First Edition of "The Imitation of Christ"
THOMAS À KEMPIS, Saint. Imitatio Christi. , 1473.
First edition of the most important and influential devotional work of the later Middle Ages. Folio (11 11/16 x 8 3/16 inches; 297 x 207 mm.). [76] leaves. Thirty-five lines. Capital spaces. Two- to six-line lombard initials (some pearled) supplied in red, a few in brown ink. Headlines giving book number in contemporary ink. Fol. 3/10 a cancel and printed, as usual, on narrow paper, here margined to size at the time of binding. Manuscript correction of the printer’s name “Gintheum” in colophon, as in most, if not all, copies. Title written on first page in a contemporary hand, author’s name written in a slightly later hand, a few contemporary ink marginalia. Printed in two-page formes, as indicated by a slightly skewed impression on bifolium 3/2 and 3/9.

Nineteenth-century (ca. 1840) dark blue morocco by J. Clarke (stamp-signed on front free endpaper). Covers decoratively paneled in blind, spine decoratively tooled in blind and lettered in gilt in compartments, board edges and turn-ins ruled in gilt, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers. Tiny portion of upper blank corner of fol. 8 renewed, upper blank corner of fol. 22 renewed, small portion of lower blank corner of fol. 49 renewed, a few additional minor marginal repairs, a few marginal wormholes or wormtracks, those in the lower gutter throughout and in the upper margin of the first twenty-nine leaves neatly filled, a few leaves with faint marginal dampstaining. Overall, a wonderful copy.

“‘The Imitation of Christ’ is a book of mystical thought which throughout history has appealed to Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. It has been the most widely read devotional manual apart from the Bible, perhaps even surpassing the influence of such books as Pilgrim’s Progress and St Augustine’s Confessiones. This is the more surprising as in the first place it was addressed to monks and recluses...The book is written partly in verse. Its title is derived from that of the first of its four books ‘De imitatione Christeet contemptu vanitatum mundi’ (of the imitation of Christ and the contempt of all worldly vanities). Its authorship has been the subject of dispute—sometimes violent: the rival to the accepted author being Johannes Gerson...However, Thomas à Kempis is now definitely recognized as its author...The ‘Imitation’ was first printed in 1473.

Since then there have been thousands of editions and translations into fifty languages, a record rivaled only by the Bible itself. The first English translation by William Atkinson and Margaret, Duchess of Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, was published in 1503” (Printing and the Mind of Man).

The Imitatio Christi was one of nine theological tracts printed by Günther Zainer in identical format ca. 1472-early 1473 that were available either individually or together with a printed contents leaf. Although its authorship in early printed editions is often attributed to Jean Gerson, the Imitatio Christi is here correctly attributed in the colophon to Thomas à Kempis, whose holograph manuscript survives at the Bibliothèque Royale at Brussels. It is the most influential document of the devotio moderna, a lay movement advocating the pursuit of a religious life in imitation of Christ, through meditation, instruction, and writing.

BMC II, p. 318. Goff I-4. Hain *8589. Harvard/Walsh 507-508. Polain 2050. Printing and the Mind of Man 13. Proctor 1566. Schäfer 331.

HBS # 68051 $150,000