"THE GREATEST HISTORICAL WORK EVER WRITTEN": RARE FULL FIRST EDITION SET OF GIBBON'S DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
GIBBON, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1776-88. Six volumes. Quarto, contemporary full tan calf expertly and sympathetically rebacked, raised bands, original red and black morocco spine labels laid down.
First edition set, with portrait of Gibbon by Joseph Hall after Sir Joshua Reynolds and three engraved folding maps of the Western and Eastern Roman Empire and of Constantinople by Kitchin, in nicely restored contemporary calf.
"This masterpiece of historical penetration and literary style has remained one of the ageless historical works… Gibbon brought a width of vision and a critical mastery of the available sources which have not been equaled to this day; and the result was clothed in inimitable prose" (PMM 222). "For 22 years Gibbon was a prodigy of steady and arduous application. His investigations extended over almost the whole range of intellectual activity for nearly 1500 years. And so thorough were his methods that the laborious investigations of German scholarship, the keen criticisms of theological zeal, and the steady researches of (two) centuries have brought to light very few important errors in the results of his labors. But it is not merely the learning of his work, learned as it is, that gives it character as a history. It is also that ingenious skill by which the vast erudition, the boundless range, the infinite variety, and the gorgeous magnificence of the details are all wrought together in a symmetrical whole. It is still entitled to be esteemed as the greatest historical work ever written" (Adams, Manual of Historical Literature, 146-7). Volume I is the second state of the first edition, as often, with X4 and a4 unsigned and the errata corrected up to page 228 (while in the process of printing the first edition of 500 copies, the printer increased the order to 1000 copies; certain corrections were made in the first two hundred or so pages of the book in the second 500 copies, the remainder of the text being the same in all 1000 copies—all copies were offered for sale the same day, and the point is regarded by most as not of great significance—see Norton, 38-9). The map of Constantinople (which is full-sized and folding, rather than trimmed to fit as sometimes found) and map of the Eastern Roman Empire bound in Volume II; map of the Western Roman Empire bound at the beginning of Volume III. With errata pages in Volumes I, II, III, and VI (for Vols. IV, V, and VI); bound with all half titles. Norton 20. Rothschild 942. Grolier 100. Old ink shelf markings on front pastedown of each volume.
Only occasional faint foxing to generally clean text. Folding map in Volume II with split along fold expertly repaired on verso. Expert restoration to corners. A rare full first edition set of Gibbon's classic work, in excellent condition.