With Memorable Large-Format Colored Plates, More Modern and Less 18th Century in Sensibility


(Paris: P. Didot l'aîné, 1796). 330 x 235 mm. (13 x 9 1/4"). 2 p.l., 165, [1] pp. ONE OF 100 COPIES.

(Original?) gray boards, flat spine, dark gray paper title label, two-thirds of the leaves UNOPENED. Engraved printer's device on title page and SEVEN FINE COLOR-PRINTED ENGRAVINGS AFTER PEYRON BY CHAPUY AND LAVALLÉE, SOME FINISHED BY HAND. Cohen-de Ricci 730; Brunet III, 1860. A couple of very small brown spots and just a hint of soiling as well as minor abrasions to covers, corners somewhat mashed (as expected), isolated trivial foxing to text, but A VERY FINE COPY, clean and bright internally, with vividly colored plates, and in a surprisingly sturdy and generally well-preserved original temporary publisher's binding.

This is the fine Levy copy of a strictly limited Large Paper edition of a handsomely illustrated work, offered here in what seem to be the publisher's temporary boards, mostly unopened and virtually untouched internally. Attractively printed with enormous margins, the text of the first (and by far the most important) work here is a prose poem on love (supposedly translated from the Greek) by one of the great political philosophers of the Enlightenment, Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755). In its own day, the work was popular largely because of its racy content; today, it is considered as a more serious accomplishment by modern scholars, who are inclined to see it as a philosophical fable. The colophon informs us that this limited edition was printed with a new type cut and cast by Firmin Didot "with such perfection that up to this moment none other can equal it." The dramatic and animated plates are strikingly different from the Eisen engravings in other editions of this work, and are more modern in sensibility than the usual 18th century French engravings. The colophon notes that the plates were broken after the 100 copies of this edition were printed. Our copy was in the outstanding library of American bibliophile Jacques Levy (1905-80), a man of wide-ranging interests who assembled an eclectic collection over 40 years, always with a discriminating eye toward visually pleasing and historically important bindings and illustration. In his sale, Sotheby's described our binding as being publisher's boards, and although the volume seems almost too well preserved to be original, we are persuaded by the collector's reputation that this is the correct characterization.