Le Bonheur, poéme, en six chants. Avec des fragments de…

Le Bonheur, poéme, en six chants. Avec des fragments de quelques Epitres. Ouvrages posthumes de M. Helvetius. by HELVÉTIUS, [Claude-Adrien]. < >

~ Le Bonheur, poéme, en six chants. Avec des fragments de quelques Epitres. Ouvrages posthumes de M. Helvetius. ‘A Londres’ [i.e. Zweibrücken] : [Imprimerie ducale], 1772.

8vo (195 × 118 mm), pp. [4], cxx, 116, [2], complete with half-title and errata leaf, title printed in red and black with woodcut ornament, typographical headpieces, woodcut tailpieces. Light browning to a few gatherings. Contemporary mottled calf, spine gilt in compartments, red morocco label, red edges. Minor insect damage to upper cover, slightly faded. Bookplate (c. 1800) of the Chateau de Cirey, early inscription, probably Diane-Adelaide de Simiane. A very good copy.

First edition, posthumously published, this copy with a fitting provenance, from the library of the Chateau de Cirey. Helvétius had been encouraged in his philosophy by Voltaire, who sent him a copy of his work on Newton and invited him to stay at the Chateau de Cirey. The inscription, though abbreviated is almost certainly that of Diane-Adelaide de Simiane, herself an important literary figure. Her early life was colourful and she came to Cirey in 1795 after a period of incarceration during the Terror. Prior to that she had been married to Charles-François de Simiane, who had served with Lafayette in America and who died in France in 1787. The death was publicly explained as a hunting accident, but the circumstances were mysteriousl and suggest suicide; Charles-François was almost certainly homosexual and his wife Diane-Adélaïde had pursued a long affair with Lafayette in the 1780s. After her husband’s death madame de Simiane never remarried. She amassed a fine library at Cirey.

The introductory biography is by Saint-Lambert. Since the outcry over his De l’Ésprit (1758), Helvétius’ works were all condemned and issued in clandestine editions, usually outside France. Even after his death Le Bonheur was printed in Germany, with a false Londres imprint. The work is listed in Darnton’s, Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France 1769-89, 64. Several editions followed this one, including two others of the same year and the same imprint, but with the title printed in black and/or a different pagination. The first edition is rare. Smith, Bibliography of the writing of Helvétius, B.1; Higgs, Bibliography of Economics, 1751-1775, 5624; Tchemerzine VI, 190a (title pages illustrated).

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