GODWIN, William (1756-1836). An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its influence on general virtue and happiness. London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1793.
4° (275 x 210mm). (Lacking half titles, some browning and spotting, first leaf of 'Contents' holed with loss of catch-letter on recto, I2 of vol. I also holed with partial loss of one letter recto and verso, 2U4 with severe crease mark across 5 lines of text recto and verso effacing several characters or affecting their alignment, lower margin of 3X1 in vol. II uneven and slightly short, 4E2 in the same vol. with repair in lower blank area, 5S2 holed at lower margin.) 19th-century blue half calf, gilt spine compartments with morocco labels, green speckled edges (extremities lightly rubbed, covers slightly sunfaded).
FIRST EDITION. Godwin began writing Political Justice in the second half of 1790, before the first phase of the French Revolution had drawn to its end, and put down his pen on 29 January 1793, when Louis XVI had been tried and executed. Pitt's remark that 'a three guinea book could never do much harm amongst those who had not three shillings to spare,' was first reported by Mary Shelley, but in fact the first edition sold for £1-16s-0d. A pirated edition was published in Dublin the same year. Within five years Godwin had developed his argument further in two revised editions, one issued in 1796, the other in 1798. The 1796 edition, like the first, was pirated in Dublin, and this time also in Philadelphia. 'I had a numerous audience of all classes, of every age, and of either sex,' Godwin recalled, and despite the oblivion into which he later fell, it is fair to describe his book as the philosophical touchstone to anyone dreaming of the renovation of society in the 1790's. The principles of politics and not the rights of man were his theme. But, in attempting to discover which form of government was most conducive to human progress and the attainment of political justice, Godwin reached the radical conclusion that even his preferred form of governemnt, representative democracy, was a form of tyranny or 'usurpation upon the private judgement and individual conscience of mankind.' PMM 243; Rothschild 1016. (2)