“He who pretends to look on death without fear lies. All men are afraid of dying, this is the great law of sentient beings, without which the entire human species would soon be destroyed": Rare First Edition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie, or the new heloise
Julie ou La Nouvelle Héloïse: Lettres de deux amans, habitans d’une petite ville au pied des Alpes [Julie, or the New Heloise: Letters from two lovers, living in a small town at the foot of the Alps].
Item Number: 72018
Amsterdam: Marc-Michel Rey, 1761.
First edition of the first best-selling novel in history, which made Jean-Jacques Rousseau the world’s first celebrity author. Octavo, six volumes, bound in contemporary full calf, gilt titles to the spine, marbled edges, marbled endpapers. An exceptional piece of literary history.
A retelling of the legendary love affair between French nun Héloïse d’Argenteuil and theologian Peter Abelard, Rousseau’s groundbreaking novel, Julie, or the New Heloise, became an instant best-seller. Publishers could barely keep up with the high demand for copies of the story, which evoked an unprecedentedly passionate response from readers, particularly high-society women from whom Rousseau is known to have received thousands of love letters. Publishers capitalized on the unequivocally high demand for the novel by renting it to readers at a rate per day and even per hour. Due to its content, the book was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), deemed lascivious and anti-clerical by the Roman Catholic Church. Although it was presented as a novel, the book exists as a philosophical treaty on autonomy and authenticity as moral values, which Rousseau perhaps argued to be ethically superior to rational and commonly-held moral principles. Arthur Schopenhauer cited Julie, or the New Heloise, as one of the four greatest novels ever written, along with Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Historian Robert Darnton has argued that Julie ‘was perhaps the biggest best-seller of the century.’