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The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland.

[SHIELS (Robert)].

[SHIELS (Robert)].

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, To the Time of Dean Swift. Compiled from ample Materials scattered in a Variety of Books, and especially from the MS. Notes of the late ingenious Mr Coxeter and others, collected for this Design. By Mr. Cibber. In Four Volumes.

First Edition. Five volumes. 12mo. [167 x 98 x 137 mm]. [1]f, [ii], 354 pp; [2]ff, 353pp; [2]ff, 353, [3] pp; [2]ff, 356pp; [3]ff, 354pp. Bound in contemporary calf, the covers with a gilt double fillet border, the spines divided into six panels, the bands flanked with gilt fillets, lettered in the second panel on a red goatskin label and numbered in the third, plain endleaves and edges. (Some wear, upper headcap on vol.2 chipped, the edges of two boards a little singed).
London: for R. Griffiths, 1753.

A little browning and a few minor stains, but a very good copy.

Published in five volumes, not four as stated on the title. It appeared in 25 parts. A second edition was published in the same year with the edition statement on the drop-head title on p[1] in vol.1.

Vols. 2-5 has "By Mr. Cibber, and Other Hands" on the titles. The claim to authorship was hotly disputed between Robert Shiels (or Shiells or Shields) and Theophilus Cibber. According to Boswell, "[Johnson] told us that the book entitled "The Lives of the Poets, by Mr Cibber", was entirely compiled by Mr Shiels, a Scotch-man, one of his amanuenses. "The booksellers (said he,) gave Theophilus Cibber, who was then in prison, ten guineas, to allow "Mr. Cibber" to be put upon the title-page, as the author"". Boswell did, however, add that Cibber had been engaged as editor "with powers to alter, expunge, or add, as he liked". Shiels was paid nearly seventy pounds and Cibber twenty guineas.

Shiels was born in Roxburghshire and went to London as a journeyman printer. In 1748 Johnson employed him as one of six amanuenses on his Dictionary. At the conclusion of this work Shiels was commissioned by Ralph Griffiths to compile the Lives of the poets. It may have been Johnson who suggested the project in the first place and Walter Jackson Bate suggests that many of the materials were provided by Johnson, "who could also have dictated some of the passages". Shiels died of consumption on 27th December 1753, and Johnson provided his epitaph: "his life was virtuous, and his end was pious".

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