Pensées philosophiques. by DIDEROT, Denis (1713-1784).

DIDEROT, Denis (1713-1784).

Pensées philosophiques. The Hague, aux dépens de la compagnie, 1746.

Third Edition. 12mo, (133 x 68 mm), engraved frontispiece (98 x 57 mm) and pp. [ii], 136, [12], printer’s ornament on title-page with four heads around a central block of 20 squares, the pagination irregular between p. 31 and p. 46 (as in Adams PD3), small partial tear on title-page, across two lines of text but with no loss, some spotting and browning in text, in nineteenth century brown morocco, single filet gilt border to covers with corner fleurons, spine gilt in compartments, lettered in gilt, brown marbled endpapers with morocco strengthening at gutter, gilt dentelles, gilt edges, from the library of Claude Lebédel.

An early edition - for many years thought to be the first - of Diderot’s first original work, bound in nineteenth century morocco. An immediate furore followed its initial publication and it was condemned to be burnt by the Paris Parlement for its dangerous and anti-religious content: ‘the venom of the most criminal opinions that the depravity of human reason is capable of’. Diderot’s original manuscript had been purchased by the bookseller Durand and the first editions were printed in Paris at the clandestine press of l’Epine. It was to become one of Diderot’s most popular and controversial works, running to at least eighteen editions in the eighteenth century and prompting numerous refutations.
At this stage in his life, the young Diderot was a Deist and in the Pensées he sets out to demonstrate the existence of God through evidence of the material world. He attacks atheism in this work, but also criticises revealed religion and religious asceticism and challenges the existence of miracles. He writes eloquently of human passions and argues for the reconciliation of feeling with reason. The work is presented in the form of sixty-two short chapters, some of which are little more than maxims, brief and quotable in the manner of La Rochefoucauld, such as: ’A thing is not proved just because no one has ever questioned it’; ‘One may demand of me that I should seek truth but not that I should find it’ and ‘Skepticism is the first step towards truth’. The work concludes with a final detailed index.
This is one of four editions that appeared in 1746, all with the imprint ‘A la Haye, aux dépens de la compagnie’. The present printing was long thought to be the first edition, partly on account of its errors in pagination, but Adams demonstrates that it is third in priority. Furthermore he concludes that the present edition was entirely reset, rather than as previously thought a few corrections being made to a number of pages. The printer’s ornament is the same as both previous editions, but the double rule in the imprint of this copy measures 50mm, rather than the 45mm as called for by Adams.
With an attractive engraved frontispiece in the manner of Eisen, in which the voluptuous figure of Truth standing on the right removes the mask from the foul looking figure of Superstition, who is lounging on the floor with a broken sceptre. In our copy the plate measures 98 x 57 mm.

Adams, Bibliographie des œuvres de Denis Diderot, PD3; Cioranescu 24143; Cohen-de Ricci col. 305.

Keywords: Continental Books
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