Two Leviathans & One Bear - Early Editions of a Masterpiece

Two Leviathans & One Bear - Early Editions of a Masterpiece

One of the most important British philosophical texts is Leviathan, written by Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679), published in 1651. Its ideas and analyses were framed by the violent regime change of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the British civil war of 1639 to 1652, and the subsequent Cromwellian Commonwealth. It concerns the structure of society and legitimate government and is regarded as one of the most influential examples of political philosophy in the English-speaking world, being described as “… arguably the greatest piece of political philosophy written in the English language…”. There were two initial editions, the first in 1651 under Hobbes’s authority and then a slightly later unauthorised one that was suppressed and withdrawn before re-emerging shortly afterwards, despite official attempts to stop its publication.

At Chiswick auctions we are offering in our next Fine books sale, on Wednesday, 26th October 2022 (at 10:00am) a copy of each edition, both in good condition, enabling you to compare and contrast the two editions.

 Lot 137 - Hobbes. Leviathan, first edition, first issue, 1651Lot 137 - Hobbes. Leviathan, first edition, first issue, 1651 Hobbes. Leviathan, first edition, first issue, 1651

Lot 137: Hobbes. Leviathan, first edition, first issue, 1651

Estimate £6,000 - £8,000

There is a conundrum here: the first edition, published in 1651, carries with it the most elaborate frontispiece, showing a giant crowned figure emerging from the landscape, clutching a sword and a crosier, beneath a quote from the Book of Job—"Non est potestas Super Terram quae Comparetur ei. Iob. 41 . 24" ("There is no power on earth to be compared to him.”) The torso and arms of the giant figure are composed of over three hundred people; all facing away from the viewer, with just the giant's head having visible facial features. Opposite this in an elaborately typeset title page with printed ornamentation around the text.

Hobbes. Leviathan, second edition, 1651 [i.e. 1678]

Lot 138:Hobbes. Leviathan, second edition, 1651 [i.e. 1678]

Estimate £800 - £1,200

The second edition of Leviathan-carries the same date as the first (1651), but is known to be a later production, but has never hitherto been dated with any accuracy. The signifier for the second edition is that in the artwork of the title page there is a bear featured, a detail that is not present in the first edition. Recently, drawing on details drawn from the archives of the Stationers' Company, the history of this edition can be constructed. This shows that this so-called 'Bear' edition was first printed (in part) in 1670 in London but that that the printing was then partly confiscated by the Stationers' Company; and that the remaining sheets were then combined with sheets produced by a Dutch printer in the period 1675-8.

Would you buy both - to compare and to contrast, to have the authorised and the banned? With and without a bear? In either case both editions allow the incisive and insightful mind of Thomas Hobbes to come through loud and clear, defining the start of modern British political thinking.

We look forward to your joining us in this sale - and if you have any questions about buying or selling from this sale, or from your own collection, please contact our book department specialists, Clive Moss and Rhydian Williams.

Clive Moss           

     Clive Moss                    Rhydian Williams