December 27, 2016
A Rare 18th century American Book – Its value and educational value
Lord Chesterfield’s Letters were not originally intended for publication. Four hundred letters survived his son’s early death in 1768, and thankfully for literature and posterity, were published in 1768 by the son’s widow. The work became famous as a complete education manual of the 18th century, albeit the great Samuel Jonson did deride it for teaching the “”the morals of a whore”
The edition pictured here – the first American- was published in 1789 in Philadelphia. It appears to be a great rarity with only three known copies listed Worldcat and one at the American Antiquarian Society. There are also no records in ABPC or Rare Book Hub or copies at auction in many decades.
It got me to ponder what was the first American published manual of education. That honor probably goes to the New England Primer, a textbook used by students in New England and in other English settlements in North America that was first printed in Boston in 1690. With that said, the famous Primer was religious in nature and followed a tradition of combining the study of the alphabet with Bible reading.
The present volume as an educational work is entirely different and is rightfully a guide to conduct and values in every practical sense. Take the chapter on “Prejudice” which contains valid advice for even our internet age of highly partisan and fake news: “Never adopt the notions of any books you may read, or of any company you may keep, without examining whether they are just or not, or you will otherwise be liable to be hurried away by prejudices, instead of being guided by reason; and quietly cherish error instead of seeking the truth.”
I try to make it a habit of valuing books on this blog and this book presents a particular challenge. It is certainly a pleasing copy in many respects, retaining the original binding with charmingly scratched initials of its early owner. It also has some early handwritten provenance on its paste-downs. Most unfortunately it is missing one leaf, ripped from the text block in the chapter on Lying. Sadly, Chesterfield issues no admonishment or warning of the derived opprobrium for tearing out a page from a book!