London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1912. First edition. Hardcover. This is an inscribed first edition copy of the author’s best-known novel. Stephens inked his three-line presentation on the front free endpaper recto: “James Stephens | to | Stephen Gywnn”.
Condition is good plus, sound and complete, the defects only superficial and aesthetic. The original green cloth binding remains tight and unfaded, though with a modest forward lean, various minor scuffs and blemishes, and light shelf wear to extremities and joints. The contents are quite bright. We find no previous ownership marks other than the author’s inscription. Spotting is almost entirely confined to the endpapers. The page edges show light soiling. The book is housed in a quarter Morocco solander case featuring a rounded green quarter Morocco spine with raised bands over green cloth sides. The Solander is sound, though uniformly spine-toned to brown and with various minor exterior scuffs and blemishes.
The Crock of Gold is “a comic novel that debates profound philosophical questions: What is wisdom? Should the head or the heart rule? What is virtue and what vice? … The Philosopher, who sets out at the request of a neighbour to rescue the latter’s daughter from the nature god Pan, has a catharsis along the way and learns that goodness and kindness are more important than wisdom.” (The Irish Times) It is a book “whose humour and later stereotyping as a children’s novel often lead readers to overlook its theosophist and Blakean elements and its incorporation of AE’s [pseudonym of George William Russell] quasi-apocalyptic dream of the return of the Celtic gods to sweep away philistine materialism.” (Dictionary of Irish Biography)
James Stephens (1880?- 1950) began to contribute stories to the journal United Irishman (later Sinn Fein) in 1905, “at first anonymously and generally without payment” before becoming a regular contributor from 1907. This led to Stephens’s discovery by George William Russell (to whom Stephens dedicated his first published volume of poetry, 1909’s Insurrections) and gave Stephens “access to Dublin literary circles". Stephens went on to write half a dozen novels and a dozen volumes of poetry, as well as several plays, short stories, retellings of Irish folktales, an historical account of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, and a biographic portrait of the founder of Sinn Fein. In 1925 Stephens relocated to London, reflecting “disillusionment with the political and literary scene in post-civil war Ireland.” In England, he moved in British literary circles and struck up a friendship with James Joyce, “who in 1927 left instructions that if he died before finishing Finnegans Wake Stephens was to complete it.” Stephens also became a BBC broadcaster. Though Stephens declared himself an Englishman in 1940 in protest at Irish neutrality in the Second World War, he visited Dublin in 1947 to receive a Doctor in Letters from Trinity College, Dublin. (Dictionary of Irish Biography). Item #007469