London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1788-1790. Twelve octavo volumes, measuring 8 x 5 inches. Contemporary polished calf, raised bands, spine compartments ruled in gilt, red and green morocco spine labels, all edges stained yellow. Frontispiece portrait of Gibbon after Joshua Reynolds and map of the Eastern empire in Volume I; two additional folding maps, “Parts of Europe and Asia Adjacent to Constantinople” and map of the Western empire, in Volume II; general index in Volume XII. Bookplate of James Bruce, “Bruce of Kinnaird,” and handwritten shelf mark “101” in all volumes; additional label “From Kinnaird 1897” and previous owner notes to front endpapers of Volume I. Occasional scuff to bindings, spine ends rubbed, chip to spine label of Volume II.
Mixed octavo edition of Edward Gibbon’s monumental history, following the trajectory of the Roman Empire from the death of Marcus Aurelius to the fall of Constantinople thirteen centuries later, an epic feat of historiography that took twenty years to complete. Gibbon’s narrative drive and pointed analysis found an immediate readership at home and abroad: “This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated. . . . they no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honour, the presence of danger, and the habit of command.” The first edition of Gibbon’s history appeared in six quarto volumes, issued from 1776 to 1788. In 1783, publishers Strahan and Cadell reissued the first half of the work in six octavo volumes; in 1790, they reissued the second half to complete the twelve-volume set. The first six volumes of this set are early octavo printings, dated 1788; the final six volumes are first octavo printings, dated 1790. This set belonged to Scottish explorer James Bruce, Laird of Kinnaird, who traveled widely throughout North Africa in the 1760s and 1770s. He was one of the first Europeans to trace the Blue Nile to its Ethiopian source, in 1770, and the first to follow the Blue Nile to its confluence with the White Nile in Sennar (now the Sudan). In 1790, the year that the final volumes of his Gibbon set were printed, Bruce published his own Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in five quarto volumes, a classic of African exploration. PMM 222. A bright near-fine set, with an excellent historical association, bridging the Roman and British empires.