Grand Instructions to the Commissioners Appointed to Frame a New Code of Laws

CATHERINE THE GREAT   |   Michael TATISCHEFF

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"THE FINEST MONUMENT OF THE CENTURY… IT SECURED FOR CATHERINE THE ECOMIUM 'THE GREAT'": RARE FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF CATHERINE THE GREAT'S "INNOVATIVE AND INFLUENTIAL" NAKAZ, 1768

CATHERINE THE GREAT. The Grand Instructions to the Commissioners Appointed to Frame a New Code of Laws for the Russian Empire: Composed by Her Imperial Majesty Catherine II. Empress of All the Russias. To which is prefixed, A Description of the Manner of opening the Commission, with the Order and Rules for Electing the Commissioners. London: T. Jefferys, 1768. Quarto, contemporary marbled boards rebacked in period-style calf-gilt, red morocco spine label, raised bands; pp. (i-v), vi-xxiii, (1), 3-258. $7200.

First edition in English of the celebrated Nakaz of Catherine the Great, drawing extensively on Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws, heralded by Voltaire and Diderot, initially issued in Russia in 1767 —"the single piece of Russian legislative material best known abroad"—aligned with the later American constitution for its "shared characteristics and techniques," highly elusive in contemporary boards.

"Born into a family of obscure German aristocrats, delivered to St. Petersburg at the age of 14, and married in great pomp to the feckless heir to the Russian throne, Catherine found herself" in a loveless marriage and without political support (Smithsonian). In 1765, after Peter's death and several years into her reign, Catherine began crafting the Nakaz, working on its almost daily for nearly two years. "Fundamentally, the Nakaz, which Voltaire is said to have called the finest monument of the century, is a legal and a political document. It represents Catherine's ambition, early in her reign, to remodel Russia's laws in accordance with new principles expounded in Western Europe. The Nakaz consists of three parts containing 655 articles in all. The major part, 526 articles, was made public in Moscow on July 30, 1767. It treats the historical development of Russia and monarchial absolutism; the nature and forms of laws; crime and punishment; social structure and religious freedom. On February 28, and April 8, 1768, two supplements of 40 and 89 articles respectively, dealing with police, expenditures, revenues and taxation were added to the Nakaz" (Dmytryshyn, Economic Content, 1-2). "While she worked alongside a secretary, it was Catherine herself who selected and organized the material, and wrote out the finished version." In creating the Nakaz, she chose her texts carefully. Nearly 300 "owe something to Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws (1748)," with about 100 clauses traced to Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments (1764), and many from Voltaire's Encyclopédie." While the Nakaz is "not a written constitution, it nonetheless shared characteristics and techniques with later texts that were constitutions" (Colley, Gun, Ship and Pen, 61-73, emphasis in original).

Catherine was "not out to create a constitutional monarchy," yet her Nakaz "was innovative and influential… the Legislative Commission that met in Moscow in August 1767 to discuss the Nakaz differed from later, seminal constitution-making assemblies but… it also anticipated and even exceeded them. Like the convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787," this Russian Commission assembled delegates from across the empire. Further, these "Moscow deputies were also markedly more diverse in terms of social, economic, religious and ethnic background than the men of Philadelphia… women, too, received some recognition in this Moscow commission, something that did not happen in revolutionary America… Moreover, in sharp contrast with the men of Philadelphia in 1787, not all of the Moscow deputies were white, and not all of them where Christian" (Colley, 73-77). "It was doubtless because of its 'radical' content that its publication was banned in France… The significance of the Nakaz centers not only in its West European content," but also on distinctive aspects of Russian culture that "make the Nakaz… an outstanding document in Russian political, economic and historical literature" (Dmytryshyn, 9). The Nakaz was never enacted, yet it is "the single piece of Russian legislative material best known abroad. It secured for Catherine the encomium 'the Great'" (Yale Law School). First edition in English. Catherine's manuscript was written in French, from which she produced a Russian translation, First editions were published in Moscow on August 10, 1767 in Russian and German: a first German edition appeared in 1769. Little is known of translator Mikhail Tatischeff other than that he was attached to the Russian Embassy in London. Engraved ornamental initials and headpieces. Mispaginated as issued without loss of text. ESTC N6651. With trace of bookplate removal; later blank free endpapers. Bookseller ticket.

Text fresh and fine, light edge-wear, rubbing to contemporary marbled boards. A handsome wide-margined, near-fine copy.

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