[The Decameron.] The Modell of Wit, Mirth, Eloquence, and Conversation.
London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard, for Mathew Lownes, 1625 and, 1620.
Folio: 28.5 x 18.7 cm. two parts in one volume. I. , 193,  lvs.; II. , 134, 137-187 [i.e. 188] leaves. Collations: I. A-V6 (without blank A1), Aa8, Bb-Nn6 (Nn6 blank and present); II: (-)4 (initial blank before title present), ¶4, ¶¶4, ¶¶¶2, B-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa6.
SECOND EDITION OF VOLUME ONE (1st 1620). FIRST EDITION OF VOLUME TWO. The first volume comprises Books 1-5. The second Books 6-10.
Bound in contemporary English calf ruled in blind, neatly rebacked retaining the original spine, corners mended, later end-leaves. A crisp copy with minor scattered stains and clean tears (no loss). Light ink stain to first title, light dampstain to lower blank margin of first two gatherings, slight chipping to lower corner of first two lvs. Small rust holes in lvs. E3-4, M3-4, and Dd1-2; small marginal paper flaw to lvs. M1 and 2nd Dd3, lvs. O6 and Ss3 (Pt. 2) with tears in text (no loss), 2nd Oo2 with sm. repaired hole. With the bookplates of Shuttleworth Forcett; Kap Shuttleworth, Cawthorpe Hall; and Stuart W. Jackson; housed in chemise and half-morocco slipcase.
Title page of the first volume printed with a woodcut border (McKerrow & Ferguson 212); The second volume with an illustrated woodcut title-page with six illustrations within oval frames. Illustrated throughout with small woodcut scenes. “The woodcuts are of French origin, based on those used in a 1558 French translation printed at Lyons by Guillaume Rouillé.”
The printer John Wolfe may have attempted to publish either an Italian version or English translation of the “Decameron” in 1587, when it was entered on the Stationers’ Register in his name, but no trace of this work survives, so we may presume it was never published.
“The “Decameron”, collection of tales by Giovanni Boccaccio, probably composed between 1349 and 1353. The work is regarded as a masterpiece of classical Italian prose. While romantic in tone and form, it breaks from medieval sensibility in its insistence on the human ability to overcome, even exploit, fortune.
“The “Decameron” comprises a group of stories united by a frame story. As the frame narrative opens, 10 young people (seven women and three men) flee plague-stricken Florence in 1348 to a delightful villa in nearby Fiesole. Each person rules for a day and sets stipulations for the daily tales to be told by all participants, resulting in a collection of 100 pieces. Each day ends with a canzone (song), and some of these represent Boccaccio’s finest poetry.
“Each daily collection of stories takes a different tone or theme. Day 1 consists of a witty discussion of human vices. On Day 2, fortune triumphs over its human playthings, but it is trounced by human will on Day 3. Day 4 is marked by tragic love stories. Day 5 brings happy endings to love that does not at first run smoothly. Wit and gaiety again reign on Day 6. Trickery, deceit, and often bawdy license run free on Days 7, 8, and 9. By Day 10, earlier themes are brought to a high pitch; the widely borrowed story “The Patient Griselda” closes the cycle of tales.
“It was probably in the years 1348–53 that Boccaccio composed the “Decameron” in the form in which it is read today. In the broad sweep of its range and its alternately tragic and comic views of life, it is rightly regarded as his masterpiece; its influence on Renaissance literature throughout Europe was enormous.
“The “Decameron” begins with the flight of 10 young people (7 women and 3 men) from plague-stricken Florence in 1348. They retire to a rich, well-watered countryside, where, in the course of a fortnight, each member of the party has a turn as king or queen over the others, deciding in detail how their day shall be spent and directing their leisurely walks, their outdoor conversations, their dances and songs, and, above all, their alternate storytelling. This storytelling occupies 10 days of the fortnight (the rest being set aside for personal adornment or for religious devotions); hence the title of the book itself, “Decameron”, or “Ten Days’ Work.” The stories thus amount to 100 in all. Each of the days, moreover, ends with a canzone (song) for dancing sung by one of the storytellers, and these canzoni include some of Boccaccio’s finest lyric poetry. In addition to the 100 stories, Boccaccio has a master theme, namely, the way of life of the refined bourgeoisie, who combined respect for conventions with an open-minded attitude to personal behaviour.
“The sombre tones of the opening passages of the book, in which the plague and the moral and social chaos that accompanies it are described in the grand manner, are in sharp contrast to the scintillating liveliness of Day I, which is spent almost entirely in witty disputation, and to the playful atmosphere of intrigue that characterizes the tales of adventure or deception related on Days II and III. With Day IV and its stories of unhappy love, the gloomy note returns; but Day V brings some relief, though it does not entirely dissipate the echo of solemnity, by giving happy endings to stories of love that does not at first run smoothly. Day VI reintroduces the gaiety of Day I and constitutes the overture to the great comic score, Days VII, VIII, and IX, which are given over to laughter, trickery, and license. Finally, in Day X, all the themes of the preceding days are brought to a high pitch, the impure made pure and the common made heroic.
“The prefaces to the days and to the individual stories and certain passages of especial magnificence based on classical models, with their select vocabulary and elaborate periods, have long held the attention of critics. But there is also another Boccaccio: the master of the spoken word and of the swift, vivid, tense narrative free from the proliferation of ornament. These two aspects of the “Decameron” made it the fountainhead of Italian literary prose for the following centuries.
“It is the spirit in which Boccaccio treats his subjects and his forms that is new. For the first time in the Middle Ages, Boccaccio in the “Decameron” deliberately shows people striving with fortune and learning to overcome it. To be truly noble, according to the “Decameron”, people must accept life as it is, without bitterness, must accept, above all, the consequences of their own action, however contrary to their expectation or even tragic they may be. To realize our own earthly happiness, we must confine our desire to what is humanly possible and renounce the absolute without regret. Thus Boccaccio insists both on one’s powers and on their inescapable limitations, without reference to the possible intervention of divine grace. A sense of spiritual realities and an affirmation of moral values underlying the frivolity even in the most licentious passages of the “Decameron” are features of Boccaccio’s work that modern criticism has brought to light and that make it no longer possible to regard him only as an obscene mocker or sensual cynic.”(Britannica).
I: ESTC S107074; STC 3173; Wither to Prior 250 (describing the first edition); Pforzheimer 72; II: ESTC S106639; STC 3172; Pforzheimer 71.