Cologne: Ulrich Zell, 1470.
1st Edition. Hardcover. 4to - over 9¾ - 12" tall. Very Good. Item #2540
Cologne: Ulrich Zell, c. 1470. 4to (210 x 145 mm). 262 unnumbered and unsigned leaves (complete). Collation: [a-z8 A-I8 K6]. Gothic Type in 27 lines. Red-painted lombards. Contemporary South German calf binding over wooden boards with fine single stamps (flower pot, two-headed eagle, krowned Maria initials) and fine embossed brass fittings. Spine and endpapers renewed, movable parts of the clasps removed. Outer margins partly with minor browning or spotting, few small damages in blank margins backed with paper. Provenance: First leaf with 17th century inscription of the Carmelits Santa Barbara at Würzburg; Bookplate Victor von Stedingk. Beautiful and well-preserved copy on strong and wide-margined paper. ----
FIRST EDITION AND OF GREATEST RARITY. Only one copy is recorded at auction in the past 50 years. The first printed book mentioning chess, comparing man's life with a chess play (Mundus iste totus quoddam scaccarium est). The more famous book on chess by William Caxton was printed some years later, in 1476. (Ehn/Kastner). The dating of the editio princeps is difficult as no such details are printed in the colophon. The dating by Historians range from 1466 to 1472 (see V. Scholderer and Voulliéme).
John of Wales was a Franciscan theologian who wrote several well-received Latin works, primarily preaching aids, in Oxford and Paris in the late-thirteenth century. Through his communiloquium without systematic claim, John of Wales aims to provide preachers of his time material for moral edification, setting a focus on the ancient writers, and to make them familiar with their obligations and moral patterns of behaviour. (BBKL III, 385ff).
Of vital importance today however is the longer passage about the morality of the chess play. In the typical chess symbolism of the Middle Ages, Johannes Gallensis compares life to a chess game: "The world resembles a chess-board which is chequered white and black, the colours showing the two conditions of life and death, or praise and blame. The chessmen are men of the world who have a common birth, occupy different stations and hold different titles in this life, who contend together, and finally have a common fate which levels all ranks. The King often lies under the other pieces in the bag." (Mark Weeks, Chessforallages blogspot). According to Lasa, the interpolated section about chess is present only in the first and the fifth edition of the communiloquiun (Lasa). In this editio princeps it occurs in part 1, distinction 10, chapter 7. Exactly this passage is found in MS 2253, fol. 135v-136r, a manuscript dated ca. 1340 in the British Library's Harleian Collection (see S. Fein, MS Harley 2253, Art. 109). For the English translation of the manuscript text on chess play, which is identical to the passage in the communiloquium, see online at http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/fein-harley2253-volume-3-article-109.
Fein, S. et al. (Editors). The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, Volume 3, 2015.
Lasa, T. von der. Literatur und Geschichte des Schachspiels, Leipzig 1897, pp. 70-75.
Murray H. J. R. A. History of Chess, London: Oxford University Press, 1913, 530-4.
Ehn, M. & Kastner, H. Alles über Schach, 2010, Schlütersche, p. 401.
Swanson, J. H.. John of Wales - A study of the works and ideas of a thirteenth-century friar. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, (on chess, see p.98).
Beltrán, E. Christine de Pizan, Jacques Legrand et le "Communiloquium" de Jean de Galles. In: Romania. Revue trimestrielle consacrée à l'étude des langues et des littératures romanes 104 (1983), pp. 208-228.
Rauner, E. Johannes Gallensis. In: LexMA, V, 1991, Sp. 577.
Goff J 328.
BMC I, 191.
Voulliéme. Der Buchdruck Kölns bis zum Ende des fünfzehnten Jahrhunderts, 1903, 657.
Scholderer, V. In Nat. Libr. of Wales J., 3 (1943-44), p.76.
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