RARE FIRST EDITION OF GIBBON’S DECLINE AND FALL, “THE GREATEST HISTORICAL WORK EVER WRITTEN”
GIBBON, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776-88. Six volumes. Quarto, period-style full red morocco gilt, all edges gilt. $32,000.
Rare full first edition set, second state of Volume I, with portrait of Gibbon by Joseph Hall after Joshua Reynolds and three engraved folding maps by Kitchin of the Western and Eastern Roman Empire and of Constantinople, attractively bound.
“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 equalled 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). The distinct states of the 1776 first edition of Volume I arise from Strahan’s decision to double the size of the edition from 500 to 1000 after printing began. In this copy, Volume I comes from the second 500 copies printed, with errata corrected as far as page 183 and in pages i-xv of the notes (excepting an uncorrected erratum on page iii), and with leaves 3R2 and 3S4 cancels. The increased run reflects Strahan’s prophetic confidence in the work. He had written to Gibbon in October of 1775, “So able and so finished a performance, hath hardly ever before come under my inspection; and though I will not take upon me absolutely to pronounce in what manner it will be received at first by a capricious and giddy public, I will venture to say, it will ere long make a distinguished figure among the most valuable works that do honour the present age; will be translated into most of the modern languages, and will remain a lasting monument of the genius and ability of the writer” (Norton). All 1000 copies of the first edition were sold within two weeks of publication. Frontispiece portrait bound in Volume II, maps of Eastern Roman Empire and of Constantinople bound in Volume II; map of Western Roman Empire bound in Volume III. The map of Constantinople is fully margined and folding, not trimmed to fit as often found. With errata slips in Volumes I, II, III (for their respective volumes) and VI (for Volumes IV-VI). With all half titles; with eight pages of publisher’s advertisements at rear of Volume VI. Norton 20, 23, 29. Rothschild 942. Grolier 100.
Text generally clean with the occasional spot of foxing. A very good, clean copy, attractively bound.