London: Printed by Tho. Roycroft, 1661. Folio. [xvi], 507, , 77,  pp., including errata leaf. FIRST EDITION. Title printed in red and black, additional engraved title, engraved portrait of Charles II by David Loggan, and 20 numbered engraved plates by Joseph Lamorlet, woodcut initials and headpieces, separate title for the Continuation. Text ruled in red. Early eighteenth century tree calf, red morocco spine label; an amazing large paper copy inscribed on the title page, “Edward Proger his booke presented him by the Translator his worthy freinde Thomas Ross Esq”. From the library of Robert Rushbrooke with his armorial bookplate. Item #17471
First edition in English. “Ross’ translation is of uncommon interest not only from a political, but also a literary-historical, bibliographical and artistic point of view ... [It] is one of the few works which, as far as we know, were evidently conceived, researched and written in the Southern Netherlands’ in the court in exile of Charles II” (Daemen-de Gelder). It is dedicated multiple times to Charles, with a large engraved portrait, a prose dedication, an epistle from Bruges (dated November 1657), and a verse address.
Punica, a verse epic of the 1st century, is the only known work by the orator and poet Silius Italicus, and, at 12,000 lines, the longest surviving poem in Latin literature. The work’s reputation dipped in the Renaissance, but Silius was later known and admired by Milton, Dryden, Pope and Gibbon. In Ross’s hands, highlighted by Lamorlet’s engravings of key moments in the text, the Punica becomes a “mirror-for-princes” directed at both Charles II himself as well as his illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth; much is made in the text of strong father-son relationships. The Continuation (the second sequence of 77 pages) is an original work by Ross, dedicated to the Earl of Strafford, and deserving of further study as a literary work on its own merits.
Ross (1620-1675), brought up in a staunchly Royalist household, had been appointed Keeper of His Majesty’s libraries in 1652, was involved in the failed “Ship Tavern plot” in 1654, and traveled to the court of the future Charles II in Cologne in 1655, later following him to the Spanish Netherlands. Along with Edward Proger he was sent to retrieve the Duke of Monmouth from his mother in 1658, and subsequently became his tutor. He was also employed as a messenger between the court-in-exile and royalist conspirators in England. After the Restoration Ross was appointed keeper of the King’s library at St. James’s Palace, at £200 a year with lodgings, but also received payment (£4000) from Charles for “secret services,” probably helping to recoup tax withheld during the Commonwealth.
Proger (1621-1713), to whom Ross presented this copy of Silius, was a fellow courtier, page of honour to Charles I, and then groom of the bedchamber of Charles II in exile. Known to Charles as “Poge,” he was particularly close to the future king, accompanying him to Jersey in 1646 and on the failed voyage to Scotland in 1649, and was trusted with missions of particular sensitivity (resulting in several periods of imprisonment after his return to England in 1652). After the Restoration he was rewarded with the post of deputy Ranger of Bushy Park, near Hampton Court (where he would have been a neighbor of Ross in Richmond).
Not a great deal is known about the engraver Joseph Lamorlet (1626-1681) who both designed and executed the plates. He was the son of the painter Nicolaas Lamorlet, and rose to the position of Dean in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. He apparently produced retouches and alterations to order on a number of works by Van Eyck and Van Dyck, as well as some notable pieces of book illustration. His work here was perhaps commissioned in the late 1650’s but mostly executed after 1660, presumably on the basis of a relationship established while Ross was still in the Netherlands.