Given the rich holdings of Virgil’s poetry in Princeton University Library, one of the world’s foremost repositories of fifteenth-century editions of his works, it is perhaps easy to overlook the collection’s earliest separate edition of the Bucolica, which is one of only five copies to survive and the only copy preserved outside of continental Europe. Written in 42–39 BCE, the Bucolica (Latin ‘On the care of cattle’) was Virgil’s first major work, preceding the Georgics and the Aeneid. The Bucolica consists of ten brief eclogues that evoke the idyllic scenes and daily hardships of rural life within the Roman Empire. The poems were sensationally popular in ancient Rome and have never gone out of favor, as medieval Christians admired Virgil’s mastery of Latin verse and perceived messianic themes in his imagery. Virgil became Dante’s hero, and readers of the Renaissance esteemed Virgil above all other poets. In modern times, improved editions of his works, as well as reliable translations, continue to find a broad readership.
The first printing of the works of Virgil, including the Bucolica, Georgics, and the Aeneid, appears to be the folio edition published in Rome c. 1469 by Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz. Princeton University Library is one of eight institutions to hold that edition, and the only one outside of Europe. The first separate printing of the Bucolica appeared in a smaller quarto format from the Cologne press of Ulrich Zel, c. 1470, which is known in only eleven copies.
Princeton’s earliest Bucolica, from the second separate edition, was printed in Strasbourg by Heinrich Eggestein about 1473-74. It is a slender Chancery folio (30.9 × 21.2 cm) of sixteen leaves in which the poems were composed in a single narrow column of 27 lines per page, spaciously leaded as in a school book. In the past the edition has been dated variously as c. 1468, c. 1470, and c. 1472. The earlier dates are clearly too early, falling before Eggestein introduced his type known as ‘4:99G’, used here, which also appeared in datable editions from 1471 to 1473. The dating of c. 1472 for Eggestein’s Bucolica, cited in most of the prevailing bibliographies, accords with the printer’s chronology but it does not take into account the key evidence of his paper supply. Paul Needham, the Scheide Librarian at Princeton, has determined that the watermarks found in the Bucolica, depicting a Bull’s Head surmounted by a Tau Cross, belong to a Chancery paper stock from Basel that also was used c. 1474 in Valascus de Taranta, Tractatus de epidemia et peste [Basel: Martin Flach, c. 1474]. Needham suggests that the best dating for Eggestein’s Bucolica is therefore c. 1473-74.
Eggestein’s edition of the Bucolica first came to light in 1810, when the French bibliographer Jacques-Charles Brunet (1780–1867) described it in his Manuel de libraire, vol. 2 (p. 648), citing the copy then owned by Comte Léon d’Ourches (1766–1843) of Nancy. The confident attribution in 1810 of an unsigned Bucolica to Eggestein exhibits a precocious knowledge of early Strasbourg typefaces. In the following year that same copy of the Bucolica was sold in the Catalogue des livres rares, précieux et bien conditionnés du cabinet de M. Léon d’Ourches (Paris: Jacques-Charles Brunet, 1811), lot 619, to the Parisian booksellers Guillaume De Bure l’aîné and his two sons; soon thereafter the De Bure frères sold that book to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where it remains.
Princeton University’s copy of Eggestein’s Bucolica was the second to emerge, one of only two copies ever to appear on the rare book market. It was first recorded in the German bookseller Fidelis Butsch’s Catalog einer ausgewählten Sammlung von Inkunabeln, literarischen Curiositäten und Seltenheiten (Augsburg, 1851), p. 35. In 1853 it was rebound by the fashionable Parisian binder Hippolyte Duru in brown morocco (goatskin) paneled in blind with darkened fillets, gold corner fleurons, and inner dentelles in gold over marbled endpapers, with all edges gilt.
The Princeton copy also bears the bookplate of the Parisian printer and book collector Ambroise Firmin-Didot (1790–1876), who is probably the owner who brought the book to Paris from Augsburg to be rebound by Duru. In the Catalogue illustré des livres précieux manuscrits et imprimés faisant partie de la bibliothèque de m. Ambroise Firmin-Didot (Paris, 1878), the Bucolica was sold as lot 104. Soon it came into the possession of Rev. William Makellar (1836–1896), a not particularly wealthy Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh who managed to acquire a Gutenberg Bible in 1885. In the Catalogue of the Extensive Library of Valuable Books and Manuscripts of the Late Rev. William Makellar (London, 1898), Sotheby’s sold the Bucolica as lot 3127 to the Piccadilly bookseller James Toovey (1813–1893) for £22; Toovey kept it within his ‘reserve’ collection, most of which his heirs sold to J. Pierpont Morgan of New York in 1899. However, the Bucolica, and many other important editions of Virgil (including the rare first edition of c. 1469), went instead to Morgan’s nephew, Junius Spencer Morgan (1867–1932), an 1888 graduate of the College of New Jersey, which is now known as Princeton University. An outstanding amateur scholar, philanthropist, and collector of art and books, Morgan gave the entirety of his great collection of Virgil editions, encompassing more than 700 titles, to his alma mater over a period of many years. His is the only copy of Eggestein’s Bucolica ever to leave continental Europe.
Three other copies of Eggestein’s Bucolica have come to light. One is part of a Sammelband of several works preserved at the University Library in Freiburg im Breisgau; another was found at the Cathedral Library in Hildesheim in 1908; a third was identified among the thousands of incunables at the Bavarian State Library in Munich. Mysteriously, as in the Princeton copy, the rubricator of the Munich copy mistook the first word of the Bucolica, ‘[T]ityre,’ and filled in a colored initial ‘S’ instead, so that it reads ‘Sityre.’ With its ample margins and clean white paper, the Princeton copy is perhaps the finest of the five that survive.