8vo., pp. , iv, , 372, with a half-title; a fine copy in contemporary sheep, spine gilt in compartments, red morocco label, joints slightly split at head.
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Select Essays from the Encyclopedy, being the most curious, entertaining, and instructive Parts of that very extensive Work, written by Mallet, Diderot, D’Alembert, and Others, the most celebrated Writers of the Age. London: Printed for Samuel Leacroft … 1772.
First and only edition in English of selected articles from L’Esprit de l’Encyclopédie (1768), in effect the first extant portion of Diderot’s famous Encyclopédie to appear in English.
Diderot’s Encyclopédie, first published in Paris between 1751 and 1772, had apparently appeared in a London piracy as early as 1752, though no copies survive. A similar fate seems to have befallen a proposed ten-volume translation by Sir Joseph Ayloffe, of which the first parts were announced in January to February 1752 before the project was abandoned; they may not have ever been printed and certainly none survive. ‘Twenty years later an attempt to translate the five volumes of the Esprit de l’Encyclopédie … was little more successful. The first [current] volume appeared in 1772 … Nothing more of this work appears to have been translated’ (Lough, The Encyclopédie in eighteenth-century England and other studies (1970)).
The selection is restricted to essays ‘philosophical, moral, gallant, political, and literary’, this volume taking the reader only as far as the letter ‘C’. All the hard science of the Encyclopédie has been excluded, requiring (in the ‘French compiler’s’ opinion) too much prior knowledge on the part of the reader. Instead this is a selection primarily for entertainment, containing self-contained essays ranging from ‘Ante-Diluvean Philosophy’ to subjects fit for gentlemen: an essay on libraries and Diderot’s history of playing cards.
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