New Translation of Volney's Ruins


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(JEFFERSON, Thomas, translator, with BARLOW, Joel) VOLNEY, [Comte de]. [Constantin François de Chasseboeuf]. A New Translation of Volney’s Ruins; or Meditations on the Revolution of Empires. Paris: Levrault, 1817. Two volumes. 12mo, original rust-colored paper-covered boards, title and volume numbers stamped on spines, uncut. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

Second edition of Jefferson’s translation of Volney’s treatise on the origin, growth and decay of the social, political and religious institutions of ancient civilizations, scarce and desirable in original boards. This edition, issued in France, precedes the first American edition, which did not appear until 1828.

According to BAL, Jefferson translated the invocation and “not less than the first 12 chapters”—through page 120 of the first volume—while acknowledging the possibility that he actually translated the first 20 chapters (the entire first volume). Jefferson first met Volney while in France at the salon of Madame Helvérius where they discussed the need to instill republican attitudes through education. Volney, having narrowly avoided the guillotine, traveled to America in 1795 and stayed with Jefferson at Monticello in 1796, which was the same year that Ruins was published in an English translation in New York. Volney’s Ruins, first published in 1791, traced how ancient civilizations deteriorated into tyranny, and argued for equality before the law and the elimination of both political and religious tyranny. Neither Jefferson nor Volney were satisfied with the existing English translations, and Jefferson began one of his own after Volney’s visit. However, by 1798, Volney had returned to France and Jefferson no longer had the time to complete the work—nor was it wise, as he had since been elected President, to have his name associated with the project. Joel Barlow was brought in to complete the work. First published in Paris, 1802. The original manuscript in Jefferson’s hand is at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Jefferson’s library contained a number of editions of Volney, but he did not include his translation in the sale of his books to the Library of Congress. See BAL 904; Lowndes, 2790. OCLC records 12 copies, only eight of which are complete. Faint owner’s stamp on front free endpapers of Charles G. Stevens, lawyer, judge and banker of Clinton, Massachusetts in the mid-19th century.

Scattered foxing. Paper spines worn, with splits to paper along front joints, stitching holding firm. An extremely good copy in original boards, quite scarce.

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