Publisher Information: London: D. Wilson, 1750.
[D’Arthenay, Guillaume Marie.] Fordyce, William (translator and editor). Memoirs concerning Herculaneum, the subterranean city, lately discovered at the foot of Mount Vesuvius . . . 8vo. 4, 68pp. London: Printed for D. Wilson, 1750. 202 x 123 mm. Modern full morocco, gilt-lettered front cover. Minor dampstaining and toning, small spot on title, but very good.
First Edition in English of d’Arthenay’s Mémoire sur la ville souterraine découverte au pied du Mont Vésuve (1748), and one of the first publications in English on the recently discovered lost city of Herculaneum, the ancient Roman city buried in ash during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
D’Arthenay’s pamphlet is one of the early unauthorized memoirs on the official excavation of Herculaneum, which had begun in 1738 under the patronage of King Charles VII of Naples. The Neapolitan government, anxious to prevent theft and to exploit the site’s prestige value, severely restricted access to the buried city to all but its own hired scholars and prohibited the publication of any unauthorized descriptions, so despite intense international interest in the site only a few scattered reports of the excavation’s findings leaked out over the following decade. The “Secret of Herculaneum” proved to be too big to keep, however, and starting in the late 1740s a number of unauthorized works on Herculaneum began to be published, written both by Neapolitan scholars and by foreigners such as D’Arthenay, a volcanologist and amateur antiquarian who was then serving as secretary to the French ambassador at Naples.
Fordyce, a Scotsman about whom little else is known (he is sometimes confused with another William Fordyce, a Scottish physician), was inspired to make his translation of d’Arthenay’s work after visiting Herculaneum in 1749 and “examining the Curiosities they had found there.” Fordyce’s Memoir, which also includes Xiphilinus’s and Pliny’s accounts of Vesuvius’s eruption, appears to be just the second work in English on Herculaneum, preceded only by Allan Ramsay’s translations of letters from the Italian painter Camillo Paderni published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1740. Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, vol. 2: Enlightenment and Expansion (2011). Gordon, “Subverting the secret of Herculaneum: Archaeological espionage in the Kingdom of Naples,” in Coates and Seydl, eds., Antiquity Recovered: The Legacy of Pompeii and Herculaneum (2007), pp. 37-57.Book Id: 43269