THOMAS A KEMPIS (c. 1380-1471). Imitatio Christi. [Augsburg:] Günther Zainer, [before 5 June 1473].
Chancery 2° (298 x 205mm). Collation: [1-210 310(+-10) 4-710 86] (1/1r text, 8/6r colophon, 8/6v blank). 76 leaves. 35 lines. Type: 2:118G. 3- to 5-line initials in red, one in brown ink, headlines giving book number in contemporary MS. Fo. 3/10 a cancel and printed, as usual, on narrow paper, here margined to size in rebinding by J. Clarke. MS correction of the printer's name 'Gintheum' in colophon as in most, if not all, copies. Printed in 2-page formes, as indicated by a slightly skewed impression on bifolium 3/2.9. (A few marginal wormholes or -tracks filled, very small stain at a few fore-edges.) Blue blind-tooled morocco, panelled sides, spine lettered in gilt, marbled endpapers, gilt edges, by J. Clarke (signed on front flyleaf). Provenance: title written on first page in a contemporary hand, author's name written in a slightly later hand, a few contemporary annotations.
FIRST EDITION of the most influential devotional work of the later Middle Ages. A cornerstone of the devotio moderna, a lay movement advocating the pursuit of a religious life in imitation of Christ through meditation and instruction, the Imitatio Christi circulated widely in manuscript from its completion in 1418 and in print. Thomas's autograph manuscript survives at the Bibliothèque Royale at Brussels. Zainer, first printer at Augsburg, may have printed this first edition with a monastic audience in mind; he regularly gifted books to the Carthusian monastery at Buxheim, and a manuscript closely related to Zainer's edition, which was written in 1471 and formerly belonging to that monastery, survives at Harvard (MS. lat. 264). Indeed, an annotation in the present copy (on fo. 1/4v) emphasising that silence is always to be preferred suggests a Carthusian or member of another silent order as its original owner.
The Imitatio Christi is one of 8 theological tracts printed by Zainer which were clearly available either individually or together with a printed contents leaf; one of these (Goff H-192) was printed not later than 1472 (see ISTC). Although its authorship in early printed editions is often given to Jean Gerson, the Imitatio Christi is here correctly attributed in the colophon to Thomas.
HC *8589; BMC II, 318 (IB. 5542-3); Goff I-4; BSB-Ink T-165; CIBN H-118; PMM 13.