London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1789-88. Item #03461
"A Masterpiece of Historical Penetration and Literary Style…"
GIBBON, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1789-1788.
New edition of volumes I - III, first editions of volumes IV - VI.
Six large quarto volumes (10 13/16 x 8 9/16 inches; 274 x 216 mm.). viii, , 704; [x], 640; [x], 640; , viii, , 620; [x], 684; [xii], 646, [52, index and errata] pp. Engraved portrait frontispiece of Edward Gibbon by John Hall after Sir Joshua Reynolds in volume 1, two large folding engraved maps by Thomas Kitchin 'Western Part of the Roman Empire' (volume I, facing p. 1), 'Eastern Part of the Roman Empire' (volume IV, facing p. 1), and full-page map of 'The Parts of Europe and Asia, adjacent to Constantinople' (volume II, facing p. 22). Bound without half-titles. Some light sporadic foxing throughout.
Contemporary speckled calf, covers decoratively ruled in gilt, smooth spines with decorative gilt bands. Red and green morocco lettering and numeral labels, lettered in gilt. Bookplate of Roger Peers on front paste-down of each volume. Neat ink signature of Roger Peers on each front blank end-leaf. A few joints cracked but sound. Green morocco numeral label missing from spine of volume III. Overall a very attractive and sound set.
A mixed set, with later editions (1789) of the first three volumes, and first editions (1788) of the last three volumes. Gibbon's masterful history of the Roman Empire was originally issued in six quarto volumes over the course of twelve years between 1776 and 1788. Modest expectations on the part of both author and publisher regarding the market for such an imposing work resulted in an initial printing of only 1000 copies of the original printing. This proved a serious miscalculation of the demand, and subsequently made complete sets of the first edition difficult to come by. Within a fortnight the first edition was completely sold out. "I am at a loss", wrote Gibbon in his Memoirs, "how to describe the success of the work without betraying the vanity of the writer. The first impression was exhausted within a few days; a second and third edition were scarcely adequate to the demand, and the bookseller's property was twice invaded by the 'Pirates' of Dublin. "My book was on every table, and almost every toilette; the historian was crowned by the taste or fashion of the day." (Gibbon, Miscellaneous Works and Memoirs. 2nd ed. London, 1814, Vol. I., p. 223). The third edition appeared in 1777, a year after the first and second printings. Issued in an edition of 1000 copies, it was more fully revised and corrected than the second (which merely incorporated the errata). At the suggestion of Gibbon's friend, David Hume, the copious notes which previously had been gathered in the rear of the volume, were now transferred to the bottom of the page. This improved format was continued throughout the remaining volumes. In combining the third edition of the first volume with the first edition of the remainder (as in the present case), a uniformly annotated set is thereby achieved. In 1780 the frontispiece portrait of Gibbon, engraved by John Hall after a painting of Joshua Reynolds, was issued by the publisher. With the publication of the second and third volumes in 1781, an enlarged table of contents was made available for the first volume, as well as three maps (all present in this copy). The map of Constantinople was frequently cropped to make it the same size as the printed page, and then bound in sideways. (J.E.A. Norton. A Bibliography of the Works of Edward Gibbon).
"This Masterpiece of historical penetration and literary style has remained one of the ageless historical works, which like the writings of Macaulay and Mommsen, maintain their hold upon the layman and continue to stimulate the scholar although they have been superseded in many, if not most, details by subsequent advances of research and changes in the climate of opinion. Whereas other eighteenth-century writers in this field, such as Voltaire, are still quoted with respect, the Decline and Fall is the only historical narrative prior to Macaulay which continues to be reprinted and actually read. Gibbon was fortunate in the choice of his publisher, William Strahan -- the friend of Dr. Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, David Hume -- who, together with Cadell, was also the publisher of Adam Smith and James Macpherson. Strahan was the first to appreciate the importance of Gibbon's work: having read the manuscript of the first volume, he immediately doubled the printing order -- and the first edition of one thousand copies was sold within a fortnight." (Printing and the Mind of Man, 222 - citing the first edition).
Out of stock