“FOUNDED THE SCIENCE OF MODERN POLITICS”: RARE 1640 FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF MACHIAVELLI’S THE PRINCE
Nicholas Machiavel’s Prince. Also, The life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca. And The meanes Duke Valentine us’d to put to death Vitellezzo Vitelli… Translated out of Italian into English by E.D.
Item Number: 78010
London: R. Bishop for Wil: Hils, 1640.
Rare first edition in English of Machiavelli’s Prince, a seminal work in the foundation of modern political theory, and the great classic of political science. 12 mo, bound in full contemporary calf. From the library of William Constable, Baronet with his bookplate, in near fine condition. Housed in a custom full morocco clamshell box. An exceptional example, most rare and desirable in this condition.
"Machiavelli founded the science of modern politics on the study of mankind… Politics was a science to be divorced entirely from ethics, and nothing must stand in the way of its machinery,…‘for when a decision to be taken depends on the survival of one’s country, no consideration may be given to justice or injustice, to kindness or cruelty, to actions being laudable or ignominious… That course must be followed which will save its existence and preserve its freedom” (PMM 63). The first manuscript of The Prince arrived in England by way of Thomas Cromwell almost 100 years before this 1640 publication in English, and the influence of “this little work” was great. Shakespeare and Marlowe abound with references to Machiavelli. His seemingly amoral stance earned him a villainous reputation in Elizabethan England, where his name was synonymous with evil and atheism (Lord Macaulay wrote: “We doubt whether any name in literary history be so generally odious”), but his keen and practical analysis were admired by such important Enlightenment figures as Bacon, Rousseau, and above all David Hume (Smith 32). In this first appearance in English, the translator Edward Dacres justifies the publication of such a sinister book: “This book carryes its poyson and malice in it; yet mee thinks the judicious peruser may honestly make use of it in the actions of his life, with advantage.” The Prince was first placed on the Index of Prohibited Books— in the “banned absolutely” category in 1559. “The English translation was published in 1640 when the Episcopal censorship broke down” (100 Banned Books, 128). By 1643, however, censorship was again firmly ensconced in England (the protest of which was the subject of Milton’s Areopagitica) and it would be more than twenty years for the reappearance of The Prince in English. The list of rulers who read and used the work is long: “Henry III and Henry IV of France were carrying copies when they were murdered; Louis XIV used the book as ‘his favorite nightcap’; an annotated copy was found in Napoleon Bonaparte’s coach at Waterloo” (Books that Changed the World, 26).