[LEVESQUE, Pierre Charles, translator]. Collection des moralistes anciens, dédiés au Roi. Paris, Didot and Bure, 1782-1783.
12mo, two volumes in one. Calf-backed pebble-grained cloth of about 1835, spine ruled and lettered in gilt, marbled endpapers; pp. 165; 175; head and tail of spine a little worn, internally clean and fresh; provenance: Joseph Mazzini Wheeler (name in ink), translator and editor identified in ink on initial blank and sectional title of the first volume.
First French edition of these translations of Chinese moral philosophy and ethics, published in the large series which came out over several years and collected ancient moral writings. These two volumes contain short moral sentences, anecdotes and parables by Chinese Emperors (including Yongzheng' substantial Moral Discourse), thinkers and writers. The second volume is entirely devoted to Confucius' moral thoughts. The translator from Latin and Russian sources was a protégé of Diderot and spent considerable time in Russia, where he wrote an influential history of that country. An enlightened moralist himself, he contributed largely to the acceptance of relativism and free-thinking in pre-Revolutionary France. The editor of the entire series was Jacques-André Naigeon, encyclopédiste, friend of Diderot and atheist. Beautifully printed by Didot the Elder on French paper by Johannot with Claude Garamond's type, cast by Fournier the Elder, this edition is worthy of a King, to whom it is dedicated, although the gist of the contents is aimed at abolishing absolutism and theocracy.
Provenance: From the library of the atheist activist, free-thinker and vice-president of the Secular Society Joseph Mazzini Wheeler (1850-1898). A book on Chinese philosophy and ethics, far from any formalized theology, certainly appealed to the author of Crimes of Christianity.