trimmed along the left edge and expertly silked. Rare; we could find no auction records for letters written by Rowe, nor any examples located in the Morrison collection or the Morgan Library.


Item #17730  



Nicholas Rowe

National Portrait Gallery


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