London: for B. Crayle, 1688.
Octavo: 18 x 11.2 cm. , 240, 247-338,  p. With an additional engraved title and two engraved plates.
“SECOND” EDITION (re-issue of the 1st ed. of 1685).
Bound in 18th c. speckled calf, serviceably rebacked, spine gilt, red Morocco label, new endpapers. A very good copy, complete with the additional engraved title and the two plates. Scattered light soiling and spotting, some dog-earing, edges of one plate silked. According to "The introduction", some of the histories are "extracted out of that excellent piece of Mr. [John] Reynolds his Murthers"
A trove of highly-sensational tales of seduction, rape, thievery, betrayal, deception, murder, and revenge, presented to dissuade readers from committing murder and adultery. The stories are full of over-the-top violence and salacious details, warning of the dangers of murder and adultery. The book is largely free of moral commentary; the feeble, rote morals that are appended to them are perfunctory.
The engraved title page shows scenes of violent punishment as well as scenes of seduction and murder. The second engraving, bound before the divisional title, shows an allegorical scene of justice and an amorous encounter between two lovers on a bed, the man fondling the woman’s bare breast.
There is an international flavor to the collection, with tales from Italy, France, Spain, etc. and the plots seem perfectly fit for the stage: an Italian maiden stabs her lover’s killer with a stiletto, stuffs her monogrammed handkerchief in his mouth, and has him thrown down a well outside a convent. When the body is discovered by the nuns, the handkerchief reveals the killer.
In another tale, a woman named Hautesia, hires an apothecary to poison her sister-in-law. She then incites her husband to a duel with her brother, which he loses (and dies.) She then has the apothecary murder her brother. When the apothecary is later apprehended for rape, he confesses the murders, and implicates Hautesia. The two are brutally executed: the apothecary is broken on the wheel and left to die; Hautesia’s breasts are seared and torn off with pincers, she is hanged and burned, and her ashes are scattered to the wind.
Innocence and naivete are demonstrated to be liabilities in these stories. A rake seduces a beautiful French farm girl, impregnates her, and abandons her, leaving her to give birth to their son on her own. But to cover his tracks, the rake has the unsuspecting mother and baby put up in an inn, where they are murdered by the rake’s henchman. The truth is discovered by the rake’s mistress; the villains confess under torture, and are executed by racking, hanging, and burning.
The tales of adultery are no less violent and gruesome, and some are shockingly macabre. In the first story of the second part, an aged Venetian count marries a young gentlewoman who had been promised to another man her own age. She grows depressed and when her husband is absent on business, has an assignation with her former betrothed. The count returns, finds the two in bed asleep (“having wearied themselves with the repetition of their unlawful pleasures”), stabs his wife’s paramour, cuts off his head and kicks it over to his wife, and tears out the adulterer’s heart. He throws the decapitated body out the window, locks his wife in her room, and departs. The young woman, whose only companion in her captivity is the rotting head of her dead lover, suffers a miscarriage from all of the horror.
At this point, the story grows strange. The count, moved by “compassion and pity”, releases his wife. Despite trying to pick up where they left off, he can’t understand why his wife doesn’t cheer up. (Perhaps it is because he has had his men boil the flesh off her lover’s skull and fashion it into a goblet from which she must drink every night at dinner?) When she fails to recover, the worried count (after consulting his wife’s physicians) gives her something to eat to bring her back to her old self. He presents her with the rotted heart of her dead lover, asking her to “eat cheerfully of it”. She eats the heart, remarking, “’tis pitty any part of it should be lost.” The next morning she is dead.
There is a strong epistolary element in these stories. Many of them include letters written by the various characters, and -while the epistolary novel as a formal genre is still some ways off- in some instances portions of the dialogue are delivered in the form of an exchange of letters.
In the wrong hands, of course, the book could become a manual for crime, a rogue’s playbook of the “various stratagems, subtle practices and deluding oratory used by our modern gallants in order to the seducing young ladies to their unlawful pleasures.”
Originally published in 1685 as: “The glory of God’s revenge against the bloody and detestable sins of murther and adultery”, this “second edition” is a reissue, with cancel title page, of the 1685 edition (Wing W3708). According to the preface, some of the stories are "extracted out of that excellent piece of Mr. [John] Reynolds his Murthers" (i.e. John Reynolds’ “Triumphs of Gods revenge, against the crying, and execrable sinne of murther”(1621).
ESTC R34767; Wing 3710