"A FEW DAYS BEFORE HIS DEATH… HE GAVE ORDERS TO DESTROY ALL HIS MANUSCRIPTS, EXCEPTING SOME DETACHED ESSAYS, WHICH HE ENTRUSTED TO THE CARE OF HIS EXECUTORS": FIRST EDITION OF ADAM SMITH'S POSTHUMOUS ESSAYS ON PHILOSOPHICAL SUBJECTS, 1795
SMITH, Adam. Essays on Philosophical Subjects… To Which Is Prefixed, an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author by Dugald Stewart. London: for T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, et al., 1795. Large quarto (9 by 11-1/4 inches), contemporary full speckled brown calf rebacked with original spine laid down, original red morocco spine label; pp. [i-iii], iv, [v]-vi, [vii-ix], x-xcv, [blank], [1-3], 4-93, [94-97], 98-111, [112-115], 116-129, [130-133], 134-184, [185-187], 188-194, [195-197], 198-244. $15,000.
First edition of this core volume of Smith's essays, issued posthumously, featuring the important first publication of History of Astronomy that seeks "to explain what drives 'philosophers' to ask the questions they do," an impressive wide-margined volume in contemporary gilt-stamped calf boards.
Though Essays on Philosophical Subjects appeared five years after Smith's death, most were likely written before the publication of his Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759. Essays was compiled by his literary executors, physicist Joseph Black and geologist James Hutton. Prior to his death Smith "instructed them to destroy his manuscripts but allowed them, at their discretion, to publish a set of essays" (Berry, Cambridge Companion, 116). As noted herein, Smith had begun work early in his career on "a connected history of the liberal sciences and elegant arts," but "found it necessary to abandon that plan as far too extensive." These writings thus represent Smith's longstanding attempts at such a "connected history," and range over philosophy, aesthetics and the history of science. A biographical Account of Smith and his work is followed by the extensive History of Astronomy, which was the only writing Smith did not want destroyed; indeed, he specifically arranged for its posthumous publication. Black and Hutton used their authority to incorporate its momentous first publication into this collection. Astronomy "was probably begun decades before Smith's death, perhaps as early as 1746, and was at one time intended to form a chapter of a much larger work… Astronomy purports to explain what drives 'philosophers' to ask the questions they do and to seek explanations for the things they observe" (Otteson, Adam Smith, 22-3). Astronomy "has occasioned much scholarship… Just as The Wealth of Nations was titled an enquiry into its 'natures and causes' so Smith says at the end of the preliminary section of Astronomy that the design of the essay is to consider the 'nature and causes of the three sentiments"—identified by him as "Wonder, Surprise, and Admiration." Citing Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Descartes and others, Astronomy aims "to illustrate how philosophy is an activity that addresses itself to the imagination" (Berry, 116-117, 123). Also included in this volume are his essays on "Ancient Physics," "Ancient Logics and Metaphysics" and the "Imitative Arts," along with a concluding essay on perception in the five "External Senses." One of 1,000 copies. Containing the first publication in book form of Dugald Stewart's Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, which had appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1794. Stewart's Account "formed the basis upon which everyone drew for biographies of Smith that began to appear in the early 19th century" (Tribe 55). Without initial blank. Goldsmith 16218. Kress B3038. Rothschild 1902. Faint occasional marginalia.
Text very fresh, mild soiling, faint staining to contemporary calf boards. An elemental work in near-fine condition.