VOLNEY, Constantin-François CHASSEBOEUF, comte de. Law of Nature, or Principles of Morality, Deduced from the Physical Constitution of Mankind and the Universe. London: 'Philadelphia Printed ... Reprinted for D. Steel', 1796.
12mo (131 x 77mm). Contemporary vellum, gilt-ruled boards, spine ruled in gilt in compartments, gilt leather lettering-piece, marbled endpapers, silk marker; pp. [i]-x, -171, [1 (blank)]; stipple-engraved portrait frontispiece by Ridley, wood-engraved tailpieces; lettering-piece very slightly chipped, some marking, boards slightly warped, slight marginal worming in first and last 2 quires, otherwise a very good copy.
This work by the French philosophe, politician, historian and traveller Volney (1757-1820), was first published in French under the title La loi naturelle, ou Catéchisme du citoyen français (Paris: 1793). Four English editions were published in London in 1796: the present edition, based on the Philadelphia edition issued by F. & R. Bailey in 1796, and a 58-page octavo edition issued by D.I. Eaton, which reached a third edition in the same year (a further English edition was also published in Dublin in 1796). Written in the form of a cathecism, this beautifully printed little book is a complete course of ethics, based on rationalism and logic. The unknown editor in the preface points out, that the style of composition is similar to that of Franklin (Volney actually visited the United States from 1795 to 1798) and extols confidence in the progress of the enlightenment: 'The period is arrived, when men should be taught, by the conviction of their own senses, that the radical source of their melioration and moral improvement is to be looked for, in their organization, in the direction and interest of their passions, and in the very constituent elements of their existence' (p. V). This edition is uncommon; ESTC only locates two copies in the UK, and five outside.