Le Prince, les délices des coeurs ou Traité des qualités d'un grand roi, et système général d'un sage gouvernement
Aux dépens de la compagnie, à Amsterdam 1751, in-8 (10,5x16,5cm), ix (3) 168pp. (7) et (4) 188pp. (12), 2 volumes reliés.
MORELLY Étienne-Gabriel Le Prince, les délices des cœurs ou Traité des qualités d’un grand roi, et système général d’un sage gouvernement
[The Prince, the delights of the heart, or, A treatise on the qualities of a great king and system of wise government]
Aux dépens de la compagnie, Amsterdam 1751, in-8 (10,5 x 16,5 cm), ix (3) 168 pp (7) et (4) 188 pp (12), 2 volumes, early 19th-century sheep
The rare first edition, published with the author’s name obscured with asterisks, complete with its folding table of the “General Table of Taxes on a Million Subjects”.
Early 19th century brown marbled sheep, spine richly gilt with compartments and gilt fillets as well as a title-piece and volume labels in black and khaki, gilt roulette frame to covers, all edges speckled red. Edges and head- and tail-pieces skillfully repaired.Étienne-Gabriel Morelly, the “little-known Enlightenment thinker” (Wagner, Morelly le méconnu des Lumières, 1978) – some of his works having long been attributed to Diderot – is now recognized as the first person to develop a philosophy of Socialism, or Communism, also known as Utopian Socialism.
This political treatise, very much inspired in form by Machiavelli’s The Prince
is composed of four very distinct parts. The Prince as citizen, the Prince as legislator and magistrate, the Prince as politician and the Prince as warrior. It is couched in the form of a fictitious dialogue between a prince called Thélémédone (“hearts’ delight”), his courtiers and his confidant. The conversational partners are listed at the beginning of volume one. Morelly precedes his text with a brief “Letter to a friend” in which he lays out the structure of the work:
– nature, duty and the advantages of all-powerful sovereignty,
– the qualities of the spirit and of the heart, which must be shared by monarchs and other mortals,
– the prince as the figure of the legislator and magistrate who sits in council, deliberates with his friends on important projects and delegates to them the reforms necessary to the good functioning of the state, before approving laws (the birth of government),
– the means of achieving fairness through politics, of affirming Royal authority, of foreseeing the internal troubles of the state, of achieving constant and lasting harmony in government and of dealing and negotiating with foreign powers both near and far,
– the just reasons for war and the various parts of the military arts.
Nonetheless, one will notice that, as opposed to traditional “Mirrors for Princes”, this work is not addressed to any one particular political personality. This absence is a good demonstration of the author’s desire to introduce a political project – that of his patron, the Prince de Conti – more than just giving advice to a young monarch. In this truly symbolic texte à clés
, the reader is party to, throughout the entire first part, a conversation between Louis XV-Thélémédone and Conti-Philoménarque. As a result, the four faces of the prince listed above correspond to specific instances in the governance of Louis XV and echo the situation of the Prince de Conti in 1750. At the same time, the ten characters with exotic names talking to the Prince are faithful reproductions of the ten ministers who made up the Royal Council at the time (on that topic, see the very powerful study by Guy Antonetti, “Étienne-Gabriel Morelly: l’écrivain et ses protecteurs” in Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France 84e Année, No. 1 (Jan – Feb, 1984)
, p. 19-52). Daniel Droixhe also defends the thesis according to which “[Morelly’s] writings would form a very well-constructed whole expressing the political opinions of the Prince de Conti, whether directly (Le Prince
), or allegorically (la Basiliade
, le Code
), or implicitly (les Lettres de Louis XIV
)” (Daniel Droixhe, Une histoire des Lumières au pays de Liège
, 2007). You thus have a progression in Morelly’s career as a writer who until then had only written moralizing texts with a view to education. The change in focus came at the time of the Peace of Aix in 1748 and before the supremacy of the Marquise de Pompadour. Conti, who was Counselor to the King since 1747, was eventually supplanted by the latter.
It was thus that Morelly, in defense of the Conti cause, undertook a career as a political writer attached to the power of the monarchy. It was thus neither an “adventurer of the quill,” nor a “marginal figure” who wrote this Prince
, but a political philosopher perfectly au fait with the problems of his time. Despite its pretended fantastical form, the work is sometimes called a mere utopia; it is in actual fact a realistic reflection on the necessary reforms of power: the make-up of the government, foreign and domestic policy, social progress, and so on. This is continued right down to a precise calculation of taxes (shown in a folding table), with Morelly developing a rational and very well-supported project, thus taking part in the great political and social reforms of the Enlightenment thinkers.
A few years later, in 1755, he went on to publish his famous Code de la nature
, in which he proposed an ideal and completely new legislative system that would abolish private property in order to establish a fraternal society that would guarantee the happiness of the human race. Rediscovered in the 20th century, this radical thinking would be considered the first Socialist program in the history of France, and its author elevated to the rank of a legendary precursor of modern Communist thought. Though he did not achieve fame, he nonetheless inspired important progressive figures, from Rousseau, who wrote his Social Contract
in light of his works, to Babeuf, a member of the Convention, and the “first active Communist” (according to Marx), who referenced the “forgotten Enlightenment philosopher”. de photos
A very rare copy of Morelly’s first important political text. +