London, England: W. Strahan & T. Cadell, 1776-1788. Mixed Set: (First Edition Vols. II - VI, Third Issue, Vol. I). Leather-bound. Complete in 6 thick large quarto 4to volumes. (11 3/8" x 9 1/4"). Vol. 1, 704 + lxxxviii, Notes; Vol. 2, Table of Contents to Vol. 1, Table of Contents to Vol. 2, 640 pp. + erratta; Vol. 3, Table of Contents to Vol. 3, 640 pp. + erratta; Vol. 4, Preface, Contents, 620 pp.; Vol. 5, 684 pp. Vol. 6, 646 pp. + General Index. Half-title pages and errata present. Bound uniformly in early, most likely original, full polished, mottled calf, (similar to tree calf) and rebacked to sympathetic period style. Boards are bright, with modest wear at edges and corners. Dual contrasting leather spine labels, bright and unchipped. Spine compartments ornamented in gilt. Original heavy laid cotton rag endpapers, guarded by japan paper. Handmade laid paper throughout is high-quality rag stock. No library or ex-library markings. Original hand-sewn headbands and tailbands and silk ribbon placemarkers present (some remnant only). Three original folding maps, large, well- struck on heavy stock, and clean. Eastern Roman Empire map shows some professionally repaired paper weld repair of crease-wear-and-tear on reverse side. Western Roman Empire map reveals at least one paper weld repair on reverse side. Light foxing to text and maps -- less than is often found for this set. Vol. I engraved frontispiece portrait of Edward Gibbon by John Hall after Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Volumes II through VI (are the true London Large Quarto First Edition, issued 1781 through1788. Volume I is the revised third issue, which,though issued but one year after the first issue of Volume I (in 1777), it is the first with Gibbon's final revisions, and preferred footnotes at the bottoms of the pages. Professor J. B. (John Bagnall) Bury notes in a 1909 edition the many changes Gibbon made in this "Third Edition" of volume I: "...for the sake not of correcting mis-statements of fact, but of improving the turn of the sentence or securing greater accuracy of expression." All indications point toward Gibbon himself considering the resulting text definitive -- no further such emendations were offered in the next (1781) reprinting. Further, one of his most important presentation copies to his benefactor of the complete set is recorded by Norton as, "A set made up of Vol. 1, Third Edition, volumes 2 through 6 First Editions, bound in red morocco, presented to Lord Sheffield by Gibbon, with an inscription in his hand-writing, sold at Sotheby's on June 26, 1933." Thus, this (mixed) issue constitutes the textural standard, reprinted for more than 200 years, without significant emendation. (Quoted and paraphrased from A Bibliography of the Works of Edward Gibbon by J.E. Norton, Oxford U. Press, 1940.). Very Good Plus. Item #74440
"For twenty-two years Gibbon was a prodigy of steady and arduous application. His investigations extended over almost the whole range of intellectual activity for nearly fifteen-hundred 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, pp. 146-147). "This masterpiece of historical penetration and literary style has remained one of the ageless historical works. Whereas other eighteenth-century writers in this field such as Voltaire are still quoted with respect, the Decline and Fall is the only historical narrative prior to Macaulay which continues to be reprinted and actually read." PRINTING AND THE MIND OF MAN, P. 220 Gibbon (1737-1794) conceived of his plan for Decline and Fall while "musing amid the ruins of the Capitol" on a visit to Rome. For the next 10 years he worked away at his great history, which traces the decadence of the late empire from the time of the Antonines and the rise of Western Christianity. "The confusion of the times, and the scarcity of authentic memorials, pose equal difficulties to the historian, who attempts to preserve a clear and unbroken thread of narration," he writes. The first edition of Gibbon's work was printed over time, the first three volumes being printed between 1776 and 1781. The engraved portrait of Gibbon here in Vol. 1 was issued separately in 1780 -- presumably supplied to many early subscribers. In this set portrait is found as frontis illustration to Vol. 1, as usual for the set, with the large Eastern Roman Empire large folding map and the somewhat smaller Europe and Asia adjacent to Constantinople in Vol. 2 (as called for) and the Western Roman Empire folding map in Vol. 3 (as called for). The first issue of Vol. 1 appeared in 1776. An immediate commercial success, a second issue of a thousand copies, errors uncorrected, was printed released on June 3, 1776. "Gibbon wrote on March 29, 1777 , 'We are now printing a third edition in quarto of 1000 copies. Gibbon now agrees to take David Hume's advice and print the footnotes at the bottom of the pages. "The notes at the bottom take up much less space than I could have imagined," he wrote. A postscript was added to the preface with Gibbon declaring his intention to complete the additional volumes. Bears the bookplates of William Sotheby, member of an important English literary family. The 1777 - 1788 London Quarto Edition is recognized as a landmark of history and of literature in English. Only a handful of complete and collectible sets are offered worldwide. A lovely, restored set, the mixing of which constitutes the earliest authoritative edition of this monumental literary achievement.