“THE MOST WIDELY READ OF ALL AMERICAN AUTOBIOGRAPHIES”: PARIS 1791 TRUE FIRST EDITION OF FRANKLIN’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY
FRANKLIN, Benjamin. Mémoires de la Vie Privée de Benjamin Franklin, Écrits par Lui-Même. Paris: Chez Buisson, 1791. Octavo, contemporary three-quarter brown calf gilt, tan morocco spine label, tan speckled boards. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $7000.
True first edition (preceding the first English edition by two years), in two parts, of Franklin’s renowned autobiography, “the most widely read of all American autobiographies,” scarce in contemporary calf.
"The most widely read of all American autobiographies… [Franklin's] holds the essence of the American way of life" (Grolier American 21). Written during four different periods from 1771 to 1789, "this account is the epitome of Franklin's spirit. In it one sees him as a typical though great example of 18th-century enlightenment, a Yankee Puritan who could agree with Rousseau and Voltaire, and use the language of Defoe and Addison with a genial homely twang" (Hart, 142). This French translation by Jacques Gibelin constitutes the first appearance of any part of Franklin's autobiography, covering Franklin's life until 1731, the year he founded the Library Company of Philadelphia. It was apparently translated into French from one of the two manuscript fair copies sent to friends in France for further advice. The first English edition, itself a translation from this French edition, did not appear until 1793, after French, German, and Swedish editions had already been published. Translations sometimes obscure intended meaning, and Franklin's autobiography is no exception: on page 60, the phrase "Keimer avoit l'air stupéfait," translated from the English fair copy manuscript, was translated back into English for the 1793 edition as, "Keimer stared with astonishment." The fair copy actually reads, "Keimer star'd like a Pig poison'd." Despite problems of nuance between languages, this remains the ultimate treatise on man's ability to better himself, notable for its humorous pragmatism and vivid portrayal of early 18th-century colonial America. Text in French. With mispagination of four final text pages, as always. Ford 383. Howes F323. Sabin 25549. Streeter 4171. Early occasional minor inked underlining, marginalia in French. Trace of bookplate removal.
Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing, slight edge-wear, rubbing to boards. A highly desirable extremely good copy of this important Franklin work.