London: Chatto and Windus, 1884. First edition. Leather bound. This is a superior example of Burton’s famous work on the sword, notable for unusually clean contents and a fine binding. Best known as an explorer and the translator of the Arabian epic The Thousand Nights and a Night, diplomat Sir Richard Burton was also an avid swordsman.
Burton originally began work on this history in 1850 when, on a sojourn in France, he began a serious regimen of fencing, eventually earning the coveted title of Maître d’Armes Breveté de Pointe. His biographer Edward Rice notes that Burton’s “mastery of the sword became legendary not only among the English but also among the French, and when it was known that he was about to put on an exhibition at Boulogne’s Salle d’Armes, dozens of onlookers would come to watch.”
Burton’s Book of the Sword “was to be his great work, covering—in three volumes—the sword in all countries from the earliest times… [the first volume taking] the reader over some 300 pages from the sword’s origins to the early Roman Empire” (Richard Cohen, By the Sword). To this end, Burton “collected a great deal of literature, and inspected the armouries of Europe and India. To his encyclopedic mind the subject began with the first weapon fashioned by the simian ancestors of man, started afresh with the invention of metallurgy (which he assigned to the Nile Valley), henceforth coincided with the history of military prowess until the introduction of gunpowder, finally ending with the duello when the sword became a defensive weapon” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
Although he left manuscript notes for the second and third volumes of the work, Burton finished only the first volume, and the title page does not indicate that it is Volume I of a larger work. As early as 1923, Burton bibliographer Norman Penzer noted that the book had become “very scarce.”
This volume, rebound in three-quarter red morocco, is notable for unusually crisp, clean contents. We note virtually no soiling or spotting. Age-toning is mild, mostly confined to the otherwise clean page edges. There is an expert tissue-paper repair to the bottom verso of the half title. A 1933 newspaper article on the evolution of the sword which references Burton’s work is tipped onto the verso of the last text leaf. The binding is three-quarter dark red morocco over red cloth boards with raised spine bands, gilt tooled spine compartments, gilt ruled transitions, head and foot bands, marbled endpapers, and gilt top edge. Condition of the binding is near fine, with slight wear to the lower front joint and the corners.
Reference: Penzer 107-112. Item #003456