17 November 2004
ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques (1712-78). [Du contrat social ou] Principes du droit politque. Amsterdam: Marc Michel Rey, 1762.
8° (201 x 121mm). Half-title (Du contract social; [sic]), title with engraved allegorical vignette of Liberty seated by Borly after Bolomey, last 2 leaves cancelled (see below). (A few smudges.) Contemporary calf, gilt spine with red leather label, red edges (spine, corners and light scuffmarks repaired). Provenance: Geraets (18th-century flyleaf inscription).
FIRST EDITION, 3RD STATE, of 'a crucial document of egalitarian government. [It presents] his fundamental thesis that government depends absolutely on the mandate of the people ... It had the most profound influence on the political thinking of the generation following its publication' (PMM). While never officially condemned by the French authorities, the Contrat social was actively suppressed. No copies were allowed to be imported into the country and no French bookseller was allowed to sell it or print it. The entire edition was refused entry into France and 700 copies rotted at Rouen awaiting their return to Rey in Amsterdam, resulting in their rarity today. Rey published an edition in 12mo six weeks later, and the work was printed in numerous counterfeit editions. The vast majority of copies dated 1762 offered on the market are counterfeit editions.
The third state represents changes requested by Rousseau after printing had begun. To satisfy Rousseau's complaint that the title-page was too crowded, Rey moved the first part of the title to a half-title (including a now redundant semi-colon) and changed the engraved vignette on the title. More importantly, the last 4 pages were cancelled to eliminate a long and strongly worded passage on marriage, which Rousseau asked to be omitted in case it was used by the authorities as a pretext for suppressing the entire book. The cancel resulted in the text ending on page 323 and the final page filled with a Rey advertisement. (See R.A. Leigh, Unsolved problems in the bibliography of Rousseau, Cambridge: 1990). Sénelier, Bib. Rousseau 554; PMM 207.
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