BECCARIA, Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria (1738-1794). Dei Delitti e delle Pene. Nuova edizione, corretta ed accresciuta. Paris: Fr. Amb. Didot for Gio. Cl. Molini, 1780.
PRINTED ON VELLUM. Large 8° in fours (207 x 125mm). (Without half-title, first and last two leaves discoloured.) Contemporary French red morocco, triple gilt fillet round covers, gilt ornaments on spine (extremities slightly rubbed, spine slightly faded). With a letter signed from the author, dated Milan 29th April 1766, in Italian, 4 pages, 4°, bound in. PROVENANCE: William Gibbs (bookplate).
ONE OF SIX COPIES ON VELLUM OF AN IMPORTANT LEGAL TEXT ON CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. First published anonymously in Livorno in 1764, Beccaria's On Crime and Punishment was the result of the young author's friendship with the brothers Verri, whose circle entitled 'The Academy of Fists' strove for reform of the criminal justice system. Drawing on the works of Diderot, Helvetius, Hobbes, Hume, and Montesquieu among others, Beccaria protests against torture, secret accusations, the inequality and notorious ugliness of the traditional legal and penal system, and widesperad use of capital punishment. 'The punishment of death is pernicious to society, from the example of barbarity it affords ... Is it not absurd, that the laws, which detest and punish murder, should, in order to prevent murder, publicly commit murder themselves?' he asks. Six editions appeared within 18 months, and it was eventually translated into 22 languages.
'The Constituent Assembly in Paris inserted in its "Declaration of the Rights of Man" Beccaria's principle: "The law must not ordain any penalties that are not evidently and strictly necessary." Reforms were very soon introduced by Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, Catherine II of Russia, Emperor Joseph II of Austria and the legislators of the French Revolution and of the United States. Voltaire was one of Beccaria's most enthusiastic followers ... The impact of Dei Delitti e delle Pene on the reform of criminal justice can hardly be exaggerated' (PMM 209).
This new edition was printed on paper in small octavo at the expense of Giovan Claudio Molini, and in his letter of 18 February 1780, Molini sends a copy of the beautiful edition to the author, adding that Didot also printed six copies on vellum in larger format. Van Praet and other bibliographers have erronously recorded 12 on vellum. The vellum copies were possibly issued without the half-title called for in the smaller paper issue.
The unpublished four-page letter from the author is not addressed, but is to his French translator and translator, André Morellet (1727-1819). He apologises for the delay in replying, that among other things, this was caused by the arrival of [Diderot and d'Alembert's] Encyclopaedia, which he praises lavishly, despite mentioning that he had found some inevitable errors, on which he will comment in a later letter. He expresses his admiration for Mr. Des Marests and the Duke de La Rochefoucault, and introduces Fr. Paolo Frisi as a fellow philosopher. He is sending six copies of the new edition of his work for his correspondent and for d'Alembert, and sends compliments to Baron d'Holbac, Diderot, Helvetius and Buffon. He repeatedly mentions his work studying the encyclopaedia and on a new book, how busy he is preparations for a wedding, and the state of his country. He praises Morellet for his excellent editing and translation of his work, sends his respects although apologising that the letter is written by another hand, and signs with a three-line autograph inscription.
For a comprehensive account of this text, its variations in the succeeding printed editions, and bibliography of the Italian language editions of the work, see Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Cesare Beccaria, diretta da Luigi Firpo, vol. I, Milan, 1984. Vol. IV of the same work (Carteggio: 1994) publishes the correspondence of Morellet and Beccaria, with a foot-note to no. 113 (p. 341-355) referring to this lost letter mentioned in Morellet's memoirs. Brunet I, 728 (stating that 11 copies 'de cette belle édit.' were printed on vellum); Firpo 17; Gamba 2148; Van Praet Bibliothéque du Roi 105.