Thomas Beach’s Eugenio, or, Virtuous and Happy Life: a prize acquisition

Senate House Library has just acquired a copy of Eugenio, or, Virtuous and Happy Life, a twenty-page poem (approximately 300 lines) by Thomas Beach. It was printed in 1737, about a month before its author committed suicide by slashing his throat and nearly decapitating himself on 17 May.

As an early reader has noted in manuscript on the title page of this copy, Thomas Beach was a wine merchant in Denbighshire. He submitted the poem to Jonathan Swift in 1735, partly to receive his criticisms and partly to be recommended to Sir William Fownes, one-time Lord Mayor of Dublin the Member of Parliament for the Wicklow Borough in Ireland, to whom the poem specially referred; it is from Swift’s letter of reply that Beach’s authorship is generally known. Swift recommended various revisions, which Beach adopted, and informed Beach that Fownes had died (1735).

The poem was printed in two issues, a small folio and a quarto. Senate House Library’s issue is the folio (Foxon B122; ESTC T125865). ESTC currently records just two other copies in the United Kingdom (the British Library in London and the Advocates Library in Edinburgh), with a further nine copies in the United States.

The purchase was enabled by the first Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize at the University of London. The winner, Dr Hazel Wilkinson, collects canonical poets, wrote her doctorate on eighteenth-century editions of Edmund Spenser, and is currently writing a book on the eighteenth-century printing office of John Watts and Richard Hett. The pamphlet fits in with Hazel’s interests in poetry and the eighteenth century, not least because it was dedicated to Alexander Pope, who is addressed towards the beginning:

But chiefly thou, O POPE, befriend my Lays,
No fancy’d Fame can bless me like thy Praise:
Believe for once, the Muse from Flattery free,
Who pants for Virtue, and wou’d copy thee.

The publisher was the prolific bookseller Richard Dodsley in Pall Mall in the early stages of his career, in the same year in which he issued Alexander Pope’s letters, his own plays, and Richard Glover’s political epic Leonidas. Within Senate House Library, the poem fits well within the Library’s strong holdings of English literature – and especially in the collection in which it will be held, the Sterling Library of first and fine editions of English literature.

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