Edmund Burke, The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. A New Edition. In 8 octavo volumes, each 23.5 x 15 cm, following the first collected edition of 1792. London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington, St Paul’s Church Yard by Law and Gilbert, St John’s-Square, Clerkenwell; sold also by J. Hatchard, Piccadilly, 1808. Deckled edges to all volumes, total of 3,294 pages of text, volumes re-cased and bound in black cloth with black and gilt leather title labels and gilt Roman volume numbers on spines.
Volume I: xxvii + 322 pp.: Advertisements to the Reader and the New Edition; A Vindication of Natural Society; A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (pp. 31-322) with very light marginal notes in pencil on six pages and four pages of charming small, light pencil drawings by an early owner of a kitten’s head, horse, dog, human faces and flowers illustrating beauty.
Volume II: 410 pp.: A Short Account of a late Short Administration; Observations on a late Publication; Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents; Speech on American Taxation.
Volume III: 434 pp.: Speeches & Letters.
Volume IV: 444 pp.: Speeches.
Volume V: 438 pp.: Speech on Army Estimates; Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Volume VI: 376 pp.: Letters. Small marginal coloured marker sigla on nine pages.
Volume VII: 419 pp.: Thoughts on French Affairs; Remarks on the Policy of the Allies with respect to France; Addresses; Appendices; Letters.
Volume VIII: 421 pp. + 3 unopened pages of advertisements: Letters , including On the Overtures of Peace; On the Genius and Character of the French; Revolution as it regards other Nations; On the Rupture of the Negociations.
Condition: Generally very good overall; binding is tight, title and early pp. and eps foxed and browned with some scattered foxing, but mostly clean and bright internally; deckled page edges age-soiled; a few small losses to page edges not affecting text; covers and spines a little marked and flecked, but notwithstanding a presentable set of the 1808 edition.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797), British political philosopher, statesman and a notable orator and rhetorician, is best known today for his influential early writings on aesthetics and the sublime and his critical works on the French Revolution. The important antecedent work, On the Sublime, dating from Greek antiquity, has been ascribed to Longinus, but its authorship remains doubtful. It explores the nature of writing and that violation of rhetoric which allows the achievement of hypnos or sublimity. Nicolas Boileau’s Preface to his 1674 translation of Longinus brought ideas of the sublime to widespread notice, and Immanuel Kant in 1790 wrote important commentary on Burke’s ideas of the sublime. In ‘A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful’, first published in 1756, Edmund Burke defined the sublime as “whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger… Whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror.” Burke believed that the sublime was something that could provoke terror in the audience, for terror and pain were the strongest of emotions. However, he also believed there was an inherent “pleasure” in this emotion. Anything that is great, infinite or obscure could be an object of terror and the sublime, for there was an element of the unknown about them. Contradictory emotions involving pain, pleasure, terror and awe chimed with shifting sociopolitical times in the later 18th century and also stimulated interest in the sublime among authors, especially the Romantics.
Edmund Burke was born the son of a solicitor in Dublin and educated there at Trinity College, briefly studying law at Middle Temple in London. From 1756 he was founder Editor of the political yearbook The Annual Register and the following year he married Jane Nugent. His many literary and artistic friendships date from this period, including those with Dr Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds and David Garrick. In the 1760s Edmund Burke was Private Secretary to senior British government Ministers. Burke was elected as a Whig MP in 1766. He sought repeal of the Stamp Act; conciliation with the American Colonies; fought against religious and commercial discrimination in Ireland; and was critical of attempts by George III to enlarge the monarchy’s power. Burke’s appointment in 1781 to a Parliamentary Select Committee on India in which he sought to lessen the British East India Company’s patronage and its role in Indian government corruption led to his unsuccessful attempt to impeach the colonial administrator, Warren Hastings. Hastings was acquitted after a seven-year trial. Burke, at first suspending judgment on the French Revolution, was increasingly appalled by atrocities and denounced the Revolution.
Burke never provided a systematic exposition of his political ideas, but they are essentially concerned with notions of “natural law” and humanity’s relationship with the universe, implicitly involving self-restraint, self-criticism, and a continuity of spirituality and moral life making possible through state and society’s cooperation a full realisation of human potential. His ideas imply respect for the historical process making social change desirable and inevitable in the context of acting on specific possibilities. Burke’s ideas were important in German and French counter-revolutionary thought. His concepts came to form the basis of modern British political conservatism and he stands as an exponent of long-lived constitutional conventions, the idea of party, and the role of MPs as free representatives, not delegates. Edmund Burke retired from Parliament in 1794 and died at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in 1797.
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