Essai géographique sur les Isles Britanniques.

Paris, Didot, 1757.

4to, pp. [viii], 471, [1, blank], with engraved additional title, five plates (two folding and two coloured in outline) and numerous engraved views of Britain enclosed within elegant elaborate roccoco borders; letterpress title with an engraved vignette (of Cambridge); occasional light browning; contemporary tree calf, gilt; slightly worn; red edges.

£650

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First edition. A description of the British Isles by the first chief hydrographic engineer of the Dépôt des cartes, plans et journaux du Ministère de la Marine. Alongside the geographical depiction of Great Britain, Bellin includes a guide to navigating its coasts and a treatise on the making of charts, with references to other cartographers and their work. The author, who held his post at the Dépôt for over fifty years, was a contributor to the Encyclopédie, admired as a philosophe, and a member of the Royal Society. His most celebrated works were the Neptune françois (1753) and the Hydrographie française (2 vols, 1756–1765).

The Essai géographique, published in the opening stages of the Seven Years’ War, reflected French interest in England at a time when invasion of the latter formed a serious aspect of France’s war strategy. An actual attempt at invasion, organised by the French minister for foreign affairs, Choiseul, was made in 1759. ‘The French Toulon fleet was able to get out of Toulon and through the Straits of Gibraltar, before being defeated off the Portuguese coast. The Brest fleet was destroyed off the Breton coast. Had they succeeded in their intentions Pitt would have been criticised for dispersing British strength in Canada, the West Indies and West Africa . . . . [The] landing of a regular force, several times greater than the Jacobite army which had invaded England from Scotland in 1745, would have posed serious problems for the British ministry, and would probably have led them to accept a peace based on terms more favourable to France than she could have otherwise expected’ (Black, Natural and necessary enemies pp. 61–62).

Cohen-de Ricci 129; Shirley, Atlases I p. 205.

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