The first collected edition of Shakespeare's narrative poems
The 1709 First Collected Edition, First Issue, of Shakespeare’s longer poems, including “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece,” the only works that Shakespeare himself took care to see through the press.
Each was very popular during Shakespeare’s lifetime and remained in print for half a century afterwards. "Venus and Adonis” was first published in 1593 and went through seventeen editions by 1675 while “The Rape of Lucrece,” first published in 1594, went through nine editions by 1655.
All of these early editions, however, are exceedingly rare. Many survive only in single, and in some cases fragmentary, copies. In fact, probably fewer than 100 copies are extant from all twenty-five editions of the two books combined. And no copy of any 17th century edition of either work has appeared at auction since the Bradley Martin copy of the First Edition of Lucrece made half a million dollars in 1989.
Lintott's edition was occasioned by Nicolas Rowe's edition of Shakespeare's plays, published by Tonson in 1709. Tonson only had the rights to the Fourth Folio plays and Lintott responded to demand for a new edition of the poems, as did the printer Edmund Curll whose 1710 edition of the poems is occasionally found making a supplementary volume to Rowe's edition. While Curll's one-volume edition of the poems came to be seen as the natural companion to the Rowe plays, This edition takes primacy. (Ford pp. 37-39, Jaggard p. 434).
Shall I compare thee to a summer's Day?
In 1710, Lintott reissued this edition and added a companion volume containing Shakespeare's famous Sonnet cycle. We also have available a copy of this expanded issue.
The sonnets were first published in a Quarto Edition in 1609, of which only a dozen or so copies survive. They were reprinted only once in the 17th century, in 1640, by the publisher John Benson in a bowdlerized version. That book, when complete, now sells at auction for several hundred thousand dollars. Benson changed several pronouns from masculine to feminine, and made about seventy other verbal changes. He also reordered the sonnets, in several cases combining up to five to form single poems, while also haphazardly inter-splicing a corrupt version of the Passionate Pilgrim and several other non-Shakespearean poems. He also omitted eight sonnets altogether (Nos. 18, 19, 43, 56, 75, 76, 96, and 126). The Curll edition of the poems, like most 18th century editions of Shakespeare’s Poetry, used Benson's “mangled hodgepodge” as its textual source [Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor. William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion].
Lintott reprinted the 1609 Sonnets line for line, effectively publishing a facsimile edition of that rare First Quarto [Schoenfeldt, M. C. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Sonnets]. It is thus not only textually superior to Benson’s edition, but it also contains the very first obtainable printing of the eight sonnets that Benson omitted, including one of the most celebrated, Sonnet 18, beginning “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?”