Author — Printer — Imprint

Not cracked in 235 Years

Subversive Homage on Frederick II of Prussia

published Five Years before the Revolution

LETTRES D’UN SOUVERAIN PHILOSOPHE, A un véritable ami, à ses Ministres & à différens (sic!) Particuliers; Ouvrage qui peut être utile à tous les Gens en place, & principalement à l’éducation d’un jeune Prince. Par le Chevalier ****. 2 vols. in 1. No place & printer. 1784. Sm. 8vo (6½ × 4 in [16.5 × 10 cm]). 2 ll. title, 312 pp.; 3 ll. title & preface, 165, 1 (white), IV pp. Contemp. h. binding.

Lettres d’un Souverain PhilosopheLettres d’un Souverain Philosophe

Not in the 4-vols. Barbier, Dictionnaire des Ouvrages Anonymes (1872/79) & the here available volumes 1950-1992 of JdA, missing, too, in British Museum and Library of Congress. – Boastful with even four (confiscated?) copies, however, Bibliothèque Nationale, where it is not obvious if in the own house only or the farther context. And indeed not suggesting any author, but two states of print:

  1. as above, but vol. II only with 2 instead of 3 ll. here (“4” [pp.] instead of 6 of which);
  2. again like here as 2 vols. in 1, but with now 491 pages in total instead of just 477 plain text pages. “différens” now corrected to “differents” and instead of “& à différens” “et à ...”. Also chronologically subordinate state of print, “publiée la même année”. So that “M. DCC. LXXXXIV.” as 1794 constitutes an apparent clerical error. And while a) has the entire contents at the end of vol. II, so b) apart at the end of each volume.

While for Europe the research of libraries could locate only above Paris copies, the 11 copies in US & 2 in Canadian libraries must surprise, suggesting that the Lettres had been taken with like a bible by those seeking safety overseas. A further one besides in Malaysia. Unresolved if concerning first or second editions.

Textually a tour d’horizon in 106 – at least the last ones in deviating sequence with the 100th missing, 105 assigned twice instead – letters on all facets of a social coexistence under the title leaf’s motto as at the same time veiled hint:

“ Heureux les Peuples dont les Philosophes sont les Rois ,
& dont les Rois sont Philosophes ”

( “ Blessed the people whose philosophers are the kings
& whose kings are philosophers ” )

from Plato’s Traité de la République / The Republic, which pious hope the anonymous author can have seen come true only in Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786) as contemporary. Underpinned then also by the à l’éducation d’un jeune Prince, aimed at Frederick’s prematurely (1767) deceased favorite nephew The Young Prince (Henry), on whose account the succession was to be changed and immortalized in slightly alienated scenes in Veit Harlan’s The Great King (1942).

The brisance of the Lettres in Paris , seething already since the early 1770s

“ On May 10, 1774 Louis XV died. Towards the end of his government it already had required a significant police force to keep Paris quiet; he avoided to visit the capital. Fierce pamphlets already talked about a revolution … It had come to that the attempt to reform only gave the signal for the long-dreaded outbreak of the pre-Revolutionary passions … ”
(Meyers Konv.-Lex., 4th ed., VI [1889], 553/I)

author and publisher/printer must have gauged quite right

when they attempted their publication only under the protection of anonymity on all sides. Correspondingly the eager acceptance on the market conditioned the immediate reprint.

For not without reason the with 80 pages solitarily longest 69th letter as last one of the first volume deals first with the finances, then the economy. And concludes as the only one noticed with a source note added in brackets: “(Art. de J. J. Rousseau.)” (bold type/spacing not in the original). A name that was program already on its own:

“ … when we turn to a man in whom the French enlightenment has produced its greatest genius and its most poignant critic: to Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) … not the objective of the materialists … but the historical ideal of ‘nature’ captures his thought and striving. However, this impedes him not in the natural order of the society as corresponding to the real nature of man becoming … the object of his at once fierce, indeed … truly revolutionary disposition, which he outlines with intellectual vigor and by which he provides the program to the nascent revolution … into far deeper circles … the fight is directed against the social circumstances … between those who have the state’s means of power in hand and the others who are only subjects. Irrespective of the fierce charge against the institution of private property as the chief source of evil, Rousseau does not proceed to socialist consequences, but to the outline of a radically democratic constitution, a state in which the natural and inalienable liberty and self-determination in the nature of man is reconcilable with the constraint and the power which cannot be separated from the nature of the state (The ‘Social Contract’ – , ‘Contrat social’, 1762) ”

(von Aster, Geschichte der Philosophie, 1954, 267-270).

“ … therefore society alone is the sovereign, the common will the supreme law. Yet the purpose of the laws is liberty and equality. The strangest thing is that he vests his republic with a state religion, and that he banishes dissenters, wants to punish apostates with death. The convent and Robespierre demonstrated what effect these theories have in practice; a much higher degree of tyranny was the inevitable consequence of such doctrines. The Contrat social had a great success: it served the French revolution as foundation. But the secret of this success is not only based on the boldness of these ideas, but foremost on the accomplished form, the prophetic tone, the certitude of his logic, the vehemence of his attacks … Not just the French revolution, also for the Storm and Stress period of German literature he was the intellectual leader ”

(Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th ed., XIII [1889], 1014).

Longer letters then in vol. II on criminal procedures and punishment (pp. 46-62) and as conclusion on legislation (121-163), followed by two pages on governing.

Once Rousseau, on publication of present Lettres dead already six years, was called to the witness stand, anonymity/imprint and topic indeed made sense. However, it seems that this fought his battles with open sight throughout and, if any, anonymized in his lettre(s) publications only the recipient, here besides a count. Besides quite plain source function the reference to R. of the 69th letter could be interpreted as well as revelation of the author as a third party’s wrapped diversion, as the latter brought the most beautiful things in absolutism to blossom especially during the enlightenment/pre-Storm and Stress, and not only with Brockes/Ridinger.

“ But (Rousseau) also shared the fate of all prophets. Exiled from France, where the parliament had decreed the burning of the Émile and the apprehension of the author, ostracized in his home town (Geneva after previous resplendent reception) where his writings had been burned in public, he had to take refuge in then Prussian Neuchâtel … the governor received him favorably … Yet the intrigues of his enemies let him not rest here neither … on the invitation of Frederick II he already wanted to betake himself to Berlin … May 1767 he landed (after a stay in England) in France, received 1770 the permission to return to Paris … 1794 his remains were entombed in the Panthéon, from where they shall have been removed again secretly under the Restauration; his compatriots in Geneva, however, erected for their greatest citizen a monument on Rousseau Island named for him … Several writings were published only after his death … More than Voltaire R. defined the intellectual physiognomy of the aging 18th cent. ”

(Meyers, op. cit., p. 1013).

And part of indeed such a whole then present entirely anonymized Lettres

to which Prussia’s Frederick the Great could not but appear

as the light at the end of their pre-89 Bourbons tunnel .

The joints of the otherwise only little age-marked binding tending to friability, only the lower 2 cm of the front board broken. In the white far margin of page 20 two connected printer’s smear spots feebly penetrating the verso and the previous leaf and two original wefts at the top margin corners due to leaf oversize with the text unimpaired (pp. 79/80 & 211/12). Otherwise fine fresh copy.

Offer no. 16,223 / EUR  1380. / export price EUR  1311. (c. US$ 1585.) + shipping

“ this is to let you know that the book has arrived in excellent shape, and that I am delighted to have it ”

(Mr. P. M., April 30, 2003)