GIBBON, Edward (1737-1794)
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
London: Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776-1788. 6 volumes, quarto. (10 7/8 x 8 1/2 inches). Engraved portrait in volume II by Hall after Reynolds (not usually found), 3 engraved folding maps (two in volume II and one in volume III). With all the half titles and the errata leaves in volumes I, II, III, and VI (volume VI errata covers volumes IV, V and VI). With the expanded volume one table of contents issued with volume two here bound in volume three and with the volume three errata issued in volume two here bound into volume three (as often). With four leaves of advertisements at the end of volume III (as noted in Norton).
Contemporary full calf, spines richly gilt in six compartments with raised bands, red morocco lettering piece in the second, green morocco lettering piece in the fourth, marbled endpapers.
Provenance: "Granville Hastings Wheler" (signature on titlepage and book plate)
First edition: arguably the greatest historical work written in the English language.
"This masterpiece of historical penetration and literary style has remained one of the ageless historical works ... Gibbon brought a width of vision and a critical mastery of the available sources which have not been equalled to this day; and the result was clothed in inimitable prose" (PMM). "For 22 years Gibbon was a prodigy of steady and arduous application. His investigations extended over almost the whole range of intellectual activity for nearly 1500 years. And so thorough were his methods that the laborious investigations of German scholarship, the keen criticisms of theological zeal, and the steady researches of (two) centuries have brought to light very few important errors in the results of his labors. But it is not merely the learning of his work, learned as it is, that gives it character as a history. It is also that ingenious skill by which the vast erudition, the boundless range, the infinite variety, and the gorgeous magnificence of the details are all wrought together in a symmetrical whole. It is still entitled to be esteemed as the greatest historical work ever written" (Adams, Manual of Historical Literature, 146-7). The distinct states of the 1776 first edition of Volume I arise from Strahan's decision to double the size of the edition from 500 to 1000 after printing began. In this copy, Volume I comes from the second 500 copies printed, with errata corrected through page 183 and in pages i-xv of the notes.
Norton 20, 23, 29; Rothschild 942; Grolier, English 58; PMM 222.