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LA METTRIE, Julien Offray de (1709–1751)

Œuvres philosophiques.
A Londres, chez Jean Nourse, 1751 [in fact Berlin 1750].

A very fine copy of the rare first and original edition of La Mettrie’s Œuvres philosophiques. The book opens with 56 pages of Discours preliminaire, followed by L’Homme machine; Traité de l’ame, Abrégé des systemes pour faciliter l’intelligence; L’homme plante; Les animaux plus que machine; and Systême d’Epicure, all of which are extremely rare in first editions. Despite its imprint of “Londres, chez Jean Nourse”, the book was published in Berlin. This may be one of the copies printed on superior paper with ample margins and with a charming engraved vignette on the title page. The book bears the date 1751 but was apparently in circulation already in 1750, as there is a copy inscribed on the title: “Present de l’auteur a Berlin le 20me Novembre 1750” (E. P. Goldschmidt, Cat. 145 [1970] item 80). Because of his uncompromising atheism, all of La Mettrie’s writings were placed on the Index and systematically burned in France. The anonymous L’Homme machine (1748) was even ordered to be burnt by the magistrates of Leiden in Holland. Only three copies are located by Stoddard (two in US libraries and one in the Bibl. Nat. et Univ. de Strasbourg). It was reprinted three times (1752, 1764, and later) with “1748” on the title page. His Œuvres philosophique (1751) contains the final revision of L’Homme machine from which all further text editions were taken.

Collation: Pp lvi, 364. Engraved title vignette.

Binding: Contemporary calf with five raised bands, richly gilt in spine compartments, red edges and marbled endpapers.

Provenance: The initials “m-f.” written in a neat hand in upper margin of the title stands for Magnus Flinck (1758–1814), owner of the great library at Vegeholm Castle, Scania, Sweden. Armorial bookplate of Carl Bernhard Ulrik von Düben (1818–1888), a later owner of the same library.

References: Stoddard, Julien Offray de La Mettrie. A Bibliographical Inventory 55; Tchermerzine 468 a; DSB, VII, 605-607; L’Homme machine: Vartanian, La Mettrie’s L’Homme machine. Critical edition with an introductory monograph and notes (1960); Garrison-Morton 586; Haskell Norman 1270. Bonnefois 2004.

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