A Useful Work on the Education of Men for Civil and Commercial Careers, In an Appropriately Practical Binding that Is Now a Remarkable Survival


(Bath: Printed by R. Cruttwell for J. Johnson, 1778). 225 x 145 mm. (8 3/4 x 5 3/4"). xxv, [1], 334 pp., [2] leaves (ads). FIRST EDITION.

CONTEMPORARY DUTCH PAPER COVERS patterned with pink and blue floral design, flat spine with handwritten paper label, EDGES UNTRIMMED. Spine with minor worming, wrapper lightly soiled, edges a little curled, one corner creased, half title with neatly repaired curving tear, other insignificant defects, but A FINE COPY, clean, fresh, and bright internally, and THE FRAGILE BINDING REMARKABLY WELL PRESERVED.

This is an extraordinarily well-preserved example of a stiffened paper binding--a practical, affordable, and appropriate choice for a pragmatic work on the education of men for civil and commercial careers rather than the "learned" professions. Although primarily remembered today as the natural philosopher who isolated and identified oxygen (and six other gases), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) began his career as an educator at academies for "dissenters," i.e., Protestants who refused to conform to the Church of England and were thus, under the Uniformity Act of 1662, denied entry into the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. As the dissenting students were barred from the professions of academia and (obviously) the Church, they needed a curriculum that would prepare them for commercial occupations and an active role in civic life, as Priestley argued in his 1765 "Essay on a Course of Liberal Education" (included here). The present work set forth a plan for this program of study, and, in the words of DNB, "showed Priestley as an innovative educational philosopher. Probably the most important of his innovations was the minimizing of language study, except for English, and an emphasis on [the subjects] of natural history, natural philosophy, and modern history. He had a broad conception of history as involving the social, cultural, and economic aspects of a society as well as its government and laws." Our binding is as sensible and utilitarian as the contents. Paper bindings of various types were a popular alternative to leather for two reasons: they could be constructed quickly, and they were far more affordable. But unlike temporary publisher's boards or wrappers, our binding was meant to be permanent; the quires of the book were sewn to vellum strips and covered with a thick paper, which was in turn covered with a decorative paper. While bindings of this type appear on the market from time to time, they are almost never in such fine condition as the present one.

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PJP Catalog: 75.168