Euphues, the anatomy of wit (1613) | Euphues and His England (1609)

Chrzanowski 1613lA major literary “invention” in Elizabethan times is English prose fiction. A key event was the publication in 1566–67 of Palace of Pleasure, William Painter’s translation of Italian and French novellas. Overall credit for the invention, however, should be shared between an avid reading public and the writers who, in response, mastered the art of story telling in vernacular prose and took the first important steps toward the modern English novel. A middle class was emerging in an increasingly mercantile England with readers seeking amusement that fiction could provide, and, of course, the court needed to be entertained.

John Lyly’s Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit (1578) and its sequel Euphues and His England (1580) aimed at providing lively court entertainment, at the same time supplying instructive lessons about friendship and love. Born about 1554, Lyly completed his studies at Magdalen College, where he had the reputation of a “noted wit,” and left Oxford to become a courtier. The immediate success of his two Euphues, published soon after his arrival in London, brought Lyly fame but not fortune, and he turned to drama for the remainder of his writing career.

Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit is arguably the first English novel although it has a very thin plotline: Euphues, a young Athenian, arrives in Naples and becomes a close friend of Philautus, who is betrothed to Lucilla; Euphues falls in love with Lucilla and his friend is jilted. The series of incidents that move the plot forward offer ample opportunities to discourse on topics of interest to courtiers and moralize. The sequel is set in England with the friendship reconciled. Philautus experiences love traumas as Euphues philosophizes. Beyond the plot, the witticisms, and the lessons to be learned, readers were charmed by Lyly’s peculiar style—eponymously described as euphuistic—which became a short-lived rage. The writing is ornate, filled with references to classical learning and overuse of literary devices such as antithesis, alliterations, repetitions, and rhetorical questions.

The large number of early editions make clear the popularity of Lyly’s prose. The present copies are the fifteenth edition of Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit (1613) and the fourteenth of Euphues and His England (1609). Although these two editions were likely intended to be bound together, they were separately published and are bibliographically distinct. Subsequent editions of the two works were published together.

Chrzanowski 1613l *

STC 17063 and STC 17079

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675