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Leviathan “produced a fermentation in English thought not surpassed until the advent of Darwinism.”

HOBBES, THOMAS. Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill

London: for Andrew Crooke, 1651

Folio. Allegorical engraved title-page showing the sovereign (i.e., the state) made up of hundreds of individuals; folding table. Contemporary blind-ruled calf, edges red. Rebacked preserving gilt spine. Occasional minor faults. A beautiful copy.

FIRST EDITION. The first edition has the head ornament on the title-page. The bear and triangle ornaments are found on the later editions, which are sometimes mistakenly referred to as later issues.

Hobbes’s greatest work, Leviathan is the first comprehensive political system produced in England and one of the most important books in the history of political philosophy. Hobbes argued in part that men must give up certain rights by submitting to the state in order to avoid the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” lives resulting from the state of nature’s war of all against all.

The frontispiece is one of the most famous illustrations in the history of ideas. Hobbes himself designed the etching in collaboration with the French artist Abraham Bosse. It depicts a giant crowned figure towering over the landscape, clutching a sword and a crozier, beneath a quotation from the Book of Job, “Non est potestas Super Terram quae Comparetur ei” (There is no power on earth to be compared to him). The torso and arms of the figure are composed of over three hundred men, all facing inwards in subordination to the giant figure. As Hobbes wrote, “the multitude, so united in one person, is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence.”

“This book produced a fermentation in English thought not surpassed until the advent of Darwinism. Its importance may be gauged by the long list of assailants it aroused. It was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum 7th May 1703, though all Hobbes’s works had previously been condemned in toto, and it still remains a model of vigorous exposition, unsurpassed in the language” (Pforzheimer).

A beautiful copy.

Provenance: 1. Thomas Hanmer (1677-1746), Speaker of the House of Commons, bookplate dated 1707 on verso of title as he routinely placed it. Jonathan Swift described Hanmer as “the most considerable man in the House of Commons.” He is best remembered today for his edition of the works of Shakespeare, which prompted Pope to write in The Dunciad, “An eminent person, who was about to publish a very pompous Edition of a great Author, at his own expense.” 2. Sir Henry Edward Bunbury (1778-1860), bookplate. Bunbury had a distinguished military and political career, reaching the rank of Lieutenant General and serving as Under Secretary for War, 1809-1816. In 1821 he succeeded to the baronetcy and estates of his uncle Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, 6th Baronet, including Mildenhall in Suffolk, formerly the property of Sir Thomas Hanmer.

Pforzheimer 491. Printing and the Mind of Man 138.